Louis Blanc Biography


(History of the World: The 19th Century)

Article abstract: The founder of humanitarian socialism, Blanc developed his dissatisfaction with the misery of the French people into an imperative to transform the basic governmental and economic system to end forever the capitalist exploitation of the working class.

Early Life

Louis Blanc was born in Madrid during the closing, turbulent days of the Napoleonic Empire. His father served King Joseph Bonaparte as an inspector general of Spanish finances. The French hold over Spain, however, was never secure. Joseph, already forced out of his capital several times by the successes of the British army under Sir Arthur Wellesley, finally left the country in 1813. The French bureaucrats, officials, and advisers departed with him. This exodus split the Blanc family. The father abandoned his wife after the birth of a second son, and Louis, the elder, was sent to live with his maternal grandmother in Corsica. Only after 1815, with the establishment of the Restoration Monarchy, did life become more settled. The father returned, managing to secure a royal pension, and Louis was reunited with his family. In 1821, he and his younger brother, Charles, were enrolled in the Royal College at Rodez, which they attended on scholarship. The school was run by the Catholic clergy, who instructed their pupils in the truth of Bourbon Legitimism and Scholastic theology. The Enlightenment and the Revolution were denigrated, if mentioned at all. Louis was a dedicated student. He won prizes in philosophy and rhetoric and excelled at biblical study, from which he derived a sense of obligation to work for the betterment of society. He completed his formal education in 1830 when he was nineteen years of age.

Blanc left Rodez to find work in Paris and arrived there in August, soon after the revolution which had replaced the Bourbon Dynasty with the Orleanist monarchy of Louis-Philippe. Trained as a gentleman, Blanc had difficulty finding work, especially with the new government, which looked with suspicion on all of those associated with the previous regime. To support himself, therefore, Blanc took a variety of part-time jobs such as tutoring, house cleaning, and clerking. He received some money from an uncle but spent much time visiting museums, palaces, and public monuments. In 1832, the prospect of more steady employment led him to leave the capital to accept a post as a tutor with a family in Arras.

While in Arras, he met Frédéric Degeorge, a newspaper editor and champion of democratic republicanism, who introduced him to political journalism and prompted his admiration of one of Arras’ most famous native sons, Robespierre. The association with Degeorge heightened Blanc’s desire to return to Paris and to begin a real career as a writer. He returned in 1834, armed with a letter of introduction, and began work on Bon Sense (common sense), a paper founded two years earlier by a group of men who feared the growing power of Louis-Philippe. In 1836, Blanc became the journal’s editor-in-chief. He was only twenty-four years of age.

Journalism had become his way to right wrongs and to pave the way for the establishment of a more just society. He wanted to inspire men of goodwill to cooperate in a common program to safeguard individual freedom and to exact reform through evolutionary, but decisive, change. He became involved in election politics and, in 1837, was instrumental in forming a committee to present qualified voters with a slate of progressive candidates in the forthcoming elections. This group failed to form an effective coalition out of the various opposition groups, however, and had little practical effect on the results. The government list was returned with a large majority. The failure did not shake Blanc’s faith that government power could be made responsive to the general need. Therefore, he believed it should not be limited but used as the instrument of progress. Such active étatism put Blanc at odds with his newspaper’s conservative ownership. He insisted, however, that a man should follow his convictions rather than his position and, in 1838, resigned. His entire editorial staff quit with him.

Blanc wanted to create a new kind of newspaper, one committed to the transformation of society, and one which would become a rallying point for all of those who were dedicated to democratic change and who believed in the need for the reorganization of work. This newspaper, Revue de progrès politique, social et litéraire, (review of political, social, and literary progress), began publication in January, 1839. In the following year, its pages contained a series of Blanc’s articles which formed the key to his own thought and the basis upon which his subsequent political and intellectual career rested.

Life’s Work

Blanc believed that society was divided into two classes, the bourgeois and the people, or the oppressors and the oppressed, and that only through political action could the oppressed achieve liberation and the ability to develop their true nature. Blanc asserted that exploitation was endemic to the system of his time where not only the rich exploit the poor but also the poor exploit one another and the father exploits his family. Daughters, to earn money for survival, are often driven to prostitution. Thus, capitalist society leads to the breakdown of the family, to the enslavement of women, to the increase of crime, and to moral decay. Only if the forces of the people succeed in capturing the state can the state be used to liberate man from the horrors of poverty.

This new government must be popularly elected and run by energetic deputies who will serve the interests of the mass of the voters, not the special interests of the capitalists whose oppression will end only after they are absorbed fraternally into a classless society. Blanc hoped that this process of fraternalization could be accomplished peacefully. He suggested that this could be done through the manipulation of the...

(The entire section is 2468 words.)