Louis de Bonald
Portrait of Bonald by Julien-Léopold Boilly
Louis Gabriel Ambroise de Bonald
2 October 1754
|Died||23 November 1840 (aged 86)|
Louis Gabriel Ambroise, Vicomte de Bonald (2 October 1754 – 23 November 1840), was a French counter-revolutionary philosopher and politician. Mainly, he is remembered for developing a set of social theories that exercised a powerful influence in shaping the ontological framework from which French sociology would emerge.
Bonald came from an ancient noble family of Provence. He was educated at the Oratorian college at Juilly, and after serving with the Artillery, he held a post in the local administration of his native province. Elected to the States General of 1789 as a deputy for Aveyron, he strongly opposed the new legislation on the civil status of the clergy and emigrated in 1791. There he joined the army of the Prince of Condé, soon settling in Heidelberg. There he wrote his first important work, the highly conservative Theorie du Pouvoir Politique et Religieux dans la Societe Civile Demontree par le Raisonnement et l'Histoire (3 vols., 1796; new ed., Paris, 1854, 2 vols.), which the Directory condemned.
Upon returning to France, he found himself an object of suspicion and at first lived in retirement. In 1806, he, along with Chateaubriand and Joseph Fiévée, edited the Mercure de France. Two years later, he was appointed counsellor of the Imperial University, which he had often attacked previously. After the Bourbon Restoration he was a member of the council of public instruction. From 1815 to 1822, de Bonald served as a deputy in the Chamber of Deputies. His speeches were extremely conservative and he advocated literary censorship. In 1825, he argued strongly in favor of the Anti-Sacrilege Act, including its prescription of the death penalty under certain conditions.
In 1822, de Bonald was made Minister of State, and presided over the censorship commission. In the following year, he was made a peer, a dignity which he had lost by refusing to take the required oath in 1803. In 1816, he was appointed to the French Academy. In 1830, he retired from public life and spent the remainder of his days on his estate at Le Monna.
Bonald was one of the leading writers of the theocratic or traditionalist school, which included de Maistre, Lamennais, Ballanche and baron Ferdinand d'Eckstein. His writings are mainly on social and political philosophy, and are based ultimately on one great principle, the divine origin of language. In his own words, "L'homme pense sa parole avant de parler sa pensée" (man thinks his speech before saying his thought); the first language contained the essence of all truth. From this he deduces the existence of God, the divine origin and consequent supreme authority of the Holy Scriptures, and the infallibility of the Catholic Church.
While this thought lies at the root of all his speculations, there is a formula of constant application. All relations may be stated as the triad of cause, means and effect, which he sees repeated throughout nature. Thus, in the universe, he finds the first cause as mover, movement as the means, and bodies as the result; in the state, power as the cause, ministers as the means, and subjects as the effects; in the family, the same relation is exemplified by father, mother and children. These three terms bear specific relations to one another; the first is to the second as the second to the third. Thus, in the great triad of the religious world—God, the Mediator, and Man—God is to the God-Man as the God-Man is to Man. On this basis, he constructed a system of political absolutism.
Bonald published one of the most violent anti-Semitic texts of the post-French Revolutionary period, Sur les juifs. In it, the Philosophes are condemned for fashioning the intellectual tools used to justify Jewish emancipation during the Revolution. Bonald accuses the Jews of not becoming "authentic" French citizens and disrupting traditional society. Michele Battini writes:
According to Bonald [...] the Constituent Assembly had committed "the enormous mistake of knowingly putting laws in conflict with religion and customs," but, sooner or later, the government would have to change its mind, as would "the friends of the blacks" who regretted "the haste with which they called for freedom for a people who had always been alien." [...] The Jews, by their "nature," are a nation destined to remain alien to other peoples. This "foreignness" appears—this seems the sense of the reference to the noirs —to be an objective fact, permanent and "physical," and for this reason analogous to the racial difference with the blacks.
Bonald calls for the reversal of Jewish emancipation and endorses new discriminatory measures:
such as the imposition of identifying marks on the clothes of the enemy who had become "invisible" because of emancipation. The identification mark (la marque distinctive) would be fully justified by the need to identify those responsible for behavior hostile to the bien public. The return to the past almost sounds like a premonition of Hitler’s decrees.
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Jean Jacques Régis de Cambacérès
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