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News and Commentary

16 September 2015

Filippo Buonarroti

Forgetting Filippo Buonarroti (11 November 1761- 16 September 1837)

Alex Kurtagic

We celebrate the death of Filippo Buonarroti, who died 178 years ago today. Buonarroti was a supporter of Jacobin terrorism, egalitarian extremist, and a proto-communist conspirator.

Filippo Michele Buonarroti was born in Pisa, in the Duchy of Tuscany, on 11 November 1761. Not for the first time when it comes to champions of equality, his family could boast of an elite pedigree: his mother, Giulia Bizzarini, was a Sienese noblewoman, while his father, Leonardo, came from a long line of Florentine jurists and magistrates. He was also descended from the Leonardo Da Vinci's brother, Buonarroto. As will be seen, such ancestry contributed exactly zero to making him a proponent of civilisation.

Buonarroti was likely sent to a Jesuit school, as would have been normal for a member of his class, and there he would have remained until the suppression of the order in 1773. So far, so good, because up to this point young Filippo distinguished himself in worthy subjects, particularly music and mathematics.

His father then found him a position as a page in Grand Duke Leopold's court, where he served for five years. The Grand Duke ran a reformist government, somewhat like his brother-in-law, Louis XVI of France, who proved somewhat less successful. From there, at the age of seventeen, Buonarroti enrolled in the University of Pisa, which, along with the court, was a centre of that same reformist spirit. Ironically for someone who would spend almost his entire career on the wrong side of the law, his aim was to obtain a doctorate in law.

And there is where things went awry, because the university was a cesspool of 'Enlightenment' ideas, and his professors exerted themselves to shape the naive young man in their mould. Culprit number one was Giovanni Maria Lamperdi, a disciple of Mably, Puffendorf, and Grotius; he taught him public law. Culprit number two was Cristoforo Sarti, a follower of Locke and Condillac, who taught him philosophy, made him aware of his position on society and the social order, and, most importantly, exposed him to the writings of Jean-Jacques Rousseau. The latter's egalitarian gospel inflamed the youth's mind, who was thereby transformed into a fundamentalist.

Once a Doctor-in-Law, Buonarroti went to Florence, where he met and married Elisabetta de' Conti, who bore him four daughters and a boy.

During this period, his literary talents were noticed by the Grand Duke, who made him Chevalier de Saint Stephen. Such patronage would have assured him a lucrative position in Tuscany's court, and therefore comfort and tranquillity for his family. Yet, even this early, it was already too late. He joined the vainglorious Adam Weishaupt's Illuminati in 1786—or so it seems: details of his activities from this point onward are murky. This quickly landed him into trouble, for his home was raided by the police, who found books containing anti-clerical and Masonic propaganda. He only avoided further punishement through the intercession of his father.

The ingrate was, however, unrepentant, and got to work immediately editing a scurrilous political rag, pretentiously named Gazette Universale. This platform he misused to agitate on a factional local issue involving the Stadtholder of the United Provinces—and supporting, of course, the radicals. The result was a formal complaint against him by the Dutch Consul to the Grand Duke.

Soon enough there was another cause for the recidivist Tuscan, for by July 1789, France was in a state of revolution. As the heads began to roll, Buonarroti greeted the news with jubilation, greedily devouring the reports and writing approvingly of the events in a journal. As soon as it was published, the Florentine authorities at once decided they'd had enough and duly expelled him. But Buonarroti had little to worry about, because once in exile in Corsica the Jacobin gang rewarded him, an fervent atheist, with a government post that put him in charge—not with the least bit of irony—of ecclesiastical affairs and government lands.

Unsurprisingly, Buonarroti's fanatical zeal elicited hostility from the Bastian populace; he was dragged through the streets and put on a boat to Leghorn. Having been dumped there, it was out of the boat and into the prison cell for the noxious fellow. Unfortunately, however, the (Jacobin) Corsican authorities requested he be returned—not to be reprimanded, but to be praised for his 'activity in the cause of liberty'.

Buonarroti then travelled for a while, agitating, organising local cells, and serving the Jacobin régime in various capacities, wholly relaxed about the measures taken against him by the Italian authorities. By 1792 his unwelcome activity brought approval from the Departmental Council.

