Charles Fourier (1772-1837)

“Accusation of the Uncertain Sciences”

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: in 1822, Théorie de l'unité universelle.
Transcribed: by Andy Blunden.

Celebrated philosophers have long recognised the existence of a great unfathomed mystery.’ they have understood that man had failed in the study of nature and missed the paths which would have led to individual and collective happiness. In ages less vain than ours savants have deplored this failure and looked forward to a time when the human race would arrive at a happier destiny than that of civilisation. We find such prognostications in the writings of the most renowned authors from Socrates, who prophesied that “some day the light would. descend,” to Voltaire who, impatient to see it descend, exclaimed: “How dark a night still veils all nature’s face."[24]

Plato and the Greek sophists expressed the same misgivings in other terms. Their utopias were an indirect accusation of the social thought of their age which could not conceive of anything beyond the systems of civilisation and barbarism. These writers are regarded as oracles of wisdom, and yet from Socrates to Montaigne we find the most eminent of them deploring the insufficiency of their ideas and asking: “What do I know?” Today people talk in a different tone, and Voltaire was right to complain that the cry of the modern sophists is: “What don’t I know!”

All the honourable philosophers, those who have not engaged in idle controversy, have recognised the falseness of our social theories. Montesquieu thinks that “the social world is suffering from a chronic sickness, an inner vice, a secret and hidden venom.” J.-J. Rousseau, in speaking of the people of civilisation, says: “These are not men; there is a disorder in things, the cause of which we have not yet fathomed.”

There are nonetheless people who vaunt the progress of our political sciences and the perfection of reason. This is an in decent boast and it has been cruelly refuted by the general misfortune, by the disastrous consequences of the so-called enlightened theories which gave birth to the storms of revolution. Was there ever a time like the present to stigmatise the regenerating sciences en masse! They have already been condemned by their own authors. Before the Revolution the compiler Barthélemy said (in his Voyage d'Anacharsis): “These libraries, the so-called treasure-houses of sublime knowledge, are no more than a humiliating repository of contradictions and errors; their abundance of ideas is in fact a penury.” What would he have said a few years later if he had seen the philosophical dogmas put to the test? No doubt like Raynal he would have made a public confession of ignorance and said with Bacon: “We must revise our whole understanding of things, and forget all that we have learned.”

A scholar could gather pages of such citations in which modern philosophy denounces its own wisdom. I am merely citing a few imposing authorities who have preceded me in drawing attention to the spurious quality of our present enlightenment. I wish only to make it clear that the greatest geniuses have prophesied and called for the discovery of a social theory other than the Philosophy which they blame for having misled human reason.

What is the error committed by the philosophers? What branch of learning have they failed to investigate? There are several, and notably the branch with which they claim to have been particularly concerned: I mean the study of Man. Although they claim to have exhausted the subject, they know absolutely nothing about it. They have concerned themselves with superficial problems, like that of Ideology,[25] which are meaningless so long as we remain ignorant of the fundamental science which deals with man’s basic impulses. It is impossible to understand the nature of these impulses and their goal without a knowledge of the analytic and synthetic calculus of passionate attraction... .

So long as the human mind has not discovered the calculus of the social destinies, interpreted by the synthesis of attraction, we must remain in a state of political cretinism. Our progress in a few of the natural sciences — in mathematics, physics, chemistry, etc. — is useless, for it has not provided us with a remedy for any of man’s ills. The accomplishments of these sciences only serve to emphasise the confusion of social thought which has done nothing to promote human happiness and which, after thirty centuries of correctives and reforms, has left all social evils as deeply rooted as ever... .

What have we learned about man and his social destinies? There are four sciences which claim to solve the riddle. One of them, called Ideology, is only concerned with the surface of the question. It has lost itself in quibbles and subtleties concerning the analysis of ideas and failed to study the real question, which is that of the functions and uses of the passions and ‘the laws of passionate attraction... .

Three other sciences — politics, moral philosophy and political economy — also claim to explain the problem of our destinies. Let us analyse these sciences.

Politics and political economy advocate theories which run counter to human destiny. They encourage us to submit passively to civilisation, with its system of incoherent and loathsome work, when we should be trying to attain our true destiny which is societary work.

