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The Rise And Fall Of Charles Fourier

Essay, Research Paper 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

Essay, Research Paper

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

François

Marie Charles Fourier.

Charles Fourier was

born on April 7, 1772, in Besançon, 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

Lyons’s

commercial

system for four years, returning to Besançon 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,

and

adolescence,

then carried 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 Théorie des

Quatre

Mouvements

et des Destinées Générales, 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, there were 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, Traité 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

Siécle, 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 of 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 individual basis, often having menial tasks completed

by those

whose abilities

far exceed their use. He sighted 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

bust

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.

Competition did

nothing but reduce already low wages in effort to cut costs.

He saw the

situation for

women being 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.

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

it’s 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 insure

that

all members be allowed sufficient "affection", under the views 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 structurize 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 need 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 in 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.

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.

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.

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.

Engels, Friedrich. Socialism: Utopian and Scientific

[The Essential Works of

Marxism].

Engels gives a commentary on the work

of Fourier.

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.

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.

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.

Manuel, Frank E. Utopias and Utopian Thought. Boston: Houghton

Mifflin

Company,

1966.

This book described the foundations of Utopian

thinking.

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 biographical sketch

and commentary.

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