Louis de Bonald’s “On the Agricultural Family, the Industrial Family, and the Right of Primogeniture” (1826)

Corbet, “Farmers of Flagey returning from market” (1850)

A brief note by way of preface:

What follows is extremely, extremely reactionary.  Obviously, in no way do I endorse or support any of the views it advocates.  Louis de Bonald was a central figure in the Catholic counter-enlightenment,  an ultrareactionary French royalist who ferociously condemned liberalism, republicanism, Jacobinism, the Enlightenment, science, and commerce in general.  As I once tried to explain to a friend, de Bonald makes de Maistre look like Robespierre.

Part of his anti-modern ideology was its nostalgic portrait of the French countryside, the quaint customs and “rootedness” of agricultural life, and so on.  Now it’s clear, of course, that present-day proponents of a “return to the land” —a process sometimes referred to, rather absurdly, as “repeasantization” (a term used by “Jewbonics” blogger Max Ajl, among others) — don’t necessarily wish for a return to old-style spirituality/religiosity, conjugal patriarchy, illiteracy, etc.  But still, it’s helpful to know where this atavistic ideology originally stems from.

When we see our liberal philosophers so exclusively preoccupied with commerce, industry, the progress of manufacturing, and the discoveries of the mechanical arts, we are led to admire the mutable nature of philosophical opinion.  There is no lack of material for a new Bossuet to write a History of Its Variations.

The agricultural state, the first condition of man, is essentially monarchical.  The territorial property is a little kingdom, governed by the will of the head and the service of the subordinates.  Thus the Gospel, which is the code of societies, often compares the kingdom to the agrarian family.  The good sense or habits of an agrarian people are much closer to the best and most sane political ideas than are any of the idle minds in our cities, whatever be their knowledge in the arts and physical sciences.

Farmers live in peace, and can have neither rivalry nor competition among one another.  Merchants are in a necessary conflict of interests with one another.  We might say that the farmer, who leaves each to his own land, unites men without bringing them together, and that commerce, which shuts men up in cities and puts them in continual relations, brings them together without uniting them.

Nobility in France was, for the family, a hereditary devotion to public service, and for the individual, the exclusion from all mercantile professions.

A republic is a society of private individuals who want to obtain power, just as a commercial society is an association of private individuals who want to make money.  This identity of principles makes republics commercial and commerce republican.

Thus Rousseau admires nature, and that only in its wild state.  He would willingly take us back to eating our meat raw, wearing the skins of beasts, and sleeping in the shelter of trees or a lair.  In society he saw naught but servitude, weakness, crime, and misery.  His complaints against it were all drawn from wild nature: the savage’s independence from men and human needs, his natural goodness, his bodily rigor.

But our hard Spartans have become effeminate Sybarites.  The other philosophers speak only of the arts and industries that multiply our needs and pleasures, and they should like to see us all floating through life in palaces of gold and silk.  Of frugality, temperance, and moderation of desires they no longer speak.  For man in society, life is reduced to producing for consumption and consuming to produce.  To them, society as a whole is divided into two classes: producers and consumers.  The philosophers of recent centuries also bitterly and arrogantly denounce conquerors and their wars of conquest.  Yet when they found these conquests profitable to their doctrines, they sounded trumpets to honor the conqueror, and in their philanthropy, benevolence, and humanity, they pardoned him for these appalling wars, whose success was secured by a profound disregard for mankind pitilessly sacrificed to the extravagant dreams of ambition.

Today these philosophers demand the independence of industry, the most dependent of all professions.  They see commerce as the bond of peoples and the guarantee of peace in the world, even though the jealousies of commerce have been the subject of all our wars for some time, as they shall be for all those waged in the future.  To commerce they attribute the spirit of liberty that has spread over Europe, although all the merchants, even the wealthiest of them, daily or even hourly shackle their personal liberty by pledging themselves as security for loans both large and small.

Today some would confuse industry and agriculture and even place them in the same rank in society.  Let us, however, distinguish them in their character and effects, and by their varying influences upon the mind and habits of men and the constitution of states.  This question is not foreign to the measure on primogeniture that has been submitted to the chambers, inasmuch as those who would establish or permit it for the land-owning family have never intended to extend it to the industrial family.

Agriculture feeds her children, but industry gives birth to children she cannot feed.

The child who comes into the world in an agricultural family finds his sustenance already assured, for the earth that his parents cultivate in his turn awaits him to give him is bread.

The child born into an industrial family expects his sustenance from the salary he will earn if a master employs him, and if his industry is not stricken by events that could make it falter, or shut down, or prevent the sale of its products.