In January 1793 he accompanied an expedition to Saint Pierre, in Sardinia,

armed as a good Jacobin missionary with a 'sword in one hand, the Declaration of Rights in the other'.[1]

According to historian Elizabeth Einsenstein, his activities there may suggest how the term 'propagande', which initially meant a particular congregation devoted to the spreading of the Gospel, came to acquire its modern (pejorative) meaning.[2] From there he went to Paris to demand the annexation of Saint Pierre by France, to denounce Pasquale Paoli (the patriot leader of the Corsican resistance to French conquest), and—a dream for this Francophile—become a French citizen by decree. His opposition to Paoli earned him favour from the Bonapartes, which would sadly prove useful to his wretch.

While in Paris, he met the crushing of the Girondists with jubilation, which was only confirmed by the drafting of the Constitution of 1793. Buonarroti visited the Jacobin Club in the Rue Saint Honoré and became chummy with Maximilian Robespierre and fellow terrorists. Legend has it that he would drop by in the evenings to play on the clavichord tunes hummed by Robespierre; that he gave lessons to the daughters of the latter's landlord, Maurice Duplay; and that he and Philippe Le Bas, husband of Duplay's daughter Elisabeth, would improvise family concerts. In other words, the obsequious traitor wormed his way into every corner of Robespierre's circle.

He was soon given a new post as commissioner for the Executive Council, as which he was to serve in Corsica. The journey was interrupted by his imprisonment in Lyons by the anti-Jacobin party. Once again, unfortunately, the ne'er-do-well was turned loose, and, upon returning to Corsica, spent his time trying to oust Paoli and pushing Jacobin propaganda during the siege of Toulon. Within months he was promoted to national commissioner for the conquered areas east of Menton, a position only made possible by the illegal occupati0n of Oneglia by French troops.

Buonarroti managed to hold on to this job for a year. But did he succeed in converting the locals to his creed? Not on his nelly! And this greatly embarrassed him. Crestfallen, he focused thereafter on transforming schools into brainwashing centres, staffing them with ideologically correct sycophants, and opening new indoctrination camps (he called them 'schools') to make the populace more malleable and receptive to egalitarianism. The clergy and the aristocracy he persecuted without quarter.

"While you destroy the enemies from without," he wrote to Massena, "I guillotine the traitors from within" [3]

A sort of secret police and kagaroo court were also organised, but these came too late, since a week later Robespierre fell in the Thermidorian Reaction. Not surprisingly, historian G. M. Pira would later feel justified in describing him as a bloodthirsty terrorist. [4]

That he was allowed to carry on in his post under the Directorate owed only to the fact that, from their point of view, he was only an obscure, minor, far-away functionary and they had bigger fish to fry much closer to home. Away with it he would not continue to get indefinitely, however: when he illegally confiscated land belonging to a Genoese aristocrat, justice caught up with him at last. The authorities recalled him to Paris and from there it was straight to prison. He became an inmate in Plessis in March 1795.

Unsurprisingly, this inflexible dogmatist loved incarceration. There he spent his time exchanging abstract theory, ideas, and tactics with fellow political criminals—including, most notably, François-Noël Babeuf, another proto-communist egalitarian and extremist; living 'in the most intimate fraternity', this rotten lot would sign songs and lick their wounds, though they were fewer than they deserved. Also unsurprisingly, and for the above reason, incarceration did nothing to reform this Tuscan traitor: on the contrary, he remained as obdurate as ever, and as dertermined as ever, to go back to the bad old days of the Terror; the fall of Robespierre he saw, in fact, as the worst calamity of his life.

Needless to say that by this time Buonarroti had long been deserted by his wife, who had put up with him only until 1790, just long enough to give birth to his son. Thus, he was unemployed, penniless, and a spinster. He was welcome only among the worst sort, namely the Societé des Egaux, organised by his fellow ex-convict, Babeuf. Merged with the vestiges of the Jacobin Club, they met at the Panthéon.

The Directorate tolerated such activity on tactical grounds only, since it helped to counter-act royalist efforts to oust the administration.

Now, any sensible person would have not given this man the time of day, and left him to find some sort of gainful employment that contributed something to society. Instead, the French foreign office gave him a hearing, and he was able, through his contacts, to influence policy in Italy and the Netherlands. His secret intrigues helped delay unification of his native Italy by seventy years.

While thus engaged he set himself up as a music teacher. Music, however, he taugh little, choosing instead to push his politics onto his pupils while he had them captive. They paid and learnt very little of what they paid for.

Buonarroti even found time to take up a lover, one Teresa Poggi.

