A new crazeswept France, as well as most of Europe, in the early nineteenthcentury.
The oppressed society was exhausted from its continual battleagainst itself. Thepeople sought change; they sought relief from the socio-economic labyrinththeyhad beenspinning themselves dizzy in for their entire lives, and the livesof theirfathers, and theirfathers before them. Their minds wandered fromthe monotony of changingspools ofthread in a textile mill or hauling bucketsof water in that same mill to aland of liberty andequality– their landof perfection. Then suddenly a door opened. And above that door, in blockletters, readtheword “SOCIALISM”.
And standing beside, beckoning to allto enter, stoodFrancoisMarie Charles Fourier. Charles Fourier wasborn on April 7, 1772, in Besancon, France. The son ofaprosperous clothmerchant, he was encouraged from an early age to pursuecommerce. His fatherdied when Charles was nine, leaving him an estate valuing inexcess of 80,000francs. Upon the advice of his family, Fourier entered the business world, despitehispersonalinterests in the arts and sciences.
He pursued an apprenticeship inLyons’scommercialsystem for four years, returning to Besancon in early 1793. Hehad spenthisyears wisely, traveling through much of France and exploring the “culturalandsocialdiversity” of the places he visited. However, due to the turmoil andunstablestate ofFrance at the time, the Fourier family lost all their property. Theseunfortunatecircumstances brought Fourier’s return to Paris. (Taylor100)It was here where he founded the basic principles of his socio-economicbeliefs.
He was given a first-hand view into the functioning of the economy, and hewasdisgustedby the corruption and deceit he discovered. Throughout his childhood,andadolescence,then carried into adulthood, he witnessed the severity ofthe distinctionsbetween classes. He matured in the aftermath of the FrenchRevolution, perhaps the most”sociallyincorrect” period in history. Hewitnessed the havoc the guillotine wreakedon thearistocracy while watchingthe chaos created by the poverty that resultedfrom over-taxation of thepeasant class.
He saw these two diametrically opposed groupsas the rootofall evil and sought to weaken the force that drove them apart. Anenormouschasmexisted between the upper and lower classes, and Fourier believed thatif hecould find away to eliminate that, he would find true Utopia. Hegradually began todevelop analternative social order. In 1808 a bookwas published. It was appropriately titled Theorie desQuatreMouvementset des Destinees Generales, or Theory of the Four Movements andtheGeneralDestinies. Fourier was announcing to the world his discovery: notonly weretherenatural laws, and laws of physics or science, there were social laws.
Hedescribedthe four “spheres”, his name for divisions of activity– the social,animal,organic andmaterial, each governed by strict mathematical laws. (Taylor 101) However,the onlysphere that any discoveries had been madein so far was the material sphere,and this iswhere the fault in civilizedsociety lay. If we could uncover the remainingthree, some ofthis chaosmay be remedied. His second book was a deeper version of his first, in whichhe preciselydescribedthe stages of evolution, ranging from the formationof man to the day ofreckoning. Another followed, Traite de l’AssociationDomestique-Agricole. In this workheintroduced the Phalanx, from the Greekword meaning an orderly body ofpersons, and histheory that “mankind couldbegin to establish conditions of social harmony insmall scalecommunitiesorganized according to the scientific principles of humanassociation whichFourierclaimed to have discovered.
” (Taylor 103) He included detailed andspecificinstructionsfor the institution of such a community. This publication was,in essence,aplea to some wealthy patron to make a contribution for the foundation foratrial Phalanx. His radical ideas were, to say the least, not very wellreceived. He wasrejected time andagain by publishers, magazine editors,and basically anyone else who hadanything to dowith the literary community. The critics who did actually bother to read hiswork scornedand ridiculedit, and only in one newspaper, the Mercure de France du XIXSiecle, offeredanyamount of praise:Even when the author may appear to us lost in an imaginaryspace, we havedoubtsof our own reason quite as much as his: we call tomind that Columbus wastreated as a visionary, Galileo condemned as a heretic,and yet America didexist,the earth did turn round the sun.