The farmer lives from his produce even when he does not sell it.  The industrial worker cannot live unless he sells what he produces.

Thus, the agricultural family enjoys an existence independent of men and events, while the industrial family is dependent upon them both.

A farm is indeed a family whose head is the father.  Whether he owns or rents the farm, he busies himself with the same labors as his servants and eats the same bread, often at the same table.  The farm nourishes all its offspring.  It has occupations for those of all ages and both sexes.  Even the elderly, who cannot perform heavy labor, finish their careers as they began it and stay around the house watching the children and animals.

There is nothing similar to this in the industrial family, whose members work in isolation and often in different industries, and who do not know their master apart from the exigencies of his commands.  Industry does not nourish all ages and both sexes.  It does employ the child, and often so young that his health and strength are ruined.  The child may receive some instruction, but he is abandoned in his advanced years when he can no longer work.  Then the industrial worker has no bread except what he takes from his children’s salary or what he receives from public charity.

The farmer toils from the rising to the setting of the sun but never at night.  He rests on Sunday and takes up his work again on Monday.  The industrial worker works even at night in order to gain a higher salary, especially when he works at home by the piece.  Whether he rests on Sunday or not, overheated by his forced labor, on Monday he debauches.

The farmer works outside and standing up.  He strengthens his body by the hard and painful labor of the fields and exerts his intelligence upon the numerous details and variations in the culture of the earth, trees, and beasts.  He tames the animals and forces rebellious nature to submit to his care.  The industrial worker works hunched over and sedentary, turns a crank, makes the shuttle go to and fro, and pulls together the threads.  He spends his life in cellars or attics and, becoming a machine himself, he exerts his fingers, but never his mind.  It can thus be said that there is nothing less industrious than the industrial worker.

Everything improves the intelligence of the farmer and lifts his thoughts towards Him who gives fruitfulness to the earth, dispenses the seasons, and makes the fruit ripen.  Everything debases the intelligence of the worker.  He sees nothing above the master who employs him, or at best the inventor of the machine to which he is attached.

We can thus say that the former waits for everything from God, and that the latter receives everything from man.

The farmer tells his neighbors of his discoveries and new processes that he invents to improve his cultivation.  The industrialist and the merchant keep their speculations secret.  We can thus say that the agriculture that disperses men about the countryside unites them without bringing them together, while the commerce that crowds them into cities brings them together without uniting them.

The agricultural population is strong and vigorous, the industrial population frail and sickly.  Not long ago a judge in a small canton in Switzerland bitterly deplored the degeneration of the beautiful people of his country since workshops and factories had been established in it.

Nor am I afraid to advance that there are nowhere more beggars than in manufacturing cities and industrial countries.  England is the proof of this, for in spite of its immense fortune and widely extended industry, a large part of its inhabitants falls under the charge of the landholders.  Their poor-laws are an oppressive tax.  What does it matter that their poor are better clothed and better nourished than ours, if they are clothed and nourished only by public charity and parish offices?

Louis de Bonald, counter-revolutionary and proponent of the Restoration

I do not speak of that local industry, or, if you will, the national industry, which is the companion of agriculture and puts the produce of the soil to work for the needs for those who cultivate it.  This exists always and everywhere, for men have always built houses, spun flax and wool, forged arms and tools, and exercised all the arts necessary to human existence.  I speak, rather, of that cosmopolitan industry that would furnish the entire world with products whose primary materials it has scoured from the four corners of the earth.  This furious industry causes our political leaders to consider foreign nations not as friends or allies, but only as customers.

Local industry serves agriculture, which demands its products by furnishing it the material and paying for them in the same fashion.  The larger industry serves the whole earth, and the nation that produces the most for the foreigner is the one that most serves the nations who consume these products, and, consequently, it is the most dependent upon their needs or caprices.

Yet almost every country has the primary materials for those industries and arts necessary for human existence, while the taste for these arts is widespread, the workers easy to move, and a machine spins or makes its products just as well in Russia as it does in France or England.  Therefore it does not seem to be a wise or farsighted policy to depend overmuch on foreign consumption for the prosperity of our country.

Necessities can be found and made everywhere, but superfluities can be kept out by governments.

