Charles Fourier (1772-1837)

“Fashion and Parasitism”

Written: in 1803;
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: Manuscrits de Charles Fourier. Années 1857-58.
Transcribed: by Andy Blunden.

Within the last half-century the capriciousness of fashion has given commerce a major influence on civilised politics. The politicians would have been a good deal wiser if they had given their support to the manufacturing industries and not to commerce, brokerage and speculation, which are the natural enemies of manufacturing and of all productive industries.

I will demonstrate later that commerce, which is mistakenly classified among the productive forms of work, ought to be ranked first among the parasitical professions like those of monk, soldier, lawyer, etc. The reduction of all these professions should be the constant aim of any sound political system.

By its growth and influence the merchant class has done much more harm to industry than have the monks and lawyers.

For the monks merely deprive the farms and workshops of their labour. The lawyers’ fault is somewhat graver, since they distract others from labour and rob them without producing anything themselves. But commerce is guilty of both these vices and it adds a third: it diverts and turns against industry capital which, under a better system, should be devoted uniquely to the improvement of farming and manufacturing.

The commercial systems are, for the moment, Europe’s most fashionable chimera. Authors who wish immediate renown, write a brochure on credit, exchange, duties and paper money. Tell us in your learned investigations why cottons have “weakened” and sugars are “wavering.” Say why one empire has exported more ells of cloth than its neighbor. If you explain these great mysteries to us in pounds, sous and deniers, the temple of fame is open to you. Don’t forget to dedicate your work to one of the saints of the day, one of those bankers whose name makes all knees bend, even at the court. Don’t go after the protection of official dignitaries; senators and generals are and should be only in the second rank since they know nothing about commerce or banking. Even kings will soon be proud to bear the title of “merchants” as they once boasted of being “Fathers of the people”; and to maintain their popularity they will have to appear in public with a bale of cotton for a throne, a measuring rod for a sceptre, and with a coat of arms consisting of a few rolls of tobacco emblazoned against a background of bars of soap. Ah! don’t the monarchs owe thanksgiving to commerce? It was a trade rivalry between France and England that toppled their thrones; it was a competition for sugar and coffee that sent Louis, his family, and the elite of France to the scaffold. Has politics ever had such a bad effect on industry as it has in recent times? Was there ever so much bad faith among tradesmen, so much encouragement to speculation and bankruptcy, as there has been since the court and the academies were infected by the mercantile spirit?