Leo A. Loubère (essay date 1961)

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SOURCE: “The Philosopher of Socialism,” in Louis Blanc: His Life and His Contribution to the Rise of French Jacobin-Socialism, Northwestern University Press, 1961, pp. 31-48.

[In the following essay, Loubère details the socialist thought of Louis Blanc.]


Louis Blanc convinced himself that it was possible to achieve...

(The entire section contains 26662 words.)

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SOURCE: “The Philosopher of Socialism,” in Louis Blanc: His Life and His Contribution to the Rise of French Jacobin-Socialism, Northwestern University Press, 1961, pp. 31-48.

[In the following essay, Loubère details the socialist thought of Louis Blanc.]


Louis Blanc convinced himself that it was possible to achieve broad reform without resorting to a Reign of Terror. One had merely to describe social evils to move men's hearts and then to explain the means of erasing such evils to inspire their reason. With this self-granted mandate in mind he put forth a socialist program intended to complement his political ideas. It appeared first in June and August, 1840, as a series of articles in his review, then in September as a book entitled, Organisation du travail. The book was just a slight expansion of the articles, and yet, it brought him greater fame than all his multivolume histories. The workers who printed the original edition of three thousand copies became so enthusiastic they carried its message into the streets, a sort of publicity that was most helpful. Within two weeks three thousand additional copies were needed.1 By 1847 it was in its fifth edition, and doubled in size by the author's rebuttals to his critics.

The disapproval of other theorists did not constitute a danger to Blanc's publication, but the government did. Immediately the original copies appeared, the police took alarm. September was a month of workingmen's strikes and the agents of Louis Philippe must have regarded the book and the pickets as cause and effect. Although this linkage was without foundation, the ministry of interior accused Blanc of “exciting class hatred” and the ministry of justice alerted the public prosecutor. Only the prefect of police appeared relatively undisturbed; the book, he asserted erroneously, was a mere pastiche of Fourier. However, the bureaucratic machinery of the monarchic police state, once set into motion, could not be halted until the first edition was seized.2 This act probably had the effect of publicizing the book and of augmenting its sale in subsequent editions. It certainly competed successfully with the subversive literature which issued forth in a reformist torrent during 1840.


Blanc began his little opus with an unrelenting attack on competition. The competitive system, he argued, makes it impossible to obtain the desirable balance between production and demand. However, the distressing result of this imbalance is not overproduction but underconsumption, a seemingly economic malady that is, in truth, a grave social one affecting all classes. For while the struggle for jobs keeps labor's income low, the struggle for markets is gradually depressing the middle class to the level of the proletariat. In order to lower costs aggressive capitalists tend to concentrate and rationalize their industries, putting smaller firms with higher costs at a disadvantage. In time, medium-sized plants destroy small ones, only to be destroyed or absorbed in turn by those few giant organizations able to win control of the market. Prices then will mount while the bankrupt producers will sink.3

Blanc was not the first to observe this tendency. He was influenced by Jean Simonde de Sismondi who explained it but hoped for return to artisanal production. He was also influenced by Fourier who, warning against economic individualism as a cause of the new industrial feudalism, called for voluntary co-operation to combine harmoniously capital, talent, and labor. This co-operation would bring about the sublimation of man's passions which, Fourier argued, were of divine origin. Karl Marx, a relative latecomer on the scene, saw the same defects of competition and predicted increasing misery ending in revolution, a necessary step toward a new order. Before Marx, Blanc also warned that a terrible revolution awaited in the future; but unlike Marx, he hoped to prevent the final catastrophe by inducing the bourgeoisie to favor reform. He therefore appealed to their self-interest by sowing the seeds of alarm, by warning of impending depression and the loss of cherished property. To substantiate his predictions he often drew up long lists of bankruptcies, holding aloft the specter of poverty as the inevitable end for all but the giant producers. There was, he wrote, “equality of suffering.”4

Competition, Blanc argued, has also led to moral decay, for individualistic rivalry desiccates man's sense of public duty as well as his humanitarian instincts. Moral decay is not a future threat, but an established fact. Its consequences are already patent. Crime has increased to mass proportions and armies of assassins roam in search of victims. Ironically, without the organization of work there is the organization of crime. Another symptom is the crass materialism of the rich and the poor. “Love of money has entered into the mores; the tyranny of money has passed into institutions.”5 The result has been the withering of all affection, even filial affection. Among the rich, skeptical materialism transforms the son into a vulture-like creature awaiting the death of the father and the reading of the will; the son exploits the parent. Among the poor, however, the father exploits the son. Unable to earn a sufficient wage, he is compelled to send his child, as well as his wife, to the factory. His daughters, unable to marry wealth, will seek it in the dark corners of the streets.

Such exploitation has been steadily undermining the family as an institution, a result that can lead only to the decline of man. Destroy the family, Blanc warned, and man will cease to be human, for “what best characterizes the human species, what most completely distinguishes it from the brute species is the family.”6 Unlike the Saint-Simonians and some other socialists who favored the abolition of the family, Blanc cautioned against even the precipitate destruction of inheritance rights. It was not that tampering with these rights would necessarily weaken family ties; on the contrary, he saw no natural relation between them. He reasoned, rather oddly, that they were absolutely distinct, the family being of divine creation, a “natural phenomenon” carrying “within itself its own reason for being,” and inheritance being man-made, a mere “social convention” whose disappearance would in no way violate the laws of nature. In fact, as a mere social convention inheritance must disappear eventually when the rights to work and to education would be universally put in force. Consequently there is no need to rush, to change so abruptly that a temporary reaction results. A more tactful method, he concluded hopefully, would be the termination of inheritance in the collateral line of each family.

A corollary to his defense of the family was his championing of the rights of women. Undoubtedly he was led into the feminist movement by his admiration for George Sand and Flora Tristan; however, unlike Sand, Mérimée, Vigny, Hugo, and Sainte-Beuve, he refused to exalt adultery. Tolerant and yet profoundly moral, Blanc took part in the movement, not to free women from the dictate of the seventh commandment, but to decry those laws and mores which drove them to violate it. He was particularly vehement in his condemnation of the marriage of convenience whereby greedy fathers literally sold their young daughters to aged wealth. These victims, he argued, unable to free themselves, yet bored and frustrated, were more easily tempted by illicit passions whose attractions soothed their worried consciences. The first error of these marriages is made worse by the impossibility of divorce: “failure to consecrate divorce has legalized adultery.” The deep sense of satisfaction that women crave, and which is their destiny, can be found only in the “circle of the domestic hearth.” “A word,” he sang on, “sums up all the poetry of their existence: love! A word expresses all their duties: family!”7 But the real defense of the family lay ultimately in the hands of men who must create a society based on love rather than distrust, on co-operation rather than competition. Then feelings of kinship would sink deeper roots, growing like natural, vigorous sentiments, making their contribution to a new way of life.

This new way of life could not come about at once. As Blanc looked back over the centuries, studying the brutalities and aggressions men committed against one another, he consoled himself that “every revolution is useful, … in that it absorbs a baneful eventuality. … In the decrees of God, good would be, alas, only the exhaustion of evil.”8 Each abortive upheaval of the past, then, was a testing of a solution that failed, but not wholly. Each trial eliminated an error, and from the cruel interplay of revolution and reaction would laboriously emerge the just solution. Blanc's historical studies aroused within him a sense of travail, of bewilderment, and a fear of those too simple formulas that lure men into fatal action. Hence his warning: “The problem is obscure. It is terrible. We must approach it with fear and modesty. No one person can resolve it, … Let us seek truth with slowness, with prudence, with diffidence even; this is best.”9 And yet he also displayed impatience common to the visionary reformer and advised against “restraining the temerities of the mind,” as well as against the fatalistic acceptance of so much social injustice, which, after all, resulted from an “error so easy to correct.”10


Louis Blanc saw in cheap credit a powerful instrument for effecting change. Here too, he had predecessors. He revealed an open admiration for John Law, arguing that the unfortunate financier had been the first to recognize that the state must become the source of credit.11 Saint-Simon and his disciples had the greatest influence on Blanc in this respect, arguing that cheap credit was the very life blood of a progressive economy, and that the state was to be the source of all credit. And Pierre Joseph Proudhon saw in cheap credit the means of preserving petty capitalism. It was Constantin Pecqueur and Blanc, however, who were the first to see in it the means of abolishing capitalism.

Blanc constantly warned against the perils of private credit. He accused the financial oligarchy of stifling industrial expansion, and argued that everyone will benefit when the state enters the lending trade by setting up an official money market. It will then force downward the high cost of capital in private banks, and before too long these banks will peacefully disappear as their reason for being ceases to exist. The government, as the source of credit, will obtain large sums of money more quickly by borrowing than by taxing. To be sure, Blanc favored a heavy tax on the rich, as well as high tariffs, but he never publicly called for a comprehensive extension of taxes. In fact, he opposed amortizing the public debt precisely because such a step would compel the government to resort to taxes. “This would mean,” he argued, “taking money from those who want to keep it in order to give it to those who do not ask for it; this would mean taking from agriculture, industry, and general production which uses in a fecund manner the capital that those for whom it is destined will squander in unproductive consumption.”12 He was not much concerned with a mere reform of taxes or a displacement of their burden; his panacea was credit. Opposed to violent expropriation, he wanted capitalists to continue investing in government bonds; hence, the source of state capital is low-interest borrowing, not really taxation.13 Ironically enough, the rentier class is to help destroy the institutions which guarantee its existence.

If the rentier class decides to transfer its capital from the state to industry, it will soon find this source of return closed off. However, Blanc cautioned, this closing off must not be brought about too quickly by the willful and sudden destruction of private industry which, for the sake of justice and expediency, may be allowed to survive for a time. He even considered seriously the scheme of setting up transitional workshops, half capitalist, with a system of private investment, and half socialist, with a co-operative organization. Hoping to win over persons with surplus capital and humane hearts, he urged, during 1847, the founding of an independent committee to seek out anyone desirous of placing money in these precursory workshops.14

Here is Blanc the Utopian in lock step with dreamers like Fourier, who also wanted model associations, and who looked to beneficent capitalists to set them up. Most early nineteenth-century reformers held to the belief that model communities, where everyone lived happily ever after, would persuade men to discard the old economic systems in order to imitate the new. But unlike Etienne Cabet, Blanc never desired to isolate his ideal workshop which must both produce for a large market, and compete against private industry within the market. He also differed from Fourier in insisting that the investors who perform no work are not to share in the profits. Investors, being lenders rather than shareholders, should receive only a fixed interest, nothing more. When the shops are able to finance themselves, they must amortize these loans, so that the increasing socialization of industry will close the outlets for private investment, thus bringing about the gradual fading away of capitalism. Expanding socialization, of course, cannot result from mere expediency, and Blanc always argued that real changes must await the founding of a republic. It is state, not private, credit which he called crédit véritable, and which he believed to be the only effective means of transferring the “instruments of work from the hands of those who possess them without using them, to the hands of those who know how to use them and do not possess them.”15 The latter were Blanc's economic dependents, the people. Soon the capitalist class, like the landed nobility, will cease to exist. It will be absorbed “fraternally” by the people, a process resulting in a classless society in which everyone works.


Work, for Louis Blanc, is more than mere labor or physical exertion, it is an integral part of man's experience. Unlike Guizot, he did not see in it a restraint upon man's passions; on the contrary, it is a creative outlet for human energy and, properly organized, an aid in man's fullest development. Blanc was a firm advocate of the right to work, and for him, this right meant work appropriate to one's temperament and aptitudes. Gregarious by nature, men will work happily together, each doing that for which he is best fitted. Work will become a pleasure. It seems drudgery in a capitalist society because skills are subordinated to the hazards of circumstance, and the freedom to choose a profession, so vaunted by the liberals, is a mere abstraction in the experience of the poor. Too often a man of genius, born in poverty, is compelled to labor twelve hours a day fashioning pin heads. Consequently, one of the major goals of socialism is to transform this abstract right into a real liberty, the “liberty of vocation.” This necessitates universal, gratuitous education, with all children up to a certain age exposed to a common program, after which they are to study in those professions for which their temperament and ability fit them.16 In this fashion, equality of opportunity will engender liberty of opportunity, which all men will continue to enjoy after leaving school and entering the social workshops.


In Blanc's system the social workshop is far more than a unit for production, a mere assembly of men to share in common labor; it is, rather, the economic equivalent of the local administrative unit, serving the same purpose, that is, as the place where men come together to learn how to live fraternally, as well as how to produce.

There is some uncertainty as to whether or not Blanc favored voluntary or forced association. Louis Garnier-Pagès asserted that in several meetings at the home of Alexandre Marie during 1847 he defended “obligatory” association. Blanc's chief opponents in the debates were Claude-Anthime Corbon of the Atelier and Ledru-Rollin of the Réforme who, wrote Garnier-Pagès, defended “voluntary” association.17 After the publication of this assertion, Blanc specifically denied that he had ever taken the stand attributed to him.18 At any rate, he never used the term association forcée. He called, rather, for volunteers of proven morality and probity to organize the first experimental workshops. These early establishments were to be “rigorously circumscribed” in number and confined to industries of national importance such as textiles, metallurgy, and printing. Before long, however, the whole national economy would become socialized, and the question of free or forced association become meaningless as the alternatives disappeared.

Expansion will result from competition between privately and fraternally organized industries. This competition will not be ruthless but “saintly,” with the government serving as a sort of referee to keep the struggle clean and aboveboard. Transformation must be orderly and gradual. However, Blanc did not envisage a very long period of transition, for the social workshops will have over their adversaries the advantages resulting from communal living and a mode of organization which stimulates all workers to produce quickly and well. After a relatively short resistance, capitalists and workers will flock to join state-supported co-operatives. Blanc passed over in silence the fate of independent co-operatives which might resist absorption into his pattern of socialism; that is, they must disappear, but he did not explain in what manner.

He applied the term workshop (atelier) to both local and national establishments. The local establishment will be a sort of cell composed preferably of men of the same profession, although, on occasion, diverse professions may be included. During the first year of each shop's existence the state appoints and regulates its administrative hierarchy. Afterward, when the workers come to know one another, the hierarchy is to be chosen in shop-wide elections, because the workers, well qualified to choose good deputies for a national assembly, will also prove their capacity for selecting capable directors. Frequent personal contact will offer them the occasions for becoming acquainted with one another's capacities, and their own interest will urge them to vote wisely. The elective principle, in the shop as in the government, will produce a hierarchy of ability, and banish forever the inefficiency resulting from the privileges of birth and inheritance.19

Elected managers will oversee both the running of each association and the distribution of income. If there are private investors their interest payments will form part of the budget; if the state has financed the enterprise it too must be reimbursed, so that it can eventually amortize its bonds. At the end of each year, Blanc went on, the net profits will constitute a capital belonging to the workers collectively, not to each individually, a scheme that resembles P.-J.-B. Buchez's notion of an “inalienable capital.” This sum is to be divided into several parts: one which the workers share equally, another which will provide for sickness, accident and old-age pensions, and another destined to finance new equipment and expansion. Again like Buchez, Blanc proposed self-financing associations; however, the author of Organisation du travail went considerably beyond Buchez in his ultimate goal, having planned for a central workshop in each industry and a national system of interrelationships binding all industries. The shops, then, would enjoy limited autonomy, not complete independence. Blanc's objective here was to eliminate competition among them, hence his insistence that they owed aid to one another when in distress.

Some regulation is necessary, in his opinion, because of the need to adjust more accurately production to demand. The consolidation of industry-wide central workshops is desirable as a means of achieving this end. What control exists, then, will be ultimately vested in an economic hierarchy; however, the hierarchy must not interfere excessively in each local workshop which, like the administrative commune, needs to defend its autonomy. Central organizations must limit themselves to laying down general principles and policies; local units will apply these in accordance with local needs. The same system holds good for commerce, with each industry providing for its own stores and warehouses.20

Although influenced by the centralist ideals of Saint-Simon, Blanc was not a “disguised Saint-Simonian.”21 His ideal economic structure, like his political structure, was clearly pyramidal, but loosely centralized and firmly democratic. He warned that centralized control of every detail of production, which the Saint-Simonians approved, would lead to inefficiency, weighty bureaucracy, and lethargic output. It would also increase the possibility of tyranny, with the state becoming the “pope of industry.”22 Blanc, on the contrary, did not want the state to become even the proprietor of industry, hence his demand that workshops amortize their debts to the official bank as quickly as possible.

Unfortunately, he never discussed the relation between the political and the economic hierarchies. It seems fairly definite, however, that he invested greater importance in the legislature chosen on the basis of electoral districts than in the central workshops chosen by the local units. It is doubtful, then, that he envisioned a corporate state; he certainly never wrote in favor of one. He preferred, rather, two hierarchies with specific functions, with the legislature enjoying ultimate control. When he spoke of the state's being immortal, he was thinking of the political state. It is curious, however, that while he firmly opposed a bicameral legislature, he consciously proposed a bicameral hierarchy, and the objections he raised against the former could serve equally well against the latter. Might not the central workshops, chosen by the same voters who elected the legislature, challenge the authority of this latter body? Who is to mediate here? The supreme court seems useless, and there is no strong executive. Perhaps Blanc would have argued that as society progressed, the role of central agencies, whether political or economic, would diminish to the point where such conflicts became meaningless. For all his supposed étatisme, he clearly displayed the petty bourgeois distrust of an omnipotent political agency, and dreamed of a society in which centralized powers interfered as little as possible in local affairs, serving rather as symbols of unity and planners of purely national policy.

