Charles Fourier (1772-1837)
Source: The Utopian Vision of Charles Fourier. Selected Texts on Work, Love, and Passionate Attraction. Translated, Edited and with an Introduction by Jonathan Beecher and Richard Bienvenu. Published by Jonathan Cape, 1972;
First Published: 1808 in Théorie des quatre mouvements et des destinées génerales;
Transcribed: by Andy Blunden.
I was thinking of nothing less than of research concerning the Destinies; I shared the widespread view which considers them to be impenetrable and which relegates any calculation about the destinies to a place among the visions of the astrologers and the magicians. The studies which led me up to the discovery centred simply around the industrial and political problems that I am now going to discuss.
After the philosophers had demonstrated their incapacity in their experimental venture, in the French Revolution, everyone agreed in regarding their science as an aberration of the human mind; their floods of political and moral enlightenment seemed to be nothing more than floods of illusions. Well! what else can be found in the writings of these savants who, after having perfected their theories for twenty-five centuries, after having accumulated all the wisdom of the ancients and moderns, begin by engendering calamities as numerous as the benefits which they promised, and help push civilised society back toward the state of barbarism? Such was the consequence of the first five years during which the philosophical theories were inflicted on France.
After the catastrophe of 1793, illusions were dissipated, the political and moral sciences were irretrievably blighted and discredited. From that point on people should have understood that there was no happiness to be found in acquired learning, that social welfare had to be sought in some new science, and that new paths had to be opened to political genius. It was evident that neither the philosophers nor their rivals possessed a remedy for the social distresses, and that their dogmas only served to perpetuate the most disgraceful calamities, among others poverty.
Such was the first consideration which led me to suspect the existence of a still-unknown Social Science and which provoked me to try to discover it. Far from taking fright at my lack of knowledge, I thought only about the honour of laying hold of what the savants had been unable to discover for twenty-five centuries.
I was encouraged by numerous symptoms of the aberration of reason and particularly by the spectacle of the calamities afflicting social industry: poverty, unemployment, the success of rascality, acts of maritime piracy, commercial monopoly, the abduction of slaves, finally other misfortunes too numerous to mention and which give one cause to ask whether civilised industry is not a calamity invented by God in order to punish the human race.
All this led me to suppose that some reversal of the natural order had taken place within industry; that it was perhaps functioning in a manner contrary to the designs of God; that the tenacity of so many scourges could be attributed to the absence of some arrangement willed by God and unknown to our savants. Finally I thought that if the human societies are suffering, as Montesquieu put it, “from a lingering disease, an inner vice, a secret and hidden venom,” one might find the remedy by avoiding the paths followed for so many centuries and with such bad luck by our uncertain sciences. Thus I adopted as my rules of research the principles of absolute doubt and absolute deviation. These two methods must be defined, since before me no one had ever made use of them.
1st. absolute doubt. Descartes had an inkling; but while praising and recommending doubt, he used it in a limited and inappropriate way. He raised ridiculous doubts; he doubted his own existence and spent more time distilling the sophisms of the ancients than looking for useful truths.
Descartes’ successors made even less use of doubt than he. They applied the method only to things which displeased them; for instance, they raised questions about the necessity of religions because they were the antagonists of the priests. But they were very careful not to raise questions about the necessity of the political and moral sciences which were their means of subsistence, and which are today recognised as very useless under strong governments and as very dangerous under weak governments.
Since I had no relations with any scientific party, I resolved to apply the method of doubt to the opinions of all the parties without prejudice, and to suspect even those dispositions which had won universal assent. Such is civilisation, which is the idol of all the philosophical parties and to which they attribute the ultimate of perfection. However, what is more imperfect than this civilisation which drags all calamities in its wake? What is more questionable than its necessity and its future permanence? Isn’t it probable that it is only a stage in the life of society? If it has been preceded by three other societies, Savagery, Patriarchate and Barbarism, does it follow that it will be the last because it is the fourth? Could not others still be born, and won’t we see a fifth, a sixth, a seventh social order which will perhaps be less disastrous than civilisation, and which have remained unknown because we have never attempted to discover them? Thus the method of Doubt must be applied to civilisation; we must doubt its necessity, its excellence and its permanence. These are problems which the philosophers don’t dare to face, because in suspecting civilisation, they would call attention to the nullity of their own theories, which are all linked to civilisation, and which will all collapse with it as soon as a better social order is found to replace it.
Thus the philosophers have limited themselves to a Partial Doubt because they have books and corporate prejudices to uphold; and fearing to compromise the books and the coterie, they have always equivocated on the important questions. But I who had no party to defend could adopt the method of Absolute Doubt and apply it first of all to civilisation and to its most deeply rooted prejudices.
2nd. absolute deviation. I had presumed that the surest means of making useful discoveries was to deviate in every way from the paths followed by the uncertain sciences, which had never made the slightest discovery useful to society, and which, in spite of the immense progress of industry, had not even succeeded in warding off poverty. Thus I made it my business to remain in constant opposition to these sciences. Taking into consideration the multitude of their writers, I presumed that any subject which they had treated ought to be completely exhausted, and I resolved to apply myself only to problems which none of them had treated.
