Bonald and the socialists: some unsettled debts

[Consider this a continuation of “The yearning for lord and manor.”]

Louis de Bonald remains one of the begrudgingly and infrequently acknowledged founders of sociology. It is illustrative to consider the way Bonald, who was a firmly modern thinker, being steeped in Malebranche’s occasionalist solution to the dilemma of Cartesian dualism, ended up setting the foundations for modern sociological thinking while using it to further anti-modern ends. Bonald was also a representative of an aristocratic and patriarchal school of anti-capitalistic thought which in some places echoes and in most other places is radically incongruous with modern socialist ideas.

First, we assert that the category of being is the one primary to all things, indifferent to finitude, and it must be univocal rather than analogous, applying equally to God, man and all other phenomena. This is the Scotist univocity of being. Formal notions like goodness, wisdom and being all retain a simple univocal component regardless of which entity they’re attributed to or to what degree of perfection.

Secondly, we assert that the only efficient causal agent is God (occasionalism). “Do [our senses] show us the force which carries heavy things downwards, light things upwards, and how one body has the power to make another body move?,” asked La Forge. Moreover, since matter is conceived as an inert rea extensa, it cannot be the source of forces and powers that create motion. In Cartesian fashion, Malebranche could assert: “We have only two sorts of ideas, ideas of minds and ideas of bodies; and as we should speak only of what we conceive, we should only reason according to these two kinds of ideas. Thus, since the idea we have of all bodies makes us aware that they cannot move themselves, it must be concluded that it is minds which move them.” That mind is God’s.

Thirdly, we combine univocity of being and occasionalism to posit that our finite ideas have a univocal relation to the infinite and divine ideas emerging from the mind of the Godhead.

We thus develop, through the method of correspondence, a universal calculus for uncovering facts about a social whole existing ontologically prior to any individual. In Bonald’s case, the divine trinity had a secular manifestation in pouvoir, ministre et sujet, as the foundation of authority, for instance husband, wife, child, respectively.

We then proceed to drop the univocal likeness between God and society and simply proclaim more parsimoniously that society itself is God, and that the social organism is by itself an efficient cause of its members’ actions. Sociology is born.

But this immanentization of society comes at a cost. The tensions between aristocratic/conservative anti-capitalism and popular anti-capitalism (modern socialism), particularly w.r.t. freedom, self-determination and the organization of production, is one such cost that is of significance to us here.

The original impetus for opposition to capitalism came not so much from some economistic notion of distributional struggle between profit-earners and wage-earners, but from a concern for the moral control of the newly emerging underclass of migrants from rural to urban areas. Such things as poor sanitation and the erosion of traditional matrimony in favor of more “flexible” common law unions were of primary consideration. The problem was not that the industrialist was a slave driver, but that he was an awful one.

To begin with, Bonald himself. His critique of industrialization was, in a nutshell:

a) the erosion of the commons: “The use of common things; temples, water, woods, pasture, properly constitutes the community. There is no community where there are no, longer any community possessions. . . . [Where] there is no, longer any common property, there will as a result no longer be any community of interest, no longer any basis for deliberation and agreement.”;

[This argument would later be poorly mirrored by the Marxists in the concept of “primitive accumulation,” more on that below.]

b) the miscategorization of what constitutes the wealth of nations: “For society, a moral being, the means of existence and perpetuation are moral wealth, the power of endurance. For domestic society, it is manners and customs, for public society it is the laws. Manners, customs, and laws are the true, and even the sole wealth of society, that is, their only true means of existence and conservation.”;

c) anomie produced from the alienation of labor: “We might say that agriculture unites men without placing them in proximity, and commerce, which heaps them together in cities and puts them in continual contact, puts them together without uniting them.”

Very familiar. But not when situated within their proper context (pp.169-170 of the Essai analytique):

Men multiply, and families come closer together. Common needs bring them together, but more often even passions disunite them. Women, children, herds, territories, hunting, fishing, everything becomes a quarrel between families; In every society, and even at all ages of society, private wars are seen as soon as families are perceived; and neighbors who plead today, would have taken up arms a few centuries ago.