Unfortunately, Blanc never convinced the orthodox radicals, the moderate republicans, and the co-operators of the Atelier that he was not an étatiste in the clothing of an autonomist. His failure to do so resulted perhaps from their different attitude toward competition. For Buchez, moderate competition is a stimulant, although he does not explain how it might be kept moderate. For Blanc, it cannot be kept moderate, save by official intervention during the change from capitalism to socialism, after which such intervention diminishes. A mixed economy, as desired by the Atelier, is merely a perpetuation of what should be a transition, and a perpetuation of necessary state control. Therefore, the very principle of competition must vanish, for to retain it even among co-operatives will eventually bring about the same ruthless rivalry among them as among private concerns, and the same state of injustice. Some associations will prosper, others will not. Business will be concentrated in an increasingly smaller number of shops at the expense of the rest, and in time there will emerge two new classes: a bourgeoisie of workers and a proletariat of workers, two new classes whose mutual animosities will destroy all fraternal spirit. The only means of avoiding this catastrophe is to make it incumbent upon the workshops to aid one another and abolish, in the early phase of the revolution, the practice of competition, incompatible as it is with real fraternity. “The grafting of association on to competition,” Blanc warned, “is a poor idea, like replacing eunuchs by hermaphrodites. Association constitutes progress only on the condition of being universal.”23


The diffusion of the spirit of fraternity, he reasoned, requires substituting the idea of social duty for that of personal self-interest, the practice of mutual aid for that of general rivalry. Substitution here means complete change, since there exists, he stressed, no permanent middle way, no possibility of durable compromise between these opposites.24 Having taken this dogmatic stand, Blanc was inevitably forced into the corner of compromise. As his concept of “social virtue” was intended to balance the two extremes of human nature in the field of politics, a similar proposal called “fraternal emulation” was intended now to make adjustments in the field of social organization.

In reality, “fraternal emulation” allowed for competition, not among the workshops, but within each shop. Blanc was forced to accept modified rivalry because he rightly perceived that men are not equal in talent, initiative, and inclination. He did not conclude from this that men are unequally good. He was content to emphasize that these inequalities are not harmful; on the contrary, they are necessary to the proper functioning of society. “What is society,” he asked, “if not a mutual exchange of services founded on diversity of forces, aptitudes, needs and tastes?” Men therefore cannot live isolated or self-sufficient lives. “Nature created men unequal precisely because she made men social.”25 There must, then, be rivalry to do good; men of different tastes and abilities must compete to produce more, not so that each may enrich himself, but so that each may contribute toward improving the condition of all men. This is “fraternal emulation.” Louis Blanc admitted that even a socially educated man needs some stimulus and the answer to the problem of inducement he found in his old master Mably, and in a man who influenced him more than he ever admitted, Napoleon I. Mably had written of non-pecuniary distinctions. Reasoning along similar lines, and recalling Napoleon's Legion of Honor, Blanc conceived of a Legion of Honor of Work. No longer the activities of war but those of industry would elevate natural leaders to heroic action. Those with great capacities would be stimulated to achievement by a cross and the honor of having their busts placed in a Pantheon of Labor. What Blanc proposed was a kind of Stakhanovitism; but given his idealization of the French character, glory rather than money was to furnish the motivation.

Yet, the problem of material recompense could not be waved away and gave him considerable difficulty until he hit upon the idea of “proportional” equality. This notion was the end result of a rather long evolution of arguments which began in 1834 when he first broached the problem of equality. His early idea was expressed in a vague formula: “equality of all interests in the inequality of all positions.”26 Not until 1837 did he become more explicit when he wrote of the “organization of work, with a view to equality, that is, scientific fixing of salaries, and certitude of job or bread given to the worker; the admission of all to the benefits of credit by the possibility given to all of making economies and of reaping the fruits of an honest and wise life.”27 It is apparent that his idea of equality now contained definite economic and social substance. Two years later, in the first issue of his Revue du progrès, Blanc was concerned even more specifically with the rewards of work, and wrote of the “regular distribution of the fruits of common labor among those who have contributed to it, and according to the contribution of each.” In this same issue he called for “equitable distribution between capitalists and manual workers.”28 During the summer of 1839 his ideas on equality had hardly gone beyond those of the Jacobins. In June of that year he explained: “Nothing is more opposed than our opinions to those ideas of the agrarian law, the abolition of property, dreams of some wounded souls or of some delirious minds.” He continued, writing in capitals: “I consider whoever would destroy property in France as a counter-revolutionary. … Equality of fortune is a chimera without doubt, but what is not a chimera, what God wished, what constitutes the real progress of societies, is the equality of rights and of the means of development in the inequality of conditions and of fortune, and this equality is neither less equitable, nor less precious than equality before the law.”29 In 1840, when he first published his famous brochure, his idea of equality had a definite Saint-Simonian flavor. He did not yet call for the abolition of salaries, nor their equalization. Rather, he wanted them “graduated according to the hierarchy of functions.”30 He did, however, insist that even the lowest wage must suffice for a worker's needs, and that all the active members of each shop were to receive equal shares out of a fixed portion of the net profits. Not until the 1847 edition of his work did he explicitly demand equal salaries.31 The next year he abandoned this plan.

Because of these shifts, some writers have felt that Blanc was inconsistent. It is possible that he was more hesitant than inconsistent. In 1840 he explained: “It is not as unjust that we condemn, for the present, equality in salary, but as striking too sudden a blow at habitudes that only education, according to us, will have the power to change. The equality that we admit in the distribution of profits is a sufficiently discreet transition between what is and what ought to be.”32 Against his equalitarian critics, he leveled the charge of impracticality; even the venerable Robert Owen was gently chided for not being a “practical reformer when he demanded the distribution of the fruits of labor according to needs, in a society where they are not yet founded on services.”33 There was, then, a marked strain of opportunism in both the writings and action of Louis Blanc, which perhaps explains his defense of property in 1839. Undoubtedly during that year he looked forward, perhaps vaguely as yet, to the eventual disappearance of private ownership, but reasoned that an immoderate and hasty demand would terrify the petty bourgeois whose support he solicited. Extreme claims, as impolitic as violent action, only aided the reactionary by alienating the undecided, a consequence Blanc seriously wished to avoid around 1840. This was the year of reinvigorated reform movements whose success, he realized, depended on the support of everyone opposed to Louis Philippe's personal rule.

Yet he did not water his socialism to the extent of destroying its essentially collectivist nature. Nor did he let up in his attacks upon capitalism or in his defense of fraternity, and in his Histoire de dix ans, written during the early 1840’s, he condemned as unjust the watchword of the Saint-Simonians: “From each according to capacity; to each according to work.”34 Beneath a panoply of moderation, he steadily moved toward a more equalitarian position, a progress which his socialist critics, who accused him of retaining the salary system, seem not to have noticed. What he was cautiously seeking was a principle of remuneration compatible with his notion of fraternal emulation. The Saint-Simonian motto, which he accepted in the first edition of the Organisation du travail, already appeared unjust to him. In fact, in the same edition of his famous book, as well as in his review, he hinted at his ultimate goal when he wrote: “A day shall come when it will be recognized that he who has received greater force and greater intelligence from God owes more to his fellow men. Then it will behove the genius, and that is worthy of him, to declare his legitimate authority, not by the importance of the tribute that he will levy on society, but by the grandeur of the services he will render. For it is not in the inequality of remuneration that the inequality of aptitudes should end: it is in the inequality of duties.”35

But not until 1848 when he was a member of the Provisional Government and president of the Luxembourg Commission on labor did Blanc decide the time was at hand to proclaim his revolutionary scheme. True equality, he explained then, is not “absolute” but “proportional.” That is, it is proportional between man's needs and faculties. “By his needs, man is passive, by his faculties he is active. By his needs he calls his fellow men to his succor; by his faculties, he puts himself at the service of his fellow men. Needs are the indication that God gives to society. So, more is due to him who has the greatest needs, and it is permissible to demand more from him who has the greatest faculties.”36 Blanc also found the aphoristic formula to express the notion of proportional equality: “Let each produce according to his aptitudes and his force; let each consume according to his need.”37 He undoubtedly borrowed the expression from Morelly. Marx, who used the same watchword, probably borrowed it from the same source. For all three reformers it meant the end of salaries. Blanc was quite explicit when he wrote: “The truth is that the wage-earning system is a regime to be completely destroyed.”38 It must give way to fraternal emulation and proportional equality, whose happy union would produce a system of perfect justice. But even in the midst of the revolutionary movement, speaking to the Luxembourg Commission, Blanc warned that the moment had not yet arrived to apply this formula. It was still impossible to measure man's faculties and needs, a perverse civilization having obscured the laws of nature by substituting privilege for capacity in rulership, and depraved tastes and false desires for true needs in society.39 The triumph of justice presupposed a new system of education.


Louis Blanc never wavered in his conviction that the well-being of a society ultimately depends on its system of education, and as a socialist he stood firmly in favor of a system emphasizing social unity. He never wanted to crush those traits which distinguish each person, lest there prevail an intellectual homogeneity fatal to initiative, a violation of proportional equality. But he did want a system that would involve the genius in society. The chief failing of pedagogy, he warned, has been its unconcern with preparing men to live fraternally; methods and subject matter have exaggerated individualism. Therefore Blanc's ideal system would be a highly centralized one. “In the matter of education,” he affirmed with great Jacobin faith, “centralization cannot be too strong. To permit, in a country torn by factions, the absurd competition of private schools, is to inoculate in new generations the venom of civil discord, it is to give the rival parties the means of continuing and perpetuating themselves in the midst of a growing confusion of opinions and of principles, it is to sow chaos.”40

Of course, centralization meant state control, and if the political theorist sought to modify his étatisme by defending certain local rights, the educational theorist showed himself an unmitigated exponent of all-powerful government. The schools, under the scrutiny of an argus-eyed ministry, would adopt a common program emphasizing militant patriotism along with fraternity, for the coming generations must love not only the “useful” and the “beautiful,” but above all, la patrie.

This goal required a tight censorship of all textbooks to eliminate those attacking the basic premises on which the new society rested. “Let the people,” Blanc urged, “learn how to read in good books, let them be taught that what is useful to all is most honorable; … that nothing is worthy of scorn save what is of a nature to corrupt souls, to pour in them the poison of pride, to estrange them from the practice of fraternity, to inoculate them with egoism.”41 In his system education existed less to stimulate critical minds than to indoctrinate future citizens. These, broken of the habit of asking too many questions, and willingly elevating the principle of fraternity above criticism, would debate within the framework of the accepted regime. He never claimed the need to censor all reading matter, and in spite of his narrow vision, he acted most energetically in 1848 to protect freedom of the press. His serene opinion was that properly educated students, after leaving school, would simply not turn to “bad” books, and these would cease to appear. The future society, he argued, would not be intolerant; intolerance does not exist where all men voluntarily favor social unity based on a universal ideal.

Attaching this importance to education, Blanc naturally demanded a gratuitous and obligatory system, with strict uniformity of subject matter at the primary level to insure equality. He also favored improved standards for teachers whose profession he placed among the more exalted pursuits, such as journalism; it too, is a “sublime priesthood.” The teacher is to become a lay missionary, part of the intellectual élite, serving as a “second father” to the pupils in his charge and replacing the priest as the bearer of a new dispensation.


Blanc looked upon religion as a spiritual force natural to men and necessary for the attainment of socialist aims. Hand in hand with education, it must prepare man for a happy life in this, the secular world. Blanc was not vitally concerned with the world beyond, with the supernatural. Only once, in 1877, after the death of his wife, did he even mention his belief in life after death, and he expressed it briefly then in a private letter to a friend.42 And yet, like most of the visionary reformers of his period, he was religious in temperament, and found in the Bible the origins of the principle of fraternity. Once he asked: “What is socialism?” and then answered like a catechist, “It is the Bible in action.” Curiously enough, he had first learned to read the Scriptures under the guidance of the clerics at Rodez, a beginning which did not prevent him from rejecting Catholicism during the 1830’s, or from becoming fixed in an outlook strongly anti-clerical. He found incompatible with social progress the church's fatalism, its glorification of poverty, and its doctrine of “meritorious suffering” which it taught to those it would not liberate.43 On the other hand, he was just as critical of paganism which glorified brute force, and of atheism, which exalted the individual. Happily, he did not follow Rousseau to the extent of calling for the execution of non-believers, but orthodox theists, like skeptics, would certainly find no comfort in his social regime.

His god is that of Rousseau, a pantheistic deity, defined as “the universality of creatures.” Existing in all beings, he binds them intimately into a vast fraternity and his sublime doctrine teaches love, unity, and justice. “Pantheism,” Blanc explained, “is the religious aspect of human solidarity.”44 It was in people, then, not in material things, that he found the proof of God. God exists in human sentiment, and this sentiment is the source of inspiration which brings men together and strengthens them in their service to justice. Indeed, religious feeling is the well-spring of all poetry, of all grandeur. Blanc, as a religious thinker, placed feeling high above reason, seeing in the latter the source of skepticism that atomized humanity. At times he came close to asserting that the man who thinks is depraved. And yet, he generally struck in his philosophy a balance between faith and reason.

Following Saint-Simon, he also sought to create a new Christianity stressing equally man's spiritual and physical needs. Too great emphasis on the spirit, he cautioned, leads to the degradation of the flesh, and so weakens the desire for social reform; while too great emphasis on the flesh gives rise to vile hedonism and to materialistic determinism which destroy man's freedom and sense of responsibility. The desire for this sublime balance suggests why Blanc, although a moralist, was not Puritanical. Unlike Rousseau, he was not a narrow-minded Genevan, or a bigoted peasant. He was a Parisian who enjoyed the good life in both the spiritual and physical sense, and who saw no basic contradiction between the two.

Yet there was an authoritarian streak forming part of his psychological make-up, and he sounded a sinister note when he insisted that man could and should arrive at absolutes.45 Blanc insisted that the absolute validity of fraternity is a sacredly revealed truth and that any hypothesis to the contrary is heresy. His marked dislike for dissent and his exaggerated desire for solidarity led him to envision a society in which non-conformity becomes anathema. His educational system is designed to blot it out, so is his religious system; therefore the role of his priests is identical to that of his teachers. Like Rousseau, he desired a civic religion to which everyone would voluntarily belong, and like that of Saint-Simon, his priesthood would consist of intellectuals, artists, scientists, and industrial leaders. These men are to form a “sacerdotal corps” whose mission is the kindling of the sacred fire of common beliefs. They will be elected, but completely subordinate to the state, for “the state must direct the moral interests of society just as it directs the material interests of society. If it declares itself indifferent, it abdicates.”46

The keynote of Blanc's system is not only unity but also considerable uniformity. He was a prefiguration of the rabid patriot and anticlerical of the Third Republic. Would not Combes carry out with ruthlessness certain of the policies he proposed? But long before the ex-seminarian attacked the church, radicalism adjusted its conscience to the sacrifice of some of the Rights of Man in the interest of social solidarity. This tendency is discernible also in Blanc's literary views.


His ideal in literature was an amalgam of classical vigor and romantic sentimentality. He considered the classical form an effective one for conveying an idea, for teaching a lesson in social morality. However, in order for literature to leave a strong impression it must appeal to the heart as well as to the mind, a dual strength that would produce a style suitable for “useful” literature. The notion of “useful,” that is, didactic art is one of the oldest in French literary tradition, and Blanc, immersed in that tradition, repudiated the concept of art for art's sake. Soon he was scolding the romantics, not because he opposed sentiment, but because he could not stomach their “sweet moan” which, in his opinion, was the rhymed emanation of egoism, a regard only for self. Romanticism, he declared, is the literary facet of individualism for its voice is an unpleasant dissonance of particular men. In contrast, he desired a more harmonious, moral, and fecund style, a literature of the people. Men of letters must adapt themselves to the rise of the lower classes and take their place in the struggle to edify them. “Woe betide the poet,” he warned, “who does not understand that love of men is the most noble, the most virile of inspirations! Woe betide the poet who does not learn from the study of the past and meditations on the future that the old world has had its literature, and that the new world must have its own!”47 The most impressive medium for carrying out this function is the theater. In consequence he insisted upon state control of the theater and censorship exercised by an elected, temporary, and responsible jury that would be “truly national.”48 Discussing books, however, he spoke out forcibly for intellectual freedom, and emphasized the all-important didactic role of the writer who “must rise above the prejudices of men, and have the courage to displease them in order to be useful to them.”49

This courage required not only a most exalted sense of mission but also considerable independence, and it was to provide writers with independent means that Blanc proposed the organization of literature. His aim was the abolition of the traditional rights of authorship in order to destroy the poison of literary commercialism. The first step toward this goal is the establishment of a “social publishing house” similar to the social workshop, and dependent on the state without being enslaved to it. A select committee of enlightened, unpaid experts will choose the manuscripts to be printed from among those writers, beginners in particular, who desire to elevate rather than degrade the public. All printing costs will be met by the house, and all member-authors will share in the profits, but prices must remain under state control and be kept low so that good books can reach the widest possible audience. In exchange for their authorship rights, members will enjoy the exclusive privilege of competing for “national recompenses,” the monetary awards drawn from the government's budget and granted by a national committee of experts in various fields to thinkers who have “best served the country.”50 Eventually, the most gifted authors will be drawn toward social publishing houses, literature will cease to be a source of loot, and private publishing houses will be put out of business by “saintly” competition.