Accordingly, I avoided any inquiry into matters concerning the interests of the throne and altar, about which the philosophers have busied themselves ceaselessly ever since the origin of their science. They have always sought social welfare in administrative or religious innovations. I applied myself, on the contrary, to seeking the good only in operations which would have nothing to do either with administration or with the priesthood, which would rely only on industrial or domestic measures, and which would be compatible with all governments without requiring their intervention.
In following these two guides, Absolute Doubt concerning all prejudices, and Absolute Deviation from all known theories, I was sure to discover some new field of speculation, if any remained; but I scarcely expected to grasp the calculus of the Destinies. Far from aiming so high, I devoted myself at first only to very ordinary problems such as Agricultural Association... . When I began to speculate on this matter, I would myself never have presumed that such a modest calculation could lead to the theory of the Destinies. But since it has become the key to the theory, it is indispensable for me to speak about it at some length. ...
More than once people have supposed that incalculable savings and ameliorations would result if one could bring together the inhabitants of a village in an industrial society, if one could associate two or three hundred families of unequal wealth according to their capital and their work. At first the idea seems completely impractical because of the obstacle that would be presented by the human passions. The obstacle seems particularly great because the passions cannot be overcome by gradual degrees. It is scarcely possible to create an agricultural association of twenty, thirty, forty or fifty individuals. But at least eight hundred are necessary to establish a natural or attractive association. I mean by these words a society whose members would be inspired to work by rivalry, self-esteem and other stimuli compatible with self-interest. In the order to which I refer we will become passionately enthusiastic about agricultural work which is so irksome today that we only do it out of necessity and the fear of dying of hunger.
I will not discuss the stages of my research concerning the problem of natural association. It is a system so foreign to our ways that I am in no hurry to describe it in detail. It would seem ridiculous if I did not first provide the reader with a glimpse of the immense advantages which it will yield.
An agricultural association of roughly a thousand people offers such immense advantages that it is difficult to explain the fact that our modern philosophers have shown no interest in the idea. There is a group of savants, the economists, who are supposed to be particularly interested in industrial ameliorations. Their failure to search for a method of association is all the more inconceivable in that they have themselves indicated several of the advantages which will result from association. For instance, they have recognised, as anyone else could have done, that three hundred families of associated villagers could have just a single well-kept granary instead of three hundred run-down granaries, a single wine-vat instead of three hundred poorly maintained vats. In many cases, and especially in summer, these villagers could have just three or four large ovens instead of three hundred. They could send a single dairymaid to town with a wagon bearing a cask of milk and thus save a hundred other dairymaids the time and trouble it takes to carry their pitchers into town. These are just a few of the savings that diverse observers have recognised; and yet they have not indicated one-twentieth of the advantages which will result from agricultural association... .
Disputatious people are sure to raise objections. “How can you form an association out of families when one may have 100,000 livres and another may be penniless? How can you reconcile so many conflicting interests and desires? How can you absorb all their jealousies in such a way as to serve everyone’s interest?” My reply to all this is: by the enticement of wealth and pleasure. The strongest passion of both peasants and city people is the love of profit. When they see that a societary community yields a profit three times that of a community of incoherent families and provides all its members with the most varied pleasures, they will forget all their rivalries and hasten to form an association. The system will be adopted everywhere without the application of any form of constraint, for people everywhere are passionately devoted to wealth and pleasure.
To summarise, this theory of agricultural association, which is going to change the condition of the human race, appeals to the passions which are common to all men; it seduces them with the enticements of profit and sensual pleasure. That is why it is sure to succeed among the savages and barbarians as well as the civilised, for the passions are the same everywhere.
There is no urgency about making known this new system to which I will give the name progressive series, or series of groups, passionate series. By these words I mean to designate an assemblage of several associated groups whose members are devoted to different branches of a single industry or a single passion... . The theory of passionate series or progressive series has not been conceived arbitrarily like our social theories. The ordonnance of these series is entirely analogous to that of a geometrical series. Both have the same properties such as the balance of rivalry between the extreme groups and the intermediate groups of the series... .
People have regarded the passions as enemies of concord and have written thousands of volumes against them. These volumes are going to fall into nothingness. For the passions tend only to concord, to that social unity which we have thought was so alien to them. But the passions can only be harmonised if they are allowed to develop in an orderly fashion within the progressive series or series of groups. Outside of this mechanism the passions are only unchained tigers, incomprehensible enigmas. For this reason the philosophers have claimed that they must be repressed. Their opinion is doubly absurd since the passions cannot be repressed and since, if they could, civilisation would rapidly disappear and man would rapidly fall back into a nomadic state in which the passions would be even more harmful than they are now. I have no more faith in the virtues of the shepherds than in those of their apologists.