By 1796, Buonarroti had become such a nuissance at the Foreign Office that the Foreign Minister, Charles-François Delacroix, father of Eugène, the Romantic painter, finally recommended him to François Cacault, 'the agent of the French republic in Italy'. Cacault was not impressed:

The Citizen Buonarroti . . . is a Florentine who has ample talent in Literature, and in Philosophy, who writes well enough and easily in his own tongue; for the rest, he knows neither the world nor its affairs, he has an ardent imagination, he finds himself in Paris in a needy state, he asks to be given a Mission whose vast objective is altogether undetermined, he indicates a general point of view, but how can he expect to realize any part of it? He could not hope to penetrate Italy . . . he is very well known and would be arrested anywhere—the Grand Duke has a letter from him, wherein he declares that the finest moment of his life would be when he saw the prince guillotined.[5]

At an opportune moment, Delacroix presented Caucault's letter to the Directory for consiredation, and less than a week later Buonarroti was arrested along with the rest of Babeuf's egalitarian rabble (the so-called 'conspiracy of equals').

Babeuf was convicted and promptly guillotined, but Buonarroti, an enthusiastic proponent of the guillotine himself, was let go with a mere deportation sentence, along with six others. He was transported in an iron cage to the island of Chebourg, where he was incarcerated at the Fort National. There, things went a little differently than in Plessis, which in the end had proven a bit of a holiday retreat: jealousies and class hatred cleaved the egalitarian inmates, pitting the educated, upper class deportees against the uneducated, working class ones, who were denied privileges allowed to the former. Buonarroti, of course, belonged to the former, and managed to get prison authorities to let him share quarters with his lover, whom he'd passed as his wife, and who enabled him to carry on clandestine correspondence with the annoyingly ineradicable Jacobins in Paris.

Too soon after, Buonarroti's favour with Napoleon paid off, for in 1800 his sentence was commuted to detention and he was transferred to a much easier régime in the island of Oléron, where he also—would you believe it?—he was granted a subsidy of three francs per day. In 1802 he was transferred again to Sospello in the Maritime Alps, where he was able to begin scheming once again, laying the foundations for his secret society. Yet, the natives despised him, it seems, and he begged to be transferred to Geneva, the country of his beloved Rousseau, much to the chagrin of the prefect of Leman, who became desperate to rid himself of the pest.

In Geneva Buonarroti finally founded his lodge, pretentiously named Les Sublimes Maîtres Parfaits, camouflaged as a masonic organisation, and modelled on Weishaupt's Illuminati. Buonarroti was a believer in the thèse de complots advanced by John Robison and Augustin Barruel in their respective accounts of the roles played by secret societies in bringing about the French Revolution, and this informed his conspiratorial methodology.

The prefect's insistent letters to Paris we ignored until Malet's abortive coup of 1812, in which Buonarroti figured as a notable anti-Bonapartist. Talk about biting the hand of his benefactor! Buonarroti was then transferred to Grenoble, where he stayed until the end of the Empire, whenceupon he returned to Geneva, pledging good behaviour. The prefect wasn't fooled:

in order to realise [his pledges] entirely, it would be necessary for his head to be reorganized. He considers himself, on the one hand a Spartan—on the other as a political martyr.[6]

Incredibly, the hypocrite offered his services to Napoleon after the latter's escape from Elba, but he never left Geneva.

The fact was that a long time had passed since the fall of the putative 'Republic of Virtue' (i.e., the Terror, for most people) and he had been forced to shift away from insurrectionary methods in favour of secret orders and conspiracy. It is pershaps worth noting that the vehicle of this extreme egalitarian, the Sublimes Maîtres Parfaits, and its successor 'Monde', was organised on strictly hierarchical principles. Indeed, the lower-ranking members were deliberately kept in the dark as to the true aims of the leadership. Not only that, but in his self-aggrandisement, Buonarroti saw himself as a sort of secular St Ingatius of Loyola:

Midst the collapse of free institutions, midst the general corruption of sentiments one cannot find . . . future regeneration save in a secret corps guided by a pure and dictatorial authority; what the Jesuits did to mislead and enslave men, the Monde has attempted to do in order to enlighten and deliver them. Good and evil can be operated by the same mechanism; if the end is just and wise, what difference does it make if the means have been used in other circumstances for a contrary end!

The jesuitical congregation can be compared to an army full of enthusiasm and submissive conviction to a homogeneous and absolute authority. It is precisely an equivalent army that the Monde has attempted to establish against tyranny.