The domestic state is necessary to reproduce and preserve man: a public state or political government is formed, in order to multiply and preserve the families. I see in all times and in all nations a man who speaks and commands, and men who listen and obey, that is to say men in active condition and men in passive state: I perceive other men (magistrates or warriors), as a mean between these two extremes, placed at equal distance from the power and subjects, receiving the orders they transmit, and obeying these orders.

Not only do I perceive this order in the universe, but reason tells me that this order is natural, that it can not exist otherwise for the preservation of families; That there must be a general will to give all the wills a common direction, and a general action to prevent the shock of specific actions; And if it is proved that this order is necessary, I do not care much whether in principle it is voluntary or forced, and I see no contract, where I see a necessity.

I perceive, then, a human power, ministers, subjects, who are not fathers, mothers, children, considered in the physical relation; But which, having as the end of their relations the multiplication of families and their preservation, present an end similar to that of the family, which has for its object the reproduction and conservation of man, and thus have a general or public end, just as the family has one particular and domestic.

From this similarity in the means and in the end, there arises a similarity in the appellations. Power in every religious and political society is called paternity, and subjects are called children; And this is what makes the author of the preliminary discourse say: “Magistrates are fathers wherever fathers are magistrates.”

In domestic society or the family, power is man, it is one; and in public or general society called state, power must be man, and it is always one, in spite of contrary appearances; For a man alone proposes the law that all accept: often even one decides when several deliberate. In every legislative assembly, a void divides it; and the only difference in this respect between the most unlimited democracy and hereditary kingship is the unity fixed in it.

Note in particular the remark: “I do not care much whether in principle it is voluntary or forced, and I see no contract, [but rather] a necessity.” This will have a lot of implications for the nature of the social relations of production when capitalism is overcome.

Question: Who developed the first public health board in France on the departmental level? Answer: Alban de Villeneuve-Bargemont, legitimist and Catholic social reformer. Tocqueville liked him, too.

Villeneuve-Bargemont, along with Pierre Bigot de Morogues, Joseph Marie de Gerando, Francois Emmanuel de Fodere and a host of others were among the first to battle liberal political economy from the right.

For his part, Villeneuve-Bargemont preferred a proliferation of agricultural societies, credit unions, friendly societies, poor relief from religious orders, etc. Of industrialists, he said they had the duty “when, in order to realize their lucrative speculations, they agglomerated thousands of workers in vast factories, they were obliged to provide for their existence and that of their families, their health, their diseases, their old age, their morality.” (Économie politique chrétienne, vol. 2, ch. 4)

Indeed, his fundamentally patriarchal conception of charity is illustrated in a discussion of Moses:

Moses, it is true, authorized voluntary slavery; but he decided that the slaves could always redeem themselves by paying their masters the sum for which they had been sold; That at the end of seven years, they would all be free without ransom, unless they preferred to remain in their condition. If they returned to slavery, they could only leave it at the time of the Jubilee Year, which was every fifty years. The masters were obliged to provide for the needs of their slaves. This obligation has been of all times and all countries. The interest of the masters was attached to his observation; but doubtless it must have been imperfectly fulfilled, in regard to the elderly and infirm, among the nations in which religion had not imperiously consecrated it. At this primitive period, and when Christian charity had not yet appeared, there was an institution worthy of serving it as a sort of precursor. It was hospitality. This virtue, which had its source in the most generous sentiments of the human heart, was chiefly in honor among the Israelites. Holy Scripture and the fathers of the church offer an infinite number of examples. Genesis represents Abraham constantly busy searching for hosts… Lot, Gideon, Laban, Job, Tobias, Solomon practice or boast that virtue, a companion of patriarchal manners.

De Gerando in his statistical studies of working class life again focused on the following virtues: sobriety, absence of prostitution, absence of illegitimate births, frugality, submission and gratitude to one’s superiors. The primary question concerns the mitigation of underclass debauchery.