A fourth philosophical science, moral philosophy, which also boasts of making man its study, does just the opposite. The only art that the moralists know is that of perverting human nature and repressing the soul’s impulses or passionate attractions on the grounds that they are not suited to the civilised and barbarian order. The real problem on the contrary is to discover the means of escaping the civilised and barbarian order. This order is in conflict with man’s passions and inclinations, all of which tend to unity, to domestic and agricultural association.

These four uncertain sciences vaunt the system of incoherent and piece-meal work in order to dispense themselves of the task of inventing the societary system. Having failed to perform their appointed task and having misled us for three thousand years, they will come to the same end as all the anarchists who delude men with their promises of happiness and finally destroy one another.

Such is the status of the philosophical sciences today: like the revolutionary parties, they are destroying one another before our very eyes. One of the most reputable of these sciences, Moral Philosophy, has recently been overwhelmed by a party of new savants called the Economists. The Economists have won favor by encouraging the love of wealth whereas morality advised men to throw their wealth “into the womb of the avid seas.” By hoisting the banner of wealth and luxury, and thus yielding to the first dictate of attraction, the Economists were sure of crushing the moralists. For the moralists wish us to scorn wealth only because they lack the means to obtain it for us; like the fox in the fable they call the grapes too green because they are unable to reach them.

What has civilisation gained by changing its banner, by forsaking the moralists in order to follow the Economists? It is true that the economists permit us to love wealth, but they don’t make us wealthy. On the contrary, the influence of their dogmas has only served to double the weight of taxes and the size of armies, to promote poverty, deceit and all the scourges. Its material consequence has been the devastation of forests. in the political sphere its fruit has been monopoly, both naval and corporate. Is there any vice which has not been aggravated by the intrusion of these dangerous doctors? ...

If we consider that the present state of generalised deprivation is the fruit of a hundred thousand social systems, can we believe in the good faith of those who have amassed this clutter of dogmas? Should we not divide the authors of these systems into two categories, one composed of charlatans and the other of dupes? For we must consider as dupes those who have believed that civilisation was man’s destiny and have sought to perfect it instead of looking for a way out of it.

Let us then distinguish those who, in agreement with the Montesquieus, the Rousseaus and the Voltaires, have been suspicious of philosophy and civilisation. We will give the name of Expectant Sophists to all those writers who, since Socrates, have sought the enlightenment which they admitted was not to be found in their own learning; and under the term Obscurantist Sophists we will designate all those quacks who vaunt their nostrums of perfectibility, although well aware of their worthlessness.

We can recognise a category of very pardonable Obscurantists. This would include the men who take fright before a new discovery is tested, fearing that it might become a dangerous weapon in the hands of agitators. Such doubts are praiseworthy prior to verification. But under the term Philosophical Obscurantists I mean to include only those haughty men whose motto is nil sub sole novum,[26] and who pretend that there is nothing more to be discovered, that their science “has perfectibilised all perfectible perfectibilities.”

This distinction of the philosophers into Expectants and Obscurantists allows everyone the chance to justify himself. A philosopher is exonerated in placing himself in the category of the Expectants who are waiting for enlightenment, and in condemning the four sciences that are indulgently described as uncertain when they might better be called deceiving. What other name can be given:

To modern Metaphysics which has spawned the sects of Materialism and Atheism and cast the intellect into a scientific dead-end by bogging it down in the useless controversy over ideology. Had the metaphysicians devoted themselves to their assigned task, the study of attraction, this would have led in a few years to the discovery of the laws of passional harmony.

To Politics which vaunts the rights of man but fails to guarantee the first right and the only useful one, which is the right to work. The acknowledgment of this right would have sufficed to cast suspicion on civilisation which can neither recognise it nor grant it.

To Economism which promises wealth to nations but only teaches the art of enriching financiers and leeches, the art of doubling taxes, of devouring the future through fiscal loans, and of neglecting all research on domestic association, the basis of the economy.

To Moralism which, after two thousand years of advocating the scorn of wealth and the love of truth, has just recently begun to extol the civilised commercial system with its bankruptcy, usury, speculation and freedom of deception.

Such are the four sciences which direct the social world, or rather which have been misdirecting it for twenty-five centuries. These sciences are already suspect in the eyes of the revolutionaries whom they have begotten. Bonaparte eliminated them all from the Institute, and this was perhaps the most sensible act of his reign.[27]