Philippe Joseph Benjamin Buchez (1796-1865), French author and politician, was born on the 31st of March 1796 at Matagne-la-Petite, now in Belgium, then in the French department of the Ardennes. He finished his general education in Paris, and afterwards applied himself to the study of natural science and medicine. In 1821 he co-operated with Saint-Amand Bazard and others in founding a secret association, modelled on that of the Italian Carbonari, with the object of organizing a general armed rising against the government. The organization spread rapidly and widely, and displayed itself in repeated attempts at revolution. In one of these attempts, the affair at Belfort, Buchez was gravely compromised, although the jury which tried him did not find the evidence sufficient to warrant his condemnation. In 1825 he graduated in medicine, and soon after he published with Ulisse Trélat a Précis élémentaire d'hygiène. About the same time he became a member of the Saint-Simonian Society, presided over by Bazard, Barthélemy Prosper Enfantin, and Olinde Rodrigues, and contributed to its organ, the Producteur. He left it in consequence of aversion to the strange religious ideas developed by its "Supreme Father," Enfantin, and began to elaborate what he regarded as a Christian socialism.
For the exposition and advocacy of his principles he founded a periodical called L'Européen. In 1833 he published an Introduction à la science de l'histoire, which was received with considerable favour (2nd ed., improved and enlarged, 2 vols., 1842). Notwithstanding its prolixity, this is an interesting work. The part which treats of the aim, foundation and methods of the science of history is valuable; but what is most distinctive in Buchez's theory - the division of historical development into four great epochs originated by four universal revelations, of each epoch into three periods corresponding to desire, reasoning and performance, and of each of these periods into a theoretical and practical age - is merely ingenious (see Flint's Philosophy of History in Europe, i. 242-252). Buchez next edited, along with M. Roux-Lavergne (1802-1874), the Histoire parlementaire de la Révolution française (1833-1838; 40 vols.). This vast and conscientious publication is a valuable store of material for the early periods of the first French Revolution. There is a review of it by Carlyle (Miscellanies), the first two parts of whose own history of the French Revolution are mainly drawn from it.
The editors worked under the inspiration of a strong admiration of the principles of Robespierre and the Jacobins, and in the belief that the French Revolution was an attempt to realize Christianity. In the Essai d'un traité complet de philosophie au point de vue du Catholicisme et du progrès (1839-1840) Buchez endeavoured to co-ordinate in a single system the political, moral, religious and natural phenomena of existence. Denying the possibility of innate ideas, he asserted that morality comes by revelation, and is therefore not only certain, but the only real certainty.
It was partly owing to the reputation which he had acquired by these publications, but still more owing to his connexion with the National newspaper, and with the secret societies hostile to the government of Louis Philippe, that he was raised, by the Revolution of 1848, to the presidency of the Constituent Assembly. He speedily showed that he was not possessed of the qualities needed in a situation so difficult and in days so tempestuous. He retained the position only for a very short time. After the dissolution of the assembly he was not re-elected. Thrown back into private life, he resumed his studies, and added several works to those which have been already mentioned. A Traité de politique (published 1866), which may be considered as the completion of his Traité de philosophie, was the most important of the productions of the last period of his life. His brochures are very numerous and on a great variety of subjects, medical, historical, political, philosophical, etc. He died on the 12th of August 1865. He found a disciple of considerable ability in M.A. Ott, who advocated and applied his principles in various writings.
See also A. Ott, "P.B.J. Buchez," in Journal des économistes for 1865.