As Einsenstein points out, however,

[t]he Society of Jesus was only one organ of a much larger, fully developed institution that commanded the allegiance of a vast population; it exacted vows of obedience in termos of an accepted theology that was not kept from most of its members. Buonarroti's society was related only to a Jacobin 'church' that may have been militant for a brief historic moment within the parochial confies of a single nation. . . . It was . . . never again to be triumphant, save in the confines of his own imagination.

Not that reality was an impediment for this fatuous dreamer. And, at any rate, his organisation had real, practical short- and medium-term aims, one of which consisted of using Freemasonry—for which he felt contempt, since he considered them amateurs—as a trojan horse by instructing every candidate for the supreme command (the grandiosely named Grand Firmament) to infiltrate, rise through the ransks, and acquire a key position within a lodge in his country of residence. His entire ethos in his relations to the Masons was characterised by "deliberate duplicity and bad faith".[7]

The same applied to his relations with the French and Italian branches of the Carbonari. Indeed, he convinced the Carboneria of Tuscany, Piedmont, and Lombardy to accept a restructuring, which he passed as reforms, but which he designed to facilitate infiltration: he added

a third grade so as to dovetail its hierarchy with that of the Sublimes Maîtres Parfaits.[8]

In turn, the French Charbonnerie,

led by moderate liberals like Lafayette and de Corcelle, was considered "disfigured" and a decree of August 4, 1822 forbade all members of the Sublimes Maîtres Parfaits to communicate freely with it; diplomatic relations through official delegates were maintained, however, and the organisation was deemed useful enough to encourage the formation of new "ventes" under Buonarroti's auspices.

Bu0narroti's secret society was, then, entirely autonomous. It represented a conspiracy not only against the prevailing regimes but also against the competing opposition groups.[9]

Thus, it turns out that the Robison and Barruel put forth a valid historiographical methodology, for at least in the early 19th century there was indeed

a cosmopolitan, super-secret network, masterminded by a dedicated professional, the work of whose agents could be discerned in radical movements in the major European capitals.[10]

Metternich had genuine reasons to worry.

Of course, liberal historians have engaged in minimising and whitewashing Buonarroti's activities. Georges Weill talks of an 'international republican association' that played an 'insignificant' role,[11] while Frederick B. Artz dismissed it as an 'international liberal organisation'[12] that had been taken much too seriously by Metternicht.[13] Diligent researches have shown otherwise. According to Armando Saitta, Buonarroti was 'incontestably the animator of most of the societies of masonic or carbonarist inspiration from 1812 to 1830'. Arthur Lehning, after examining the testimony of one of Buonarroti's agents, concluded that Buonarroti was, if not omnipotent, he was certainly omnipresent in the sprawling underworld of early 19th century secret societies.

Yet, omnipresent or not, Buonarroti's efforts came to naught, due perhaps to his own incredible vanity. He recruited one Alexandre Andryane, a young man who had paid him to teach him Italian and got much more in the bargain. The Italian lessons became music lessons and these became conspiracy lessons. Andryane was sceptical, sharing neither his master's 'exaggerated opinions' nor his tedious 'obsession' with 1793, but, nonetheless, out of fascination, admiration, and respect for the eccentric codger, he enthusiastically allowed himself to be initiated into the order. Following a successful notiviate, Buonarroti charged him with a mission: he was to go to Italy with series of documents—'a mass of papers, one more useless and dangerous than the other, sufficient to compromise half of Italiy'[14]—that 'included the Rules and Statutes of the Sublimes Maîtres Parfaits and the names of hundreds of co-conspirators'.[15] This was an entirely unnecessary gesture, and a foolish risk for someone who had laboured for so long to construct his secret network; therefore, it seems that the desire to show off his masterpiece was greater than the fear of disaster. Another case, then, in which weakness prevailed.

Alas, the nervous fellow-traveller was arrested. The documents fell into the hands of the police, the plot unravelled, and the whole of it became public knowledge. Andryane went to prison; he paid a steep price, though a sceptic. Buonarroti, on the other hand, simply relocated to Brussels and carried on with his normal life. Though he was intermittently watched and even harrassed by the authorities, they were half-hearted enough, and he skillful and well-connected enough, for him to avoid further imprisonment. It seems the authorities didn't take him as seriously as he took himself, after all.

Others did take him that seriously, sadly, or were at least inspired by the model he'd pioneered, of a secret society, amounting to a private army, revolving around a shady personality. Out of Buonarroti's intrigues arose the Romantic stereotype of the black-clad, mysterious, wild-eyed conspirator.

