Georges Renard

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Georges Renard (21 November 1876 – 14 May 1943) was a French lawyer, professor of public law and legal philosopher.

A committed figure of social Catholicism, he was actively involved in Marc Sangnier's Sillon until the movement was condemned by the Pope in 1910. As a professor of law, he asserted himself as a disciple of Maurice Hauriou and one of the most ardent promoters of his "theory of the institution", which was to serve as the basis for the great work of his life: the elaboration of "a Christian philosophy of law, halfway between the individualist, contractual, and mechanical philosophy inherited from the Renaissance and the Revolution, and the authoritarian socialism that sought its succession".[1]


Georges Renard was born in Nancy into a deeply Christian family. He was the eldest son of Mathilde Darboy, niece of the archbishop of Paris who was shot in 1871, and of René Renard, a lawyer at the Nancy Court of Appeal. Following in the footsteps of René Renard, he studied law at the Faculty of Nancy, where he wrote two doctoral theses. On December 30, 1901, he married Marguerite Gény, sister of François Gény, the future dean of the Nancy law faculty and known for his work on legal methodology. After two unsuccessful attempts at the agrégation de droit exam, he was admitted to the Nancy bar in 1903 and began his career as a lawyer.

The Sillonist militant

Seduced by the ideas of the Sillon movement founded by Marc Sangnier a few years earlier, Georges Renard joined the Lorraine branch of the movement of which he quickly became a leading figure alongside Henri Teitgen. He embraced all its canons: a taste for social action, a rejection of bookish sciences detached from reality, a faith in popular education, and an aspiration for the advent of a Christian democracy defined as "the regime that tends to raise to its highest level the conscience and civic responsibility of each person".

A brilliant orator, his fight did not stop however with the public speeches which he multiplied on a broad part of the French territory. He participated in numerous social enterprises, regularly contributed to the Chronique sociale de l'est and theorized the ideas of the movement in his Seven Conferences for Democracy.

The fervor of Georges Renard and the impetus he tried to give to the Sillon were, however, thwarted by the growing hostility of a part of the Catholic Church that had been damaged by the rise of modernism and the French political situation. On August 25, 1910, Pius X openly condemned the activity of the Sillon in an encyclical entitled Notre charge apostolique. On September 10, 1910, Renard announced the submission of the Sillon lorrain.

The philosopher of law

In 1920, Renard was admitted to the agrégation in public law that he had prepared in Toulouse with the one who would become one of his masters of thought: Maurice Hauriou. He then joined the ranks of the Faculty of Law in Nancy where he taught, for several years, a philosophical Introduction to the Study of Law, which was to be an opportunity for him to extend his militant commitment.

For the young professor, intellectual neutrality was an illusion behind which it would be dishonest to take refuge. Introducing the first volume of his lectures, he can thus declare in all transparency: "Let us not look for the regular order of a treatise on legal philosophy! It is only a book of propaganda. [...] I have tried to put my own personal persuasion into the minds of my listeners".

This intimate persuasion is that it is not only erroneous but also dangerous to reduce Law to an abstract and formal science, as a growing part of the French doctrine, encouraged by the rise of scientific positivism, used to defend. Since it is concerned with the social facts that are human societies, legal science cannot close its eyes to the moral considerations that inhabit them. Deprived of finality, it would only be a technique at the service of the highest bidder, which, incidentally, the doctrinal war that accompanied the military conflict of 14–18 clearly demonstrated in his eyes.

Like many Christian jurists of the time, Georges Renard was to speak out against the positivist doctrines that made the written norm and the individual (or collective) will the alpha and omega of law.

The philosophy of law, the contours of which he will trace in several series of lectures, is presented as an actualization of classical natural law as defended by Aristotle and then Saint Thomas. As a normative order, Law is understood as the product of a contingent composition between two ideas: those of Security and Justice, adapted to the conditions of the social environment and to the convenience of the constraint. From this follows a legal methodology based on a continuous dialectic between the general norm, source of stability, and the particular situations to which it is intended to apply.

Georges Renard's juridical idealism first takes the somewhat nebulous form of a "natural law with progressive content" before blossoming, under the decisive influence of Maurice Hauriou, into an "institutional conception of law" to which he would devote his last decades of work.

The promoter of legal institutionalism

The publication, in 1925, of an article by Maurice Hauriou devoted to "La théorie de l’institution et de la fondation" ("The Theory of Institution and Foundation") was to constitute a decisive turning point in the thinking of his zealous disciple, Georges Renard. Indeed, the latter would detect in it a theoretical substratum capable of ensuring the renewal of legal science and, a fortiori, a renovation of the social order. His efforts will henceforth be devoted to giving it a philosophical foundation and an increasingly precise scientific scope.

By revalorizing the place of the "intermediate bodies" that are the family, the corporations and other associations of all kinds, the institutional conception of the law and of the social order that Renard is going to develop intends to fight at the same time against the contractual and individualistic logic that underlies social liberalism and against the totalitarian and bureaucratic logic that underlies social Jacobinism. It is indeed a collaborative and deontological logic that it is a question of developing between these two excesses, the same one which will blossom later under the term of "participation".

Georges Renard was at the height of his career when an event occurred that changed its course.

The theological turn

On December 18, 1930, Georges Renard's wife, Marguerite, was the victim of a car accident from which she died a few days later. Several years earlier the couple had vowed to embrace the religious life in the event of the death of one spouse. In accordance with this vow, Renard prematurely abandoned his duties as a law professor and entered the Dominican novitiate of the Province of France in July 1932. He was ordained a few years later.

An intellectual turning point then occurred. While he continued to develop and defend with zeal the institutionalist philosophy he had championed, his work took on a more and more theological dimension.

On May 14, 1943, he died in the hospital of Levallois-Perret, leaving behind him a body of work rich in more than fifteen books and several dozen articles, some of which are exclusively preserved in the archives of the Saulchoir Library.

Renard's influence can be seen in the works of Pierre-Henri Teitgen, Jean Rivero, François de Menthon and Paul Reuter.[2]

Major publications

  • Sept conférences sur la démocratie (1906)
  • Le Parlement et la législation du travail (1913)
  • Cours élémentaires de droit public, droit constitutionnel, droit administratif, droit financier (1922)
  • Le Droit, la Justice et la Volonté (1924)
  • Le Droit, la Logique et le Bon sens (1925)
  • Le Droit, l'Ordre et la Raison (1927)
  • La valeur de la loi. Critique philosophique de la notion de loi. Pourquoi et comment il faut obéir à la loi (1928)
  • La Théorie de l'institution : essai d'ontologie juridique (1930)
  • L'Institution : fondement d'une rénovation de l'ordre social (1933)
  • La Philosophie de l'Institution (1939)

Works in English translation

  • The French Institutionalists: Maurice Hauriou, Georges Renard, Joseph T. Delos. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press (1970)


  1. Renard, Georges (1938). Anticipations Corporatives. Paris: Descléede Brouwer. p. 4.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  2. Laubly, Paul (2018). "Georges Renard et la Renaissance du Thomisme Juridique". Revue d'Histoire des Facultés de Droit et de Culture Juridique (38): 857–74.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>


  • Cavalin, Tangi (2017). "Sociologie, Droit, Théologie dans l'Entre-deux-guerres: Georges Renard et Thomas Delos, Disciples de Maurice Hauriou". Archives de Sciences Sociales des Religions. LXII (179): 147–66. doi:10.4000/assr.29632.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  • Scerbo, Alberto (2008). Istituzionalismo giuridico e pluralismo sociale: riflessione su alcuni filosofi del diritto francesi. Soveria Mannelli: Rubbettino.

External links