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    The Rise And Fall Of Charles Fourier Essay

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    A new craze swept France, as well as most of Europe, in the early nineteenth century.

    The oppressed society was exhausted from its continual battle against itself. The people sought change; they sought relief from the socio-economic labyrinth they had been spinning themselves dizzy in for their entire lives, and the lives of their fathers, and their fathers before them. Their minds wandered from the monotony of changing spools of thread in a textile mill or hauling buckets of water in that same mill to a land of liberty and equality – their land of perfection. Then suddenly a door opened. And above that door, in block letters, read the word “SOCIALISM”.

    And standing beside, beckoning to all to enter, stood Francois Marie Charles Fourier. Charles Fourier was born on April 7, 1772, in Besancon, France. The son of a prosperous cloth merchant, he was encouraged from an early age to pursue commerce. His father died when Charles was nine, leaving him an estate valuing in excess of 80,000 francs. Upon the advice of his family, Fourier entered the business world, despite his personal interests in the arts and sciences.

    He pursued an apprenticeship in Lyon’s commercial system for four years, returning to Besancon in early 1793. He had spent his years wisely, traveling through much of France and exploring the “cultural and social diversity” of the places he visited. However, due to the turmoil and unstable state of France at the time, the Fourier family lost all their property. These unfortunate circumstances brought Fourier’s return to Paris. (Taylor 100) It was here where he founded the basic principles of his socio-economic beliefs.

    He was given a first-hand view into the functioning of the economy, and he was disgusted by the corruption and deceit he discovered. Throughout his childhood, adolescence, and into adulthood, he witnessed the severity of the distinctions between classes. He matured in the aftermath of the French Revolution, perhaps the most “socially incorrect” period in history. He witnessed the havoc the guillotine wreaked on the aristocracy while watching the chaos created by the poverty that resulted from over-taxation of the peasant class.

    He saw these two diametrically opposed groups as the root of all evil and sought to weaken the force that drove them apart. An enormous chasm existed between the upper and lower classes, and Fourier believed that if he could find a way to eliminate that, he would find true Utopia. He gradually began to develop an alternative social order. In 1808 a book was published. It was appropriately titled Theorie des Quatre Mouvements et des Destinees Generales, or Theory of the Four Movements and the General Destinies. Fourier was announcing to the world his discovery: not only were there natural laws and laws of physics or science, but there were also social laws.

    He described the four “spheres,” his name for divisions of activity — the social, animal, organic, and material, each governed by strict mathematical laws. (Taylor 101) However, the only sphere that any discoveries had been made in so far was the material sphere, and this is where the fault in civilized society lay. If we could uncover the remaining three, some of this chaos may be remedied. His second book was a deeper version of his first, in which he precisely described the stages of evolution, ranging from the formation of man to the day of reckoning. Another followed, Traite de l’Association Domestique-Agricole. In this work, he introduced the Phalanx, from the Greek word meaning an orderly body of persons, and his theory that “mankind could begin to establish conditions of social harmony in small-scale communities organized according to the scientific principles of human association which Fourier claimed to have discovered.” (Taylor 103)

    He included detailed and specific instructions for the institution of such a community. This publication was, in essence, a plea to some wealthy patron to make a contribution for the foundation for a trial Phalanx. His radical ideas were, to say the least, not very well-received. He was rejected time and again by publishers, magazine editors, and basically anyone else who had anything to do with the literary community. The critics who did actually bother to read his work scorned and ridiculed it, and only in one newspaper, the Mercure de France du XIX Siecle, offered any amount of praise: “Even when the author may appear to us lost in an imaginary space, we have doubts of our own reason quite as much as his: we call to mind that Columbus was treated as a visionary, Galileo condemned as a heretic, and yet America did exist, the earth did turn round the sun.” (Taylor 104).

    In later years, Fourier attempted to establish ties with other Utopian Socialists, such as Owen and Saint-Simon. He failed on both parts, but his following grew stronger when the French government intervened and outlawed the teachings of Saint-Simon. Many Saint-Simonians converted to Fourierism, due to their many common bonds.