A comical aspect of Buonarroti's relocation was his taking yet another lover, a Swiss woman called Sarah Desbains. Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned, and, understandably, Teressa Poggi made her mind known without delay. Buonarroti had hoped for a ménage à trois, oblivious, clearly, of the fact that Poggi, who had been raised in the traditional ways of Europe, was not about to begin to live like a Muslim wife in a hareem at the age of 60, and share her man with the Swiss viper. The sexagenarians conducted their dispute entirely by correspondence, with Poggi venting her fury in a stream of vituperative letters and Buonarroti obdurately blind to obvious facts of life.

By carrying on with his normal life we mean that Buonarroti went straight back to his intrigues. Once in Brussels, he would reorganise his secret society, which, as already mentioned, would be called 'Monde'. And he also set about to rebuild his network.

Meanwhile, at his new base of operations he enjoyed the company of the surviving riff-raff from the First Republic, who, being classed as regicides (i.e., murderers) were deemed too nefarious to qualify for the Amnesty of 1816. The old codgers met at the Café des Mille Colonnes and spent their abundant free time writing memoirs, which were, of course, little more than apologias, self-vindications, and settlings of old scores. In other words, they were all perverse and unreliable scribblings by washed-up has-beens who were still rancorously divided on ideological, factional, and personal bases. Even as an orthodox Robespierrist, Buonarroti was a bit of an oddball among these miscreants, but his patrician ancestry, personal charm, and high-level connections stood him in good stead. While some had been fellow inmates, he condemned those who had had a hand in the fall of his hero.

From among this gang of rascals emerged the first works of historical revisionism—or, more honestly, propaganda—concerning the French Revolution. Among them are the 'histories' by Alphonse de Lamartine and Alphonse Esquiros, and the three-volume hagiography of Robespierre by Ernest Hamel, all of which can be traced to Elisabeth Duplay-Lebas. The main figure, and the one who produced the most significant writing in the end, was Buonarroti. Buchez and Roux's Histoire Parlamentaire de la Révolution Française (1834) can be traced to Buonarroti's writings and conversations; Paul Mathieu Laurent's Réfutation de l'Histoire de France de l'Abbé de Montgaillard (1828) was, though resulting from the impact of Saint-Simonism, published by Charles Antoine Teste, who 'was to became Buonarroti's chief lieutenant';[16] the Mémoires de René Levasseur (de la Sarthe) Ex-Conventionnel (1831) was edited by Teste's protegé, Achille Roche, who appropriated Buonarroti's interpretation, as put forth in the latter's own piece of pious, martyrological, apologetic, myth-making propaganda, Conspiration pour l'egalité dite de Babeuf, suivie du procès auquet elle donna lieu et des pièces justificatives, published the year before and clandestinely circulated, reviewed, summarised, quoted, and analysed since 1828. Others, like Jean-Barthélemy Hauréau's martyrology, La Montagne (1834), or Albert Laponneraye's introduction to his two-volume edition of Robespierre's writings, aped their master's tone.

While the extent to which these works were sold or circulated is difficult to ascertain nearly two centuries hence, there is no question that proved immensely influential. Worse still, it bolstered intellectually future malefactors: Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels both read Roche's work, which provided them with a first orientation on the French Revolution, and both read and considered a German-language of Buonarroti's Conspiration in 1844.

It bears quoting a couple of passages to illustrate the sort of unoriginal, conventional, hackneyed, predictable, high-flown Revolutionary rethoric of Buonarroti's work:

The infatuation of the atheists, the errors of the Hérbertists, the immorality of the Dantonists, the humbled pride of the Girondists, the dark plots of the Royalists, the gold of England disappointed on the ninth Thermidor the hopes of the French people and of the human race.[17]

As to the fanatical mass murderers of the Committe for Public Safety, witness his nauseating praise:

One cannot too much admire the prudence with which these illustrious legislators, turning reverses and victories to account with equal skill, were able to inspire the great majority of the nation with a self denial the most sublime, with contempt of riches, pleasures, and even death . . .

. . . the astonishing metamorphosis by which so vast a population, . . . but a season before, the sport of voluptuousness, cupidity, levity, and presumption cheerfully renounced a thousand factious enjoyments, rivalled one another in zeal to offer up their superfluities on their country's altar, thundered in mass on the armies of coalesced sovereigns and contented themselves with demanding for their all, bread, steel, and equality.[18]

Unbelievably, Buonarroti deemed the Constitution of 1793 not to have gone far enough:

it did not completely answer the wishes of the friends of humanity. One regrets to find in it the old deplorable ideas on the right of property.

