Charles Fourier (1772-1837)

“A Sentimental Bankruptcy”

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: 1829 in Le Nouveau monde industrielle et sociétaire.
Transcribed: by Andy Blunden.

Each of the generic features of commerce, such as speculation, bankruptcy, etc., includes a vast array of species and varieties which should have been analyzed and classified... . In discussing the hierarchy of bankruptcy I have made up a list comprising 3 orders, 9 generic types and 36 species of bankruptcy.[21] This list could easily be tripled or quadrupled. For bankruptcy has become such an art that every day someone invents a new species, especially in the realm of governmental bankruptcies where France has just made an innovation: the doubledupe or ampbidupe, which has provided the nation with a new means of despoiling itself.

Our century obliges people to adopt a facetious tone in criticising vice: castigat ridendo.[22] We are supposed to avoid the grim tone of the moralists of the last century. This would have been easy for me since in my hierarchy of bankruptcy I have described each of the 9 types and 36 species in amusing terms. Take for example the fifth type, the tactical bankruptcy. This includes 5 species: 17) the bankruptcy by squadrons; 18) the firing line bankruptcy; 19) the close column bankruptcy; 20) the wide formation bankruptcy. 21) the sharp-shooter’s bankruptcy. These five species comprise one of the types in the center of the series. They correspond exactly to military manoeuvres. Thus I have called this type the “tactical” and the one that precedes it the “manoeuvring” bankruptcy.

It would be very easy, then, to satisfy the oratorical insistence on amusing criticism — castigat ridendo — while providing a frank and truthful analysis of the vice. I could, according to the method of the journalists, present a list of the species of bankruptcy to make the reader desire a chapter on each one of them. Everyone would be interested to see how I define such species as these.

Sentimental, infantile, well-to-do, cosmopolitan; Gallant, sanctimonious, unprincipled, amicable., Stylish, preferential, wide-netted, miniature; Break-neck, stealthy, Attila-like, invalid’s; Swindler’s, jail-bird’s, ninny’s, visionary; Posthumous, familial, re-decked, push-pin.

An analysis of all these species of bankruptcy would produce many amusing chapters, particularly since I am a child of the profession, born and raised in the mercantile shops. I have seen the infamies of commerce with my own eyes, and I will not describe them from hear-say as do our moralists who know nothing more about commerce than what they hear in the salons of the speculators and who know only the respectable side of bankruptcy proceedings. According to them any bankruptcy (especially that of a broker or banker) becomes a sentimental incident in which the creditors themselves are beholden to the bankrupt party for having palmed off his noble speculations on them. The notary brings them the news as if it were an accident of fate, an unforeseen catastrophe caused by the misfortunes of the times, critical circumstances, a deplorable turn of events, etc. This is the way one usually begins a letter announcing a bankruptcy.

According to the notary and his accomplices, who secretly derive ample remuneration from the loss, these bankrupt individuals are so honourable, so worthy of esteem!!! A tender mother who is sacrificing herself for her children; a virtuous father who is teaching them to love their constitution;[23] a tearful family which is worthy of a better fate and inspired by the most sincere love for every one of its creditors! Truly it would be a crime not to aid this family to recover. it is the duty of every honest man to help them.

At this point a few moral shysters appear on the scene, their palms well greased, to talk of lofty sentiments and the pity which misfortune must inspire. They are helped out by pretty female petitioners who are very useful in calming down the more recalcitrant creditors. Shaken by all these intrigues, three-quarters of the creditors arrive at the judgment session unsettled and disoriented. In advising the creditors to take a loss of 70%, the notary depicts the 30% rebate as the effort of a virtuous family which is impoverishing itself and making every sacrifice to satisfy the sacred duties imposed by a sense of honour. The creditors are told that in all conscience they ought to accept a loss of 80% in order to pay homage to the noble qualities of a family so worthy of esteem and so zealous in defence of the interests of its creditors.

A few barbarians may wish to object to such terms. But the accomplices who are spread about the room whisper that these recalcitrant individuals are immoral people: that one of them does not go to church regularly; that another keeps a mistress; that another is known to be a Harpagon, a usurer; that still another has already gone bankrupt himself and is a hard-hearted man with no indulgence for his fellows. Finally most of the creditors give up and sign the contract, whereupon the notary declares that it is “a highly advantageous settlement for the creditors” in that it has saved them the expense of legal fees and provided them with the opportunity to do a good turn to a virtuous family. Everyone (or at least all of the fools who comprise the majority) leaves filled with admiration for the virtue and the lofty sentiments of which this worthy family is the model.

Thus concludes a sentimental bankruptcy in which the creditors are looted for at least two-thirds of their money. For a bankruptcy would only be honest and not sentimental if the settlement was fixed at 50%. Indeed, 50% is so normal a rate that the bankrupt party has no need of utilising artistic refinements if he is willing to settle at this modest rate. Unless he is an imbecile he is sure to make at least a 50% profit on his bankruptcy.

If someone had published a work describing a hundred species of bankruptcy, with more details than I have given here on the sentimental bankruptcy, this book would have made known one of the pretty traits of commerce, one of its true features. Other works dealing with other features, such as speculation and hoarding, would have opened people’s eyes and raised doubts about the commercial mechanism known as free competition, which is the most anarchic and perverse mode of exchange that can exist.