Monday, January 9, 2012
Monarchist Profile: Louis-Gabriel Ambroise, Vicomte de Bonald
It was in Heidelberg in 1797 that Bonald wrote his first significant work on politics and religion which was of a sufficiently counterrevolutionary flavor to be condemned and banned by the Directory in France. His retired life was not to last long as he could not bear to remain outside the country while France was being torn apart by revolutionary extremism. Using the alias Saint-Séverin he returned to France and wrote more books on the social order, divorce and the legislative process. Pardoned by Napoleon in 1802 he was able to come out of hiding and work openly again. In collaboration with Joseph Fiévée and the vicomte de Chateaubriand he edited and contributed articles to the “Mercurede France” in 1806. These were later published in a book as well in 1819. In 1808 he declined the offer of membership on the Council of the Imperial University (founded by Napoleon, today the University of Paris) but in 1810 put his dislike of Bonaparte aside and accepted the post. His reputation had grown so great that Bonald had been asked to oversee the education of the son of Louis Bonaparte, King of Holland, and even the Prince Imperial, Napoleon II, King of Rome. He turned down both positions, being a monarchist of the royalist rather than imperialist persuasion.
As a staunch royalist, he was properly pleased when the Bourbon dynasty was finally restored to the French throne and was promptly appointed to the council of public instruction and became a deputy in the French National Assembly. In that body he became well known for his ardent, and fiercely reactionary, speeches defending royal authority, the place of the Church and, most famously, favoring censorship and even advocating for those found guilty of extreme acts of sacrilege to be put to death. Today, of course, many (especially in Europe) would view this as a shockingly extreme position. However, it is important to remember that this man had lived through in era in which people were executed for simply whispering a politically incorrect opinion, daring to disagree with the revolutionary government or simply being insufficiently zealous in their praise of the republic. Certainly that should be seen as the more outrageous use of capital punishment compared to certain, very specific, cases of insulting the Savior of mankind. In 1822 he was appointed Minister of State and was the presiding officer on the censorship commission. In 1823 his noble title was restored to him (he had lost it for refusing to take the 1803
He collaborated with other counterrevolutionaries in a series of works before finally retiring to private life. Throughout his life, Bonald stood out as a statesman who was always unchanging in his views. As Jules Simon said, “There is not to be found in the long career, one action which is not consistent with his principles, one expression which belies them.” Few others could say the same. He had served throughout the Bourbon restoration, supported King Charles X but refused to serve under King Louis Philippe, opting for retirement instead. He died in Paris on November 23, 1840. His legacy was of a deep-thinking intellectual and it is a shame his works are often reduced as simply reactionary opposition to anything liberal or progressive. Uniquely, he wrote about language being of divine origin and as the backbone of tradition and social development. This could be read and appreciated especially today. Language, communication in every form, regulates not only how we deal with others and the world around us, but sets the definitions for all of our thinking. He saw the forces of the Revolution perverting this tool to use in the pursuit of their ends which, Bonald believed, would ultimately be the death of all western civilization. The revolutionary mastery of this tactic allowed them to make formerly absolute and objective truths relative; simply matters of opinion, something which would ultimately unravel society and civilization as a whole.