Bonald, Louis Gabriel Ambroise
BONALD, LOUIS GABRIEL AMBROISE, Vicomte de (1754-1840), French philosopher and politician, was born at Le Monna, near Millau in Aveyron, on the 2nd of October 1754. Disliking the principles of the Revolution, he emigrated in 1791, joined the army of the prince of Condé, and soon afterwards settled at Heidelberg. There he wrote his first important work, the highly conservative Théorie du pouvoir politique et religieux (3 vols., 1796; new ed., Paris, 1854, 2 vols.), which was condemned by the Directory. Returning to France he found himself an object of suspicion, and was obliged to live in retirement. In 1806 he was associated with Chateaubriand and Fiévée in the conduct of the Mercure de France, and two years later was appointed councillor of the Imperial University which he had often attacked. After the restoration he was a member of the council of public instruction, and from 1815 to 1822 sat in the chamber as deputy. His speeches were on the extreme conservative side; he even advocated a literary censorship. In 1822 he was made minister of state, and presided over the censorship commission. In the following year he was made a peer, a dignity which he lost through refusing to take the oath in 1830. From 1816 he had been a member of the Academy. He took no part in public affairs after 1830, but retired to his seat at Le Monna, where he died on the 23rd of November 1840.
Bonald was one of the leading writers of the theocratic or traditionalist school, which included de Maistre, Lamennais, Ballanche and 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"; 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 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 which lacks two things only: - well-grounded premisses instead of baseless hypotheses, and the acquiescence 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, but his system scarcely deserves the name of a philosophy. In abstract thought he was a mere dilettante, and his strength lay in the vigour and sincerity of his statements rather than in cogency of reasoning.
He had four sons. Of these, Victor de Bonald (1780-1871) followed his father in his exile, was rector of the academy of Montpellier after the restoration, but lost his post during the Hundred Days. Regaining it at the second restoration, he resigned finally in 1830. He wrote Des vrais principes opposés aux erreurs du XIXe siècle (1833), Moïse et les géologues modernes (1835), and a life of his father. Louis Jacques Maurice (1787-1870), cardinal (1841), was condemned by the council of state for a pastoral letter attacking Dupin the elder's Manuel de droit ecclésiastique. In 1848 he held a memorial service "for those who fell gloriously in defence of civil and religious liberty." In 1851 he nevertheless advocated in the senate the maintenance of the temporal power of Rome by force of arms. Henri (d. 1846) was a contributor to legitimist journals; and René was interim prefect of Aveyron in 1817.
Besides the Théorie above mentioned, the vicomte de Bonald published Essai analytique sur les lois naturelles de l'ordre social (1800); Législation primitive (1802); Du divorce considéré au XIXe siècle (1801); Recherches philosophiques sur les premiers objets de connaissances morales (2 vols., 1818); Mélanges littéraires et politiques, démonstration philosophique du principe constitutif de la société (1819, 1852). The first collected edition appeared in 12 vols., 1817-1819; the latest is that of the Abbé Migne (3 vols., 1859).
See Notice sur M. le Vicomte de Bonald (1841, ed. Avignon, 1853), (by his son Victor); Damiron, Phil. en France au XIXe siècle; Windelband, History of Philosophy (trans. J.H. Tufts, 1893); E. Faguet in Rev. des deux mondes (April 15, 1889).
Note - this article incorporates content from Encyclopaedia Britannica, Eleventh Edition, (1910-1911)