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Culture of excuse

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The culture of excuse (culture de l'excuse) is a concept mostly invented by French politicians and some intellectuals, to denigrate sociologists who try to explain "inexcusable behaviors" like crime or terrorism (because how dare sociologists try to explain why people do things).

Origin of the idea[edit]

In 1988 Luc Ferry[1] and Alain Renault wrote an essay on what they called the "spirit of 68". They criticized Foucault, Bourdieu and others for believing that there is no free will (unjustifiably, as Bourdieu always explained that he wasn't a determinist). The essay is just a baseless rant where they don't try to actually falsify their opponent's beliefs (which Bourdieu always complained about, as he saw his theories as falsifiable[2]), and "refute" Bourdieu by saying his sociology is just classic marxism.[3] Apparently, just labelling something as "marxist" suffices to refute years of research.

Apparition of the expression[edit]

This expression comes mostly from the far-right teacher Xavier Raufer, who criticized the idea that poverty and life conditions were causes of crime, explaining instead that crime evolves according to politics of repression. The idea that sociology excuses crime spread with the former president Nicolas Sarkozy, who explained that "to explain the inexplicable is to forgive the inexcusable".[4] This idea has been used since reformulated by Prime Minister Manuel Valls [5], and used by ""intellectuals"" to criticize sociology.


The concept itself is based on the idea that to explain is to forgive. This is wrong because explaining the causes of a person's behavior does not necessarily mean that this person had no responsibility.

The second fallacy is that it is bad to forgive a crime based on socioeconomic factors. But if sociology showed that criminals (or just some criminals) weren't responsible for their acts, then they should be rehabilitated instead of punished, much like psychiatric internment for crimes caused by mental illness.


  1. See the Wikipedia article on Luc Ferry.
  2. https://www.franceculture.fr/sociologie/pierre-bourdieu-la-verite-sociologique-une-telle-violence-quelle-fait-souffrir : "We work to be verifiable or falsifiable" ; "They answer to me at Paris IV : "but this is totalitarian because you are irrefutable". Not at all..."
  3. http://www.scienceshumaines.com/la-pensee-68_fr_13109.html
  4. Quand on veut expliquer l'inexplicable c'est qu'on s'apprête à excuser l'inexcusable by Cristi Barbulescu (27 mars 2014) Mediapart.
  5. «Expliquer la radicalisation, c'est excuser»: Valls change de version by Louis Nadau (21/03/2016 à 17:38) Le Figaro.