Felicite de Lamennais, once an ultramontanist extraordinaire, either snapped in 1830 in the midst of revolution and became a leading Christian socialist, or simply extended his themes to become more socially conscious, depending on who you ask. In any event, he became an early exponent of widening the franchise to pursue social reforms. Nevertheless, despite his often extreme preaching of universalism and political equality of rights, he still envisioned society in familial and organic terms: “The social state, natural to man, establishes relations between families whence arises a new order of duties, duties toward one’s country. Our country is the common mother, the unity in which isolated individuals are merged and blended; it is the sacred name that expresses the voluntary fusion of all interests into one sole interest, of all lives into one perpetually-enduring life. And this fusion, the prolific source of inexhaustible blessings, the origin of a continual and otherwise impossible progress, — this fusion, the effect of which is indefinitely to increase the conservative force, the power of development, productive energy, security, prosperity, — how is it effected ? By the devotion of each to all, the sacrifice of self, in fine by love, which, stifling abject selfishness, accomplishes the perfect union of the members of the social body.”

Frederic Le Play was among the most conspicuous of all. Even more staggering given his training as an engineer in the Ecole Polytechnique. But unlike his peers, his work was imbibed with a profound moral sense. Among economic questions he considered “how reverence to God, and respect to parents and to woman, were lost in France.

We therefore observe a sociological perspective in aristocratic anti-capitalism that seeks to reestablish social bonds, which is in opposition to the left-wing project where liberation from these bonds is sought.

The analytical approach one uses to model the enclosures is illustrative here. The Marxist idea of primitive accumulation in a certain sense posits a romanticized image of the yeoman farmer having his customary smallholdings being broken up by aggressive and speculative landowners, capitalists to be. In other words, this is interpreted as a loss of liberty.

What the aristocrat might say about the enclosures, on the other hand, is that the proliferation of freeholds and fee simple estates did in fact lead to a greater liberty, and this was precisely the problem. For one thing, even the yeoman was still tied to his lord by the payment of a rentcharge even if he was not subject to the manorial court. The liberty from the various social groups and corporations that have made yesterday’s subject and today’s citizen closer to his new master, the unitary state, have also wrecked his moral calculus. In contrast, the orthodox socialist would view this as a just suppression of various “private interests” that alienate man from his social nature.

The much-celebrated idea of the “alienation of labor” was lifted by the Marxists almost verbatim from Hegel and given a Ricardian spin in Capital. From the Philosophy of Right we have, regarding the contractual relationship:

This contractual relationship, therefore, is the means whereby one identical will can persist within the absolute difference between independent property owners. It implies that each, in accordance with the common will of both, ceases to be an owner and yet is and remains one. It is the mediation of the will to give up a property, a single property, and the will to take up another, i.e. another belonging to someone else; and this mediation takes place when the two wills are associated in an identity in the sense that one of them comes to its decision only in the presence of the other.

Now, the alienation of labor can be interpreted in a technical and a phenomenological sense. The technical sense is that alienation is simply a mirror image of the division of labor. Recall the Marxian law of value: “That which determines the magnitude of the value of any articles is the amount of labor socially necessary, or the labor-time socially necessary, for its production. Each individual commodity in this connection is to be considered as an average sample of its class. Commodities, therefore, in which equal quantities of labor are embodied, or which can be produced in the same time, have the same value. The value of one commodity is to the value of any other, as the labor-time necessary for the production of the one is to that necessary for the production of the other. As values all commodities are only definite masses of congealed labor time.” To the extent that the division of labor creates more opportunities for surplus value extraction and keeps the rate of profit steady, this produces alienation as the higher-order stages of production pile up away from the end product.

Phenomenologically, and it is in this fashion that almost everyone speaks of it, the alienation of labor is the psychological malaise produced by the commodification of work.

But the problem with this is that there isn’t necessarily a relationship between “rootedness” of one’s labor and one’s freedom from exploitative social relations of production. A manor where one is the subject of a seignor who has the power of wardship over them and is compelled to pay banal rights for the use of the seignor’s hardware and facilities (mills, ovens, etc.) is an obviously unfree and by socialist standards “exploitative” system. Yet one nevertheless retains a deep sense of community and resides in close proximity to the product of one’s labor, meaning that both technically and phenomenologically, one is not alienated.