There is no doubt that Blanc's ambition was to have a completely socialized society: collective ownership, communal living, unity in outlook. He did not desire to impose his new system by force; he wanted no reign of terror to eliminate his opponents (he even favored the abolition of capital punishment for political crimes), and no brutal dictatorship of a class. He imagined that his aim might be achieved peacefully, persuasively, democratically, and yet, despite all his good intentions, his system makes no provision for the existence of a minority championing a principle other than democratic socialism. He expected, he desired free discussion, provided it remains within the framework of the accepted principle. The basic characteristics of his future society are both uniformity and conformity.


When the liberals denounced him as the enemy of freedom, Blanc in turn accused the capitalist system of having created a worse tyranny: impersonal economic authority. “It is a mysterious tyranny,” he explained, “which is everywhere and shows itself nowhere, which closes around the poor man, crushes him, stifles him, without letting him see whence comes the evil against which he struggles miserably and succumbs.”51 He saw clearly the menacingly impersonal character of industry, and he realized that machines contributed to this character. However, he did not, like Simonde de Sismondi, urge a reaction against them, because he felt that not machines as such, but capitalistic ownership of them, was at fault. Having been too much influenced by Saint-Simon to repudiate science and its application to manufacturing, he could sympathize with suffering craftsmen but not with Luddite riots. What he taught was not hatred or even distrust of machines, but the reorganization of work in order to use them as instruments of liberation from drudgery. Machines, he wrote enthusiastically, are labor-saving devices, making possible greater production, higher living standards, and yet, shorter hours. With a reduced work-day the division of labor, necessitated by machines, will not be oppressive. For just as “liberty of profession” is a system to spare the genius the monotony of mechanized production, the proper use of machines is a means of granting the less gifted more leisure to develop their mental capacities. Under socialism, mechanization will “benefit everyone.”52

In this attitude he did not resemble his contemporaries, William Godwin, Buchez, Fourier, and Cabet, who in varying degrees accepted the belief that men were destined to scarcity and therefore would have sufficient food, clothing, and tools, not because they produced more, but because they lived simply and without ostentation. Louis Blanc, on the contrary, displayed the entrepreneurial spirit: men would have more by producing more and sharing their produce equitably. Once, in 1849, he wrote lyrically of a happy future in which produce would be as plentiful as air. In that economic paradise men would consume as they breathed, according to their needs.


Concentration, enlargement, mechanization were also Blanc's answer for agriculture, but prior to 1848 he had very little to say about the organization of work on the farm. Here too, he distinguished himself from Fourier in particular, whose phalange was primarily an association to produce succulent food and fragrant roses. Recognizing the entrenched conservatism of peasants and the powerful influence of priests in rural regions, Blanc suggested postponing the socialization of land until after the movement was well under way in industry. He believed that since 1789 France had become an industrial nation and that the organization of industrial production should come first.53 This belief did not induce him to sacrifice agriculture to industry, a tendency already apparent in England and against which he warned: “The commerce of a people cannot remain prosperous for long unless it rests on a solid base, and … this solid base is agriculture.”54 Industry and farming must complement rather than weaken each other. As in industry, he desired in agriculture the organization of large co-operatives, because individual exploitation and small-holdings discourage efficient utilization of the land and retard economic growth. Therefore, Blanc advised, let the state abolish succession in the collateral line and transfer uninherited land to the communes. This procedure will make possible the scientific development of large public estates, raise living standards, encourage farming, prepare the raw materials industry needs, and enhance the prestige of the provinces. Peasants will happily remain on the land; provincial genius will find an outlet at home and cease flocking to overcrowded Paris which already dominates France in an unhealthy fashion.55

It is perhaps in his desire to benefit everyone that Blanc may rightly be classed as a Utopian. Thus far he has seemed to be a peaceful one, a man of gentle, humanitarian manner, seeking to persuade, and distrustful of violent revolution. This view, however, does not encompass the whole man. Intertwined with his reformist beliefs was a patriotism so belligerent in its scope and form that it is difficult to realize that both his socialism and nationalism emerged from the same mind.


  1. Engels to Marx, in A. Bebel and E. Bernstein, eds., Der Briefwechsel zwischen Friedrich Engels und Karl Marx, 1844 bis 1883 (Stuttgart, 1913), I, 74.

  2. Archives Nationales, BB 18 1386, dr. 957.

  3. Blanc, Organisation du travail, (5th ed.: Paris, 1847) pp. 76-77; see especially chap. iii.

  4. Organ. trav., p. 25.

  5. Blanc, Histoire de dix ans, 1830–40 (11th ed.: Paris, n.d.) II, 287.

  6. Nouveau monde, I (Jan. 1, 1850), 311.

  7. Rev. prog., IV (July 1, 1840), 590 ff.

  8. Dix ans, I, 135-36.

  9. Organ. trav., pp. 1-2.

  10. Dix ans, V, 461.

  11. Blanc, Histoire de la Révolution française, (Paris, 1864–1870) I, 262-70 ff.

  12. Rev. prog., IV (May 1, 1840), 383.

  13. Organ. trav., p. 102.

  14. Ibid., pp. 104, 156-57, 170-71, 270 ff.

  15. Rev. prog., II (Dec. 1, 1839), 440, 446.

  16. Blanc, Questions d'aujourd'hui et de demain (Paris, 1879–82), III, 227; Hist. Révol. franç. (Paris, 1878), II, 161, X, 246. See also A. Menger, Le droit au produit intégral du travail, translated from the second German edition (Paris, 1900), p. 35.

  17. L. A. Garnier-Pagès, Histoire de la Révolution de 1848 (Paris, 1861-72), IV, 88-89.

  18. Stern, Hist. Révol. 1848 (2d ed.: Paris, 1862), II, 571.

  19. Organ. trav., pp. 103-6, 160.

  20. Ibid., p. 113.

  21. The assertion that Blanc was a disguised Saint-Simonian was made by S. Charléty, Histoire du saint-simonisme (Paris, 1931), p. 280.

  22. Organ. trav., p. 165; Dix ans, III, 101.

  23. Organ. trav., p. 81.

  24. See his Hist. Révol. franç. (Paris, 1878), II, 198, VII, 280.

  25. Questions, V, 196.

  26. Rev. répub., I (May, 1834), 277.

  27. Almanach populaire (n.p., n.d.), p. 91.

  28. I (Jan. 15, 1839), 3, for first quote, and p. 13, for second.

  29. Rev. prog., I (June 1, 1839), 539-41.

  30. Organ. trav., p. 109.

  31. Ibid., p. 103.

  32. Ibid. (Paris, 1840), pp. 108-9.

  33. Ibid. (Paris, 1841), p. 74.

  34. Dix ans, II, 253.

  35. Rev. prog., IV (Aug. 1, 1840), 30; Organ. trav. (Paris, 1840), pp. 108-9; (Paris, 1845), pp. 116-17; (Paris, 1847), pp. 157-58.

  36. Ibid. (Paris, 1850), p. 92. See also Pages d’histoire de la Révolution de février 1848 (Paris, 1850), p. 296.

  37. Moniteur universel, April 3, 1848.

  38. Questions, IV, 145.

  39. Ibid., IV, 94.

  40. Dix ans, IV, 87.

  41. Organ. trav., pp. 116-17.

  42. Blanc to unknown addressee, June 25, 1877, card no. 49412 at Chavaray and Co. in Paris.

  43. Organ. trav., p. 180.

  44. Hist. Révol. franç. (Paris, 1878), X, 247.

  45. Rev. prog., VI (Sept. 1, 1841), 75, note 1.

  46. Dix ans, II, 265, note 1. III, 89.

  47. Rev. répub., I (May, 1834), 275.

  48. Dix ans, IV, 447.

  49. Organ. trav., p. 221.

  50. Ibid., p. 257.

  51. Rev. prog., II (Dec. 15, 1839), 491.

  52. Ibid., I (Jan. 15, 1839), 15, note 1; Organ. trav., pp. 112, 195; Pages d’hist., p. 287; Dix ans, I, 134-35.

  53. Organ. trav., p. 164; Hist. Révol. franç., I, 235.

  54. Rev. prog., II (Jan. 1, 1840), 542.

  55. Ibid., II (Aug. 1, 1839), 61; Organ. trav., p. 115.

James W. Brown (essay date 1986)

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Last Updated on February 6, 2016, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 9202

SOURCE: “Alimentary Discourse in Nineteenth-Century Social Theory: Pierre Leroux, Etienne Cabet and Charles Fourier,” in Dalhousie French Studies, Vol. 11, Fall, 1986, pp. 72-95.

[In the following essay, Brown explores the significance of food and gastronomy in the thought of three French socialist theorists—Pierre Leroux, Etienne Cabet, and Charles Fourier.]

The years 1825-1848 witnessed the rise of Socialist thought in France and, concomitantly, many writers and novelists explored social themes in their works. Several influences contributed to the climate of these years, particularly the ideologies of social commentators such as Fourier, Saint-Simon and Lamennais. For the most part, these socialist thinkers expressed their ideas in theoretical works which usually sought a collective approach in attempting to remedy the ills of society. This interest in the collective movement led them to construct model societies or “miniature utopias” in which they would project ideal social relationships and working conditions. In nearly all these model communities, and not surprisingly, given their preponderance in French cultural mores of the period, meals and eating practices play a major role. They represent a projet, a desirable symbol for the proponents of utopias first of all because food is abundant and everyone shares in it equally, and they are constructive because in these societies every man must work to eat, i.e., there is no separation between producers and consumers. Essentially, the division between labour and capital will be eliminated in utopian societies, thus permitting everyone to participate equally in the life of the commune. Food, then, ceases to be a differentiating factor as in bourgeois society; rather, it becomes the foundation of brotherhood, and the communal meal becomes the ultimate sign of collective activity.

Actual conditions inimical to society provoked these dreams and reactions, and, as everyone knows, the Revolution of 1789 did not improve the lot of all Frenchmen. During the first half of the nineteenth century, the masses were neglected, and the proletariat began to gain an increasing consciousness of itself. The workers and the poor were abused, the prospect of social reform seemed very remote. Moreover, the existence of the impecunious was threatened daily by their two most virulent enemies, lack of food and lack of shelter. The supposed inequities of the contemporary system led many thinkers to adopt new solutions to these problems, at times by seeking solutions in ideologies which were established earlier, dating back in fact to the time of Christ. Similarly, in their attempt to achieve equality, fraternity and solidarity, many of the nineteenth-century theorists combined the principles of Christianity with socialism. During the July Monarchy the socialist movement became widespread among both workers and writers of all persuasions. Important novelists such as George Sand, Victor Hugo and Eugène Sue put their pens into the service of humanity, simultaneously enlightening the upper classes to the problems of the nation and advocating reform through socialism.

In attempting to comprehend the climate of 1848, the revolutionary zeal and the cherished hope of the masses that true change would be forthcoming, the reader must turn to those figures who contributed to the propagation of socialist ideas. Certainly, in the search for sources and causes, one may go as far back as the Revolution of 1789, but, even then, the quest would not end. For the purposes of this study, only those theorists (and their influence on novelists) who actually wrote or published their works in the nineteenth century, and particularly during the years 1830-1848, can be considered. This group of thinkers, for the most part, belongs to or is allied with that branch of intellectual history frequently called le socialisme romantique.

With so much emphasis placed on alleviating the problems of food scarcity, improper housing and unequal rights, it is not surprising to find the workers, in fact as well as in fiction, organizing themselves by instituting communal banquets. The importance of these affairs derives more from their symbolic value—the communal meal serves as an emblem of equality, solidarity and fraternity and not as a gastronomical extravaganza—rather than from their ability to feed the masses. One can only hazard a guess at the influence which the communal meals advocated by the socialist theorists had on the actual workers' banquets, but the principles of brotherhood and equality at the table implicit, and often explicit, in the theories bear a striking resemblance to those of Christ. Ultimately, the prototypes for these meals were the agapes, or Christian love feasts. The subject of this study will not permit us to examine the actual meals and banquets taking place in France during the years 1830-1848 nor draw specific conclusions about them, but it has enabled us in another study to analyze their function in the works of novelists directly influenced by the various socialist tendencies.1 As was demonstrated in Fictional Meals, there can be little doubt as to the validity of the relationship between socialist meal theories and the eating ideals established in certain novels of Sand, Hugo and Sue, for in each depiction of fictional communal meals, the author has also chosen to comment, either directly or indirectly, on the theoretical basis for including them.

This study will be limited to those theorists who attributed a special significance to food and gastronomy in the organization of their model communities. Although he was not as gastronomically oriented as the other theorists to be discussed subsequently, Pierre Leroux is quite important for the ideological influence he had on George Sand since he was very persuasive in getting her to adopt his socialist philosophy and to popularize it in her novels. Etienne Cabet, a more ambitious thinker as regards the importance of alimentary discourse, merits attention because his Voyage en Icarie is a utopian novel which depicts the importance of food distribution and communal eating in a theoretical communistic social structure. Finally, Charles Fourier, perhaps the ultimate gastro-philosopher, figures as a central figure in this essay because he accorded to eating mores an essential role in the formation, the functioning and the institutions of his ideal society.


Pierre Leroux was one of the most influential socialist theorists on the French novel between 1830 and 1848. Part of this influence is due to the unique position he occupies in the history of socialist thought: Leroux was the only theorist who was simultaneously a philosopher, a partisan of democracy and, even more important for our purposes, a literary critic. Among those novelists influenced by him were Sainte-Beuve, Eugène Sue, and particularly, George Sand and Victor Hugo. Leroux's thinking began to act upon French novelists as early as 1831, just about the same time his particular brand of socialism received its most complete expression in the articles he wrote for la Revue Encyclopédique. Since 1824 he had been working at the Globe with Sainte-Beuve, and both men were inciting the great figures of Romanticism to incorporate the social movement into their works. Furthermore, he gave them a specific guideline in the form of a definition: he coined the word Socialism, which, in its earliest applications, seems to refer more to allied movements which displeased Leroux rather than to a positive definition of his particular philosophy: “Je voulais caractériser, par ce mot la doctrine ou les doctrines diverses qui, sous un prétexte ou un autre, sacrifiaient l’individu à la société et, au nom de la fraternité ou sous prétexte d’égalité, détruisent la liberté.”2 Certain elements of Leroux's doctrine must be retained if the reader is to understand his influence on the novelists. In addition, one must bear in mind the relation between Leroux's ideology and the kind of communal meals advocated by Sand and Sue. Foremost among these ideas is the necessity to ally social reform and the change of institutions with communities aiming at a moral regeneration based on Christian principles. For Leroux, the concept of social unity, characterized by the old notion of communauté, disappeared with the Middle Ages and, believing that “… le fond de la religion est éternel,” he concluded that the world was evolving toward a more perfect union. At the base of Leroux's thinking lies a fundamental belief in Progress and Continuity.3 His optimism became contagious because it placed the potential for perfectibility in man's own hands, and it envisioned the democratic system as the only viable means of transformation. His aim, like that of Fourier, was to achieve a state of social harmony without resorting to violence or revolution. This goal necessitated the emancipation of the proletariat and the conversion of the Christian ideal into action.

Pierre Leroux was unequivocally the spiritual guide of George Sand and, to a lesser extent, of Victor Hugo. Leroux's influence became most evident in the novels Sand wrote between 1839 and 1848, especially her romans champêtres (Le Péché de Monsieur Antoine, Le Meunier d’Angibault, Le Compagnon du Tour de France, Jeanne) and her romans idéalistes (Spiridion, Consuelo, La Comtesse de Rudolstadt). In these novels she actually exposes Leroux's doctrine to the reading public and incorporates them into the very structure of the novel in her eating scenes. Nearly all George Sand's depictions of meals emphasize the Christian values of charity, hospitality and brotherhood, especially as they are manifested in rural and peasant customs. She seems to orient her public toward a natural simplicity based on unity at the table and stresses the need for the rich to break bread with the poor. She also places the meals of workers organized in secret societies and accentuating their bonds of solidarity. Among other things, Sand's meal scenes, highlighting both the socialist and religious elements of dining, place her undeniably in Leroux's particular tradition of socialism.4


The intimate link between communal meals and their importance in a real or theoretical community becomes even more apparent in Etienne Cabet's Voyage en Icarie. Cabet, a communist, advocated a regime wherein property belongs to all. Unlike Leroux, however, he needs no spokesman. His Voyage en Icarie (1839) is an attempt to construct a fictional theoretical community where the citizens live in absolute equality and where the governing body is elected by universal suffrage. Conforming to communist economic theories, its government has abolished money and individual ownership.

