1902 Encyclopedia > Philippe Joseph Benjamin Buchez

Philippe Joseph Benjamin Buchez
(commonly known as: Philippe Buchez)
rench author and politician


PHILIPPE JOSEPH BENJAMIN BUCHEZ, (1796-1865), French author and politician, was born at Matagne-la-Petite, in the department of the Ardennes. He finished his gene-ral education in Paris, and afterwards applied himself to the study of natural science and medicine. Hatred of the Government of the Bestoration, and enthusiasm for demo-cratic ideas, were at that time widely diffused among the young men of the schools of Paris, and these passions gained full possession of the mind of Buchez. With his friends Bazard and Flotard he founded, in 1821, a secret associa-tion—a system of French carbonarism—which spread rapidly and widely, and displayed itself in repeated attempts at re-volution. In one of these attempts—the affair at Belfort— which cost General Berton, Colonel Caron, and four soldiers of Bochelle their lives, he was gravely compromised, although, the jury which tried him did not find the evidence sufficient to warrant his condemnation. In 1825 he graduated in medicine, and soon after he published, along with M. Trelat, a Précis élémentaire d'Hygiène. About the same time he became a member of the Saint-Simonian Society, presided over by Bazard, Enfantin, and Bodriguez, and contributed to its organ, the Producteur. He left it in consequence of aversion to the strange theological dogmas of its spiritual chief, M. Enfantin, and began to elaborate what he regarded as a Christian socialism. For the expo-sition and advocacy of his principles he founded a periodical called L'Européen. In 1833 he published an Introduction à la Science de l'Histoire, which was received with con-siderable favour, and of which a second edition, improved and enlarged, in two volumes, appeared in 1842. Notwith-standing its prolixity and discursiveness, this is both an in-teresting and a meritorious work. The part of it which treats of the aim, foundation, and methods of the science of history is truly valuable. On the other hand, what is most distinctive in M. Buchez's theory—the division of historical development into four great epochs originated by four universal revelations, of each epoch into three periods corresponding to desire, reasoning, and performance, and of each of these periods into a theoretical and practical age— seems entitled to no higher commendation than that of being ingenious. (See Flint's Philosophy of History in Europe, i, 242-252). M. Buchez next edited, along with M. Boux Laverne, the Histoire parlementaire de la Révolu-tion Française (1833-38, 40 vols). This vast, laborious, conscientious publication is one of the chief sources of information regarding the early periods of the first French Revolution. There is a review of it by Mr Carlyle (Miscellanies), the first two parts of whose own history of the French Revolution are mainly drawn from it. The editors worked under the inspiration of a strong admiration of the principles of Robespierre and the Jacobins, and in the belief that the French Revolution was an attempt to realize Christianity.

M. Buchez gave a general exposition of his views in his Essai d'un Traité complet de Philosophie au point de vue du Catholicisme et du progrès (3 vols. 1839-40). Perhaps the fundamental doctrine of this treatise is that the primi- tive, intellectual, moral, and religious ideas of men cannot be adequately explained as innate, or as derived from sensation, sentiment, or reasoning, but must have been imparted by divine revelation. It is substantially iden- tical with the fundamental doctrine of De Bonald, although Buchez infers from it democratic instead of theocratic consequences. Great prominence is given to the concep- tion of progress which is attained by generalization from a comprehensive survey of geology, physiology, and his- tory. The author sets very distinctly before himself also the aim of organizing the sciences into a single compre- hensive system. This he thought could only be accom- plished through an a priori synthetic method, and not, as had previously been attempted, by the analytical and ex- perimental method. It was partly owing to the reputation which he had acquired by these publications, but still more owing to his connection with the National newspaper, and with the secret societies hostile to the Government of Louis Philippe, that he was raised, by the Bevolution of 1848, to the presidency of the Constituent Assembly. He speedily showed that he was not possessed of the firmness, decision, and political capacity needed in a situation so difficult and in days so tempestuous. He retained the position only for a very short time. After the dissolution of the Assembly he was not re-elected. Thrown back into private life, he resumed his studies, and added several works to those which have been already mentioned. A Traité de Politique, which may be considered as the com- pletion of his Traité de Philosophie, is the most important of the productions of the last period of his life. His brochures are very numerous and on a great variety of subjects, medical, historical, political, philosophical, &o;. He died in 1865. He found a disciple of considerable ability in M. Ott, who has advocated and applied his principles in various writings, the most recent of which, perhaps, places the metaphysical theory of Buchez in as favourable a light as it can be seen under. (E. r.)

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