Speaking of the law of value, I’d like to play a little game.

I call this game “Ludwig von Mises or Thorstein Veblen?”:

Wherever commodities and commodity production exist, there the law of value must also exist.

In our country, the sphere of operation of the law of value extends, first of all, to commodity circulation, to the ex-change of commodities through purchase and sale, the ex-change, chiefly, of articles of personal consumption. Here, in this sphere, the law of value preserves, within certain limits, of course, the function of a regulator.

But the operation of the law of value is not confined to the sphere of commodity circulation. It also extends to production. True, the law of value has no regulating function in our socialist production, but it nevertheless influences production, and this fact cannot be ignored when directing production. As a matter of fact, consumer goods, which are needed to compensate the labour power expended in the process of production, are produced and realized in our country as commodities coming under the operation of the law of value. It is precisely here that the law of value exercises its influence on production. In this connection, such things as cost accounting and profitableness, production costs, prices, etc., are of actual importance in our enterprises. Consequently, our enterprises cannot, and must not, function without taking the law of value into account.

Is this a good thing? It is not a bad thing. Under present conditions, it really is not a bad thing, since it trains our business executives to conduct production on rational lines and disciplines them. It is not a bad thing because it teaches our executives to count production magnitudes, to count them accurately, and also to calculate the real things in production precisely, and not to talk nonsense about “approximate figures,” spun out of thin air. It is not a bad thing because it teaches our executives to look for, find and utilize hidden reserves latent in production, and not to trample them under-foot. It is not a bad thing because it teaches our executives systematically to improve methods of production, to lower production costs, to practise cost accounting, and to make their enterprises pay. It is a good practical school which accelerates the development of our executive personnel and their growth into genuine leaders of socialist production at the present stage of development.

The answer is… Joseph Stalin.

Indeed, Comrade Stalin was quite the bourgeois porky, caring about such things as “lowering production costs,” “practicing cost accounting,” and, worst of all, “making one’s enterprises pay.”

So, per Comrade Stalin, the law of value does not disappear when production is socialized (though it is mitigated). Only under full communism is value as a historical category superseded.

But also notice “conducting production on rational lines.”

The purpose of the socialization of production, then, is to provide a sense of regularity and to enable the explicit administration of the income distribution process. Under pure capitalism, the distribution of income is equivalent to the sum of incomes earned as a share by each factor of production. How it unfolds is subject to indeterminacy.

This has nothing to do with liberty, with rights, with self-expression, with identity, with political consciousness, or anything of the sort.

Provided that a) the worker’s alienation from the product of his labor is minimized, b) an equitable and consistent source of income is provided, c) the worker is insured from the contingencies of the trade cycle, orthodox socialist demands are largely met even when there is an absence of political liberty as such.

From this historical materialist perspective, most demands of radical politics related to satisfying grievances of minorities are not only irrelevant but counterproductive.

As a columnist for VDARE wrote:

The questions we have asked have been hard for us: ‘How are women, organised as women, going to stop capital?’ ‘How are blacks, organised as blacks, going to stop capital?’ ‘How are women organised as workers going to stop capital?’ ‘How are blacks organised as workers going to stop capital?’ Many theorists have tried to expand the definition of the working class to include political elements within it, thus the struggle of women by themselves for their position in the workplace is viewed positively because they are struggling ‘consciously’, that is, politically, for a defined political end. We, contrarily, see in this politicisation of struggle precisely the route by which it will be utilised to improve productivity, because political consciousness is precisely the factor that tricks workers into forgetting where their real power lies. Women do not harm capitalism by establishing themselves as equals to men in the workplace, blacks do not harm capitalism because they establish themselves as equals to whites; equal opportunity legislation is a source of great pride in capital’s civilisation of itself, the ongoing victory of women and of blacks in this area is proclaimed by capital as its own victory, its own self-civilising progress towards a free, happy, equal society. Political demands may be satisfied under capitalist terms and used as a ground for further exploitation, this is the function of politics, and radical politics in particular.