In his preface to the theoretical Icarie, Cabet asserts the importance of equality and fraternity. Unlike the contemporary socio-economic system, the communauté icarienne is “basée sur l’éducation et sur l’intérêt public et commun, constituant une assurance générale et mutuelle contre tous les accidents et tous les malheurs, garantissant à chacun la nourriture, le vêtement, le logement. …”5 From the very outset of his novel, Cabet has affirmed the importance of food for all, and in the first part of Voyage en Icarie he reiterates this point by devoting an entire chapter to food and meals. In this chapter entitled “Nourriture”, Cabet utilizes both a sentimental and an ideational approach to the depiction of meals in Icarie. He begins the chapter with an appeal to romantic sensibilities:

Je raconterai plus tard les moyens imaginés et pratiqués par la République pour faciliter ces excursions et ces dîners champêtres, dont les Icariens sont très avides, depuis le printemps jusqu’en automne.

Nous partîmes tous, les uns à pied, les autres sur de jolis ânes, ou des mulets, ou des chevaux, les autres dans des omnibus, et nous allâmes à une fontaine charmante et célèbre, qui se trouve à deux lieues d’Icara, sur le penchant d’un délicieux côteau qui domine la ville.

(Voyage en Icarie, 51)

Cabet is careful to establish his community far from the city, so often metaphorized as the inferno in the novels of Balzac, Sue and Hugo. This pastoral setting, in particular the fêtes champêtres, reminds the reader of Rousseau's lieux charmants and might also constitute a possible influence on George Sand's evocations of rural feasts and Eugène Sue's model farm. Cabet also makes nature and political ideology correspond in his presentation of the spectacle of the outdoor meal:

… je ne pourrais non plus décrire ni la ravissante beauté de la vue, des gazons, des bosquets et de la fontaine où l’art et la nature avaient prodigué tous leurs embellissements, ni les délicieux tableaux que présentaient des centaines de groupes dînant sur l’herbe, chantant, riant, sautant, courant, dansant et jouant à mille jeux.

(Voyage en Icarie, 51)

Furthermore, Cabet places the ability of the Icarians to enjoy these elegant dinners in beautiful natural surroundings in direct relation to their socio-economic system. The narrator recounts this concept in the voice of a young Icarian female: “Elle nous expliqua que tous ces lieux charmants, qui font aujourd’hui les délices du Peuple entier, servaient exclusivement autrefois aux plaisirs de quelques seigneurs, qui les enfermaient dans les murs ou les fossés de leurs châteaux et de leurs parcs.” (Voyage en Icarie, 51)

In spite of the apparent joy and freedom of the pastoral meals, Cabet's system entails a very detailed regulation of food and eating practices. The essential points of his description of the Icarian eating habits are presented in the form of a letter from a French visitor to Icarie as he reports them to a Friend in France. This narrative device permits Cabet to contrast the eating habits of the French with those of the Icarians and, hence, to show the superiority of the latter: “O mon cher Camille, que j’ai le coeur navré quand je pense à la France et que je vois la félicité dont jouit ici le peuple d’Icarie!” (Voyage en Icarie, 51) In Icarie, everything is regulated by law; nothing is left to chance. Food itself is subjected to close scrutiny, and the most beneficial and nourishing foods are encoded and categorized:

Un comité de savants, institué par la présentation nationale, aidé par tous les citoyens, a fait la liste de tous les aliments connus, en indiquant les bons et les mauvais, les bonnes ou mauvaises qualités de chacun.

Il a fait plus: parmi les bons, il a indiqué les nécessaires, les utiles et les agréables, et en a fait imprimer la liste en plusieurs volumes, dont chaque famille a un exemplaire.

(Voyage en Icarie, 51)

Some of this information is useful, especially the lists devoted to foods which might be dangerous—but some of the other areas of evaluation smack of gastronomical censorship. A committee, for example, decides on qualities and matters of taste. One of Cabet's innovations in this respect is to suggest a kind of national cookbook containing the best recipes for certain sorts of foods, thus leaving the Icarians with limited choices and varieties: “On a fait plus encore; on a indiqué les préparations les plus convenables pour chaque aliment, et chaque famille possède aussi le Guide du cuisinier.” (Voyage en Icarie, 51) Nowhere in this chapter does Cabet actually forbid certain foods or manners of preparation, yet he does emphasize that food itself is governed by law.

Probably the most important contribution Cabet makes with regard to the role of food and meals in a socialist community relates to the socio-economic basis of the system itself. Like Fourier, Cabet stresses the entire process of producing, preparing and procuring food along with the problems of socialization which might occur at mealtime. The laws governing production and distribution seem quite severe:

La liste des bons aliments ainsi arrêtée, c’est la République qui les fait produire par ses agriculteurs et ses ouvriers, et qui les distribue aux familles; et comme personne ne peut avoir d’autres aliments que ceux qu’elle distribue, tu conçois que personne ne peut consommer d’autres aliments que ceux qu’elle approuve.

(Voyage en Icarie, 51)

An essential point of contrast between France and Icarie concerns the citizens' rights to consume certain foods, or more precisely, their right not to endure gastronomical discrimination:

Chacun a donc une part égale de tous les aliments sans distinction, depuis celui que nous appelons le plus grossier jusqu’à celui que nous qualifions le plus délicat; et le peuple entier d’Icarie est aussi bien et même mieux nourri que les plus riches des autres pays.

(Voyage en Icarie, 53)

In Icara, food ceases to be a differentiating factor. Cabet implies that the prevailing emphasis on equality will enable everyone to eat like kings, as the cliché goes, but he entirely neglects problems of individual taste and of the availability of certain items. From a practical standpoint, his system is not feasible; its interest is primarily ideological, but its viability seems doubtful.

The rigidity of Cabet's system is extremely apparent in the area of meals themselves. The committee has even devised a set of rules and regulations determining their distribution throughout the day, their duration, the courses served:

Ce n’est pas tout: le comité dont je t’ai parlé tout à l’heure a discuté et indiqué le nombre des repas, leurs temps, leur durée, le nombre des mets, leur espèce et leur ordre de service, en les variant sans cesse, non-seulement suivant les saisons et les mois, mais encore suivant les jours; en sorte que les dîners de la semaine sont tous différents.

(Voyage en Icarie, 53)

Cabet sees a need for four meals a day. Always occurring at the same time, they vary according to location: the six a.m. breakfast is a communal meal; the nine a.m. second breakfast finds the workers eating in their workshops, the women and children eating at home; the two p.m. luncheon takes place in a restaurant républicain; the nine p.m. evening meal is taken at home with the entire family. At all these meals the same toast is made: “… le premier toast est à la gloire du bon Icar, Bienfaiteur des ouvriers, bienfaiteur des familles, bienfaiteur des citoyens.” (Voyage en Icarie, 54) Certainly the most elegant meal in Icara, and one which does not occur on a regular basis, takes place on special occasions. It is a ceremonial meal, but even more importantly, it represents the epitome of communal dining, the art of socialist living raised to the level of affluence:

Mais le dîner commun, dans des salles superbes, élégamment décorées, contenant mille à deux mille personnes, surpasse en magnificence tout ce que tu pourrais imaginer. Nos plus beaux restaurants et cafés de Paris ne sont rien à mes yeux, comparés aux restaurants de la République. Tu ne voudras pas peut-être le croire, quand je te dirai qu’outre l’abondance et la délicatesse des mets, outre les décorations en fleurs et de tous autres genres, une musique délicieuse y charme les oreilles tandis que l’ordorat y savoure de délicieux parfums.

(Voyage en Icarie, 54)

In his final section on Icarian meals, Cabet shifts his emphasis to meal customs and attitudes, a strategy which permits him to criticize contemporary French practices. From an economic perspective, he finds wedding feasts impractical and costly; a different kind of nuptial ceremony is established in Icarie:

Aussi, quand des jeunes gens se marient, ils n’ont pas besoin de manger leurs dots dans un mauvais repas de noce et de ruiner d’avance leurs enfants à naître; les dîners que le mari trouve dans le restaurant de sa femme, la femme dans celui de son mari, et les deux familles ensemble chez chacune d’elles, remplacent les plus beaux repas des autres pays.

(Voyage en Icarie, 54)

Icarians can enjoy a continual feast because communal meals are less costly than individual ones; hence, the quality of each group dinner can be increased. Here again, Cabet seems ignorant of man's basic psychological need for diversity and avoidance of routine; uniformity would soon dull the palates and the manners of the Icarians. It is quite evident in Cabet's statement on the purposes and goals of such meals that he sacrifices individuality to the principle of equality:

Tu concevras aussi que cette communauté de repas entre les ouvriers et entre les voisins a d’autres grands avantages, notamment celui de faire fraterniser les masses, et celui de simplifier beaucoup, en faveur des femmes, les travaux du ménage.

(Voyage en Icarie, 54)

Cabet's system might provide a possible influence on the meals in the novels of George Sand and even more on the concept of the model farm which Eugène Sue explored in Les Mystères de Paris. Yet, one of the primary limitations of meals depicted in novels is that if the novelists are partisans of the socialist movement as advocated by the theorists, then their novels will reflect only the fictional (and still only theoretical) equivalents of communal meals.


Charles Fourier was by far the most original and the most comprehensive theorist as regards the role of meals and gastronomy in the life of a society. The majority of his writing on the subject had been completed by 1830, so many of our theorists and novelists obviously had the opportunity to read him and to borrow from his ideas. Since in any socio-economic system he accords a major role to gastronomy, or “gastrosophie” as he calls it when it is elevated to the level of a science, it is not surprising to find that many writers who fell under his influence were inclined to include sections on the culinary arts in their own works. Especially important in this respect was Fourier's interest in the entire process of food production, from agronomy to the finished product on the table.

Fourier, like other theorists and reformists, advocated a new socio-economic system which would eventually lead to universal transformations and result in a state of harmony. This is not particularly unusual in the light of events and political currents following the Revolutionary era. For the extravagance of his theories (and one must not underestimate Fourier's irony or his sense of humour), he has been called everything from a lunatic to a prophet. In part, both viewpoints might be explained by his insistence that his system would result in universal transformations and, therefore, form the basis of a new cosmogonie. On the more earthly level, Fourier understood that a society must guarantee work and food for its members. This concept is extremely important among socialist novelists and theorists and may be summarized by the gagner son pain formula: providing for oneself and for others leads to personal dignity and mutual co-operation among the members of the social unit. It is appropriate to note that in order to portray social differentiation within contemporary French society, many writers and theorists, including Sand, Sue and Hugo, to name but a few, all express social inequality and hostility by means of the “devouring metaphor”:

L’aigle enlève le mouton qui est l’image du peuple sans défense. Ainsi que l’aigle, le roi, tout roi qu’il est, est obligé de dévorer son peuple par les impôts, presque toujours outrés et écrasants pour l’industrie populaire.7

Fourier consistently emphasized the importance of the collective movement as an agent of social transformation. At the core of his system lay the Phalange, the basic social unit of organization; on the psycho-philosophical basis of his system rests the concept of pleasure. His emphasis on fulfilling the passions, on not contradicting the attractions, constitutes his originality and also comprises that part of his philosophy which was most denigrated. Fourier looked at man and decided that three passions govern his behaviour: (1) a desire for luxury, (2) a desire to organize in groups, and (3) a desire to adhere to a series. By following his passions, man will eventually evolve to a state of Harmony. Regressing along the chaîne passionnelle, Fourier finds that man's most basic pleasure is gastronomical fulfillment; this must become the starting point in the process of transformation, the centre of life in the phalange.

For Fourier, gastronomy is politics; it is the basis of all major institutions in society, or as the author so aptly puts it, it is “… la base de l’édifice.” Fourier alludes constantly to the interrelationship between socio-political organization and gastronomy, so much so that the concept permeates all his writings, but possibly his most cogent argument for the politics of gastronomy occurs in his Théorie des Quatre Mouvements, in the chapter devoted to la Gastronomie Combinée. It is here that the author offers his general theories regarding the subject and introduces the reader to their importance in society. Among the areas which intermingle with the culinary arts the reader finds psychology, “Pour faire connaître avec quelle sagacité elle a préparé nos plaisirs, je vais parler de la bonne chère qui règnera dans L’Ordre combiné”, socialization, “La bonne chère n’est que moitié du plaisir de la table; elle a besoin d’être aiguisée par un choix judicieux des convives …”,8 sexual discrimination in matters of taste, “… les dames civilisées témoignent beaucoup d’insouciance pour les plaisirs de la table … les hommes sont plus exigeants sur la délicatesse des mets” (Mouvements, 160), and philosophy, “… je vais parler de la bonne chère qui est la base de l’édifice” (Mouvements, 160). Fourier's concept of food encroaches upon the very institutional and sociological composition of society. It embraces nearly every major area of human thought, hence the primary governing body of the nation consists of the members of the concile gastronomique:

C’est donc l’industrie seule et surtout l’hygiène, gastronomie ou sagesse qui est l’objet du rassemblement des conciles et, d’après le lustre immense qui est attaché à leur suffrage, c’est la gastronomie qui est le principal champ d’honneur, car elle est de la compétence de tout le monde.9

Having attributed the primary role in the socio-political functions of his Harmonie to gastronomy, Fourier gives one of the most comprehensive analyses imaginable of the various phases relating to food and meals. His system attempts to instill many new eating habits and attitudes in the minds of the people. It also emphasizes the need to change agricultural methods in order to improve production and to achieve variety and abundance. To those skeptics who would affirm that everyone could not have equally good wine because the best grapes in the world can be found only in France, Fourier replies that in addition to improved wine for all, “J’en cite trois en divers genres, en amer, doux et acide; ce sont le café, le laitage et la limonade, qui seront généralement plus exquis ce que les rois peuvent se procurer de plus parfait en ce genre, et cette supériorité sera due à des moyens d’exploitation, transport et préparation, que ne peuvent pas avoir lieu dans l’Ordre actuel. …” (Mouvements, 169) As if this were not enough to convince the critics of his theory, he assures them that nature also conspires in the productive welfare of man by slowly increasing gradations in temperature which culminate in “… la naissance de la couronne boréale et l’entière culture du pôle.” (Mouvements, 169)

Improved agricultural methods do not always suffice to attract the masses to new systems aimed at improving their living conditions, so Fourier decides to show the results of these methods on the material and varietal goods the harmoniens will receive. Perhaps the most appealing aspect designed to attract those presently threatened with starvation is the promise of a superabundance of food:

Comme les récoltes de l’Ordre combiné seront immensément supérieures aux moyens de consommation locale ou extérieure, la surabondance deviendra fléau périodique, comme aujourd’hui la disette, et tout en prodiguant aux animaux les comestibles de l’homme, on sera obligé de jeter fréquemment à la mer et aux égouts une masse de produits qui pourraient être présentés aujourd’hui sur les meilleures tables.

(Mouvements, 163)

Certainly, such gastronomical plenitude could be very wasteful, but Fourier obviates waste in part by encouraging culinary variety, the ever changing, ever increasing dishes passed before the gastronome: “Quant à la variété des mets qui régnera aux tables du peuple, on ne peut pas l’estimer à moins de trente à quarante plats, renouvelés par tiers tous les jours, avec une douzaine de boissons différentes et variées à chaque repas.” (Mouvements, 166) The step between the production of food and its distribution entails a policy based on how it is to be used: superabundance and variety are not the only consequences of improved technology, but they are the primary ones which promote gastronomical quality: “Ainsi tout ce qui tendrait au médiocre est détruit dans sa naissance, et dès lors le superflu de comestibles abandonné aux animaux se trouve au moins égal aux productions que nous admirons et qui figurent sur la table des grands et des rois.” (Mouvements, 165) In short, Fourier makes use of the contemporary symbol of gastronomical distinction without sacrificing the concept of culinary excellence; the new system assures both abundance and quality.

The second phase of Fourier's culinary system comprises those aspects of food relating to the kitchen or the cooking process. Understandably, in a social structure whose socio-political basis rest on gastronomy, the kitchen reigns supreme:

On pourra sur la première des conditions (la cuisinerie ou préparation) objecter que les saints de l’harmonie seront donc des cuisiniers et cuisinières. Pourquoi non, la cuisine est de tous les arts le plus révéré dans l’harmonie; elle est le pivot de tout le travail agricole et le salon.

(Nouveau Monde, 131)

In theory, and often in practice, every harmonien is simultaneously a cook. It follows that the culinary arts become a natural part of the curriculum in the education of the young, and this educational philosophy entails both the theoretical and practical elements attached to cooking:

En outre il est de règle en harmonie qu’on doit joindre la théorie à la pratique. Toute l’éducation suit cette marche et tend à rendre les enfants théoriciens et practiciens à la fois, sauf à eux à opter, par la suite, ils sont donc tous cuisiniers dès l’enfance.

