Charles Fourier (1772-1837)


1. This letter was written in great haste and inadvertently misdated by Fourier. The correct date should be 4 Nivose, Year XII, according to the revolutionary calendar, or December 26, 1803.

2. In this paragraph Fourier summarises the argument of his article “Continental Triumvirate” published in the Bulletin de Lyon on 25 Frimaire, Year XII (December 17, 1803).

3. The natural sciences.

4. According to Fourier’s elaborate cyclical-stadial theory of history, the 60,000 (later 70,000) year reign of social harmony was destined to be preceded and followed by a number of “subversive” epochs during which the passions would be in conflict. See below pp. 189-196.

5. Like most social theorists of his time, Fourier was often vague and ambiguous in his discussion of social class. Even in his mature writings he generally divided society simply into the rich, the poor. and the middle class or bourgeoisie. In this text the expression classe populaciere (here translated as “lower class”) is used interchangeably with classe pauvre and simply le peuple.

6. It is possible that Fourier has the Babouvists in mind. But it is more likely that he is referring here to the more radical Jacobin orators and publicists of the Revolutionary period. such as Marat and Chalier. The latter was the leader of Lyon’s Jacobin group and his ideas were doubtless well known to Fourier.

7. The classical liberal political economists who adhered to the ideas of Adam Smith.

8. Probably a reference to P. H. Langlois (tr.). Le Tableau de Londres et de ses environs en 1802 (Paris. 1802).

9. Sir James Denham Steuart ( 1712-1780) was a Scottish economist who advocated mercantilist ideas and was best known for his Inquiry into the Principles of Political Economy (1767; French translation, 1789).

10. Benjamin Thompson Count Rumford (1753-1814) was an English scientist, philanthropist. and social reformer. He made significant contributions to the study of heat, but he was interesting to Fourier chiefly as a partisan of soup kitchens and other forms of public aid to the poor.

11. Cadet de Vaux (1743-1828) was a French chemist and agronomist, an advocate of experimental farming, and a staunch partisan of the potato. Fourier frequently praised him as an early defender of the idea of agricultural association.

12. Horace. The Art of Poetry, 388: “Yet if you ever do write anything, let it enter the ears of some critical Maecius. and your father’s, and my own; then put your parchment in the closet and keep it back till the ninth year.”

13. By contrast to the natural or “fixed” sciences. Fourier referred to metaphysics, politics, political economy, and morality as the four “uncertain” sciences. The citation from Montesquieu, which was one of Fourier’s favourite devises, comes from the Lettres persanes, Letter CXII.

14. On the passionate series and the whole theory of passionate attraction see the texts below in Section IV.

15. On the theory of universal analogy and some of the other “new sciences” discovered by Fourier see the texts included in Section VIII of this anthology.

16. This text is from the preamble of a manuscript written in 1810 and entitled “On the Federal Warehouse or the Abolition of Commerce.” The “better system” to which Fourier refers is a credit scheme designed to facilitate the gradual transition from civilisation to Harmony by freeing agriculture and industry from “the speculative extortions of commerce.”

17. Fourier often referred to the Carthaginians as a people who had been corrupted by the mercantile spirit. They were the forebears of the English ( “modern Carthaginians”) and of the Jews (a people “addicted to traffic. to usury and to mercantile depravity”). On Fourier’s anti-semitism see below p. 99.

18. François Quesnay (1694-1774) was court doctor under Louis XV and leader of the group of Physiocrats. The first true school of French economists. the Physiocrats held that land is the only source of wealth. They are best known for their advocacy of a single tax to be levied on land. Although they regarded commerce as necessary to assure the circulation of wealth throughout society. they held that in itself commerce was a sterile and unproductive activity. It was this — and not their endorsement of the doctrine of laissez faire — that made Fourier sympathetic to them. See PM, III; OC, xi, 158: “A reasonable sect had emerged in France. the sect of Quesnay who wished to subordinate the whole industrial mechanism to the needs of agriculture. Quesnay had too little esteem for manufacturing which must be distinguished from commerce. ... Quesnay ignored this distinction and. like all systematic thinkers, he adopted extreme views. Nonetheless he was heading in the right direction since he wished to subordinate commerce to agriculture.”

