Charles Fourier 1772-1837
(Full name François Marie Charles Fourier) French Utopian social philosopher.
Fourier was a French social theorist influenced by the failure of the French Revolution to equalize the distribution of property and wealth and by what he viewed as the negative effects of economic competition. Fourier developed theories of social organization that emphasized the indulgence of human passion as a means of attaining personal and social harmony. He gained a small following during his lifetime and achieved greater recognition in the 1840s, when the study of his work inspired the development of several communal living experiments, including Brook Farm in Massachusetts and the North American Phalanx in New Jersey.
Born in 1772 in Besançon to a middle-class merchant family, Fourier completed his education at the Jesuit Collège de Besançon and in 1789 became an apprentice in a commercial concern in Lyons. In 1793, he invested and lost a small inheritance and was later imprisoned as a result of his association with the counterrevolutionary forces who were defeated during the Siege of Lyons. On his release from prison, Fourier served briefly in the army and later found work as a clerk, a cashier, and a bookkeeper. He began developing his Utopian theories but was unable to devote his full attention to this work due to financial difficulties. Following his mother's death in 1812, he began receiving an annual stipend as well as financial support from followers. One of his early essays, "Harmonie universelle" (1803), briefly outlines his theory of social organization. In 1808 he completed Théorie des quatre mouvements et des destinées générales, his first thorough examination of the social problems of the time and his proposed solutions. After publishing several other works in an effort to interest people in his theories, Fourier and his disciples founded the journal Le Phalanstère in 1832. The publication was designed to elucidate Fourier's theories for the general public and to generate interest among possible investors. Some of Fourier's disciples, however, charged that Fourier was incapable of presenting his ideas in an accessible, appealing manner. The journal appeared for less than two years. After suffering from failing health for several years, Fourier died in 1837.
Throughout his three major works—Théorie des quatre mouvements et des destinées générales, Traité de l'Association domestique agricole (1822), and Le Nouveau Monde industriel et sociétaire (1829)—Fourier identified and analyzed the twelve human passions and argued that social institutions should provide the opportunity for the development of these passions. Commerce, he maintained, is morally harmful and should be replaced with a cooperative system of economy and life. Arguing for the equality of the sexes, he denounced marriage as a form of slavery and called for the practice of free love. Fourier also divided the development of humanity into a number of stages beginning with the state of Nature and ending with the ideal state, that of Harmony. Fourier identified the current state of humanity as Civilization, contending that while Civilization is full of evils, it contains the necessary forces to produce the ultimate state of Harmony. To achieve this state of Harmony, Fourier wrote, social organization must allow the free play of all of the human passions. Concurrent with the presentation of his theories regarding social organization, Fourier developed theories regarding the earth's physical development. Fourier argued that the planet was passing out of a state of infancy and that after Fourier's plans were adopted by the earth's inhabitants, it would enter into a new period of development in which lions would become servants of humanity and the sea would turn into lemonade.
Despite the fantastical nature of some of Fourier's ideas, many scholars find matter for serious study in his social theories. While nineteenth-century critics noted the enthusiasm of Fourier's small but devoted following and conceded that the philosopher's influence was strong enough to reach America, they tended to dismiss his ideas as impractical and to decry his disregard for conventional morality. In 1842 one anonymous writer for the Dial argued that Fourier's system "treats man as a plastic thing," and in 1844 another critic from the same journal frowned on the absence of Christianity from Fourier's theories. Some modern critics have concentrated on the comparison of Fourier's theories with those of his socialist contemporaries Robert Owen and Saint-Simon (Claude-Henri de Rouvroy). Other critics, such as Leslie Goldstein, have examined the feminist aspects of Fourier's work. Carl Guarneri argues that even though interest in the community structure that Fourier outlined in his works diminished rapidly after the 1840s, communitarian values continued to be explored into the late nineteenth century through the work of landscape architect Frederick Law Olmstead, who designed municipal parks intended to display the harmonious balance between city and country, and novelist Edward Bellamy, whose novel Looking Backward (1888) envisaged the futuristic organization of labor around human desires.