The societary order which is going to replace the incoherence of civilisation has no place for moderation or equality or any of the other philosophical notions. It requires ardent and refined passions. As soon as an association is formed, the passions will harmonise with greater ease if they are more intense and more numerous.
This is not to say that the new order will change the passions. Neither God nor man is capable of changing them; but it is possible to change their direction without changing their nature... . Thus if I maintain that in the societary order men will acquire tastes which are different from those which they have at present, that they will prefer to live in the country rather than the city, one should not believe that in acquiring new tastes they will acquire new passions. They will still be guided by the love of wealth and pleasure.
I insist on this point to meet an objection which has been raised by certain obtuse individuals. When they hear me talk about the new tastes and customs which will emerge in the societary order, they immediately exclaim: “So you want to change the passions!” Certainly not. But what I do want to do is to provide them with new means of expression, to assure them three or four times the development which they have in the incoherent order in which we live. This is why we will see civilised people acquire an aversion for habits which please them today, such as family life. In the family system children spend all their time crying, quarrelling, breaking things and refusing to work. But when these same children have joined the progressive series or series of groups, they will become industrious; they will try to emulate each other’s accomplishments without any outside encouragement; they will enthusiastically try to inform themselves about agriculture, manufacturing, science and art.’ they will perform useful tasks while they think they are amusing themselves. When fathers witness this new order o f things, they will find their children adorable in the series and detestable in the incoherent household. Then they will observe that in the residence of a phalanx (this is the name I give to the association which farms a rural area) people are served marvellous food... . Finally they will discover that in the activities and relations of the series there is never any cheating, and that people who are so dishonest and crude in civilisation will become paragons of honesty and refinement in the series. When they have seen all this they will acquire an aversion for the household, the cities and the civilisation of which they are now so fond. They will want to associate themselves in the series of a Phalanx and live in its edifice. Will they have changed their passions in becoming disdainful of the customs and tastes which please them today? No, their passions will have changed their means of expression without having changed their nature or their ultimate goal.
Thus one should beware of supposing that the system of the progressive series, which will be entirely different from that of civilisation, will bring about the slightest change in the passions. The passions have been and will remain immutable. They will produce conflict and poverty outside of the progressive series and harmony and opulence in the societary state which is our destiny. The establishment of the societary order in a single community will be spontaneously imitated everywhere thanks to the immense profits and innumerable pleasures which that order will assure to all individuals, however poor or wealthy they may be.
I shall turn now to the results of this discovery from a scientific standpoint... . As to the new sciences which it has revealed, I shall confine myself to indicating the two most important ones. Since these matters will not interest most of my readers, I shall try to be as brief as possible.
The first science which I discovered was the theory of passionate attraction. When I recognised that the progressive series assure full development to the passions of both men and women, of the young and the old, and of people in every social class, when I discovered that in this new order a great number of passions will be a guarantee of strength and wealth, I surmised that if God had given so much influence to passionate attraction and so little to its enemy, reason, His purpose was to guide us to the system of progressive series which is completely consistent with attraction. Then I supposed that attraction, which is so much maligned by the philosophers, must be the interpreter of the designs of God concerning the social order. By this means I arrived at the analytic and synthetic calculus of passionate attractions and repulsions. This calculus cannot fail to culminate in agricultural association. Thus if anyone had attempted to study attraction analytically and synthetically, he would have discovered the laws of association without seeking them. This is something that no one has ever dreamed of. Even in the eighteenth century, when analytical methods were so popular, no one ever tried to apply them to attraction.
The theory of passionate attractions and repulsions is an exact science and wholly applicable to geometrical theorems. It has great ramifications and can become the sustenance of the philosophers who are, I believe, very much in need of some luminous and useful problem on which to exercise their metaphysical talents.
I continue my discussion of the filiation of the new sciences. I soon recognised that the laws of passionate attraction were in complete accord with the laws of material attraction, as explained by Newton and Leibnitz, and that there was a unified system of movement governing the material world and the spiritual world.
I suspected that this analogy might apply to particular laws as well as to general ones, and that the attractions and properties of the animals, vegetables and minerals were perhaps coordinated with the same scheme as those of man and the stars. After making the necessary investigations, I became convinced of this. Thus a new exact science was discovered: the analogy of the material, organic, animal and social movements, or the analogy of the modifications of matter with the mathematical theory of the passions of man and the animals.
The discovery of these two exact sciences revealed others to me. It would be useless to list them all here. But they include everything up to literature and the arts, and they will permit the establishment of exact methods in all’ the domains of human knowledge.
Once I had discovered the two theories of attraction and the unity of the four movements, I began to make sense of the book of nature. One by one, I found the answers to its mysteries. I had lifted the veil that was supposed to be impenetrable. I advanced into a new scientific world. It was thus that I arrived by gradual degrees at the calculus of the Universal Destinies, or the determination of the fundamental system governing all the laws of movement, present, past and future.