Founding families (4)
By Mgr Henri Delassus | 8 March 2023
This is the twelfth in a series of twenty-one articles, drawn from Mgr Delassus’s two-volume work, The Problem of the Present Time: Antagonism of two civilisations (1905), in which he examines the conditions for the restoration of Christian society and the return to social truth. The section of his work translated for this series considers the role of the family as the origin and model of all society and the disastrous effects of human tampering with this institution so manifestly wanted by God and nature. This series began on the 20 April 2022 with “How states are formed”.
Paul Bourget said well:
“All of history demonstrates that the energy of the social body has always been, as the mathematicians say, in function of or in proportion to that of the life of the family.”
There is nothing at all to which the revolutionary sect is more opposed, because there is nothing more opposed to the democratic spirit. Conversely, there is nothing to which enlightened minds must apply themselves with a more persevering will.
Le Play retraced the desperate efforts of the old and good families who sought to conserve their heritage by any means. These efforts are lessened today as the tyranny of the civil code is imposed more and more. In the year 1865, however, Gustave Larsonnier, a member of the chamber of commerce of Paris, along with 131 large manufacturers and businesses of the capital, addressed a petition to the senate, from which we extract the following passage:
“We believe that the influence of the current law will be fatal to the industrial and commercial development of France… Nothing is more proper to paralyse the strength of France than the indefinite scattering of her productive forces under the dissolving action of our laws of succession.”
The chamber of commerce of Paris, of Roubaix, of Bordeaux, and of several other cities, heard similar complaints. The chamber of Roubaix said:
“English laws differ essentially from ours. Freedom in making one’s will offers the following results: bigger families; no hesitation in founding a business, since it will not be divided; obliging young people who only have a minimal part of the paternal goods to seek their fortune, and to manage this, they go abroad to hold the accounts of their brothers, of patrons or of foreigners.”
The agricultural inquest of 1869 is full of the grievances of our farmers about the subjugation to which our laws of succession condemn them. At the congress of Nantes in 1883, an important meeting of legal advisors formulated the conclusion of its studies in these terms:
“Civil law owes the family — and the paternal authority which governs it — an effective protection of all that is indispensable for the permanence of domestic institutions. Catholic legal advisors demand that the legislation assure — or in the short-term, that it at least favour — the complete transmission of the home and the retention of disposable shares of the estate at the rate proposed as early as 1803 by state advisors raised in countries with a family-based system.1
Public opinion therefore begins to see the sad effect — and one of the most dangerous aberrations — of the men of the Terror.2 Projects of law have been prepared to counter the evil done to the French family and the nation itself by Robespierre, Pétion, Tronchet and the other jurists of the Revolution. But the latter have prevailed, like so many others, through the events of 1870.3
Far from merely returning to these, the current regime has considerably increased the former difficulties of retaining the goods which help the family to perpetuate itself.
Direct inheritance was subject to a law of succession equivalent to 1.25%. It was the most moderate of all and it was fair. The new law, which has established progressive taxation on inheritances smaller than 2,000 fr., has been raised successively to 4% for direct inheritances; this is doubled when the inheritance is from a grandfather to a grandson, and tripled when it is from a great-grandfather to a great-grandson. And two-times-four make eight — and three-times-four make twelve. The maximum tax on direct inheritance is expected to rise to 8% or even to 12%! … One could just as soon decree the suppression of the family’s goods.
If Christian democrats had employed their zeal for the good of the people, to illuminate public opinion on this question of such grave moral, economic, political and social consequences, they assuredly would have done better than to push the people to demand impossible salaries, increasing which does nothing besides produce ever-greater misery unless it is accompanied by a corresponding increase in morality.
Le Play writes:
“The numerous classes who live on a daily wage are eager for a new system of freedom in making one’s will; even more so than those who have all the means of work in their possession. Those who, after this reform, will save up to buy a house and the other goods which rank highest among property would no longer be discouraged, as many are today, by the prospect of the liquidation imposed by forced equal shares. The hardworking and economical labourer would be assured of linking the emancipation of his posterity to the possession of these goods: he would therefore be more ardent in acquiring them by labour and virtue. Under the same influences, when successive generations cease to raise themselves higher by taking on new dependencies, they would generally remain at the level attained by its founder.”
Some, wishing to settle on a small piece of land with their children, have proposed to constitute for themselves a family property — as they once did in America, where they called this a homestead — but the law now makes this unfeasible. To decree its unfeasibility would be to take away from a worker who owns his house, or a peasant who owns his field, the consciousness of his responsibility, or to diminish it and thereby to lessen the virtue necessary for founding a family. What is more, the first effect of such a decree of unfeasibility would be to destroy the credit of the father of the family. He will no longer find any cattle merchant willing to sell him a cow on credit, or a mason willing to repair his house unless he pays in advance. The law will prevent the farmer from borrowing money, which could be excellent; except it would make it impossible for him to procure tools or livestock between harvests.
What does it profit a peasant to keep a roof over his head — a family home — if he has none of the resources to live there! What good is a piece of land, if he has none of the means to make it valuable!
It is in souls and in the law that one must place the mechanism to give families the necessary energy to raise themselves socially. One must not ask the law to raise obstacles that stop this spring from functioning.
As well as allowing the worker to found a home, such a reform of the civil code would also permit bourgeoise families to grow and raise themselves up by their own means. But, as Le Play observes, here lies the objection in the mind of the democrats: that it would profit the wealthy as well as the workers; that it would favour the reestablishment of order in society.
This series will continue next month with “Founding families (5)”.
1. In L’Univers of 14 April 1838, Coquille — explaining how, by whose fault and how Jews are conquering Christians said:
“We wonder what interest the legislator has in putting French citizens in a position in which they have to sell their unmovable goods to the Jews, who keep them.”
“Our laws forbid the faculty of conserving means. The freedom to make one’s will is an offence that is immediately reprimanded by tribunals. The Jews have an easy time of it. They are economical. They know that Christians, by our civil code, periodically suffer a financial crisis because of inheritance. They lie in wait, they present themselves purse in hand. It is easy for the Christian to draw on them. He has no ambition to keep a house that would be too great and burden for an heir and which, besides, is weighed down with mortgages and transfer duties. The house is naturally passed on to the Jewish lender, as if it had been built for him, and remains to the Christian who built and embellished it at his own expense to live in as a tenant.
“They cry against them, they let them cry; they would ruin them today but they would begin again tomorrow. They are only the secondary cause of their own wealth. The primary cause is the code.”
2. The law of forced equal shares belongs to the most sinister period of the Revolution. It was promulgated on 7 March 1793, with the avowed goal of destroying paternal authority in the family, and all spirit of tradition in the country (see Le Moniteur on this date). Never was there seen among a civilised people such great interests severed for such weak reasons as those that were given for destroying institutions dating back 20 centuries.
3. On this question, see Les lois de succession appréciées dans leurs effets économiques par les Chambre de commerce de France, by le Comte de Butenval, former plenipotentiary minister, former state advisor (Office of the Unions of social peace, Paris).