The French Second Empire: An Anatomy of Political Power

By Roger Price | Go to book overview

CHAPTER 9
The forms of opposition: (1) Legitimism

Legitimism was, in part, the doctrine of a social group, the nobility, struggling to retain its influence and to restore an idealised social hierarchy with the legitimate king at its pinnacle — the true Christian prince — whose inherited rights represented the application of Divine Law and historical continuity. In contrast they believed that Bonapartist and republican concepts of popular sovereignty threatened repeated upheaval and would inevitably lead, according to Louis de Ségur, writing in 1861, to 'the total destruction of divine order on earth, and the perfect reign of Satan in the world. '1 Legitimists adopted the principles established by Bossuet at the beginning of the eighteenth century, insisting that 'God has established kings as his ministers and through them reigns over the peoples', that 'monarchical government is the best, the most durable, the strongest', and that 'royal authority is sacred, paternal, absolute'.2 The establishment in 1848 of a political system in which the vote of the 'ignorant' counted for as much as that of the 'intelligent', made the re-establishment of hierarchical influences and, ideally, a restricted electorate, all the more urgent. As the Legitimist Pretender to the throne, the Comte de Chambord, pointed out in 1862, 'the more the democratic spirit gains ground, the greater is the urgency to regulate and organise it so as to preserve the social order from the perils to which it might be exposed'.3 The typical Legitimist landowner must have regarded the need to stand for election and to canvass support from 'his' peasants with considerable distaste, although it was possible to adapt to the round of village fêtes and agricultural fairs.4

____________________
1
Quoted by Hazareesingh, Subject, p. 105.
2
Quoted Boutry, 'La légitimitéetl'église en France au 19e siècle' in Catholiques entre monarchie et république. Mgr. Freppel et son temps (Paris n.d. ), p. 165.
3
Quoted Hazareesingh, Subject, p. 144.
4
E.g. Y. Pourcher, 'Parentéetreprésentation politique en Lozère', Terrain, 1985, pp. 38–9.

-272-

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