Bernard Groethuysen

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Bernard Groethuysen (September 9, 1880 - September 17, 1946) was a French writer and philosopher.



The Bourgeois: Catholicism vs. Capitalism in Eighteenth-Century France (1927)

Origines de l'esprit bourgeois en France (1927), as translated by Mary Ilford (1968)
  • In the bourgeois' world, ... if some respect was shown to God, it was on condition that he in turn would respect the general laws governing the universe and refrain from acting contrary to the plans of the middle class, who used their reason and demanded their share in the governance of the world.
    • p. 15
  • Gradually disbelief became respectable. It acquired a moral character. By the mere fact that it was an integral part of the consciousness of a class—of the bourgeoisie—it became bourgeois. From an individual phenomenon, or a phenomenon confined to certain isolated groups, it became an expression of collective life.
    • p. 24
  • The Church would have liked to turn to each of those thousand unbelievers separately, to show him that he was wrong, that he had allowed himself to be led astray by his passions, that he had everything to fear in the next life, and so forth. But it was not he, really, who had become disbelieving, it was his whole class, and it was his class consciousness which replied for him when he was addressed individually.
    • p. 25
  • Was he a sinner? Possibly. But could his class, the bourgeoisie, be condemned as a whole? The Church did not realize how secure he felt when it spoke to him of damnation. Would God send a whole class to hell, the class of the respectable? Who, then, would be in heaven? The common people? That would be hard to imagine!
    • p. 25
  • The bourgeois ... considered the philosophes to be his true guides, which did not prevent him from taking good care not to adopt their teachings once he realized they might be damaging to the interests of his class. ... He seemed quite disposed to make his peace with the Church, now that he was sure of being sufficiently emancipated to be able to live his life as he chose. To go farther, he feared, would to to act contrary to the interests of his class, for disbelief, by spreading among the people, might eventually endanger the principles of the social order which the bourgeoisie needed to establish its domination.
    • p. 46
  • The Church, sensing that the middle class was slipping out of its grasp, certainly tried to create patterns of living which would enable the bourgeois to remain a bourgeois as well as a Christian; that is, to carry out his economic and social functions while preserving the features of a son of the Church. But it never succeeded in hallowing the aspirations of the new middle class by giving them a religious basis.
    • p. 48
  • We might say that before the French demanded a charter from their sovereign, French Catholics had demanded one of their God. It was understood that God must be just, that he had certain obligations toward men, and that certain reciprocal relations had to be established between creature and Creator.
    • pp. 87-88
  • The worldly-minded ... were unable to see why God should not give men their due if men, on their part, fulfilled their obligations. ... A new man had emerged. He was demanding his rights; he was conscious of his importance. As he was before men, so would he be before God. What he had acquired materially or morally was his own, his very own, and neither king nor God might dispute his possession with him. He loved his God as he loved his king, but on condition that both respected his rights.
    • p. 89
  • The new man, wishing to enjoy his independence, needed a God with limited powers, a God whose authority was regulated by fundamental laws, so that the sinner, when summoned before the throne of the last judgment, might plead his cause, documents in hand.
    • p. 90
  • Such, then, was the God of the worldly-minded, who would be grateful that he had organized the things of this world so that everything was in accordance with laws which they could understand, and that he did not interfere in their decisions when, as prudent and reasonable men, they wished to order their own destinies.
    • p. 93
  • “Scripture and the Fathers recognize only two principles of all human actions,” says Bishop Colbert, “charity, the principle of all good actions; cupidity, the principle of all bad ones. The Jesuits, on the contrary, introduce a host of principles of human actions.” There would thus be actions which were neither good nor evil, “an innumerable multitude of indifferent actions, of no consequence either for good or for ill.” ... Thus man would have constituted for himself a sphere where there was no longer any question between himself and God either of sin or of virtue. ... God, at the last judgment, would not ask him to account for actions which were unrelated to his salvation and which did not concern the divinity. In that area, the Christian would enjoy a legitimate freedom, without fear of constantly sinning; he would be a sinner only when the occasion of sin arose, in specific cases. The rest of the time he would live between heaven and hell, between charity and concupiscence.
    • pp. 119-120
  • Nothing, then, would prevent him henceforth from living his life, a purely secular life, according to his nature and his habits, without having to ask himself at every moment whether what he had done was displeasing to God or not. And since he was no longer the sinner whose life, as soon as he acted by his own powers, was but sin, he would be able to enumerate separately the sins which he had committed on a particular occasion.