I’m joking, of course. That’s not VDARE (though it might as well be, those damned pinkos). It’s Monsieur Dupont, a pseudonym used by a couple of commies in their manifesto against political consciousness-raising entitled “Nihilist Communism,” a fancy term for extreme economic determinism.
It therefore follows that the agent by which production is socialized is irrelevant provided it serves its function.

It could be a federation of autonomous labor unions, per the syndicalists. It could be workers’ councils. It could be the state — although this is not strictly Marxist, since the state is supposed to be the instrument by which property relations and class domination are enforced. It was not until Nicos Poulantzas’ State, Power, Socialism (1978) that the autonomy of the state was seriously conceived within the confines of Marxism. Yes, it took them a century to realize this.

Or, it could be a feudal aristocracy based on entail and primogeniture.

This was the idea of Maurice Rubichon, a now forgotten precursor of Christian socialism:

Liberty and equality are faculties which Providence has not granted to man in aggregation. Society exists only through subordination and hierarchy. All contrary theories are strongly denied by experience. The state, as well as the family, as well as the individual, is all the more robust because it imposes stricter laws. It is the day of battle that an army recognizes the protective effects of a severe discipline…

I know that the French have succeeded in raising clamors against the right of primogeniture. But these clamors are part of these adjoining classes, which have divided the lands of the clergy and the nobility; The bourgeois living in the cities regard these properties as movable properties; They are burdensome to them, because they render them an income much lower than that which their capital would render in the usury they exercise, and which, instead of creating an aristocratic influence, give them a kind of atrophy. It is necessary to have arrived at this modern anarchy in political opinions, so that the men in charge of governing will lend themselves to the ideas of the multitude; But it would be as well to require that the professor should consult the pupils; or the magistrate, the litigants and the accused; And yet they are on their seats only on the condition not only of not consulting them, but of opposing their opinions and overcoming their passions. Out of a hundred individuals, there are eighty-three who live so much from day to day that most do not leave enough to be buried, and this throughout the universe since its creation; Are these the ones you will consult on the right of primogeniture? Assemble them and offer them the greatest absurdity; A majority will immediately take the question. And what do they have to do with the rights of primogeniture who, from father to son, have nothing to live but their industry and often that of others?

What tender interest can they experience for cadets whose parents are rich, of high birth and distinguished education? It seems to me that their philanthropy, instead of pitying the younger of the rich, ought rather to be applied to the elders of the poor, and especially to themselves; But what is the use of pitying over the immutable decrees of Providence? If it is well proved that among the ancients as well as among the moderns, among the French, whose laws also divide property among all children, as among the English or Germans, who have maintained some rights of primogeniture. There is the same proportion in the number of proletarians and proprietors, that is to say, that in one hundred families there are only seventeen who, by virtue of their property, live day to day; So there are eighty-three who possess almost nothing but their arms.

What do we have to look for? We have to seek that system by which the arms of these eighty-three proletarians obtain the greatest share in the enjoyments of seventeen proprietors, with the least possible labor, and this when we ought to usurp over the enjoyments of these seventeen owners.

We note a simultaneous stark elitism imbued with a sense of duty to the lower strata. But the preference for non-alienable inherited estates is also in line with precisely the type of regularity and ultimately the bondage (in the sense of a lack of freedom) that is of utmost importance for socialized production to perform its job.

Obviously all of this requires class collaboration as opposed to class struggle. So what, though? Class struggle is a liberal idea. It was the journal Le Censeur of Charles Comte, Charles Dunoyer and Augustin Thierry where an idea of class struggle based on liberal political economy was conceived. It was that of industrielisme, a two-class social theory where a conflict takes place between those who live off their free labor under voluntary exchange and those who live on the fiscal apparatus of the governing authorities. Indeed, Marx and Engels discussed Thierry as an influence in their private correspondence. Their “innovation” was to keep the same assumptions of liberal political economy, but simply to extend the warrior/governing class to also encompass capitalist profiteers, so that only the proles were the true creators of economic value.