To his relief, however, Robespierre remedied the failing with his Declaration of the Rights of Man and the Citizen.

Buonarroti also excused the use of extra-legal autocratic violence by the 'redeemers of humanity' on the basis that (1) it was necessary for them to stay in power until they could crush their enemies completely, and that (2) they

knew that before conferring on the people the exercise of sovereign power, it was necessary to render the love of virtue general—to substitute disinterestedness and modesty for avarice, vanity, and ambition . . . They knew that they coercive and extraordinary measures indispensable to operate so happy and great change are irreconciliable with the forms of regular organization.

In other words, the great egalitarian and democrat Filippo Buonarroti's ideal was a 'virtuous' few using whatever means necessary, no matter how savage, thieving, or homicidal, to bring the populace to heel with their idea of grace. For him this made perfect sense because the masses had been politically 'conditioned' and corrupted by an evil minority, and were consequently too stupid, venal, and degenerate to realise the salvation that Robespierrists had made available to them. Man must be forced to be free!

Furthermore, he took the view that the Terror hadn't been sufficiently vigorous, as otherwise the Thermidorian reaction would never have occurred. This is something future revolutionist would need to take into accout (as indeed they did).

It is a matter of interest that Buonarroti's utopian vision had not a few things in common with the totalitarian régimes that would follow a century later:

The young readers of the 1830's were told that in the new social order 'the country takes possession of every individual at birth and never quits him till death. Young men should be initiated into French society by a solemn oath and ceremony complete with the presentation of a suit of armor. They were to be subject to military service and "constantly encamped on the borders of the Republic" as an object lesson to the "servile soldiery of all the despotes of Europe." Public festivals, military burials, monuments, and athletic contests should be "calculated to exalt the shoul and preserve the martial spirit of arms." The official religion would be Robespierre's cult of the Supreme Being and the immortality of the soul. Worship would be limited to respect for Rousseau's social contract, the defense of equality, and public festivals.[19]

And it gets better:

The printing and distribution of "all writings" was to depend on whether "the conservators of the National Will" judged "their publication useful to the Republic." Arts and sciences were to be discouraged—the former led to "a taste for superfluities, disgust at simple manners, the love of voluptuousness and frivolities" while scientists tended to "become superior" . . . "No pains would have been spared to keep away all persons who would introduce frivolities and foreign fashions; the curious would have been subjected to rude tests and to a severe surveillance."[20]

And better:

The major economic problems of the nineteenth century would be solved quite simply by turning the clock back, by legislating the industrial revolution out of existence.[21]

And better:

The poor would readily agree to exchange their rights to their meagre holdings for membership in a "grand national community which maintains all its members in an equal and honourable mediocrity". The wealthy . . . would be so heavily taxed and so unfavourably treated that their only resort would be emigration or the "voluntary" surrender of their possessions . . . The family unit should be undermined; perhaps children should be forbidden to bear the name of a father who had not distinguished himself by great virtues . . . "[22]

As defined by Buonarroti, of course.

Says biographer Einsenstein,

Buonarroti's detailed description of the ultimate transformation of the "human heart" into an organ of the body politic after the nececessary liquidation of a self-alienated minority; his insistence on the suppression of every institutionalized activity that might distract the individual from the performance of his civic duties suggest, at the very least, that the work is by an enemy of Mr. Popper's "open society". Indeed both the text and the spirit of the work seem to prefigure, with remarkable exactitude, a recent description of the "totalitarian mystique" by an acute observer of contempoary [1959] Soviet society.[23]

In Buonarroti's case, she adds, the citizen was not a "passive, anonymous mass mind", but an active and convinced participant. This, I would add, further resembles rather than distinguishes Buonarroti's utopia to the sort of egalitarian totalitarianism that exists in modern Western societies, where egalitarianism is often promoted and enforced by the state with less vigor, extent, and thoroughness than by the citizens, who police their own minds to much greater extent than it is possible for the state to do. It is for that reason that 'lack of equality' is constantly on the agenda, highlighted by citizen activists in the media and academia, and efforts to increase equality, measure it, and legislate it into existence remain ongoing.

The July Revolution of 1830 permitted not only the publication of Buonarroti's book, but also his return to France, still in the belief that he could resurrect the Robespierre's régime.

