Encyclopædia Britannica, Ninth Edition/Louis Gabriel Ambroise, Vicomte de Bonald

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Encyclopædia Britannica, Ninth Edition, Volume IV  (1878) 
Louis Gabriel Ambroise, Vicomte de Bonald

BONALD, Louis Gabriel Ambroise, Vicomte de, philosopher and politician, was bora at Monna, near Milhaud, in llouergue, France, on the 2d October 1754. He served for some years in the king s musketeers, and after his marriage was made mayor of his native place. Dissatisfied with the revolutionary principles then being acted upon, he emigrated in 1791, and joined the army of the Prince of Condu. Soon afterwards he settled, with his family, at Heidelberg, where he wrote his first important work, Tkeorie dtt pouvoir politique et reliyieux dans la 8ociete civile, 3 vols., 179G, in which his conservatism and reactionary views are fully expounded and illustrated. In this work, too, he predicted the certain return of the Bourbons to France. The book was condemned by the Directory, and in France very few copies escaped detection. Naturally, on his return to his native country, M. de Bonald found himself an object of suspicion, and was obliged to live in retirement. He still continued to publish works of the same tendencies, his Essai analytique sur les Lois naturclles de Vordre social appearing in 1800, the Legislation primitive in 1802, and the treatise Du Divorce considers au XlX me Siede shortly after. In 1806 he was associated with Chateaubriand and Fi6vtSe in the conduct of the Mercure de France; and two years later, after great persuasion, he allowed himself to be appointed councillor of the Imperial University, which he had often attacked. After the Restoration he was made member of the Council of Public Instruction, and from 1815 to 1822 he sat in the chamber as deputy. His speeches and votes were invariably on the extreme Conservative side ; he even advocated a literary censorship. In 1822 he was made minister of state, and presided over the commission in whose hands the censorship rested. In the following year he was raised to the rank of peer, a dignity which he lost through refusing to take the oath in 1830. From 1816 onwards he had been a member of the Academy. He took no part in public affairs after 1830, but retired to his country-seat at Monna, where he died on the 23d November 1840.

Bonald was one of the most able and vigorous writers of the theocratic or reactionary school, which comprehended among its numbers such men as De Maistre, De Lamennais, Ballanche, and D Eckstein. The great bulk of his writings belong to the department of social or political philosophy ; but all the results at which he arrives are deductions from a few principles. The one truth which to him seemed, in fact, all-comprehensive was the divine origin of language. In his own somewhat enigmatic expression, L homme pense sa parole avant de parler sa pensce, words and thoughts are inextricably linked together; the first language con tained the essence of all truth. From this premise he draws his proof for the existence of God, and for the divine origin and consequent supreme authority of the Holy Scriptures. The infallibility of the church as the exponent of spiritual truth readily follows. While this thought lies at the root of all his speculations there is a formula of constant and significant application. All relations are by him reduced to the triad of cause, means, and effect, which he sees constantly repeated throughout all nature. Thus, in the universe there are the first cause as mover, movement as the means, and bodies as the result; in the state we have power as the cause, ministers as the means, and subjects as the effects ; in the family we have the same relation exemplified by father, mother, and children. It is also to be remarked that these three terms bear specific relations to one another, the first is to the second as the second is 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. It will be readily apparent how Bonald was able from these principles to construct a complete system of po .itical absolutism, for the sufficiency of which only two things were wanted, well- grounded premises instead of baseless hypotheses, and the harmony of the scheme with the wills of those who were to be subjected to it. Bonald s style is remarkably fine ; ornate, but pure and vigorous. Many fruitful thoughts are scattered among his works, which have been popular with a certain party ; but his system scarcely deserves the name of a philosophy.

Besides the above-mentioned works, Bonald published Reclierches PhilosopMqucs sur Us premiers oljets de Connaissances Morales, 2 vols., 1818 ; Melanges litteraires et politiques, Demonstration philo- sophique du principe constitutif de la Societe, 1830. The first col lected edition appeared in 12 vols., 1817-19 ; the latest is that in 3 vols., with introductory notice by the Abbe Migne. See Notice sur M. le Vicomte do Bonald, 1841 (by his son), and Damiron, Phil, en France au XIX Siedc.