Starting with the assault on the satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo on 7 January 2015, the French Republic has endured a series of terrorist attacks culminating with the massacre of civilians on the Promenade des Anglais in Nice, in an outrage deliberately and symbolically timed to coincide with the Bastille Day celebration of 14 July 2016. During this period, the governing and other elites in France have attempted to foster a sense of national unity around key republican values as the most effective response to the threat posed by terrorism. After examining the inconsistent postures struck by the French socialist government in the months following the outrages of 2015 and 2016, this article will analyse the contradictions of the previous administration in order to illustrate the argument that the problematic relationship between race, identity and secularism cuts across the traditional ideological cleavages of left and right. The failure of leading mainstream political figures to articulate an effective and unifying discourse in the face of the terrorist threat to France is not, however, purely a failure of communication. The article will address the adequacy of a blueprint for social cohesion shaped by the Third Republic and exemplified by the formal separation of church and state in 1905, and consider whether the traditional understanding of what it means to belong to the ‘one and indivisible’ republic has problematised the sense of national self-esteem and perpetuates the current tension in France.