It was there that he organised Monde, his resurrected secret society and 'invisible arm', this time with even more grandiose ambitions of global domination, and now completely at odds with the 19th century reality.

Buonarroti's plan for international conspiracy seems romantic, antiquated, vague, and futile—the work of a "crank" who had outlived his times.[24]

His efforts proved, accordingly, a failure. His influence in one of the leaders of the Chartist movement in Britain was recorded only in passing in two obscure books, of interest only to collectors of curiosities and academic specialists. The best he managed were a smattering of mentions in cheap political rags churned out by British radicals who, at any rate, saw him as a peculiar foreigner in his approach to reform. In Italy, his efforts proved a fiasco and served only to fracture the Risorgimento, due to his jealous condemnation of Giuseppe Mazzini, who, in turn, regarded him as an old dinosaur, and overly besotted with, and subservient to, France, not to mention senile and impotent. It seems Buonarroti could not abide someone else in the protagonical role. Parallel organisations arose, with the predictable "mutual name-calling and vindictive rancor"[25] that would later in the century be replicated by the emergent communist leadership.

From 1830 until his death, long over-due, Buonarroti had two close collaborators—close enough to operate almost as a unit, for all intents and purposes. Former Saint-Simonist Charles Antoine Teste, his puppy dog (though a fully grown man in his fifties), has already been mentioned. Voyer d'Argenson was the other. This latter individual was of even more aristocratic a background than Buonarroti; he was also more his own man, even managing to influence Buonarroti on economic matters, which was his own field of expertise, though the 'master' attained at best only the foggiest notion of that discipline. D'Argenson was a member of the Societé des droits de l'homme, an execrable neo-Jacobin gang that believed in equality, a large state apparatus, restrictions on private property, and a planned economy. (Sounds familiar?)

This gang provided Buonarroti with a non-conspiratorial field of operation. Eventually, he caused a schism, of course, and organised a rival society, the Societé des droits du peuple, complete with manifestos denouncing the parent organisation as 'Fayettists' and 'Bonapartists'. By the end of 1833 Buonarroti's manœuvrings ensured his man, d'Argenson, was among those in charge.

While Buonarroti focused on pure politics and, specifically, on back-biting, intrigue, demagogery, and agit-prop, he, nevertheless, developed contacts with the proto-communist neo-Bavouvists—including Louis Auguste Blanqui, who would spend much of his life in prison and be repeatedly condemned to death, though never executed—and his wretched thinking helped lay the foundations for something that no one needed: a first French socialist party. That said, it would be a mistake to think of Buonarroti as a full communist, for he didn't give a jot about production and his views on the industrial revolution were reactionary, opposing industrialisation but also distrusting the workers, whom he viewed as not having a clue. Nevertheless, in the opinion of Arthur Lehning, who recognises the distinction between Buonarroti's egalitarian elitism and the Marxist prolecult, Buonarroti forged

the first link in the chain of international . . . organizations which led three decennia later to the foundation of the First International.[25]

Moreover, like the Marxists, Buonarroti was a critic of the liberalism of the Restoration and of Orleanist France, and even more so of its Anglo-American expression. The former two he saw as subtle deception—monarchy cloaked with token liberalism to ensure the Ancien Régime's continuity—while the latter he saw much in the same terms, but even more insidious, being an emblem of English slavery, where the 'slaves' loved their servitude. His contempt for the English was long-standing, as we have seen; he regarded them as 'priests of Plutus', all about 'avidity for wealth'. The Americans were even worse. Even the name 'United States' he scoffed at as Girondin heresy and a revival of 'aristocratic localism and feudal provicialism'.[26] Only with the publication in 1836 of the English translation of Conspiration pour l'egalitéConspiracy of the Equals—by James 'Bronterre' O'Brien, a Chartist activist who had been influenced by Babeuf and also translated the latter's writings for the Poor Man's Guardian, did Buonarroti think there was any hope for the English.

His Anglophobia, as everything else, had roots in the First Republic of Robespierre, which had been shaped by the opposition of Rousseau cultists to the anglophiles Voltaire and Montesquieu. Voltaire was doubly guilty by commission, for he had been sceptical towards Rousseau's egalitarianism: upon reading Rousseau's Discourse on the Origins of Human Inequality, Rousseau wrote its author a letter, stating:

I have received, sir, your new book against the human race, and I thank you for it. You will please people by your manner of telling them the truth about themselves, but you will not alter them. The horrors of that human society—from which in our feebleness and ignorance we expect so many consolations—have never been painted in more striking colors: no one has ever been so witty as you are in trying to turn us into brutes: to read your book makes one long to go about all fours. Since, however, it is now some sixty years since I gave up the practice, I feel that it is unfortunately impossible for me to resume it: I leave this natural habit to those more fit for it than are you and I.

