BLANC, (Jean Joseph Charles) LOUIS (1811–1882), French politician and historian, was born on the 29th of October 1811 at Madrid, where his father held the post of inspector-general of finance under Joseph Bonaparte. Failing to receive aid from Pozzo di Borgo, his mother’s uncle, Louis Blanc studied law in Paris, living in poverty, and became a contributor to various journals. In the Revue du progrès, which he founded, he published in 1839 his study on L’Organisation du travail. The principles laid down in this famous essay form the key to Louis Blanc’s whole political career. He attributes all the evils that afflict society to the pressure of competition, whereby the weaker are driven to the wall. He demanded the equalization of wages, and the merging of personal interests in the common good—“à chacun selon ses besoins, de chacun selon ses facultés.” This was to be effected by the establishment of “social workshops,” a sort of combined co-operative society and trade-union, where the workmen in each trade were to unite their efforts for their common benefit. In 1841 he published his Histoire de dix ans 1830–1840, an attack upon the monarchy of July. It ran through four editions in four years.
In 1847 he published the two first volumes of his Histoire de la Révolution Française. Its publication was interrupted by the revolution of 1848, when Louis Blanc became a member of the provisional government. It was on his motion that, on the 25th of February, the government undertook “to guarantee the existence of the workmen by work”; and though his demand for the establishment of a ministry of labour was refused—as beyond the competence of a provisional government—he was appointed to preside over the government labour commission (Commission du Gouvernement pour les travailleurs) established at the Luxembourg to inquire into and report on the labour question. On the 10th of May he renewed, in the National Assembly, his proposal for a ministry of labour, but the temper of the majority was hostile to socialism, and the proposal was again rejected. His responsibility for the disastrous experiment of the national workshops he himself denied in his Appel aux honnêtes gens (Paris, 1849), written in London after his flight; but by the insurgent mob of the 15th of May and by the victorious Moderates alike he was regarded as responsible. Between the sansculottes, who tried to force him to place himself at their head, and the national guards, who maltreated him, he was nearly done to death. Rescued with difficulty, he escaped with a false passport to Belgium, and thence to London; in his absence he was condemned by the special tribunal established at Bourges, in contumaciam, to deportation. Against trial and sentence he alike protested, developing his protest in a series of articles in the Nouveau Monde, a review published in Paris under his direction. These he afterwards collected and published as Pages de l’histoire de la révolution de 1848 (Brussels, 1850).
During his stay in England he made use of the unique collection of materials for the revolutionary period preserved at the British Museum to complete his Histoire de la Révolution Française 12 vols. (1847–1862). In 1858 he published a reply to Lord Normanby’s A Year of Revolution in Paris (1858), which he developed later into his Histoire de la révolution de 1848 (2 vols., 1870–1880). As far back as 1839 Louis Blanc had vehemently opposed the idea of a Napoleonic restoration, predicting that it would be “despotism without glory,” “the Empire without the Emperor.” He therefore remained in exile till the fall of the Second Empire in September 1870, after which he returned to Paris and served as a private in the national guard. On the 8th of February 1871 he was elected a member of the National Assembly, in which he maintained that the republic was “the necessary form of national sovereignty,” and voted for the continuation of the war; yet, though a member of the extreme Left, he was too clear-minded to sympathize with the Commune, and exerted his influence in vain on the side of moderation. In 1878 he advocated the abolition of the presidency and the senate. In January 1879 he introduced into the chamber a proposal for the amnesty of the Communists, which was carried. This was his last important act. His declining years were darkened by ill-health and by the death, in 1876, of his wife (Christina Groh), an Englishwoman whom he had married in 1865. He died at Cannes on the 6th of December 1882, and on the 12th of December received a state funeral in the cemetery of Père-Lachaise.
Louis Blanc possessed a picturesque and vivid style, and considerable power of research; but the fervour with which he expressed his convictions, while placing him in the first rank of orators, tended to turn his historical writings into political pamphlets. His political and social ideas have had a great influence on the development of socialism in France. His Discours politiques (1847–1881) was published in 1882. His most important works, besides those already mentioned, are Lettres sur l’Angleterre (1866–1867), Dix années de l’histoire de l’Angleterre (1879–1881), and Questions d’aujourd’hui et de demain (1873–1884).
See L. Fiaux, Louis Blanc (1883).