"Harmonie universelle" (essay) 1803
Théorie des quatre mouvements et des destinées générales (philosophy) 1808
Traité de l'Association domestique agricole (philosophy) 1822
Le Nouveau Monde industriel et sociétaire (philosophy) 1829
La Fausse Industrie (philosophy) 1835
Oeuvres complètes. 12 vols. (philosophy) 1966-68
Le Nouveau Monde amoureux (philosophy) 1967
(The entire section is 45 words.)
SOURCE: "Fourierism and the Socialists," in The Dial, Vol. III, No. 1, July, 1842, pp. 86-90.
[In the following excerpt, the anonymous critic praises the spirit of Fourier's social theory while expressing scepticism about its practicability.]
The increasing zeal and numbers of the disciples of Fourier, in America and in Europe, entitle them to an attention which their theory and practical projects will justify and reward. In London, a good weekly newspaper (lately changed into a monthly journal) called The Phalanx, devoted to the social doctrines of Charles Fourier, and bearing for its motto, "Association and Colonization," is edited by Hugh Doherty. Mr. Etzler's inventions, as described in the Phalanx, promise to cultivate twenty thousand acres with the aid of four men only and cheap machinery. Thus the laborers are threatened with starvation, if they do not organize themselves into corporations, so that machinery may labor for instead of working against them. It appears that Mr. Young, an Englishman of large property, has purchased the Benedictine Abbey of Citeaux, in the Mont d'Or, in France, with its ample domains, for the purpose of establishing a colony there. We also learn that some members of the sect have bought an estate at Santa Catharina, fifty miles from Rio Janeiro, in a good situation for an agricultural experiment, and one hundred laborers have sailed from...
(The entire section is 1701 words.)
SOURCE: "Fourierism," in The Dial, Vol. IV, No. IV, April, 1844, pp. 473-83.
[In the following essay, the critic offers a brief analysis of Fourier's philosophy as it was discussed at a convention held in Boston, Massachusetts, in late 1843 and early 1844.]
In the last week of December, 1843, and first week of January, 1844, a Convention was held in Boston, which may be considered as the first publication of Fourierism in this region.
The works of Fourier do not seem to have reached us, and this want of text has been ill supplied by various conjectures respecting them; some of which are more remarkable for the morbid imagination they display than for their sagacity. For ourselves we confess to some remembrances of vague horror, connected with this name, as if it were some enormous parasitic plant sucking the life principles of society, while it spread apparently an equal shade, inviting man to repose under its beautiful but poison-dropping branches. We still have a certain question about Fourierism, considered as a catholicon for evil, but our absurd horrors were dissipated, and a feeling of genuine respect for the friends of the movement ensured, as we heard the exposition of the doctrine of Association, by Mr. Channing, and others. That name already consecrated to humanity, seemed to us to have worthily fallen, with the mantle of the philanthropic spirit, upon this eloquent expounder...
(The entire section is 4128 words.)
SOURCE: "Fourier and Anarchism," in The Quarterly Journal of Economics, Vol. XLII, February, 1928, pp. 228-62.
[In the following excerpt, Mason argues that many elements of Fourier's philosophy were "typically anarchist."]
In the writings of Fourier are to be found . . . characteristics of anarchist thought, together with some interesting peculiarities of his own.
He is usually classified as a socialist in the histories of socialist and economic thought. To open a discussion, however, on the similarities and differences between socialism and anarchism, and to attempt to relate the thought of Fourier to various possible definitions of either term, would involve a long and unprofitable rehash of the literature of the subject. My idea of the relation of Fourier to anarchism will become clear through the following consideration of his writings.
