Charles Fourier was the nineteenth century’s complete utopian. A social critic who advocated “absolute deviation” from established philosophies and institutions, he surpassed Rousseau in the intransigence of his rejection of the society in which he lived. A psychologist who celebrated the passions as agents of human happiness, he carried to its ultimate conclusion the rejection of the doctrine of Original Sin that had been the hallmark of utopian thinking ever since the Renaissance. A social prophet whose blueprints included everything from color schemes for work uniforms to designs for nursery furniture, he was more concerned than any of his radical contemporaries to give precise definition to his conception of the good society. A visionary who foresaw an age in which oranges would grow in Warsaw and sea water could be turned into lemonade, he had a faith in the power of human beings to shape their own world that was remarkable even in the age of Napoleon.
This description of the wide-ranging interests of Charles Fourier provides a framework for examining Beecher’s portrait of the man in Charles Fourier: The Visionary and His World. The excerpt from the preface only touches upon the subjects in which Fourier was interested and upon which he theorized. What Beecher seeks to accomplish in this work is not a recapitulation of Fourier’s utopian system but an examination of how his life experiences influenced his intellectual development and contributed to the formation of his utopian vision. The recounting of the man’s life and development of his social system is presented in three broad sections.
The first of these, “Provincial Autodidact,” relates Fourier’s formative years in provincial France (Besançon). His experiences with revolutionary change—especially the Jacobin terror—and with economic difficulties—loss of an inheritance and difficulty earning a living as a commission merchant (traveling salesman)—started Fourier thinking about a better way of life. As Beecher relates, Fourier’s ideas developed largely in reaction to political events and socioeconomic realities of the Revolutionary period and age of Napoleon. These excesses and abuses of power left him with a lasting hatred of revolution and social turmoil and directed his thought toward an evolutionary rather than revolutionary social system. Within this section, Beecher details many of the encounters and experiences that had a direct influence on Fourier’s writing and on his theoretical system. For example, Fourier’s futile efforts to secure a position as a recognized commission agent at the Paris Bourse had the effect of poisoning him against organized capitalism and providing a case for eliminating the stock exchange and its functions in the society of the future—“Harmony,” as Fourier termed it. From a consideration of Fourier’s formative years, the book moves to a discussion of his middle years and the development of his theories and utopian writings.
“The Theory” builds upon the preceding section, as Beecher shifts his focus from Fourier’s...
(The entire section is 1264 words.)