    A weekly journal was also put out during that time, helping to increase social awareness. The popularity of Fourierism in Europe reached a plateau at that point. Charles Fourier died on October 10, 1837. If a single word was to be chosen to describe this man, it would certainly be “eccentric.” He dazzles readers with his diversity of speech and thought, and runs full circle with his writing. He came up with obscure views into the functioning of the human mind and tied mathematics with emotions with economics with sociology.

    Fourier’s underlying theory was based on his principles of emotions. He named twelve human desires, or ‘passions’, as he preferred to call them, and divided these into three categories. He saw these passions as the underlying forces behind all human behavior. The first were the five sensual passions: taste, touch, sight, hearing, and smell.

    The second group included the affective passions: friendship, love, paternity or family, and corporation or ambition. These were distinctive things urging men towards relationships, in his own words, ‘simple appetites of the soul’. The third group was the mechanizing passions: passion for intrigue, passion for change and contrast, and passion for enjoyment produced through simultaneous attainment of physical and spiritual pleasure. He also named a thirteenth passion–a passion to relate one’s happiness to others. (Fourier 301) He believed that happiness was achieved through the correct balance of passions, and the fault of society was that social and economic affairs were interfering with the ability to reach these passions. He believed that man, if presented with the ideal circumstances, would create his own Utopia.

    Another major problem Fourier saw was the structure of the family unit. Families worked on an individual basis, often having menial tasks completed by those whose abilities far exceed their use. He cited a specific example: ‘In our societies, the healthiest men may often be seen performing tasks fit for four-year-old girls. In the streets of our large cities, you can see strong men busily shelling peas, peeling vegetables, and cutting paper to make candy wrappers…’ (Taylor 110). His opinion of labor was parallel to that of Karl Marx. He saw the wealthy becoming wealthier and the poor becoming poorer as time progressed.

    The competition did nothing but reduce already low wages in an effort to cut costs. He saw the situation for women as the bleakest. The only options for survival for working-class women were either marriage or prostitution, and then he referred to marriage as ‘conjugal slavery’. So he decided that the only liberation from these hellish lives would be through the formation of small communities. He recommended that each have a population of between 1500 and 1800, specifically 1620. A central building would be surrounded by homes, recreational facilities, and various other edifices. Possessions such as land, materials, tools, and livestock would be maintained by the community as a whole, and each member would hold an equal share.

    Fourier ‘maintained that social, or public, ownership of the means of production was the only way to halt capital exploitation of the workingman.’ (Ellis 130) Seven-eighths of the members should be agrarian or industrial, with the remainder being capitalists, artists, or savants. All members would be educated equally, and all members would share tasks. Another major Fourian principle is his Theory of Attractive Industry, stating that each person works better when the work is congenial and the program varied.

    In other words, a man tires after two hours of intense concentration but is able to work long hours if his work is varied. And in order for this work to be completely fulfilling, it must satisfy man’s basic passionate drives. Fourier took all perspectives into account, categorizing to the last detail. He recognized that some tasks were seasonal, such as vegetable work, and made provisions for this to be dealt with. He also recognized that the most repugnantly filthy tasks for adults, such as tending manure piles or hunting reptiles, are looked on favorably by young boys who generally enjoy wallowing in dirt. The pleasure of partaking in manual labor and reaping the harvests of hard work would bring half of the fulfillment Fourier envisioned, and the other half would come from love.

    His own words said it best, “Without love life would lose its charm. When love has gone, man can only vegetate and seek distractions or illusions to hide the emptiness of his soul.” He believed that man’s nature led him to desire to partake in amorous activities with a wide variety of partners, but society had infringed upon this, calling it immoral and distasteful. He wanted to toss aside these preconceptions about monogamous relationships and allow people to experiment freely. A Court of Love was set up to ensure that all members be allowed sufficient “affection,” under the view that a body needs sexual fulfillment just as it needs food. So, just as food was distributed, sex would be distributed, as to eliminate physical longings, thus removing much tension.