Fourier's thought fits very easily into the anarchist use of the conception of the natural order. . . . This is true despite his sparing use of the terms "natural law" or "natural order." His order, or system, which is based on the natural "passions" or "springs of action" in men, is used to illuminate and to condemn the artificial and conventional weaknesses of existing society. To this end he draws, in common with his eighteenth-century predecessors, on a mythical state of nature which he christens "Eden," or "terrestial...
(The entire section is 5163 words.)
SOURCE: "Utopian Socialism: The French Utopian Socialists," in Modern Economic and Social Systems, Rinehart & Company, Inc., Publishers, 1940, pp. 27-42.
[In the following excerpt, Westmeyer briefly describes the structure of Fourier's Utopian society.]
As a boy François Marie Charles Fourier (1772-1837) was an excellent student, but he left his school work for a business career and spent practically his entire life in mercantile activities. It is said that Fourier first had his attention called to the defects of the existing economic order when as a child of five he was punished for telling the truth about his father's goods. This was followed by other experiences, including one in which he had to order a cargo of rice thrown overboard because his employers had allowed it to rot rather than break the market. It seemed to Fourier that something was wrong with a system that encouraged parents to teach their children to lie and which permitted men to let food rot when it was badly needed, and after a time he set to work to figure out a social order which would make such things impossible.
"Unityism. " Fourier believed that men were naturally good and only did wrong because their natural passions or emotions were restrained by existing society. From this he concluded that all of the misery and discord prevalent throughout the world could be eliminated by working out a new order...
(The entire section is 1809 words.)
SOURCE: "Utopian Socialism in America," in Freedom's Ferment: Phases of American Social History to 1860, The University of Minnesota Press, Minneapolis, 1944, pp. 196-226.
[In the following excerpt, Tyler discusses the formation of Fourierist phalanxes in the United States in the 1840s and 1850s.]
Through a series of articles entitled "What Shall Be Done about Labor?" which he wrote for the New Yorker, Horace Greeley came in touch with Albert Brisbane, who had studied in Paris the theories of the French socialists, Saint-Simon and Charles Fourier. Greeley accepted many of Brisbane's ideas, and together they wrote for the Future, the Tribune, and also occasionally for the Plebeian, the Democrat, and the Dial. Brisbane was already the author of The Social Destiny of Man, an exposition of the doctrines of Fourier, and in 1843 he published A Concise Exposition of the Doctrine of Association, which became the Bible of American Fourierism. These two crusaders for social reorganization were joined by Parke Godwin, whose Popular View of the Doctrines of Charles Fourier brought those doctrines nearer the level of the common man.
Brisbane's philosophy was most clearly expressed in a quotation given in his wife's Albert Brisbane: A Mental Biography:
(The entire section is 1237 words.)
SOURCE: "Fourier and Fourierism," in Socialist Thought: The Forerunners, 1789-1850, Macmillan & Co., 1953, pp. 62-74.
[In the following excerpt, Cole offers a brief outline of Fourier's life and a detailed discussion of his philosophy, arguing that the most convincing aspects of Fourier's doctrine regard the organization of labor and social institutions around human desires.]
No two persons could well be more different in their approach to the social question than Saint-Simon and Fourier, though they were both precursors of Socialism. Saint-Simon loved vast generalisations and was dominated in all his thinking by the conception of unity. His approach was historical, on a world scale: he saw the coming industrial age as a phase in a grand progress of human development based on the expansion and unification of human knowledge. Fourier, on the other hand, set out always from the individual, from his likes and dislikes, his pursuit of happiness, his pleasure in creation, and his propensity to be bored. For Fourier, there was fundamental need that the work by which men had to live should be in itself pleasant and attractive, not merely beneficial in its results. It was necessary, too, to devise means for men, or rather families, to live together in societies which would be so organised as to satisfy the needs of the diverse bents and natures of the individuals concerned. Saint-Simon and his followers were...
(The entire section is 5265 words.)
