Socialism in 17th and 18th century France, pp. 750–862 in Die Vorläufer des neueren Sozialismus (ed. Kautsky, 1895) vol. 1, part 2. (+ a review by Bax)
A review of it by Bax:
Socialism in France in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries occupies the concluding section of the present instalment of the History of Socialism.1 After a brief characterisation of the conditions leading up to the “reforms” of Colbert, Dr. Hugo devotes a long chapter to an exhaustive discussion of the conditions and principal grievances of the peasantry under the “ancien régime.” France, in the period from Louis XIV to the Revolution, Dr. Hugo observes, underwent, agriculturally, and almost identical development to Germany.
What in the latter case was accomplished by the thirty years’ war was just as thoroughly effected in France by the religious wars of the second half of the sixteenth century, by the Fronde, and by the glorious government of Louis XIV. (pp. 770–1)
In spite of increased taxes, the general position of the peasant in the first half of the sixteenth century had rather improved than become essentially worse. From this time began, however, that desertion of the country for the towns on the part of the nobility which, less than two centuries later, ruined the French peasant under one of the most oppressive systems of absentee landlordism known to history. Accustomed to increased luxury, by the sudden change of economic conditions and the increase of wealth of all kinds at the close of the Middle Ages, the noble was little able to endure the ruin which the religious wars had in many cases brought upon him. The extravagant Court life of the period, to which he had accustomed himself, made demands upon him that could only be met by “squeezing” the peasant in ways and to a degree before unknown. This tendency which the economic development was pressing forward was forced to its utmost limits by the centralising policy of Louis XIV, whose aim it was to turn wealthy and powerful nobles entrenched in their castles into obsequious Court parasites dependent upon his royal bounty. After a short sketch of the industry and legislation of Colbert, Dr. Hugo proceeds to deal with one who may be regarded as the direct ancestor, longo intervallo, of the great Utopian Socialist writers (Owen, Fourier, St. Simon) of the beginning of the present century. Denis Vairasse was a Frenchman, who, after service in the Royal Army, came to England, apparently soon after the advent of Charles II to the throne, for the purpose, as he expressed it, “of penetrating the intrigues of the Court at London, and of investigating the maxims of the Government of this land.” He afterwards wrote a French grammar, “composed for the particular benefit and use of the English.” His great work was also first published in English [online here], and bears the following title-page:-
The History of the Sevarites or Sevarambi, a Nation inhabiting Part of the third continent commonly called Terra Australes Incogitae, with an account of the admirable Government, Religion, Customs and Language written by one Captain Siden a worthy Person, who together with many others was cast upon these coasts and lived many years in that country. London, Printed for Henry Broome at the Gun at the West End of St. Paul’s Church Yard, 1675.
A second part was published in 1679, “more wonderful and delightful than the first,” which is described, however, as a jejune composition from another hand. The book passed through several editions in France, besides being translated into Dutch, German, and Italian. The form of the narrative recalls More’s Utopia, and earlier works of the same character, but is distinguished from them by its more obviously didactic purpose, and it is this latter aspect which gives its transitional character as a cross between the earlier Utopian writers whose productions meant no more than literary jeux d’esprit, and the later earnest seekers after a “new moral world.”
The work of Vairasse called forth numerous imitations even in the eighteenth century, the most important of which are shortly described by Dr. Hugo.
1. Die Klassengegesätze im 16. und 17. Jahrhundert
I. Der Calvinismus und die Liga
II. Die Zeit der Fronde
III. Ludwig XIV
IV. Die Getreidepolitik des Ancien Régime
2. Die Bauern und die Landgeistlichkeit
I. Die Bauern
II. Die Landgeistlichkeit
3. Jean Meslier
4. Die Industrie im 16. und 17. Jahrhundert
6. Die Staatsromane und Reisebeschreibungen des 17. und 18. Jahrhunderts
I. La Terre Australe (de Foigny)
II. Jacques Massé
III. Die Republik der Philosophen (Fontenelle)
IV. Restif's La découverte australe und Lettre d'un singe
V. Fénelon's Telemach
VI. Ramsay's Les Voyages de Cyrus
VII. Pechméja's Télèphe.
- 1Translated parts of this are e.g. Bernstein 1895: Cromwell and Communism, as well as the contribution of Kautsky (partly): Communism in Central Europe in the Time of the Reformation
- 2The wiki-entry on Vairasse mentions that:
The conflicts between Protestants and Catholics forced Vairasse into exile in England where he wrote his major work Histoire of Séverambes, a Utopian novel set in Australia. A travel story akin to Thomas More's Utopia and Jonathan Swift's Gulliver's Travels. Authors such as Bayle, Rousseau, Kant and Cabet read it and were probably inspired by some of it and the book was directed referenced by Montesquieu in chapter VI of his book "Spirit of Laws".
One of the originalities of this book, presented to the manner of the works of geography or anthropology, is the integration in the novel construction of a direct criticism of the revealed and imposed religions, and in particular of the Catholicism, as practised by the Christians in the 17th century.