(Taylor 104). Inlater years, Fourier attempted to establish ties with other UtopianSocialists,suchas Owen and Saint-Simon. He failed on both parts, but his followinggrewstrongerwhen the French government intervened and outlawed the teachingsofSaint-Simon. Many Saint-Simonians converted to Fourierism, due to theirmany common bonds.
Aweekly journal was also put out during that time, helpingto increase socialawareness. The popularity of Fourierism in Europe reacheda plateau at that point. Charles Fourier died on October 10, 1837. Ifa single word was to be chosen to describe this man, it would certainlybe”eccentric”. He dazzles readers with his diversity of speech and thought,and runs fullcirclewith his writing. He came up with obscure views into the functioningof thehumanmind, and tied mathematics with emotions with economics with sociology.
Fourier’sunderlying theory was based on his principles of emotions. Henamedtwelvehuman desires, or “passions”, as he preferred to call them, anddivided theseintothree categories. He saw these passions as the underlying forces behindallhumanbehavior. The first were the five sensual passions: taste, touch,sight,hearing, and smell.
The second group included the affective passions:friendship, love, paternityor family, andcorporation or ambition. Thesewere distinctive of things urging men towardsrelationships, in his own words,”simple appetites of the soul”. The thirdgroup was themechanizing passions:passion for intrigue, passion for change and contrast,and passionfor enjoymentproduced through simultaneous attainment of physical andspiritualpleasure. He also named a thirteenth passion–a passion to relate one’shappiness toothers. (Fourier 301)He believed that happiness was achieved through the correctbalance ofpassions,and the fault of society was that social and economicaffairs wereinterfering with theability to reach these passions. He believedthat man, if presented with theidealcircumstances, would create his ownUtopia.
Another major problem Fourier saw was the structure of the familyunit. Familiesworked on individual basis, often having menial tasks completedby thosewhose abilitiesfar exceed their use. He sighted a specific example:Inour societies the healthiest men may often be seen performing tasks fitforfour-year-old girls. In the streets of our large cities you can see strongmenbustshelling peas, peeling vegetables, and cutting paper to make candywrappers. . .
(Taylor110). His opinion of labor was parallel to that of Karl Marx. He saw thewealthybecoming wealthier and the poor becoming poorer as time progressed. Competition didnothing but reduce already low wages in effort to cut costs. He saw thesituation forwomen being the bleakest. The only options forsurvival for working classwomen wereeither marriage or prostitution.
, andthen he referred to marriage as”conjugal slavery”. So he decided thatthe only liberation from these hellish lives would bethrough theformationof small communities. He recommended that each have a populationofbetween1500 and 1800, specifically 1620. A central building would besurroundedbyhomes, recreational facilities, and various other edifices. Possessionssuchas land,materials, tools, and livestock would be maintained by thecommunity as awhole, andeach member would hold an equal share. Fourier”maintained that social, orpublic,ownership of the means of productionwas the only way to halt capitalexploitation of theworkingman.
” (Ellis130) Seven-eighths of the members should be agrarian orindustrial,withthe remainder being capitalists, artists, or savants. All members wouldbeeducatedequally. All members would share tasks. Another major Fourianprinciple is hisTheory ofAttractive Industry, stating that each personworks better when the work iscongenial andthe program varied.
In otherwords, a man tires after two hours of intenseconcentration,but is ableto work long hours if his work is varied. And in order for thiswork to becompletelyfulfilling, it must satisfy man’s basic passionate drives. Fourier took allperspectives into account, categorizing to the lastdetail,. Herecognizedthat some tasks were seasonal, such as vegetable work, and madeprovisionsforthis to be dealt with. He also recognized that the most repugnantlyfilthytasks foradults, such as tending manure piles, or hunting reptiles, are lookedonfavorably by youngboys who generally enjoy wallowing in dirt. The pleasureof partaking in manual labor and reaping the harvests of hardworkwouldbring half of the fulfillment Fourier envisioned, and the other halfwouldcome fromlove.
His own words said it best, “Without love life would loseit’s charm. When love hasgone man can only vegetate and seek distractionsor illusions to hide theemptiness of hissoul. ” He believed that man’snature led him to desire to partake in amorousactivitieswith a wide varietyof partners, but society had infringed upon this, callingit immoral anddistasteful. He wanted to toss aside these preconceptions about monogamousrelationshipsand allow people to experiment freely. A Court of Love was setup to insurethatall members be allowed sufficient “affection”, under the views that abodyneedssexual fulfillment just as it needs food. So, just as food was distributed,sexwould bedistributed, as to eliminate physical longings, thus removing muchtension.