SOURCE: "The France of Napoleon and the Restoration," in The General History of Socialism and Social Struggles, Vol. I, Russell & Russell, Inc., 1957, pp. 103-33.
[In the following excerpt, Beer discusses Fourier's conception of nature and human history.]
WAR, IMPERIAL POLICY, AND COMMERCIAL SPECULATION
After the execution of Babeuf and Darthé and the banishment of Buonarroti and his comrades, the French socialist revolutionary movement disappeared from the surface of politics for three decades. The Directory repressed all opposition and prepared the way for the rule of Napoleon. In 1799 he overthrew the Directory, and in 1804 he was invested with imperial dignities. The French enjoyed equality—equality before the despotism which, however, filled their imaginations with bloody wars and glorious victories and their pockets with the chinking and paper results of commerce, of war contracts and war industry. For traders, speculators, money-lenders and stock-brokers the years of the Revolution and of the Napoleonic Wars were very lucrative and exciting. The buying-up of the confiscated property of the Church and of the emigrés, the rise in the prices of cereals, the capitalist monopolizing of native and overseas raw materials, especially in consequence of the blockade of French ports by the English fleet, made the rise of Napoleon to coincide with the rise of the French...
(The entire section is 2181 words.)
SOURCE: "Fourierism and the Founding of Brook Farm," in The Boston Public Library Quarterly, Vol. 12, No. 2, April, 1960, pp. 79-88.
[In the following essay, Crowe argues that Fourier's socialist ideology influenced the development of Brook Farm from the community's inception in 1841.]
In the summer of 1843 a blaze of enthusiasm for the socialist ideas of Charles Fourier swept through the ranks of American reformers, and one hastily-formed phalanx after another began to appear in the backlands of Pennsylvania and New York. Late in the year when the New York Fourierists met in Boston with representatives of the Brook Farm, Northampton, and Hopedale communities, the Brook Farm delegation came out solidly in support of "scientific" socialism. The official conversion of Brook Farm to socialism came after the delegates returned to West Roxbury, filled with enthusiasm for Fourierist ideas. George Ripley, the community president, appointed a committee to draw up a new constitution in January 1844, and soon the community was rechristened a phalanx. While the leaders could hardly hope to furnish the required three hundred thousand dollars and the sixteen hundred and twenty members, they were determined to follow the gospel of Fourier to the fullest possible exten. in other respects.
Within the phalanx, all activities were to be organized in groups for specific tasks, such as plowing or...
(The entire section is 2924 words.)
SOURCE: "Charles Fourier: The Burgeoning of Instinct," in The Prophets of Paris, Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1962, pp. 197-248.
[In the following excerpt, Manuel examines Fourier's arguments against civilization and the philosophy of his contemporaries.]
DEATH TO PHILOSOPHY AND ITS CIVILIZATION
Fourier's basic method involved a deliberate total denial of all past philosophical and moralist schools. Ecart absolu, he called it. Its definition came early in the Théorie des quatre mouvements, a methodological addendum to the Cartesian doubt. "I assumed that the most certain means of arriving at useful discoveries was to remove oneself in every sense from the methods followed by the dubious sciences which never contributed an invention that was of the remotest utility to society and which, despite the immense progress of industry, had not even succeeded in preventing poverty; I therefore undertook to stand in constant opposition to these sciences." The accumulation of hundreds of thousands of volumes had taught mankind nothing. Libraries of tomes by pompous and sententious thinkers had not brought man one inch closer to happiness. His own theory of the passions occupied a position of unique importance in the history of scientific discoveries. It had not really mattered that men were ignorant of the movements of the planets before Copernicus, of...
(The entire section is 4277 words.)
SOURCE: "Early Feminist Themes in French Utopian Socialism: The St.-Simonians and Fourier," in Journal of the History of Ideas, Vol. XLIII, No. 1, January-March, 1982, pp. 91-108.
[In the following excerpt, Goldstein examines the feminist aspects of Fourier's work while noting the limitations in his theories regarding the role of women in Fourierist communities.]