(Nouveau Monde, 131)

A great part of the practical side of the culinary education is associated with the preparation of food and the means of varying it.10

Fourier's theories on the composition of dishes and meals show that he was extremely aware of individual tastes and preferences, thus he devised the système bi-composé. In order to make this system comprehensible to the reader he uses the example of those gastronomical partisans of volailles trop jeunes as opposed to those who prefer volailles vieilles (the reader will note the manifestly comic sexual pun). There are many gradations of taste between the two extremes, so his system must allow for individual preferences:

Il faut aux harmoniens, à table comme ailleurs, des stimulants qui unissent les coeurs, les esprits et les sens. Or, cette régalade bizarre d’un coq entre deux vieilles poules établit entre les co-sectaires de Chrysante une foule de liens fondés sur l’affinité des goût et d’action sur les menées d’amour-propre tendant à accréditer leur mets favori. …11

Reducing the differences and affinities of the two groups to four categories, Fourier is able to have them associate harmoniously in spite of their individual taste:

Dès lors ce chétif régal crée entre des inégaux un quadruple lien de coeur, d’esprit, d’amour-propre et de sensualité. Brillant effet d’une transition artistement ménagée, comme elles le sont toutes dans l’état sociétaire.

L’assemblage de ces quatre liens (deux suffiraient) produit un composite redoublé ou bi-composé, qui exige double plaisir des sens et double plaisir de l’âme. Que de merveilleuses propriétés chez une vieille poule adaptée aux coûtumes d’Harmonie sériaire!

(Unité Universelle, 384)

The second aspect of gastronomy centering in part on the kitchen concerns the eating regime and its underlying principles. In speaking of meals and fêtes in contemporary France, Fourier admonishes the Frenchman's practice of eating excessively, which would ultimately produce a nation of unrefined gluttons:

Telle est en harmonie la première base de sagesse gastronomique. Il sera de règle qu’un vrai sage doit avoir toujours appétit et cependant un vrai sage devra s'établir neuf fois par jour aux 5 repas et aux 4 intermèdes.

(Nouveau Monde, 133)

The concept of appetite becomes central to Fourier's theory, which presupposes that the transformations within the new order will simultaneously stimulate the appetite. The nine meals in Harmonie (five major, four minor) will obviate the need to overindulge in food, and will also be sparse enough to allow the diners to eat each successive meal. Appetite will also be stimulated by means of le régime des variantes:

L’harmonie obigée de spéculer sur une forte consommation, atteindra donc sont but en perfectionnant le régime des variantes et de même qu’après un grand repas bien suffisant à nous rassasier, nous retrouvons de l’appétit au dessert pour les confiseries, etc. …

(Nouveau Monde, 134)

The aesthetics of a refined gastronomy are constant preoccupations of Fourier. Although he rarely resorts to composing actual menus for his readers, he frequently alludes to the need for proper combinations of foods which will appeal to the palate as well as the eye. He establishes a carefully spaced equilibrium between the nine daily meals, and he frequently refers to them in musical or theatrical language (majeur, mineur, intermèdes, entr’actes, etc.). Fourier never underestimates the importance of alternating light with heavy dishes, beverages with the solid foods, manner of preparation with the individual temperaments of the harmoniens. Like the maître du feuilleton who creates a feeling of anticipation in his reader at the end of each chapter, the culinary expert will know how to pique the curiosity of the gastronome by completing the meal with a dish which will make him await the next phase in a state of expectation. For Fourier, gourmandise is the essence of wisdom, and to enable all harmoniens to become veritable gourmands, he must cultivate the art of good taste. Here again the transformation of contemporary culinary attitudes is a necessity because France, and especially Paris, is guilty of a gastronomie mercantile: “A l’appui de ce double grief, observons que Paris, qui est le foyer des beaux-arts, est aussi le foyer du mauvais goût en gastronomie. Les Parisiens consomment indifféremment le bon ou le mauvais.” (Nouveau Monde, 225) In other words, if the public is indiscriminate with respect to taste, it will encourage the bakers, the cooks and the restaurant owners to produce their products in the cheapest way possible, committing what Fourier so aptly calls la gastro-ânerie.12

Gastronomy forms the basic institution in Harmonie. Its influence is nearly limitless, for it also permeates many of the other social and cultural institutions. In the first place, the economics of the phalange operate on principles closely associated with food production. Fourier declares that the present economic system in France produces laziness on the part of some members because of the division of labour and capital. In Harmonie, on the contrary, participation in production is an encouraging factor:

Dans l’état sociétaire la gourmandise joue un rôle tout opposé: elle n’est plus récompense de l’oisivité, mais de l’industrie; car le plus pauvre cultivateur y participe à la consommation des denrées précieuses.

(Nouveau Monde, 253-254)

For Fourier, the relationship between gastronomy and industry is more profound than one might imagine. It derives from the so-called attraction industrielle, one of man's natural passions that draws him into a systième sériaire:

Dieu aurait-il asservi si impérieusement les humains à cette passion, s’il ne lui eût assigné un rôle éminent dans le mécanisme est celui de l’Attraction industrielle, ne doit-elle pas se lier intimement avec l’attraction gastronomique dite gourmandise? En effet, c’est la gourmandise qui doit former le lien général des Séries industrielles, être l’âme de leurs intrigues émulatives.

(Nouveau Monde, 253)

Fourier uses the famous example of the melon to illustrate this relationship between cultivation and gastronomical participation. In contemporary society, he maintains, the melon is held in such high esteem because not everyone has free access to it, so it becomes a commodity venerated for its delightful taste and vivid colour. The very act of buying a melon assumes the aspect of a ritual as only the men are entrusted with the task. In Harmonie, however, the serial system permits all members to enjoy the melon: “Ainsi pas un homme, pas un chat, ne peut être dupé sur le melon, fruit si perfide pour les civilisés, parce qu’ils le règlent par l’ordre distributif selon la méthode sériaire voulue par Dieu. …” (Unité Universelle, 49) The digression on the melon is too long and too intricate to analyze all the subtleties and gradations of Fourier's serial affinities between production and consumption, nevertheless, the example does serve to illustrate this important connection which the author returns to three or four times:

La gastronomie ne sera louable qu’à deux conditions: 1° lorsqu’elle sera appliquée directement aux fonctions productives, engrenée, mariée avec le travail de culture et préparation, entraînant le gastronome à cultiver et cuisiner; 2° lorsqu’elle coopérera au bien-être de la multitude ouvrière, et qu’elle fera participer le peuple à ces raffinements de bonne chère que la civilisation réserve aux oisifs.13

Children are first taught the theoretical and practical aspects of the system in the kitchen. Gastronomy is a natural point of departure according to Fourier because it is a “… semaille d’attraction plus efficace que toute autre …” since all children are born gluttons. The task of the educators in Harmonie will be to utilize this natural disposition for practical purposes by transforming, by means of a rigid culinary education, gluttony into gourmandise. A pre-requisite of gastronomical education demands that each child be trained in les quatre fonctions du goût, at least as Fourier understands them, namely, cultivation, preservation, cooking and gastronomy. Fourier transforms the kitchen into an atelier d’éducation intended to stimulate the child and induce him to study other things since he will have already learned the nuances of serial work as they are manifested in the four functions of culinary service.14 Fourier's ultimate aim is to raise the children to become gastrosophes, or experts in all four branches of the gastronomical field. The program of instruction, moreover, relies heavily on the natural passions of the youngsters. Consequently, it seems most logical to begin with the child's inclination to eat: “L’enfant mordra d’abord aux hameçons de cuisine et gastronomie, et bientôt après à ceux de culture et conserve.”15 The final product, of course, will be a gastrosophe, an individual thoroughly trained in all the culinary functions as well as a participatory member in all the other serial operations of the society.

If gastronomy forms the foundation for political, economic and educational institutions, it also plays an important role in the religious life of the society. So far, this analysis has been limited to la gourmandise en matérielle, the four elements constituting le goût. A gourmandise en politique also acts as a basis of gastronomical wisdom, or sainteté majeure, which comprises three branches: (1) gastrosophie pratique: la préparation ou cuisinale en gamme de tempérament; (2) gastrosophie théorique: la digestion accélérée et copieuse ou hygiène positive; (3) gastronomie mixte: la direction sur les 2 premières et par conséquent la connaissance des 810 tempéraments et des proportions de chaque produit de cuisine. (Nouveau Monde amoureuse, 126) The orthodoxy here does not coincide with most religious doctrines known to the reader, least of all with contemporary religious practices. Fourier's orthodoxie gastrosophique must be interpreted in terms of other social functions, particularly those of education and politics. Hence, the culinary debates for determining the various nuances of preparation constitute the only occasions when the sages (gastrosophes) assemble.16

In Fourier's system, gastronomy permeates minor sociological areas of interpersonal contact. One such field consists of a gastronomie hygiénique, which joins culinary expertise with the medical and pharmaceutical sciences:

Une fâcheuse lacune en ce genre est de n’avoir pas su lier la médecine avec le plaisir, et surtout avec celui du goût. Chaque année voit éclore de nombreux systèmes de médecine, dont pas une, excepté celui de la médecine du coeur, n’a cherché à sortir de l’ornière. Une carrière bien neuve, mais peu fructueuse pour la faculté, serait la médecine du goût, la théorie des antidotes agréables à administrer dans chaque maladie.

(Nouveau Monde Industriel, 260)

Fourier also allies gastronomy with pharmacy on the basis of certain transmutations which occur either during cooking or the mixing of chemical substances. From this standpoint, the reader might also recall Fourier's tendency to equate gastronomy with science, and even with philosophy, “… c’est qu’en régime sociétaire la gourmandise est source de sagesse, de lumières et d’accords sociaux” (Nouveau Monde Industriel, 260)

In the domain of psychology Fourier attributes an astronomical importance to the role of gastronomy. His system depends on following one's passions as they are manifested in a network of universal attractions, and it is not by chance that gastronomy is not only the most basic passion but also the most permanent one.

D’autres passions, l’amour, l’ambition, exercent sur les âges adulte et viril beaucoup plus d’influence; mais la gourmandise ne perd jamais son empire sur les divers âges: elle est la plus permanente, la seule qui règne du berceau jusqu’au terme de la vie.

Dieu aurait-il asservi si impérieusement les humains à cette passion, s'il ne lui eût assigné un rôle éminent dans le mécanisme auquel il nous destine?

(Nouveau Monde Industriel, 253)

The reader will also appreciate other elements of the psychology of gastronomy, especially as they are revealed in terms of sexuality. One finds, for example, that the purely culinary attributes of a good meal need to be complemented with planned social activities and diversions: “On devra ménager aux invités pendant toute leur journée et leur séjour les plaisirs qui pourront les tenir en appétit, voire même ceux de la concupiscence car selon Sanctorius un coït modéré, dilate l’âme et aide à la digestion.” (Nouveau Monde amoureux, 136) According to this principle, gastronomy also becomes tantamount to a politics of socialization, and, quite appropriately, no pleasure capable of contributing to the effect of the whole is denied.

Fourier's minutious concern for the pleasures and comforts of dinner guests might appear humorous to the reader, but for the father of Harmonie, sex and sexuality were paramount issues. Fourier himself was an early advocate of women's liberation and attempted to destroy most distinctions between harmoniens which were based on sex. In speaking of the decaying concept of taste in the nineteenth century, Fourier condemns society for conditioning women to fend off this passion, certainly a dangerous démarche for females in Harmonie:

Un autre genre de dépravation particulier à la France, et qui est encore d’origine parisienne, c’est le dédain du sexe féminin pour la gastronomie, dédain qui va croissant. Ce sera un très grand vice au début de l’harmonie; car on ne peut pas se passionner vivement pour les cultures, épouser avec ardeur les intrigues des séries agricoles, si on ne se passionne pas en gastronomie, voie initiale d’Attraction industrielle.

(Nouveau Monde Industriel, 256)

On the contrary, Fourier attempts to resolve the problem by encouraging females to become gastronomes by participating in the series, that is, having both males and females cultivating garlic, heretofore a strictly male task. Similarly, he suggests that the kitchen staff, contrary to contemporary practices, should consist primarily of women and children because they are more suited to lighter work by virtue of their physical constitution.17

The ultimate achievement in a system such as Fourier's entails attaining the level of gastrosophe, the epitome of political, economic, social and philosophical wisdom. Fourier has carefully delineated the realm of gastrosophie both by elaborating all its principles and requirements and by contrasting it to more plebeian forms of the culinary arts as practised by his contemporaries. First, gastrosophie is the haute sagesse gastronomique desired by all harmoniens and attained by several because of the all-pervasive importance of gastronomy in his educational system. Second, gastrosophie requires each aspirant to wisdom to become an expert in the four branches of culinary knowledge: cultivation, preservation, cooking and gastronomy. The latter branch, of course, constitutes the highest attainment within the field, but it is entirely dependent upon all the others, hence, Fourier defines gastronomy as an équilibre des passions, or conformity to the laws of attraction which govern all men (desire for luxury, desire to belong to groups, desire to adhere to series) and which are all made to operate in the four branches.

Anyone who fulfills all the requirements within the discipline of gastrosophie becomes a gastrosophe, the wisest and most venerated member of Harmonie. A member will not be considered for the title of gastrosophe until he has reached the age of eighty years, but he can become a gastronome when he is forty or fifty:

… car on peut bien être gastronome à 40 ou à 50 ans, c’est une fonction d’amusette qui n’exige que de la gourmandise un peu affinée, mais l’emploi de gastrosophe dans lequel il faut réunir les 3 branches de connaisance (pratique, théorique, mixte) indiquées et l’exercice théorique et pratique dans toutes les parties de l’agronomie et de la médicine et de la cuisine, cet emploi ne peut guère s’exercer avant 80 ans qui n’est point vieillesse mais début de l’automne. … (author's italics)

(Nouveau Monde amoureux, 256)

Fourier contrasts this eminence with the seemingly small achievements of contemporary Parisian cooks, whom he denigrates by calling them gastrolâtres, or cooks versed in only one of the four branches of culinary wisdom. By contrast, no area relating to food is left untouched in Harmonie, nothing is arbitrary in harmonian kitchens since all matters of taste, of preparation, of dishes are placed under the jurisdiction of the experts:

La détermination de ces nuances d’apprêts adaptées à chaque tempérament deviendra un sujet d’immense débats gastrosophiques pour lesquels il faudra mettre en campagne des armées de 2 et 300.000 âmes rassemblées de plusieurs empires qui iront sous la direction des conciles décider expérientalement ces grandes questions.

(Nouveau Monde amoureux, 140)

These enormous gastronomical debates are a fitting tribute to the gargantuan role which food and cooking play in the harmonian system, and they also serve to illustrate the sociopolitico-philosophical part played by la bonne chère in the construction of utopian societies.

The socialist writers examined in this essay, for whatever reasons they include meals in their works, point to a deficiency in the society which has provoked them to react. Any theoretical treatise in the utopian tradition implies a criticism of the present social structure, on the one hand, and a hope for future synthesis and harmony on the other. This attitude is not so much a return to the “Golden Age” as it is the intellectual projection of a new harmonious era, less mythical, perhaps, but more feasible in human terms. In this sense, their spirit of optimism is progressive and anthropomorphic. The enormous task of carving out a future lies in man's own hands; he must both create and assume responsibility for the future.

Theoretical social values have validity only when present conditions are shown to be wanting: all the theorists in this study make either an implicit or an explicit contrast between contemporary misery and the possibility for human happiness in the future. Since the most wretched conditions are apparent at the socio-economic level, that is, the division of society into the rich and the poor, the most formidable impetus to change is the blatant elaboration of these deficiencies, an attempt to increase the public's awareness of injustice by flaunting it. Recognizing that the major areas of concern were food and shelter, the theorists constructed idealized societies which would alleviate these problems.

The utopian ideal is particularly attractive to the humble because it projects the image of bounty and plenitude, especially as regards food. Frequently, the theorists use rhetoric which will appeal to the starving individual who feels that his country has betrayed him. They impel him, either directly or indirectly, to transform the extant structure, and they goad him into action by assuring him that their systems will enable him to “eat like a king.” The theorists' concern for food is understandable in light of the immediacy of the dilemma of starvation. Perhaps even more important than the reduction of social differentiation is the more ubiquitous problem of feeding the masses. The theorists' sympathy for the starving becomes manifest in their concern for developing efficient and viable systems for food production, distribution and consumption: all the theorists create social structures in which everyone participates.

Ultimately, the theorists envisage a society where all distinction ceases to exist. This radical reversal of structures is foreseeable only in socialist terms because socialism, coupled with Christianity, rests on a foundation of equality and brotherhood. It is the integrating, assimilating tendency of this philosophy which leads theorists like Fourier, for example, to call his society Harmonie. In spite of the economic implications (that is, equal access to all material goods of the society), the social goals are even more desirable because the theories depend on synthesis and equilibrium. In essence, the theorists rejected former modes of social interaction because the spheres of affiliation represented only partial contacts: groups existed at the expense of other groups, differentiation (manifested primarily in practices, attitudes and manners relating to food and the table) was rampant, assimilation was denied. In the utopian system, however, the sharing of material goods which have been produced by all permits the members of the society to solidify their bonds through mutual effort and unimpaired, unlimited socialization.