This suspicion towards 'token' liberalism made Buonarroti long for counter-revolutionary excess, and hate any sign of establishment moderation. He hoped the counter-revolutionaries would gain the upper hand, go all out in their vengeful tyranny, and thus trigger a popular uprising that would sweep them out of power and bring back the Terror. Buonarroti wanted heads to roll. Only in a republic in which all opposition had been guillotined and the populace had been so thoroughly brainwashed that no dissident thought would ever even occur to anyone would his dream be safe.

Buonarroti's spiritual brother in crime, the sinister and filthy young Blanqui, also hoped for counter-revolutionary excess.

Far from progressive, however, Buonarroti became ever more antiquated and irrelevant. It was he who was now the sclerotic reactionary, an 18th-century relic in a 19th-century world, seemingly blind to the 40 years of political change that had taken place in France. Anyone who reads his unctuously hagiographical Observations sur Maximilien Robespierre, published shortly after his death, can see this.

Buonarroti died aged 76, at long last, having wasted his talents on the most noxious causes, racked up a criminal police file, and achieved nothing worthy, after a life spent mostly in fugitive obscurity, admired only by the absolute worst political sort, and a disgrace to his ancestors. The ex-convict's funeral oration was pronounced by suck-up Charles Teste on 18 September 1837.

For a century Buonarroti was forgotten. And not surprisingly, for, despite having extended his tentacles throughout Europe, to the extent that there was not a single secret society in France, Italy, or Spain that he didn't reach; despite his obsessive efforts to revive the blood-soaked First Republic; despite his personal charm, good breeding, and high-level contacts—despite all that, he accomplished very little. His literary talent had been recognised by the Grand Duke of Tuscany, but he squandered it on propaganda, pamphlets, and hagiographies of criminals, mass murderers, or knaves. It says something about his underachievement that, although the subject matter was thus unworthy, he came to be remembered only for his writings.

Although he trail-blazed a new profession—revolutionary—and provided a template for the clandestine internationalist organisation, none of this was noticed until Lenin made a success of it. Only then did anyone begin to look back at the antecessors. Even now, however, a full biography is yet to be written in English: the only one that exists, by Elizabeth Einsenstein, is short and largely an essay mapping out bibliographical areas of research for future scholars. None have grabbed the batton.

And that may be because a revolutionary leader he was not, despite being jealous or others taking a leadership role, and suspicious approaches other than his own gradualist conspiracy. Neither was he an original thinker, for he dedicated his life to the cult of others—Robespierre in particular, who was himself a follower (of Rousseau)—and was always and increasingly behind the times. At best, he was a link in the chain between the French Revolution and the communists. His utopian vision had much in common with the 'worker's paradise', but this is nothing any decent person would to be proud of.

It is for this reason that, though already long forgotten, we must contine to keep him so.

Notes:

[1] Elizabeth Einsenstein, The First Professional Revolutionary: Filippo Michele Buonarroti (1761 - 1837) (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1959) 17.

[2] Ibid.

[3] Ibid. 21.

[4] Ibid.

[5] Letter of Cacault to Delacroix, dated 20 Germinal, Year IV (6 May 1796).

[6] Georges Weill, "Philippe Buonarroti", Revue Historique LXXXIV (1904) 262.

[7] Einsenstein 45.

[8] Ibid.

[9] Ibid. 46.

[10] Ibid.

[11] Georges Weill, Histoire du Parti Républicain (Paris: F. Alcan, 1928) 12n.

[12] Frederick B. Artz, Reaction and Revolution: 1814-1832, The Rise of Modern Europe, ed. W. Langer (New York: 1934) 142, 150.

[13] Einsenstein 46.

[14] Ibid. 53.

[15] Ibid. 52-53.

[16] Ibid. 64.

[17] Buonarroti (Bronterre) 32n.

[18] Ibid. 26-27.

[19] Einsenstein 74.

[20] Ibid.

[21] Ibid.

[22] Ibid. 75.

[23] Ibid. 77.

[24] Ibid. 85.

[25] Arthur Lehning, "Buonarroti and his International Secret Societies", International Review of Social History 1.1 (1956) 135.

[26] Einsenstein 140.

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