And so, in our attempt to create a fair and just distribution of income, we end up sanctioning Prussian conservatism, like that of Johann Friedrich Ancillon (one of the most restrained among them, actually) and his maxim that proprietors alone form the nation and must be its sustenance: “National interests can not be well known or appreciated if not every industry, every state, every kind of property finds its supporters, and if the forms of representation do not take the electors and the eligible in the different classes of the society. The proprietors in these different classes are the only ones who are truly interested in the preservation and prosperity of the State, because their destinies are inseparable from its. They alone form the nation; the perfect knowledge which each of them has of his particular sphere of activity, and the conditions of the welfare of the class to which they belong, give them the means of contributing to the equation of particular interests with the general interest, which is what is or should be the object of all good legislation.”

Which I suppose is how you derive an alt-left. Middle American radicalism — we want our single-payer, and we want white tenants. If it means saying “massa, I gun be a good nigga” to a newly ennobled globalist plutocrat, then so be it.

Besides, the modern socialist owes more to Mussolini than Marx. All that talk of direct action reeks of Sorelian voluntarism. Expropriating the porkies doesn’t cut it now that every wage laborer with his pensions, retirement accounts, index funds and personal pet projects has porky false consciousness embedded into his being. But talk into him that he is the trustee of a great nation and you’ll have those kin recognition mechanisms fired up to get his ethnic nepotism boiling. How the fash will rise again: leftists who don’t like darkies will independently reinvent national syndicalism. Or is that the alt-right? I don’t know.


5 thoughts on “Bonald and the socialists: some unsettled debts

  1. Whose formula is “univocity rather than analogy” – Malebranche’s? LaForge’s? (It is interesting to me because “the principle of analogy” is often used to designate precisely the opposite polarity.)

    >We thus develop, through the method of correspondence, a universal calculus for uncovering facts about a social whole existing ontologically prior to any individual. In Bonald’s case…

    Your insight is astute but in Bonald is already much too late; try earlier still

    It is not clear which of the Bonaldien sociological views you take to be striking. Btw on Marx and the state as an independent social force,

    >Yes, it took them a century to realize this.

    I presume you have some extremely contrarian reading of “The 18th Brumaire”?

    Anyway, excellent condensation of occasionalism in the first several paragraphs. Communicating the essentials of a metaphysical position in a telegraphic style is a true art-form.


    • I’m aware of it as being of Scotus opposed to Aquinas. The remarks on sociological foundations were not an integral part of this, anyway.

      I also confess, as it should be obvious, that I used Bonald’s name as something of a metonym for a tendency larger than him, but which he had great lasting influence over.

      > I presume you have some extremely contrarian reading of “The 18th Brumaire”?

      I haven’t read it in a long time, so my memory is dim. Notice, however, that I said the Marxists and not Marx. It was still from what I recall mostly economistic even if it tried to locate classes in a fluid and non-essentialist manner. In this schema, Legitimists = landed property, Orleanists = industry. Parliamentary struggles are linked, even with some layer of indirection, to sectional economic interests. Do correct me, though.


      • >Bonald’s name as something of a metonym

        So it goes

        >the Marxists and not Marx

        Fair enough – although the stupidity of the Marxists is sufficiently great that one cannot necessarily attribute to them, collectively, the insights of any particular pinko, either…

        The basic idea of Marx’s analysis of the Second Empire is that where the economic forces controlled by the contending classes are neatly balanced against one another, the apparatus of the state itself can become the deciding voice between them, in particular by mobilizing the minor sub-classes (the petit bourgeoisie, the peasantry) as its muscle. Not a particularly deep or far-reaching account, but certainly one which acknowledges the possibility of an independent state interest.


  2. What’s ironic is that most reactionaries are unaware that the First Vatican Council condemned the reactionary thought, i.e. the traditionalist school (not to be confused with radical traditionalist school, which is even worse from the chuch’s point of view). Indeed Social Teaching is “ultra-liberal” in a sense, private property is proclaimed “sacred and inviolable,” and everyone is encouraged “to become an owner.” From this standpoint, capitalism is seen as being unbearably feudal. Hence distributist insistence on “neither capitalism nor socialism” mantra.


  3. Pingback: “Reform, therefore, means rule of the mob.” | Carlsbad 1819

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