  1. See my Fictional Meals and Their Function in the French Novel, 1789-1848 (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1984). Subsequently cited in the text as Fictional Meals.

  2. David Owen Evans, Le Socialisme romantique: Pierre Leroux et ses contemporains (Paris: Librairie Marcel Rivière et Cie., 1948), pp. 26-27.

  3. David Owen Evans emphasizes Leroux's idea that the human race is evolving according to a rhythm of progress destined to achieve perfection, hence, the notion of a dynamic continuum.

  4. For a detailed analysis of the depiction of socialist and communal meals, see my chapters entitled, “The Meal as Symbol of Ethical Distance between the Classes: Gastro-Alimentary Antitheses in the Novels of George Sand”, and “An Alimentary Portrait of the Ghetto: The Meal as a Signal for Reform”, in Fictional Meals. D. O. Evans points out that Sand became Leroux's spokeswoman during the 1840s. Calling herself a Communist, she popularized other theorists' ideas, especially those of Louis Blanc and Etienne Cabet.

  5. Etienne Cabet, Voyage en Icarie (2nd edition) (Paris: J. Mallet et Cie., 1842), p. iii.

  6. For fictional communal meals, see the chapters in the reference to Fictional Meals. For actual communal meals, see Jules Prudhommeaux's study entitled, Icarie et son Fondateur: Etienne Cabet (Paris: F. Rieder et Cie., 1926). This study is particularly interesting because it points out the disparity between the idealistic theoretical meal structure as advocated in Voyage en Icarie and the harsh realities of food production and distribution in an experimental commune. The fictional Icarians, for example, enjoyed a great abundance of food because their socio-economic system was so effective, but the real Icarians, situated in a remote area of Texas, often had difficulty in supplying food for the table. Even the inviolable rule of Icarian gastronomical philosophy, that is, the sacred policies of equality and sharing, revealed inconsistencies when put into practice. Prudhommeaux's study shows that, in fact, gastronomical equality did not exist and that available food did not necessarily go to those who produced it, but rather to those who needed it. Paradoxically, the real Icarians were not always free to choose what they ate because their system—or their unsuitable geographical location—did not enable them to provide food in abundance.

  7. Maxime Leroy, Histoire des Idées sociales en France: de Babeuf à Toqueville, Vol. II (Paris: Librairie Gallimard, 1962), p. 259.

  8. Charles Fourier, Théorie des Quatre Mouvements, in Oeuvres Complètes de Charles Fourier, I (Paris: Editions Anthropos, 1967), p. 160.

  9. Charles Fourier, Le Nouveau Monde amoureux, in Oeuvres Complètes de Charles Fourier, VII (Paris: Editions Anthropos, 1967), p. 384.

  10. In all phases of the elaboration of his gastronomical system, Fourier, like many of the theorists, makes several allusions to contemporary French food practices in order to contrast them with those in Harmonie. These digressions are very informative but much too long to analyze in the body of this essay. Let it suffice to say that, in general, where Fourier describes the variety of foods in Harmonie, he usually makes an argument against the lack of variety in contemporary France.

  11. Charles Fourier, Théorie de l’Unité Universelle, in Oeuvres Complètes de Charles Fourier, IV (Paris: Editions Anthropos, 1966), p. 384.

  12. Fourier cites three gastronomical abuses of this sort in a footnote. The first claims that Parisian bakers do not cook their pâtisseries thoroughly in order that they retain their water, hence, they may be preserved and sold the next day. The second concerns the anglomania of tea drinking, a poor substitute for wine but quite capable of making the tea merchants wealthy. Finally, he cites the abominable vogue for vermicelli, an omnibus dish which has become popular because it also has the virtue of saving the cooks considerable time in preparation.

  13. Charles Fourier, Le Nouveau Monde Industriel et Sociétaire, in Oeuvres Complètes de Charles Fourier, VI (Paris: Editions Anthropos, 1966), p. 259.

  14. In a long digression on the role of the kitchen and the cook in contemporary France, Fourier denounces the practice of separating gourmandise or gastronomy from other alimentary functions and of making cooks into mercenaries.

  15. Charles Fourier, Manuscrits publiés par la phalange revue de la science sociale: 1851-1852, in Oeuvres Complètes de Charles Fourier, I, II (Paris: Editions Anthropos, 1967), p. 152.

  16. Fourier describes the requirements for achieving the eminent status of saint majeur, an honour which is conferred by the highest gastronomical council in Harmonie. See Le Nouveau Monde amoureux, p. 138.

  17. Later, socialists such as Enfantin repeat and extend Fourier's culte de la femme. Enfantin and several other social reformers founded a small community at Ménilmontant where they practised the distribution of jobs (that is, the abolition of domesticity). Like Fourier, they believed the ideal social “individual” ought to be a couple, a male and a female. For further information on the co-operative effort at Ménilmontant as exemplified at mealtime, see Sebastien Charlety's Histoire du Saint-Simonisme (Paris: Paul Hartmann, 1931).

Peter Augustine Lawler (essay date 1993-1994)

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Last Updated on February 6, 2016, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 8879

SOURCE: “Tocqueville on Socialism and History,” in Interpretation, Vol. 21, No. 2, Winter, 1993-1994, pp. 181-99.

[In the following essay, Lawler elucidates Alexis de Tocqueville's view of—and opposition to—socialism.]

My purpose here is to consider Tocqueville's understanding of socialism. It may well be the case that the authority of Tocqueville has never been stronger than it is today, while the authority of socialism is weaker now than it has been since the time of Tocqueville. As a political actor, Tocqueville opposed socialism. He also did so as a political theorist, but with an appreciation of its greatness and the theoretical strength of its challenge. He suggested, in fact, that the cause of human liberty would suffer in the absence of that challenge. In the name of Tocqueville, liberals ought to reflect upon the case for socialism more seriously than they characteristically do. It reveals how problematic and difficult the defense of human liberty is in our time.

From a theoretical perspective, Tocqueville's understanding of socialism reveals his most fundamental debt to Rousseau. Tocqueville's indebtedness to Rousseau has often been recognized, although mostly in terms of the similarity of their political solutions to the problems of democracy.1 This practical debt has often been overstated. Tocqueville, for example, emphatically did not reduce religion to civil religion. Nor did he attempt to reduce the particularity of modern individuality to the general will.2 But Tocqueville did understand the history of the West or of humanity in essentially the same way as Rousseau described it in his Discourse on Inequality. It is in light of that history's account of the movement away from natural order and goodness, toward human disorder and misery that Tocqueville accounted for socialist revolution.

Tocqueville's understanding of socialism, and especially the relationship between socialism and bourgeois liberalism, is found mostly in his Souvenirs. There he writes that socialism was the theory or “philosophy,” or “the most essential feature,” of the Revolution of 1848. He also says that “[i]t is no part of the plan of these Souvenirs to inquire into what gave” the revolution “this socialist character.” But then he asserts that socialist revolution “should not have surprised the world as much as it did,” and goes on to explain why.3

It turns out that explaining why the revolution occurred, to the surprise of almost everyone but Tocqueville, and why it was, necessarily, a socialist one, is essential to the Souvenirs. Tocqueville's purpose in writing them, he says, is to give himself a “solitary pleasure,” one that comes from “understanding and judging” human, particularly political, affairs. This pleasure comes partly from seeing a “true picture,” and partly from knowing that one's understanding and judging is truly superior (S, p.4). Tocqueville says that one purpose of his recollections is to show himself the superiority of his political science, of his “understanding and judging of human, particularly political, affairs” (S, p.4).


Tocqueville provides two pieces of evidence in the first chapter of the Souvenirs that he, alone, predicted the coming of revolution in the midst of bourgeois enervation and tranquility. He was able to do so, in part, because he had no interest in the perpetuation of that middle-class regime. He was contemptuous of its efforts to reduce public life to an “ingenious mechanism,” and “gently to drown revolutionary passion in the love of material pleasure” (S, pp. 11-12).

The bourgeois or middle-class regime was openly and selfishly exclusive. It was ruled by the “Haves,” those with property. Their purpose was to have more. The result was “a rapid growth in public wealth” created by a government that became indistinguishable from a “trading company.” The ruling class exploited government for its economic interest, ignoring the interest of both “the people,” or those with little or no property, and the aristocrats, who remained devoted to virtue and political life for their own sake. Political life and “political passion” virtually disappeared, because they had no outlet (S, pp.5, 12-14, 73).

Tocqueville's contempt, even hatred, for that regime came from his partisanship on behalf of greatness, a political or aristocratic perspective. He knew he needed political life to live well. So strong was this need that his contempt did not cause him to withdraw from the bourgeois political stage. But he could not take its “petty” distinctions or interests seriously enough to act well. He became doubtful and indecisive, and anxious and lacking in self-confidence. His mind was extremely disordered in the bourgeois world, and he says it pained him to remember it. His condition became miserable or hateful to himself. What moderated his doubtful anxiety, he says, was political passion, and no political issue was interesting or “great” enough to arouse his passion (S, pp.77-85).

Bourgeois life makes aristocrats or partisans of political “greatness” miserable. Their desires cannot be reduced to “the peaceful, regular movements of a machine.” Tocqueville's miserable aristocratic detachment allowed him to see that the contempt the aristocrats felt for bourgeois selfishness was also shared by the “people,” the industrial workers. His personal disorder allowed him to perceive that, despite the absence of “visible disorder,” “disorder had penetrated far into men's minds” (S, pp.11-13).

To some extent, the cause of this disorder was the exclusion of the people from property. Had they, like the rural peasants, been included among the “fraternity” of property owners, perhaps their minds or opinions and passions could have been much more readily regulated (S, pp.87, 95). The extremity of the bourgeois rulers' selfish exclusivity was stupid and self-destructive. But Tocqueville does not root the revolution simply in the people's poverty. He did not see them, as Marx did, as revolutionaries once they were reduced to nothing economically.


Tocqueville says the revolution was surprising because no one had noticed “that for a long time the people had been continually gaining ground and improving their condition, and that their importance, education, desires and power were all constantly growing.” They were “growing” in all those qualities which are distinctively human. Tocqueville also says that their prosperity increased, but not as quickly as their desires expanded (S, p.75).

As the people become more distinctively human, their minds become more “restless.” This mental restlessness mixes with and inevitably causes “ferment in their desires.” This mixture makes desire and mental restlessness interdependent (S, p.76). Restlessness expands desire, and the new desire arouses more restlessness. The desires of human beings expand more rapidly than their ability to satisfy them. The people become better off, objectively or quantitatively, but they experience themselves as more discontented or miserable.

This paradox that improvement in conditions produces discontent accounts for Tocqueville's most celebrated contribution to political science, the so-called revolution of rising expectation. He says in the Old Regime and the Revolution that “popular discontent” increases when conditions improve, and when conditions improve revolution is most likely. He acknowledges that “[t]his may seem illogical—but history is full of such paradoxes” (OR, p.176).


History is “illogical” because it is the record of human distinctiveness, of the human movement away from the natural standards of logic or impersonal consistency or regularity and contentment. It becomes, over time, more illogical, as the mind becomes more disordered and restless, and as human action becomes more extreme or “feverish” in response to growing discontent (cf. DA, p.536 with S, p.11). History is full of paradoxes because it is the record of what Tocqueville calls, in Democracy in America, the brute with the angel in him (DA, p.546). The human condition is the incoherent mixture of brutish and angelic qualities. History is the record of human beings becoming progressively more aware of and dissatisfied with this disordered or diseased condition. The condition itself, as a result of this growth in self-consciousness, becomes more disordered. Revolution, Tocqueville says, is caused by this “malady of men's minds” having become too extreme (S, p.35).

This understanding of human distinctiveness or history as an essentially “feverish” disorder is an old one. It is present in Plato's Republic, perhaps the first account of the mind or soul's growing disorder as it moves toward the chaotic individualism of democracy, a movement that produces the disorder of relativism, then apathy, and finally tyranny.4 It is also present in Rousseau's Discourse on Inequality, where human beings, over time, move away from natural order and toward their self-created disorder by making themselves progressively more human.5 History, for Rousseau, is the growth of self-consciousness, restlessness, and misery (Discourse, especially n. i).6 Tocqueville's account of the paradoxical history of the restless mind and its discontents is most fundamentally indebted to Rousseau.

The movement of the history of the West, for Tocqueville, is from instinct to calculation, sublime illusion to realistic selfishness, material poverty and weakness to prosperity and power, political oppression to liberty, and contentment to misery. It is from what human beings have been given by nature to what they have made for themselves. This movement is also from aristocracy to democracy through the mind's skeptical or doubtful destruction of the prideful beliefs that support human distinctiveness.

Human beings, over time, become more human or historical or self-conscious and less natural or subordinated to instinct or merely brutish desire. Passion leads the imagination to produce prideful belief to limit self-consciousness in the service of the natural desire for happiness or contentment. But, over time, the mind's restlessness frees itself from even most of that (DA, pp.482-87). Human existence, eventually, becomes unendurable, and human beings self-destruct. History is the emergence, growth, and self-destruction of humanity. Tocqueville thought he lived in a revolutionary or spectacularly self-destructive time, one in which extreme restlessness and madness were more common than ever before (cf. DA, pp.535, 538 with OR, p.157).


Tocqueville gives his most detailed and most clearly Rousseauean account of human progress in his “Memoir on Pauperism.” In feudal times, he begins, everyone was relatively content because no one, by contemporary standards, had comfort. The people, in their slavish condition, were particularly content:

Their means of subsistence was almost always assured; the interest of the master coincided with their own on this point. Limited in their desires as well as their powers, without anxiety about a present or future that was not theirs to choose, they enjoyed a kind of vegetative happiness. It is as difficult for civilized man to understand its charms as it is to deny its existence.6

The people's minds were not restless. They lacked anxiety about their futures. Their simple desires were easily satisfied, because they were not mixed with mental restlessness or anxiety. They were weak and oppressed, but they had no reason to mind. They lacked the qualities that Tocqueville associated with human liberty or greatness. They were, in his mind, almost literally vegetables.7 Their happiness or contentment was natural or subhuman. It goes without saying that had the people in feudal times been exposed to socialist doctrine they would not have been aroused.

“Each century,” Tocqueville goes on, “extends the range of thought” and “increases the desires and powers of man” (“Memoir,” p.7). As history or civilization progresses, human beings become more powerful and knowledgeable, more anxious and restless, and more miserable. They become, from a human perspective, more free. But their existence also becomes, because it is more free from natural order, more contingent or subject to chance.

“[C]ivilized man,” Tocqueville observes, is far from being satisfied by what is readily available, by “brute” or “natural” satisfactions alone. Hence he is “infinitely more exposed to the vicissitudes of destiny than savage man.” Because “[h]e has expanded the range of his needs,” he “leaves himself open to the hazards of fortune.” Tocqueville makes the Marxian observation that the more civilization progresses, the more common poverty or the perception of extreme deprivation becomes. He goes further and observes that the more human beings become powerful or conquer nature, the more they become subject to chance (“Memoir,” pp.7-10).

The “industrial class,” the people created by this “irresistible movement of civilization,” becomes especially subject to chance and to impoverishment. Both “the poor and the rich … conceive of new” or unprecedented “enjoyments,” which become “needs.” At a certain point, these human needs cannot be met by “cultivation of the soil” alone. To meet them, a growing portion of the agrarian population must be diverted to industry. Those men who “left the plow for the shuttle and hammer” and “moved from the thatched cottage to the factory … were obeying the immutable laws which govern the growth of organized society.”

They, properly speaking, “speculate on the secondary needs of human beings,” not on subsistence but comfort and luxury. The satisfaction and even existence of “secondary needs” depend upon society's prosperity or good fortune, but economic reversals do occur. The coming of such “unfortunate circumstances can lead the population to deny itself certain pleasures to which it would ordinarily be attracted.” Such circumstances, which are far beyond the industrial worker's control or comprehension, throw him not only out of work but toward “misery and death.” Displaced from the land, he cannot fall back upon it to meet his primary or subsistence needs (“Memoir,” pp.7-10).

The industrial workers' existence is particularly contingent or unsupported and so restless and anxious. Tocqueville attempts to ennoble their plight by comparing it, implicitly, to the restless daring of the American entrepreneur he describes in Democracy in America: “I consider the industrial class as having received from God the special and dangerous mission of securing the material well-being of others by its risks and dangers” (“Memoir,” p.9). But the entrepreneur, of course, chooses his risks, and he aims to distinguish himself through the wealth his risks might bring. The industrial worker must take his chances in the service of the enrichment of others, and he hardly finds them choiceworthy.


Tocqueville also suggests, however, that there is greatness in the worker's misery because it is distinctively human. It has made his mind extremely restless, opening it to socialist arousal. It has caused him to perceive, with growing clarity, the unadorned truth about the arbitrary or accidental existence of the brute with the angel in him. His circumstances have caused him to feel his contingency or isolated dependence on nothing but chance. His earthly misery, as well as his earthly hopes, increase as he ceases to view the world as governed by God's providence, or by the providence of aristocrats (S, pp.63, 75).