    The liberation of work and love were to become the basis for Fourierism. Although these ideas did not take hold especially strongly in Europe, in America, a tidal wave of socialism was forming, and Charles Fourier’s principles were riding in along with it. In 1841, a group of eight men and their families traveled to West Roxbury, Massachusetts. They assembled themselves as a “group of like-minded people to found a community, where labor would be, in Emerson’s words, ‘honored and united with the free development of the intellect and the heart.'”

    (Curtis 61) Once there, they set up a community that sought to structure labor. The land on which they were living, once Ellis Farm, was renamed Brook Farm, and with each passing month, the community grew closer. Their frequent visitors included the likes of Margaret Fuller, Bronson Alcott, Ralph Waldo Emerson, Nathaniel Hawthorne, and Albert Brisbane. In fact, Hawthorne’s novel Blithedale Romance was written about his experiences at Brook Farm.

    But it was Brisbane, ironically the least known, who had the most profound impact on this tiny agrarian society. Brisbane had just come over from Paris, and while there had written an exposition into the ideals of Fourier. So, when Brisbane visited Brook Farm, he saw not a simple group of farmers seeking ways to maintain their simple lives, but the potential for an experiment in Utopian Socialism, in other words, a Fourian Phalanx. Brisbane successfully convinced George Ripley, founder, as well as the other directors, that a conversion to Fourierism would bring much-needed capital and prosperity to their community. By 1844, Brook Farm was the Brook Farm Phalanx and by 1845, it was completely reorganized according to Fourier’s principles.

    But tragedy struck in 1848 when a massive fire destroyed the main building and many of the surrounding structures. It was never rebuilt because the funds were not there, but also, neither was the interest. The ideas behind it were far too radical for the conservatives living in America at that time, and they were hesitant to resist the conformity of society. Charles Fourier saw a problem in society, and he sought not to change it himself, but to offer a solution to the public. He had very liberal and radical ideals, both increasing and decreasing his popularity. He opened a door for France and America, and though that door was once again shut, he made a profound impact on history.

    1. Cole, GDH. A History of Socialist Thought, Volume I: The Forerunners. London: Macmillan, 1965. pp. 62-75. This encyclopedia-style reference provided a general overview of socialism and its foundations.
    2. Curtis, Edith Roelker. “A Season in Utopia.” American Heritage, Vol. X, No. 3 (April 1959). pp. 58-63, 98-100. This article gives a history of Brook Farm and its ties with Fourierism.
    3. Ellis, Harry B. Ideals and Ideologies. Cleveland: The World Publishing Company, 1968. p. 130. This book told of Hawthorne’s role in Brook Farm and also described Fourier’s view on the economy.
    4. Engels, Friedrich. Socialism: Utopian and Scientific – The Essential Works of Marxism. Engels gives a commentary on the work of Fourier.
    5. Lichtheim, George. The Origins of Socialism. New York: Praeger Publishers, 1969. pp. 26-39. This book discussed Fourier’s role as compared to others such as Owen and Saint-Simon.
    6. Lichtheim, George. A Short History of Socialism. New York: Praeger Publishers, 1970. pp. 42-63. This book went into greater depth than Lichtheim’s first, discussing socialism in greater detail.
    7. Manuel, Frank E. and Fritzie P. French Utopias. New York: The Free Press, 1966. pp. 299-328. The editors translated the work of many French thinkers. Fourier’s System of Passionate Attraction is included.
    8. Manuel, Frank E. Utopias and Utopian Thought. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company, 1966. This book described the foundations of Utopian thinking.
    9. Taylor, Keith. The Political Ideas of the Utopian Socialists. London: Frank Cass and Company, Limited, 1982. pp. 100-131. This book went into great detail on Fourier, including a biographical sketch and commentary.
    10. Miscellaneous.

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