Women's Rights vs. Women's Liberation—It is commonly noted that the feminist movement of the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries was a quest for women's rights, whereas the feminist movement of the late twentieth century...
(The entire section is 4122 words.)
SOURCE: "Publishing a Journal," in Charles Fourier: The Visionary and His World, University of California Press, 1986, pp. 431-53.
[In the following excerpt, Beecher traces the development of the journal created by Fourier and his disciples and comments on the publication's significance.]
The first months of 1832 were a time of great hope and enthusiasm for Fourier and his disciples. The "conspiracy of silence" that had so long impeded the spread of his ideas was at last broken. The lectures and articles of Jules Lechevalier and Abel Transon had made Fourierism known to the world at large, and had also played an important role in bringing about the conversion of a number of Saint-Simonians. Fourier's older disciples were delighted by these developments. From Metz Victor Considerant wrote triumphantly about the "wonderful" news from Paris and the "beautiful" prospects for the future. At Besançon Just Muiron reveled in now being sought after by people who had formerly laughed in his face when he had tried to talk to them about Fourier's theory. At Dijon Gabriel Gabet exulted. "At last the day of your glory has come," he wrote Fourier, "the moment when your humiliated rivals recognize the superiority of your genius." Fourier himself does not seem to have been quite so overcome. But there was a note of high hope in a letter he sent to Muiron three days after Lechevalier's first lecture: "I have now reached...
(The entire section is 9176 words.)
SOURCE: "The Fourierist Legacy," in The Utopian Alternative: Fourierism in Nineteenth-Century America, Cornell, 1991, pp. 384-405.
[In the following excerpt, Guarneri examines the revival of Fourierism that took place during the latter half of the nineteenth century, arguing that by the end of the century, Fourier's "legacy" of communitarian ideals had completely faded.]
Stephen Pearl Andrews bravely announced in 1871 that Fourierism was "not dead, merely sleeping." As the era of the Civil War closed, however, Fourierist phalanxes had ceased to be a vital option for American society. It was not just that such communities had failed or that northerners had rallied with confidence around their free-labor capitalist society, though these were immediate causes of Fourierism's demise. In the longer run the communitarian idea lost its salience when the fact became clear that urban-industrialism in its competitive capitalist form was here to stay. By the 1860s the institutions of individualism had become (according to J. F. C. Harrison) "so firmly based as to make efforts at challenging them appear quite impracticable," and the scale of urban settlements and manufacturing establishments had passed beyond the Fourierists' claim that a community of 1,620 persons could accommodate modern forms of production, consumption, and leisure. Communitarian projects appeared increasingly anachronistic. Organized as isolated...
(The entire section is 3556 words.)
Pellarin, C. The Life of Charles Fourier. Translated by Francis George Shaw. W. H. Graham, 1848, 236 p.
Comprehensive biography of Fourier from which numerous biographical sketches were drawn by Fourier's disciples in the mid-nineteenth century.
Airman, Elizabeth C. "The Philosophical Bases of Feminism: The Feminist Doctrines of the Saint-Simonians and Charles Fourier." The Philosophical Forum VII, No. 3-4 (Spring-Summer, 1976): 277-93.
Provides a brief examination of Fourier's and Saint-Simon's feminist philosophy, arguing that both schools of thought were reactions to the failure of liberalism to correct the injustices of industrial capitalism.
Bates, Ernst Sutherland. "The Fourierist Folly." In American Faith: Its Religious, Political, and Economic Foundations, pp. 374-89. New York: W. W. Norton & Company, 1940.
Examines several American experiments in community living, including Brook Farm, Hopedale, and Fruitlands, and discusses the influence of Fourier's writings on the development of these communities.
Beecher, Jonathan, and Bienvenu, Richard. An introduction to The Utopian Vision of Charles Fourier, by Charles Fourier, edited and...
(The entire section is 344 words.)