The popular view of socialist revolution, Tocqueville says in the Souvenirs, is as a “lottery” (S, p.136). The people, in their restlessness, see no reason why their condition might be radically altered, and, who knows, maybe radically improved. They seem to believe the socialist indictment of the injustice or arbitrariness of the present more than the socialist promise to control the future on their behalf. They want, above all, to be liberated from their restless misery, from their radical perception of their individuality. They embrace the radical social transformation promised by revolution not because, as Marx contends, they have been reduced to a subhuman condition, but because they are so human—or such a great distance from nature—that they experience almost nothing good about their existence. They affirm the socialist lottery in the hope that their lives will be something other than that which is determined by the outcome of lotteries. Socialist revolution is “a powerful effort of the workers to escape from the necessities of their condition” (S, p.137).

Tocqueville shows the unnatural or extremely human or late-historical character of the mental restlessness that produces socialist arousal by comparing his drunken porter, a particularly repulsive socialist braggart who threatened his life, with his exemplary servant Eugene, “assuredly no socialist either by theory or temperament.” Eugene seems at first, the finer human being by far. But his goodness, it becomes clear, comes from the fact that he is barely human at all. It is, in Rousseau's sense, natural goodness (S, p.157).

The blindly greedy and otherwise mentally disordered porter is full of the passion inflamed by mental restlessness. His discontent causes him, but not Eugene, to imagine replacing Tocqueville as master. If he is the worse being, it is because his mind and his desires are more human.

Eugene, Tocqueville says, is distinguished from other human beings of his class in his revolutionary time by his contentment. He is satisfied as a servant. He “generally desired nothing beyond his reach,” and he “was always pleased with himself.” He was free from anxiety about his future. His desires are simple because they are unmixed with much self-consciousness. His freedom, Tocqueville says, is “from that most usual sickness of our time, the restless mind.” This freedom, “a peaceful repose,” Tocqueville goes on, Eugene “enjoyed as a gift of nature.”

Eugene's freedom from discontentment is what people enjoyed in feudal times. History, or the progress of humanity and the restless mind, had passed him by. Eugene was, in many senses, remarkably unaffected by time. Even in a much earlier time, Tocqueville remarks, his lack of restlessness would have been considered extreme (S, p.157).

Tocqueville reports that he felt “a sense of repose” when he saw Eugene's face. But it was a momentary experience, one which did not transform his being. It did not cure his mental restlessness, and he did not spend much time with Eugene. He did not find Eugene, as he found socialist arousal, interesting and worthy of serious study. What Tocqueville recognizes is human liberty, or manifestations of the restless mind (S, pp.157, 76, 82).

Tocqueville's description of Eugene's natural gift is part of an uncommonly theoretical statement about human condition. He says that Eugene “unconsciously followed the precepts inculcated by philosophers, but seldom observed by them, and enjoyed as a gift of nature the happy balance between powers and wants that alone brings the happiness promised by the philosophers” (S, p.157). The philosophers say that human beings should consciously cultivate moderation. That moderation, the life according to nature, brings human happiness. It is the human antidote to the feverish misery of the restless mind.

But it seems to Tocqueville that the philosophers themselves do not enjoy the happiness they promise. They are rarely moderate, because they do not experience their powers and wants in “happy balance.” Philosophy or philosophic inculcations are not effective antidotes to the restless mind, and they do not lead to human happiness. What the philosophers hold can be achieved through conscious cultivation can only be achieved unconsciously, through natural gift.

In human beings, to the extent they are distinctively human, nature, for some reason, fails to give her gift. The result is that wants exceed powers by a progressively greater amount, and restlessness, primarily mental restlessness, increases. To be human is to experience the discontent of this imbalance or disorder, and hence to be immoderate. Tocqueville knew from personal experience that it is the human condition to wish “for peace of mind and moderation of desires,” but not to have them. He saw a kinship between his own and popular dissatisfaction in the bourgeois regime, and he saw them both as a more truthful reflection of the human condition than the doctrine of the philosophers.8

The more human or historical a human being becomes, the more the natural balance that produces the response of contentment is disturbed, and the less human beings enjoy. Revolution is caused by human beings who exist at too great a distance from Eugene's contentment. Their conclusion about their lives is the opposite of Eugene's about his. They hold that their present condition should be radically transformed.

The theoretical intention of socialism, as a product of and attractive to extremely restless minds, is to return humanity to Eugene's barely human condition, to create through history or revolution what he enjoys by nature. The purpose of the historical act of socialist revolution, in other words, is to bring history or humanity to an end, to return human beings to the natural goodness described by Rousseau. One reason Eugene is no socialist is that he already possesses what socialism promises.


Tocqueville defines socialism by its radical opposition to the right or privilege of property which has heretofore seemed to have been the foundation of social order. It is an attack by the restless mind on the one inegalitarian distinction that has, so far, been exempted from characteristically modern or late-historical acts of leveling, the restless destruction of order. Merely political leveling—the egalitarian perfection of the form of government—had, in fact, made the people more miserable and restless (S, pp.13-15, 75). Their desires had expanded more rapidly than their conditions had improved. Their existence, as Marx also explains in “On the Jewish Question,” seemed more whimsical and atomistic and miserably isolated than ever before. The coming of what Marx calls political “heaven”—the egalitarian or universal and homogeneous state—had made social existence more individualistic or hellish.9 Human misery had become more intense or distinctively human.

Such extreme experiences of one's unsupported individuality come because the revolution is incomplete. The social foundation of this miserable and arbitrary experience of individual distinctiveness must be eradicated. Socialism aims to make the revolution not merely political or limited but social or comprehensively human (S, p.75).

Socialism is based on the awareness that political change cannot produce the radical liberation to which the people's expanding desires point. Liberation from this discontent requires, it seems, the transformation of what Tocqueville calls “the unalterable laws that constitute society itself.” It requires, Tocqueville often says, what is obviously impossible. But at one point he muses that his view that these laws are unalterable is merely a prejudice in favor of existing order, one that cannot sustain itself against popular restlessness. His imagination is constrained by the fact that his mind is not simply restless (S, pp.66, 75-76, 98, 136-37).

Tocqueville's prejudice against socialism, he acknowledges, is aristocratic. He defends the right of property, not for bourgeois reasons, but as “ancient law” or “sacred right,” which, along with the family, is indispensable for the flourishing of civilization or human greatness or excellence. Property, for him, is an aristocratic remnant to be perpetuated to keep open aristocratic possibilities. But it is inevitable, he says, that the people would come to ask whether they do not have “the power and the right” to abolish property in the interest of their own “enjoyment.” The people, in a bourgeois regime, have been given no reason, no argument or incentive, for preserving anything aristocratic (S, pp.75, 105).

Socialist arousal occurs not only because the people feel their own existences to be accidental or arbitrary. The distinctions that constitute bourgeois society seem equally so. In the bourgeois regime, “the right to property is the last remnant of a destroyed aristocratic world.” It appears as “an isolated privilege in a leveled society” (S, pp.12-13). The right or privilege makes no sense alone, but only as part of a world that had been destroyed or leveled.

The right to property was easy to defend “[w]hen it was merely the basis of many other rights” (S, p.12). These rights, Tocqueville says elsewhere, were those based on the aristocratic claim that a particular class needs freedom from material concerns in order to be cultivated to rule for the common good and preserve the liberty of all (CN, p.206). But this aristocratic claim, which Tocqueville believes to have much merit, seems to have been discredited by egalitarian revolution. The bourgeois rulers believe it no more than their socialist challengers. Both agree that bourgeois rule aims simply to be for the benefit of “Haves,” or those with property.

The right to property, appearing in the bourgeois world unveiled as the only foundation of social order, is unprecedently indefensible as a right. The distinction between the Haves and the Have-nots, appearing as merely economic or quantitative, never seemed more arbitrary or unjust. This historical revelation of its arbitrariness, Tocqueville partly agrees with Marx, is partly in the service of the truth. Aristocrats have always, with some self-consciousness, veiled their selfishness with arguments and illusions.10 Tocqueville himself sees some truth in the arguments and some human benefit to the illusions. Nevertheless, he also acknowledges that they are now largely ineffective. Revolution, or the progress of the restless mind, has made them no longer generally persuasive or credible.

Tocqueville quotes himself saying in the assembly on the eve of revolution “that the real cause, the effective one, that makes men lose power is that they become unworthy to exercise it” (S, p.14). He, the aristocratic partisan of the integrity of political life, agrees with the people, and even socialist theorists, that the bourgeois rulers are unworthy to rule. He says that they ought to have cared for the common good, and moderated their own and popular greed through devotion to religion and country. He is particularly candid about the fact any ruling class must cultivate mores and opinions to perpetuate its power by curbing popular restlessness. The bourgeois rulers, he notes, not only could not see the beauty of virtue. They were also blind to its utility (S, p.6).

But the effectiveness of virtue requires that it not even be viewed by rulers as merely useful. Tocqueville affirms the central aristocratic opinion that one must really see virtue's beauty, and hence really be devoted to political liberty and the common good, to rule most effectively. The open moral and political skepticism of bourgeois rule, despite the resulting reliance on ingenious institutional or mechanical solutions, makes it inherently unstable. It makes the socialist challenge inevitable and at least somewhat legitimate (S, pp.7, 14, 41).

Tocqueville adds, however, that bourgeois skepticism is the result of democratic revolution, of the restless mind's reduction of order to illusion or arbitrary oppression. The bourgeois rulers' candid selfishness is a product of their enlightenment, of their intellectual liberation from illusion. Incoherently or restlessly, they regarded their reduction of human to mechanical motivation as a point of pride (S, pp.11, 62). It would seem that their postrevolutionary historical situation made their self-defense impossible.

Tocqueville's own candid conclusion in his Souvenirs was that, despite the partnership that was the foundation of his whole life's project, he could not foresee political life returning in his time, except momentarily. One of his memories was yet another failed attempt to institutionalize or constitutionalize it. The mind had simply become too restless to sustain ordered or political liberty. The history of his time, he acknowledged, is the history of revolution.


The socialist challenge is inevitable and radical. It means to be the culmination of the revolution, the reversal of the growth of human misery. It means to show what has not yet been shown, that history's movement away from nature and toward democratic equality is genuinely good for human beings. Its opposition to property is partly practical and partly theoretical. It aims to cure “that disease called work which has afflicted man since the beginning of existence.” It also seeks to eradicate mental restlessness by replacing political life, religion, and theoretical speculation with a simply true “social science” (S, pp.71, 74). The acknowledgement of that science's truth would bring the mind to rest.

Socialism connects the disorder of mental restlessness with that which produces work. It holds that they have the same material and hence historically transformable cause. The eradication of property would mean the end of work. This cure would extend, somehow, to mental restlessness. Socialist theorists may, characteristically, be unclear on whether work causes mental restlessness or mental restlessness causes work. But their interdependence in history Tocqueville himself, following Rousseau, sees.

History is opposed to nature, that which is governed to impersonal necessity. History is the work of human beings to overcome the contingency of their existence, which they, inexplicably, come to experience through their self-consciousness. By working, they increase their distance from nature and hence their dependence on chance. They become, and experience themselves as, progressively more contingent or accidental or disordered. The resulting restlessness causes them to work all the harder. They do so to meet the needs they have created through the mixture of brutish desire with anxious self-consciousness, but they end up also producing new needs, harder to satisfy. Human beings, the historical paradox goes, make themselves more miserably restless in response to their restless misery.

Socialism aims to eliminate the incoherence or disorder which produces this paradox. It works to bring both restlessness and work to an end. The mind uses imagination to discover socialism's possibility—against all human experience—in response to the perception that that experience has been no good. Socialism aims to replace anxiousness and misery with truth and contentment. Because everything human is to some extent disordered, its “social science” can only become wholly true if human distinctiveness or liberty disappears. The individual must lose his or her self-consciousness in the social whole. Tocqueville always identified socialism with extreme centralization, because it opposes, most radically, the “decentralizing” passion or willfulness that causes the individual to separate himself from the social whole.11

Science or comprehensive knowledge is only possible in a world without the brute with the angel in him. But that seemingly logical conclusion is really a particularly incoherent or restless or human one. Brutes, of course, cannot possess such knowledge. God, Tocqueville says, sees human beings in their particularity. He, in his wisdom, can comprehend each brute with the angel in him. Tocqueville, in affirming the superiority of and in pursuing divine wisdom, shows the inadequacy and hence the disordered pretentiousness of merely human or systematic rationalism.12


Tocqueville understands socialism as a systematic theory, as an attempt to give a comprehensive, deterministic account of human and social change. It is, in that respect, not radically different from but merely a radicalization of bourgeois theory, which also attempts to understand human existence systematically or mechanically. Both theories share a moral and political skepticism, a denial of the possibility or goodness of human liberty, which made them both hateful to Tocqueville (cf. S, pp.6-7, 62, with DA, 542-43). He said, in fact, that they were more certainly “pernicious” than untrue.13

Systematic theories give coherent or consistent accounts of existence, ones that achieve “mathematical exactness,” by “banish[ing] men” or the incoherence of mental restlessness (S, p.62). Such theorists vainly claim, in effect, to divinize themselves by brutalizing others (DA, p.543). They deny or attempt to destroy the existence of the brute with the angel in him. They claim to eradicate the uncertainty and incoherence that characterizes merely human existence, including human thought, through thought.

By banishing men, systematic theorists, in truth, banish themselves. They do so because they find their extreme mental restlessness, their intense awareness of the contingency of the human condition, hateful. They experience nothing good in being human. Systematic theory is, at bottom, willful self-denial or misanthropy, a product of human misery rather than devotion either to wisdom or human liberty. It is hateful from the perspective of Tocqueville's partisanship, which opposed systematic consistency on behalf of human liberty.


The misery of extreme mental restlessness, of a similar although distinct historical origin, motivates socialist theorists as much as the people who are aroused by their theory. These intellectuals ally with the people against the aristocrats and bourgeois or middle class, who come together in response to the socialist challenge in their attachment to existing order. The theorists use the doctrine of socialism, a product of their minds and imaginations, to appeal to the people's material desires and hopes. They use it, in fact, to expand their desires and hence their restlessness further by radicalizing and focusing their hopes. They hope that the people, so aroused, will be the “brute force” to make systematic theory true (S, p. 137).

Tocqueville connects the extreme restlessness of theorists with the origination of systematic theory most clearly in his uncompleted second volume on the revolution. There, he notes that the literary-political theorists of the eighteenth century had an “unnatural contempt for the time in which they lived and the society to which they belonged.” They were strangely deficient “in instinctual love, or almost involuntary respect usually felt by men in all countries for their own institutions, their traditional customs, or the wisdom and virtues of their fathers.” Because they were so uprooted from the natural and particular attachments ordinarily established by instinct and passion, they asserted that “reason” should “take the place of authority in all things.” Their detachment is evidence that they existed far from nature, that they were extremely human or late-historical beings (CN, pp.153, 157).

These partisans of reason were extremely aware that their present existence was not reasonable, but arbitrary and contingent. They hated the incoherence that characterizes the mixture of brute and angel which is human life. They, in their restless misery, imagined radical change” (CN, p.153-54).

Reason, they held, should rule without restraint or exception. In their pride, they did not see clearly that the simple rule of reason would be the end of humanity. But, with Rousseau, they could not but ask “whether the simplicity of savages was not worth more than all our riches and arts, whether their instincts are better than our virtues …” (CN, p.156). They could not help doubting even the goodness of their pride in their intellectual liberty, which freed them from the blindness of instinct. Their misery, mixed with their desire for consistency, made them doubt the goodness or reality of everything distinctively human.

Tocqueville accounts for the restless misery of the eighteenth-century French theorists more particularly in The Old Regime, as the product of their detachment from the pleasures and responsibility of political life. In that century, he observes, French men of letters were not in political life, as they were in England. Nor did they “turn their backs on politics” and enter a “separate world” of “pure philosophy,” as they did in Germany. The French writers were not in politics, but they were interested in political reform (OR, p.158).

The English writers, like Tocqueville, found satisfaction or pleasure in political responsibility. They were still, decisively, aristocrats. They wrote like “statesmen” on behalf of human liberty. If anything, their political involvement made them too unappreciative of the partial truth of general or systematic theory, as Tocqueville believed Burke was (OR, pp.2, 153).14 Their minds were, from a theoretical perspective, not detached or restless enough to perceive the truth. The German writers, in effect, attempted to divert themselves from their knowledge of the limitations of the political world by trying to live somewhere else. The French writers neither affirmed through involvement nor were able to divert themselves from the political world. They wrote to criticize and perfect it imaginatively.

These proponents of an “abstract, literary politics” thought they had the time and distance from practical affairs to reflect radically about the nature, or, better, the unnaturalness of political life. From their cosmopolitan or universal perspective, they criticized all patriotism and particularism (CN, p.165). But their criticism, in truth, was a reflection of the unnaturalness of their detachment. For Tocqueville, any view from a distance is bound to be a distortion.

