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Philippe-Joseph-Benjamin Buchez

Philippe-Joseph-Benjamin Buchez (1796-1866), the son of a physician, and also a doctor of medicine, practiced his pro fession and published in his field. For his medical thesis he brought out in 1825 his Considé rations générales sur les fièvres intermittent. A few years later in 1833 he published another work exhibiting the breadth of his interests and concerns:Introduction à la science de l'histoire ou science du développement de l'humanité. Throughout his life problems of psychology, from a medical viewpoint, occupied part of his time. This interest added to his wider concern for the human condition. As late as four years before his death Buchez was contributing to the medical journal Annales médico-psychologique. Yet the central direction of his life was formed by his increasing all consuming task to understand the nature of human societies, their social and political forms. Within the year of receiving his medical degree, he was expressing his conviction that the arts and letters and the sciences had to be f ocused on the future of man and societies.

At the outset Buchez had been deeply indebted to the ideas characterized as those of Saint-Simonisme uniting the political and the social. To some degree in 1825 the death of Saint-Simon enabled Buchez to distance himself from Saint-Simon's followers and disciples. Above all Buchez distinguished himself from the contemporary discourse on the social question by his concrete contact and understanding of the working and proletariat classes. Uniqu ely, he gave in his home courses to workers on the past, present, and future prospects of France. These contacts instructed Buchez, in more than a theoretical way, in what it meant for workers to be constantly facing the threat of being without food or shelter. Responding to this chronic distress Buchez cited, as an admonition to the exploitive proprietors in commerce and industry, Saint Paul's Second Epistle to the Thessalonians: "If a man will not work, he shall not eat." He deplored a system t hat protected the wealthy and kept the working classes in the plight of those whose daily existence was in jeopardy. Given this society, in which he had little trust, Buchez placed his hope in the prospect of a Democratic-Christian nation guided by a Catholic or Christian Socialism.

Adding to all his activities, Buchez edited with Prosper-Charles Roux in the years 1843-1848 the forty volume Histoire parlementaire de la Révolution française. This documentary colle ction not only included the text of the parliamentary debates, but also press accounts during the Revolution. To this he added, to all but four of the volumes, prefaces interpreting the Revolution's continuing significance to France- a nation that had experienced the July revolution of 1830 and had in its future the revolution of 1848.

As early as 1821-1833 Buchez was active in collaboration with Armand Bazard (1791-1832) in establishing the French la Charbonnerie. Initially, this secret society attracted among others Augustin Thiery (1798-1850) the historian, Victor Cousin (1792-1867) a philosopher of importance at the Sorbonne, and Louis-August Blanqui (1805-1881) who at nineteen would affiliate with la Charbonnerie. Not all of its members were prepared, however, to establish a republic. These initial divisions prefigured the conflicting political expectations of those little given to admire the Restoration. As early as 1821, Buchez had attracted police surveillance, as did his associates. With such preparation it was neither surprising that Buchez supported the July revolution of 1830 nor that he would welcome the demonstrations and brief fighting of February 1848 leading to the second republic. In these time he asserted that Catholicism must be revolutionist and Catholics obliged to support republican and democratic causes.

In 1831 in order to express his hopes for a more just society he had established the journal L'Européen. Emphasizing moral and political question, the paper had its goal the amelioration of the deplorable situations of the impoverished members of society. Without ambiguity, Buchez stressed that France constituted a nation divided by the few who had everything- land, factories, capital- while the rest of the people had nothing. At the outset of the revolution of 1848 he established the Revue Nationale to reach out to workers and all of the democratic convictions. In the same fashion, Buchez assisted in 1849 in the creation of the worker's ownership of the paper L'Atelier. Truly a worker's paper, L'Atelier had as its logo Saint Paul's warning in his Second Epistle that those who do not work shall not eat. Workers understood this logo as a message directed at the leisured classes and exploiters of the proletariat.

When the revolution of 1848 began on February 24, Buchez, as a captain in the national guard, took his unit to the Tuilerie s where they witnessed the flight of Louis-Philippe. In the days that followed Buchez became maire-adjoint of Paris. At the same time he was elected to the national constituent assembly of 1848.

On the 15th of May a popular nonviolent invasion of the assembly took place. This invasion was an attempt to express the essential needs of the working population of Paris and of the nation. Buchez was at this moment serving as president of the assembly. Faithful to his convictions and trust in the people, he did not call for the use of force to clear the assembly. This calm response earned Buchez the scorn and loud criticism from prominent members of the assembly.

Tocqueville in his Recollections described this day, disdainfully recalling Buchez's conduct: "Buchez" he wrote, "the president, whom some would make out to be a rascal and others a saint, but who on that day was a great blockhead, rang his bell with all his might to obtain silence, as thoug h the silence of that multitude was not, under the circumstances, more to be dreaded than its cries."

Whatever the limits of Buchez's understanding and efforts to ameliorate the situation of the working class, it is significant that Marx and Engels envied his contacts with the people. Two years after Buchez's death, Marx, in a letter to Johann B. Schweitzer of October 13, 1868, mocked Buchez's proposal for state aid to worker's associations. Adding to this he scornfully identified Buchez a s the "leader of French Catholic socialism." in the same fashion, nine years after Buchez's death Frederick Engels, in a letter of March 18-28, 1875 to August Bebel, contemptuously dismissed Ferdinand Lasalle's proposal of state aid to workers as in its "naked form" stolen from Buchez.

The courage and independence of Buchez is perhaps best represented by his response to the encyclical Mirari vos condemning the liberalism of the journal L'Avenir. Without hesitation, Buchez scathingly rejected the "Italian blathering of Rome." To this he added his scorn for Rome's endless "reactionary" pronouncements. At the same time Buchez never retracted his hope, expressed in the Revue national of May 1847, that the social crises afflicting France would never end until revolutionaries became Catholics and Catholics revolutionaries.

Edward Gargan


P.J. B. Buchez, Essai d'un traité complet de philosophie du point de vue du catholicisme 3 volumes 1838-1840

_______. Traité de politique et de science social 2 vols. 1866.

A. Cuvillier, P.-J.-B. Buchez et les origines du socialisme chré tien. 1948

François-Andre Isambert, De la charbonnerie au saint-simonisme: Etude sur la jeunesse de Buchez 1966.

Leon Epsztein, L'Economie et la morale aux debuts du capitalisme industriel en Franc e et en Grande Bretagne 1966.

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