    • p. 120
  • “They want to find an imaginary mean between cupidity and charity,” says Arnaud, “as though our love could end and rest in any object other than God, this being charity, or in the creature, this being cupidity.” In this “imaginary mean” the new man had now established himself, and spent the greater part of his life; it was his spiritual homeland on earth. There he created habits for himself and made laws; he felt at ease and found ways of being virtuous and useful to his neighbors. God would not be angry with him for acting according to his own rules. Thus the worldly man was able to live perfectly well without thinking of a God who had formerly wanted everything done for his sake alone.
    • pp. 121-122
  • The bourgeois, for his part, possessed neither of the inordinate ambitions of the great nor of the patience of the poor, would seem to have to remain ignorant both of the sins of whose who exalted themselves and of the merits of those who humbled themselves. Bossuet, speaking of this world, complains that the "license of great fortunes exceeds all bounds." This, he says, leads to "those prevailing sins which are not satisfied to be tolerated, or even excused, but which seek even to be applauded."
    • p. 138
  • Did all these concerns in which the bourgeois was engaged really need external hallowing? They contained their own built-in standards, and the bourgeois was unwilling to recognize any other. If religion was to signify anything in his life, it would have to connect with that life itself, exalt the motives which determined it, not only tolerate them or approve them from a distance, but penetrate them and model itself on the very special morality which governed it.
    • p. 153
  • As soon as he did not work, the poor man, whose poverty had sufficed to create his title in the world of pious legend, who had been regarded as bearing a sacred character because he symbolized the great affliction of mankind, was no longer the good friend of Jesus Christ. There was thus a type of poor whom Jesus Christ did not recognize, any more than the police did.
    • p. 160
  • The Church must preach to the bourgeois on his duties, must reveal to him values that were more especially his own, must set the seal of divine approval on his efforts, on his work; and, satisfied with himself, he would be no less so with God and with his Church. ... The Church must not present him with far-ranging concepts or try to raise him out of his own sphere but, rather, talk to him of the daily round, of the minute concerns of life, and tell him that God required no more of him. That was what the Jesuits realized very clearly.
    • pp. 160-162
  • We might easily pursue these contrasts between bourgeois of the Jansenist school and those of the Jesuit school. One, of upright and rigid character, was himself in the various occupations of daily life; the other had the personality of his state, which would make of him less a moral personality than a socially determined being, subject to rules which it would be improper and unChristian not to observe, the "first duty of probity" always being, as Père Bourdaloue puts it, to "submit to authority." So that while the disciple of the Jesuit Fathers might be a reliable man, who most probably would always remain prudently within the confines of mediocrity, the disciple of the Jansenists might sometimes indulge in eccentricities. He was less reliable; he might take the counsels of perfection literally, and not be so docile. Under a middle-class exterior, he might often conceal a romantic spirit, preserving a predilection for the heroic feats of olden times.
    • p. 163
  • Since the God of the Christians blessed and rewarded toil, there was nothing, surely, to prevent him from approving the effort of the bourgeois. True, the bourgeois' wealth was often far from being the product of his own labor, but he always liked be told that it was, and if he was to be made a Christian it was necessary to insist on this point.
    • p. 171
  • In its glorification of the spirit of order, the Church seemed to be giving its sanction to the type of bourgeois who was concerned to fulfill his duties scrupulously and content to remain within his own sphere. But this bourgeois, whom modern eighteenth-century society certainly could not dispense with, was far from summing up in himself the whole spirit of his class. There was another type of bourgeois who had nothing about him of a monk transplanted into an office. He was energetic, pushing, by no means content to confine himself to a life rhythmically punctuated by work; rather, he was concerned to grow, to achieve power and wealth through his own effort. But what would the Church say of this bourgeois who was to become the monarch of the modern age? It did not like him; it could not like him; the impulse that moved him was too contrary to its own. He seemed intent on flouting God; trusting in his own strength, he seemed to want to organize his life independently of the plans of Divine Providence.
    • p. 177

Quotes about Bernard Groethuysen

  • Huizinga alone might be said to match Groethuysen in conveying a sense of the spiritual distance needing to be covered before everyday men could innocently proceed to go about the tasks in the everyday world with the simple conviction that their everyday minds were the true and honest measure of everything that came their way.
    • Benjamin Nelson, Introduction to The Bourgeois: Catholicism vs. Capitalism in Eighteenth-Century France (1968), p. viii

See also

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