19. “Let the merchants do as they please.”

20. Fourier refers to the fraudulent or profitable declaration of insolvency which enables “any merchant to steal from the public a sum equivalent to his wealth or credit.” The following text provides an example.

21. Fourier’s complete “hierarchy” of the varieties of fraudulent bankruptcy may be found in Oeuvres, IV, 124.

22. “Criticise in laughing.”

23. La Charte, or the constitutional charter of the restored Bourbon monarchy.

24. Fourier’s writings abound in such citations, gathered more or less by chance from the writings of the philosophers. This quotation, one of his favourites, comes from Voltaire’s Discours sur l'Homme, VI, 11.

25. Fourier uses the term “ideology” here in its original sense to refer to the doctrine of Destutt de Tracy (1754-1836) and the other ideologues. For them ideologie was an attempt to establish a science of psychology which would explain human behaviour in purely biological terms. It was only later that the term acquired the broader associations which it now has.

26. “There is nothing new under the sun.”

27. Allusion to Napoleon’s suppression in January 1803 of the section of the French Institut which was concerned with the study of the moral and political sciences.

28. For Fourier the series and the group were not merely the ideal forms for the organisation of human activity. They were also part of the natural order of things — structural principles governing the organisation of the entire universe. The spectrum of colours and the musical scale were but two of the other models to which he referred in his abstract discussions of the properties of the series.

29. This example suggests a point often stressed by Fourier: the series were not composed merely of consumers (or producers) of a given commodity. One of the main functions of the series in Fourier’s scheme of attractive labour was to ally production and consumption.

30. The toise was equal to about two yards.

31. Fourier frequently described the trial Phalanx in terms which evoke a joint-stock company, and many of the communities set up by his disciples were actually chartered as such. However. according to his scheme of retribution, labour and talent as well as capital were to be represented by shares in the association. See below pp. 240-250.

32. Fourier maintained that the active life of Harmony would increase people’s appetites so much as to require the serving of five meals a day. He elsewhere refers to this first meal. the “anthem” (antienne), by other terms such as le délite and la matine.

33. Fourier repeatedly dissociated himself from the egalitarian communism which was characteristic of much eighteenth and early nineteenth century utopian thinking. Although by almost any reckoning he does belong in the socialist tradition. the texts in this section also show that he left a place in his ideal community for a number of distinctly capitalistic economic institutions: the payment of interest on invested capital, inheritance rights, some forms of private property, etc.

34. The whole Phalanx was divided into a vast network of overlapping tribes, choirs, hordes. bands and other corporate bodies. For a listing of the sixteen tribes or age groups see below p. 256.

35. Fourier regarded his principle of remuneration, which is stated here only in its most elementary form, as one of his greatest discoveries. Among all the refinements which he added to it. one point should be emphasised. He did not think of the categories of labour, capital, and “knowledge” or talent as mutually exclusive. He conceded that in the first trial Phalanx much of the capital might have to come from a few individuals, and that most of the labour would be done by people with relatively little capital to invest in the enterprise. However. the whole point of his scheme was to make capitalists out of labourers and labourers out of capitalists and to provide both with sufficient education to make a contribution in talent. Once his new order was well-established. every man would receive some retribution for his contributions in all three domains. Furthermore, those (presumably the poorest members of the community) who held a limited number of shares would receive a far higher return on their capital than the rich.

36. On the social minimum, the sine qua non of Fourier’s theory of association.

37. Presumably some of the Phalansterians were away on visits when Fourier made these estimates.

38. Fourier frequently referred to children as a separate or neuter sex.

39. Breakfast.