Ville Des Expiations

Leithart | 1/9/2018 | Staff
cv2angels (Posted by) Level 3
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Pierre-Simon Ballanche (1776-1847) is hardly a household name today, but he was a significant literary figure in 19th-century France. Albert Joseph George calls him a “precursor to romanticism,” and he was an eccentrically Christian advocate for social reforms of various kinds. In his Ville des expiations, unpublished in his lifetime, he laid out a vision for prison reform that rejected utilitarian defense of punishment.

As George observes, Ballanche always had an affinity for victims: “He had never vaunted the executioner like de Maistre. His heroes had always been victims: Orpheus, Antigone, Ines de Caster, Jeanne d’Arc, and Louis XVI” (151).

Attention - Victims - Order - Expression - Penetration

This attention to victims should be embodied in social order as an expression of the penetration of the gospel into society: “progress meant the abolition of caste, a struggle in which the people, the active principle, defeated the aristocracy, the passive principle. The social greatness of Christianity was that it established a religious equality from which must inevitably spring civic equality” (151-2).

His work on prison reform was part of his long-term reflection on the problem of evil. He aimed “to conciliate the doctrine of the inviolability of human life with that to the security of society” (152). To achieve this double aim, he proposed the formation of a city for the rehabilitation of criminals. It consisted of two sections “an outer one for the rehabilitation of criminals, and an inner one to house a college of priests skilled in judging quarrels between nations, or between governments and their peoples” (152).

Text - Utopia - Form - Ballanche - Visit

The text is a Utopia, told in fictional form, as Ballanche describes a visit to the city of expiation. The high city (Ville Haute) is ruled by a dictator whose decrees are interpreted by a High Court, divided into sections that determine cases for each of the five sections of the population –...
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