Thus, by a singular contradiction, while all governments favor the progress of industries that provide for other states and extend their commercial relations beyond all bounds, these same states, through protective laws and armies of toll collectors, seek to limit the competition of foreign products with domestic ones.  Everyone would sell and no one would buy.  One may at least hope that the now-popular republican principles and sentiments will one day inspire us with the spirit of frugality, temperance, moderation, and economy, those virtues so strongly honored by the ancient republics.  For they would be strange republics, and would soon submit to the yoke of a master, if they wished to begin as our monarchies ended, that is, in luxury.  And another thing: in our monarchies, luxury was good morals and almost a duty of rank, whereas in our republics it will be only private and personal taste.

Agriculture waits for everything from God and does not rebel against the author of nature if hail or frost ravages the crop.  But industry, which waits for everything from man, blames everyone for its miseries: the masters, the rich, and the government.  The government is forced to use stern measures to maintain public tranquility against these desperate men whose need carries them to every excess, and whose discontent is all too often set alight by malice.  It is a deplorable situation when authority is forced to respond with rifle shots to the complaints of those miserable men who ask only to keep the career the government has forced upon them.  In truth, a century of industrial prosperity does not make up for an hour of this terrible but necessary use of force.

The mobile fortunes of commerce and industry divide themselves by equal shares among children.  These families are not, strictly speaking, political families, for they lack landed property.  Landowning families are planted in the soil.  The others only rest upon the soil and are ready to abandon it if they find a more fruitful industry elsewhere.  Thus, the agricultural family is fixed.  The industrial family is mobile, but it tends to fix itself and to pass from the purely civil state to the political state.  For this reason, it is in the interest of the state, as it is that of families, that landed property concentrate itself and that mobile property divide itself in order to leave to a greater number the means to obey their natural tendency and plant themselves in the soil.  The contrary obtains today.  Immense fortunes are made with capital, and the great fortunes of the land are dissolving.  We spin with steam-driven machines that have the force of fifty horses, and soon we will no longer work the fields with the spade and hoe.

4 thoughts on “Louis de Bonald’s “On the Agricultural Family, the Industrial Family, and the Right of Primogeniture” (1826)

    • Just out of curiosity, Øyvind, do you find yourself generally agreeing and/or sympathizing with the views de Bonald is laying out here?

      I hope that doesn’t seem like a loaded question.

      • I completely agree with him about the complain of industrial society and its way of design/production, which needs to be turned the other way round: http://meedabyte.files.wordpress.com/2012/03/newparadigm.png?w=710&h=333

        This mean a new product cycle: http://meedabyte.files.wordpress.com/2012/03/productcycle.png?w=710&h=374

        Both graphs from this article: http://meedabyte.com/2012/03/04/the-co-operation-advantage-and-the-new-theory-of-niches/

        Today the whole countryside is destroyed by power gates, communication masts on every hilltop and a furious traffic, and all traditional culture is gone. It’s even quite impossible to find a farmhouse that’s not destroyed by modernization, like huge window panes and synthetic materials. To withstand all this uglyfication pressure we need to organize in larger nature communities or ecovillages, where the needs of the systems are met from within itself on every level.

        Still, I believe pure urbanism is pure nature, as it organizes itself like nature does in patterns and pattern languages. And where the facades and interior of the buildings reflects nature, using Alexander’s 15 properties of life and Salingaro’s three laws for structural order, among other properties to bring the cityscape in balance with human biophilia.

        Personally I had to abandon my grandmother’s farm because they built a power gate just 15 meters away from the walls of the house. For my grandmother’s farm there’s now a heavily trafficated road just outside the walls, and they put up a huge communication mast on a nearby hilltop. There’s nothing I wanted more than becoming a farmer, and I hate this society which destroyed this possibility for me. Now I live in a town that is completely ruined by modernistic typologies as well, like a gigantic shopping mall down by Lake Mjøsa destroying every possibility for real urbanism: http://permaculture.org.au/2011/12/06/a-multilayered-anti-pattern/

        The only fight I’ve left is to break down everything there is to build something brand new, for the future of my daughter!

      • Here is a brilliant quota by Michel Bauwens in today’s p2p-blog:

        “Now that the need for large-scale production is disappearing due to the crystalline democratization of the means of production — now only linked to the time factor which is exponentially compressed every day — the cooperative revolution underway has placed people, as actors in their communities, at the centre of the act of production, humanizing it.”

        See: http://blog.p2pfoundation.net/have-we-reached-a-p2p-tipping-point/2012/06/22

        I also want to post the whole quota by Bill Mollison, which is on the top of my list for important quotas:

        “When the needs of a system cannot be met from within itself, we pay the price in energy and pollution.” – Bill Mollison

        See: http://www.bigskypermaculture.ca/sutures

        I would also add that we pay the price in loneliness, ugliness and pointlessness.

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