The liberation of work and love were to become the basis for Fourierism. Although these ideas did not take hold especially strongly in Europe, inAmerica,a tidalwave of socialism was forming, and Charles Fourier’s principles wereridingin along withit. In 1841, a group of eight men and their familiestraveled to West Roxbury,Massachusetts. They assembled themselves as a “groupof like-minded peopleto found acommunity, where labor would be, in Emerson’swords, ‘honored and united withthe freedevelopment of the intellect andthe heart'”.
(Curtis 61)Once there, they set up a community that soughtto structurize labor. Theland onwhich they were living, once Ellis Farm,was renamed Brook Farm, and witheach passingmonth, the community grew closer. Their frequent visitors included the likesof MargaretFuller, Bronson Alcott,Ralph Waldo Emerson, Nathaniel Hawthorne, and AlbertBrisbane. In fact, Hawthorne’snovel Blithedale Romance was written abouthisexperiences at Brook Farm.
Butit was Brisbane, ironically the least known, who had the most profoundimpactonthis tiny agrarian society. Brisbane had just come over from Paris, andwhilethere hadwritten an exposition into the ideals of Fourier. So, when BrisbanevisitedBrook Farm,he saw not a simple group of farmers seeking ways tomaintain their simplelives, but thepotential for an experiment in UtopianSocialism, in other words, a FourianPhalanx. Brisbane successfully convincedGeorge Ripley, founder, as well as the otherdirectors, that a conversionto Fourierism would bring much need capital andprosperity totheir community. By 1844, Brook Farm was the Brook Farm Phalanx and by 1845,it wascompletelyreorganized according to Fourier’s principles.
But tragedy struck in 1848when a massive fire destroyed the main buildingandmany of the surroundingstructures. It was never rebuilt because the fundswere not there,but also,neither was the interest. The ideas behind it were far too radicalfor theconservativesliving in America in that time, and they were hesitant toresist theconformityof society. Charles Fourier saw a problem in society, and he sought notto change ithimself,but to offer a solution to the public. He had veryliberal and radicalideals, both increasingand decreasing his popularity. He opened a door for France and America, andthough thatdoor was once againshut, he made a profound impact on history.
Cole, GDH. A History of SocialistThought, Volume I: The Forerunners. London:Macmillan, 1965. pp. 62-75. Thisencyclopedia style reference provided a general overview of socialismandits foundations.
Curtis, Edith Roelker. “A Season in Utopia. ” AmericanHeritage, Vol. X, No. 3 (April1959).
pp. 58-63, 98-100. This articlegives a history of Brook Farm and its ties with Fourierism. Ellis, HarryB. Ideals and Ideologies. Cleveland: The World PublishingCompany, 1968.
p. 130. This book told of Hawthorne’s role in Brook Farm and also describedFourier’sview on the economy. Engels, Friedrich. Socialism: Utopian and ScientificThe Essential Works ofMarxism.
Engels gives a commentary on the workof Fourier. Lichtheim, George. The Origins of Socialism. New York: PraegerPublishers,1969. pp.
26-39. This book discussed Fourier’s role as comparedto others such as Owenand Saint-Simon. Lichtheim, George. A ShortHistory of Socialism. New York: PraegerPublishers, 1970.
pp. 42-63. Thisbook went into greater depth than Lichtheim’s first, discussing socialismin greater detail. Manuel, Frank E. and Fritzie P. French Utopias.
New York: The Free Press,1966. pp. 299-328. The editors translatedthe work of many French thinkers.
Fourier’s Systemof Passionate Attractionis included. Manuel, Frank E. Utopias and Utopian Thought. Boston: HoughtonMifflinCompany,1966. This book described the foundations of Utopianthinking.
Taylor, Keith. The Political Ideas of the Utopian Socialists. London: FrankCass andCompany, Limited, 1982. pp.
100-131This bookwent into great detail on Fourier, including biographical sketchand commentary.Miscellaneous