These writers, and the aristocratic audience they formed according to their tastes and opinions, had privileges but not political power. They had all that was required to exercise intellectual liberty, but not political liberty. Their detachment made them miserably anxious, bored, and restless. They experienced what Tocqueville did as an uprooted aristocrat in the political bourgeois regime which denied him a weighty role. Their theorizing, which produced an indiscriminate passion for rationalistic or systematic innovation, was, whether they understood it or not, a reflection of their restless misery.

They concluded that political or human life, because it is somewhat incoherent, is absurd. Tocqueville concludes that their situation, as disempowered but still privileged aristocrats, was absurd. Privilege without responsibility is indefensible, which is why Tocqueville holds that human liberty depends on political liberty.15 The eighteenth-century theorists, with their aristocratic taste for immaterial principle and their contempt for merely material advantages, were less blind than were the bourgeois rulers of 1848 about the indefensibility of their privileges. But both they and the bourgeois rulers agreed that there was no moral or political justification for their situation.

From Tocqueville's perspective, the theorists' misery was caused by their exclusion from political life. Reflection on its basis should not produce the conclusion that, because political life is somewhat restless or disordered, it ought to be abolished. Political involvement, although itself a product of human restlessness, moderates or makes endurable that restlessness. It caused Tocqueville, despite his propensity for theoretical detachment and doubtful anxiety, to avoid misanthropy.

But the theorists' rationalistic imagination always pointed to the abolition of political life. Tocqueville says that the most practical of the eighteenth-century partisans of reason, the “Physiocrats” or “Economists,” actually considered in some detail how the world was to be reformed. They anticipated many and perhaps eventually all the results of revolution, and they were the true originators of socialist theory. They hated, Tocqueville said, “any kind of diversity whatsoever.” They carried their partisanship on behalf of consistency or uniformity to “fanatical lengths.” They were extremely restless or disordered opponents of restlessness or disorder. They aimed at “absolute equality, State control of all activities of individuals, despotic legislation, and the total submerging of each citizen's individuality into the group mind” (OR, pp.158-59).

All human particularity or individuality is to be subjected to the rule of reason. All individual activity that would offend the mind is to be eliminated. The intellect is to conquer merely human reality, to eradicate everything it regards as unjust. It opposes, as Tocqueville says, the “human condition,” the paradoxical mixture of brute and angel. Socialism is the “confiscation of human freedom” by “schoolmaster” or theoretical or social scientific leadership.16


The effectiveness of socialism depends upon the convergence of the interests of the theorists and workers. Both intensely experience and want liberation from the restless mind, from the human condition experienced as radical contingency and nothing more. Theorists seek rational control. Workers want security and contentment. The convergence only comes if human beings are content and can live according to reason, or with the unconscious moderation of Eugene. Contentment is natural and subhuman. Discontent is distinctively human or historical, and it grows over time.

Human beings, the theorists conclude, must overcome or surrender their humanity in the service of reason and contentment. Distinctively human existence is a miserable accident, and it produces absurd behavior. Socialism, rooted in this conclusion, means to bring the egalitarian revolution to its projected or rational conclusion. Tocqueville, understanding the theoretical force and misanthropy of this conclusion, became an opponent of reason and contentment, and a partisan of the willful affirmation of human liberty in spite of its misery, to the extent necessary to perpetuate human liberty.

Tocqueville acknowledges that he did not know whether socialism would triumph. That uncertainty gave nobility to his political writing and action. He did not consider himself a reactionary, defending a cause that history had definitely made futile or obsolete, although he was well aware that it might have done so.

His opposition to socialism also did not make him a Machiavellian, preferring what succeeds to imaginary utopias that certainly cannot.17 He could see the strength of the socialist challenge. The bourgeois regime had aimed to eradicate restless misery, but, in fact, had intensified it. If history or the growth of the intensity and commonness of the experience of extreme mental restlessness has made political life impossible, then perhaps socialism will eventually succeed on the basis of indefensibility of merely bourgeois distinctions.

In the last several years, the socialist challenge has come to seem, perhaps for the first time since 1848, no longer credible. The demise of socialism, rather than its triumph, now seems to some to be the end of history.18 But history, arguably, has not come to an end. The restless mind is still particularly restless, and religion, philosophic speculation, and even political life have not been completely replaced by a simply true social science. If history is to have an end, perhaps it still makes sense to say it would be socialism, or the return to existence without property or individuality, to something close to the natural goodness of the Rousseauean state of nature.19 The socialist criticism of bourgeois life still has great weight, and perhaps socialism still has a future.

The disappearance of socialism Tocqueville would not regard as an unmixed blessing. He understood why so many, who have been and are particularly self-conscious and passionate in bourgeois regimes, have lost themselves in the socialist imagination. They believe, mistakenly, that devotion to the coming of socialism is the only credible or egalitarian passion left in the world, and hence the only way of escaping from the apolitical anxiety of bourgeois life. But Tocqueville held they were mistaken only because he remained devoted to the integrity of political life, which seems to return to the world in our time, as it did in his, only in extraordinary moments. Tocqueville's devotion remains as problematic to our restless minds as it did to his.20

Some contemporary socialists have turned to Tocqueville's antibourgeois analysis for inspiration or at least vindication. William Sullivan, for one, sees Tocqueville's anti-individualism as informed by “Rousseau's pessimistic conclusion that modern civil society was incompatible with civic virtue.” Tocqueville is best understood as giving “a new version of the republican argument for the intrinsic good of active citizenship.” Only cultivation of such citizenship, or “positive freedom,” can provide effective resistance to the “atomized despotism” that is the product of a “negative” or antipolitical understanding of liberty.21

But, despite his anti-individualism and his affirmation of “positive liberty” against bourgeois liberalism, Sullivan recognizes that Tocqueville was no socialist. Unlike Marx, “he did not seek, and does seem to have imagined under modern circumstances, a social organization of production based upon an ethic of participation and responsibility that would substantially replace the market” (Sullivan, p.7). He did not share the socialist vision of “citizenly fellowship” rooted in egalitarian “moral culture” (Sullivan, pp.220-25). Because his vision was limited by an antisocialist, liberal prejudice, Tocqueville did not see that socialism, properly understood, would be the perfection, not the eradication, of moral and political life.

Sullivan tends to see socialism as producing the comprehensive politicization of society. Tocqueville saw it as, necessarily, producing the end of political life, a world where human beings would be without political passion or passionate concern for their particular existences, where they would no longer desire to rule over themselves or others. It would be a world full of Eugenes, but without Eugene's dignity, because there would be no masters like Tocqueville.

Tocqueville's view of socialism seems to be closer to the spirit of Marx's than Sullivan's. Marx, in his description of communism or the end of history, says nothing about the fellowship of citizens. He writes of the spontaneous, passionless satisfaction of personal whims, a weightless, amoral existence.22 The fulfillment of the dream of socialism is not the overcoming of selfishness by civic virtue, but a world in which virtue or self-restraint has become unnecessary or obsolete. It would be possible only with the disappearance of most distinctively human experience or liberty.

Tocqueville and Marx oppose Sullivan, finally, by viewing socialism not as the overcoming but the radicalization of bourgeois materialism. It completes the egalitarian revolution against human order, which is revealed as, most radically, disorder. Socialism restores society to order by purging the angel from the brute.

Marx and Tocqueville share a hatred of the bourgeois world. Marx identified the bourgeois with human self-consciousness, which Tocqueville did not. Tocqueville held that its miserable anxiety can be genuinely moderated by the pleasures and responsibility of political life, of ruling oneself and others. Sullivan, in his “civic republicanism,” seems to agree with Tocqueville about political life as an antidote to individualism, but he holds that Tocqueville's affirmation of it is inegalitarian and hence reactionary. Political movement can only be toward a more comprehensive egalitarianism. Sullivan's restless anxiety, from Tocqueville's perspective, produces a paradoxical devotion to political movements to bring political life to an end.

Tocqueville could not but recognize that this paradoxical devotion was evidence not only of the misanthropy but the greatness of socialism. It was the product of distinctively human passion, a human response to extremely restless anxiety. It was, he says, the foundation of a “great party” (S, p.12). Socialism, he agrees with Sullivan, is a political movement, even if it is one that aims to bring political life to an end. It was the cause of the return of political life, if only for a moment, in 1848. The challenge inspirited the bourgeois regime, bringing aristocrats back to the political stage and even causing the bourgeois rulers to experience a nobler conception of liberty.

Socialism, more particularly, brought Tocqueville near the center of the political stage. It aroused his political passion, and hence suppressed his doubtful anxiety. It gave him a weighty political role. The resulting self-confidence—or consciousness of his greatness—gave him distinctly human pleasure and moderated his personal anxiety (S, pp.3-5, 231-32). The fact that the political life brought into existence by the revolution turned out to be an effective antidote to the apolitical anxiety of doubtful isolation is a crucial argument against socialism, against the intentions of revolutionaries who fight to make subsequent revolution and political life impossible. But, in this respect, bourgeois intentions are no different. When in power, bourgeois rulers also aim to create systematic or apolitical order. Their failure, as much as or more than the failure of socialism, made Tocqueville happy.

Tocqueville spent most of his political career in a futile and misery-producing attempt to elevate or politicize the bourgeois world. The Souvenirs makes clear that he would have been miserable in the America he described in Democracy, although it was, in many respects, an idealization or ennobling of democratic reality. It was not his own political efforts, but the challenge of socialism, that rescued him from his miserable condition (S, pp.84-85).

Tocqueville agrees with Nietzsche that the challenge of socialism, by politicizing bourgeois life against its inclinations, fends off the end of history, the coming of gentle, peaceful despotism.23 The response to that challenge certainly is the noblest product of the West in recent decades. The “new world order” that may emerge in the absence of socialism—full of indistinguishable liberal or bourgeois democracies and based on the complete replacement of political with economic life—may be, Tocqueville would have feared, in the crucial or human respects almost indistinguishable from socialism.24 But we can hope that the human mind will remain disordered enough to make world order impossible, that human beings will continue to live with their restless misery and resist nature's standards of reason and contentment.


  1. The most comprehensive attempt to view Tocqueville in light of Rousseau is John Koritansky, Alexis de Tocqueville and the New Science of Politics (Durham, NC: Carolina Academic Press, 1987). Another very sweeping and instructive attempt is Wilhelm Hennis, “Tocqueville's Perspective,” Interpretation 16 (1988): 61-86. Also see Allan Bloom, Giants and Dwarfs (New York: Simon and Schuster, 1990), pp. 202-3, 231-32, 312-13. Roger Boesche makes some suggestive comments about the distinctively antibourgeois character of Tocqueville's liberalism in The Strange Liberalism of Alexis de Tocqueville (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1987).

  2. Koritansky's analysis, which reduces Tocqueville's political and religious teaching to that of the Social Contract, does not even attempt to do justice to Tocqueville's analysis of religion as a support to individual greatness (Democracy in America, trans. G. Lawrence, ed. J. P. Mayer [New York: Doubleday, 1969], pp. 542-45).

    Lamberti distinguishes well between Rousseau and Tocqueville: “Rousseau … sacrificed the individual to the citizen. Better than anyone else, Tocqueville posed the central problem of modern philosophy: how to respect the individual while preserving the citizen” (Tocqueville and the Two Democracies, trans. A. Goldhammer [Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1989], p. 188).

  3. Alexis de Tocqueville, Recollections: The French Revolution of 1848, ed. J. P. Mayer, trans. G. Lawrence (New Brunswick, NJ: Transaction Books, 1987), p. 75. This source (Tocqueville's Souvenirs) is hereafter referred to as S. Tocqueville's other books are referred to as follows: Democracy in America is DA. The Old Regime and the French Revolution, trans. S. Gilbert (New York: Anchor Books, 1955) is OR. “Chapters and Notes for His Unifinished Book on the French Revolution,” The Two Tocquevilles, ed. and trans. R. R. Palmer (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1987), is CN.

  4. See Hennis, p. 83: “Tocqueville is … a political scientist in the tradition of Plato and Rousseau—a moral historian, or, if you will, an analyst of the order and disorder of the human soul in the age of democracy.”

  5. Rousseau's theoretical intentions are, of course, revealed in the quotation from Aristotle on his title page (Jean-Jacques Rousseau, Discourse on the Origin and Foundation of Inequality Among Men, The First and Second Discourses, ed. R. Masters, trans. R. and J. Masters [New York: St. Martin's Press, 1964]), p. 77. The quotation, given in Latin, is translated by Masters as follows: “Not in corrupt things, but in those well ordered in accordance with nature, should one consider what is natural.” For Rousseau, contrary to Aristotle, what is natural is what exists prior to history. Nature gives order; human beings make themselves human and hence disordered. From nature's perspective, to be human is to be disordered or diseased.

    Tocqueville's debt to Rousseau is also to Pascal, because Rousseau's history depends on Pascal's psychology. For Tocqueville's debt to Pascal, see my The Restless Mind: Alexis de Tocqueville on the Origin and Perpetration of Human Liberty (Lanhan, MD: Rowman and Littlefield, 1993). This article contains much of chapter 1 of that book.

  6. Alexis de Tocqueville, “Memoir on Pauperism,” Tocqueville and Beaumont on Social Reform, ed. S. Drescher (New York: Harper and Row, 1968), p. 6.

  7. Alexis de Tocqueville, Letter to Louis de Kergorlay (21 September 1834), Selected Letters on Politics and Society, ed. R. Boesche, trans. J. Toupin and R. Boesche (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1987), p. 93.

  8. Tocqueville, Letter to Edouard de Tocqueville (2 November 1840), in Selected Letters, p. 143.

  9. Karl Marx, “On the Jewish Question,” The Marx-Engels Reader, ed. R. Tucker (New York: Norton, 1972), pp. 24-25.

  10. Compare S, p. 75, with Tocqueville, DA, p. 525, on “the official doctrine of morality” at the time “[w]hen the world was under the control of a few rich and powerful men.”

  11. See Tocqueville, “Speech on the Right to Work,” Tocqueville and Beaumont on Social Reform, pp. 199-200. See also Tocqueville, Letter to Nassau William Senior (10 April 1848), Selected Letters, p. 206.

  12. On divine wisdom, see DA, p. 437, where it is described to show the merely human weakness of “general ideas” or systematic thinking.

  13. See DA, p. 543, and letter to Arthur de Gobineau (20 December 1843) in John Lukacs, ed., The European Revolution and Correspondence with Gobineau (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1959), p. 227.

  14. On Tocqueville's criticism of Burke as part of the theoretical foundation of his political science, see James Ceaser, Liberal Democracy and Political Science (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1990), pp. 153-54.

  15. See Delba Winthrop, “Tocqueville's Old Regime: Political History,” Review of Politics 43 (1981): 88-111.

  16. Tocqueville, “Speech on the Right to Work,” pp. 183, 199-200. For an analysis of Tocqueville's defense of liberty that centers on this speech, see Daniel Mahoney, “Tocqueville and Socialism,” Tocqueville's Defense of Human Liberty.

  17. For Tocqueville's criticism of the superficiality and human unworthiness of Machiavellianism, see my “Tocqueville on Metaphysics and Human Liberty,” Teaching Political Science 14 (1987): 92.

  18. Consider the controversy fueled by the instantly famous essay by Francis Fukuyama, “The End of History?” The National Interest, No. 16 (Summer 1989), pp. 3-18. Fukuyama says that bourgeois liberalism is the end of history. All preliberal alternatives—political and religious—have been discredited by history. Socialism, understood as a radicalization of liberalism, was tried and failed. That Fukuyama's essay has a Nietzschean ending suggests that he is neither a Hegelian sage nor a brute. This essay, in any case, made him a great bourgeois success story. His book-length version, The End of History and the Last Man (New York: The Free Press, 1992), has already made him a millionaire.

  19. That is what is really suggested by Fukuyama's mentor, Alexandre Kojève, Introduction to Reading of Hegel, trans. J. Nichols, ed. A. Bloom (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1969), pp. 159-62, “Note to the Second Edition.”

  20. L. E. Shiner goes so far as to suggest that Tocqueville's defense of the greatness of political life in the Souvenirs is a failure. Despite his intentions, he shows that it is nothing but inanity and insanity. His devotion to the truth overwhelms his devotion to human liberty or greatness (The Secret Mirror: Literary Form and History in Tocqueville's “Recollections” [Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1988]).

  21. William Sullivan, Reconstructing Public Philosophy (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1982), pp. 203-6. Sullivan is one of the authors of Robert Bellah et al.'s best-selling Habits of the Heart (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1985). His book shows better than Habits how Bellah's project for reform is rooted in and is a criticism of Tocqueville.

  22. See Marx, The German Ideology in The Marx-Engels Reader p. 124.

  23. See Roger Boesche, “Hedonism and Nihilism: the Predictions of Tocqueville and Nietzsche.” The Tocqueville Review 8 (1986/7): 178. Boesche quotes The Will to Power: “Socialism will be able to be something useful and therapeutic: it delays ‘peace on earth’ and total mollification of the democratic herd animal; it forces the European to retain spirit” (p. 125).

  24. Fukuyama claims to describe definitively the emergence of this order in his book.

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Criticism: Origins


Criticism: Anglo-American Socialism