Utopian socialists derived their inspiration from the Enlightenment.
If only people would apply reason to solving the problems of an industrial economy, if only they would wipe out artificial inequalities by letting the great natural law of brotherhood operate freely—then utopia would be within their grasp, and social and economic progress would come about almost automatically.
This was the common belief linking together the four chief Utopians of the early nineteenth century: Saint-Simon, Charles Fourier, Robert Owen, and Louis Blanc.
Claude-Henri de Saint-Simon (1760-1825) belonged to a family so old and aristocratic that it claimed direct descent from Charlemagne. Educated by philosopher, Saint-Simon fought with the French army in the American War of Independence. During the French Revolution he made and lost a large fortune, but despite his own reverses he never lost his enthusiasm for the enormous potential of the industrial age.
He admonished the members of the new elite: “Christianity commands you to use all your powers to increase as rapidly as possible the social welfare of the poor!”* Reform should come peacefully, through “persuasion and demonstration.” Combining the Enlightenment’s respect for science with romanticism’s zeal for the community, Saint-Simon proclaimed the one science transcending all others to be the application of the Golden Rule.
“Organization,” “harmony,” and “industry” were three of Saint-Simon’s catchwords; when all three elements were coordinated, humanity would achieve some of the major improvements he proposed, among them great networks of highways and waterways, and would become a single, rational society. After Saint-Simon’s death, his followers focused on the strain of social Christianity in his teaching. Prosper Enfantin (1796-1864) combined local railroads into a Paris-Lyon-Mediterranean trunk line, and another Saint-Simonian, Ferdinand de Lesseps (1805-1894), promoted the building of a Suez Canal and made an abortive start at digging across the Isthmus of Panama.
The vagueness of Saint-Simon’s concepts permitted almost every kind of social thinker—from laissez-faire liberal to communist—to cite him with approval. Among his disciples were Giuseppe Mazzini and Louis Blanc, the Russian revolutionary pioneer Alexander Herzen, and the French positivist philosopher Auguste Comte. What was socialistic about Saint-Simon was his goal of reorganizing and harmonizing society as a whole, rather than merely improving the well-being of some of its individual members.
Saint-Simon’s compatriot and contemporary, Charles Fourier (1772-1837), also extolled harmony and drew up an elaborate blueprint for achieving it. At the French textile center of Lyons, Fourier was shocked by the contrast between the wealth of the silk manufacturers and the misery of their workers. In Paris he was shocked when he found that a single apple cost a sum that would have bought a hundred apples in the countryside. Clearly, he concluded, something was amiss in a society and economy that permitted such divergences.
Just as Newton had found the force holding the heavenly bodies in a state of mutual attraction, so Fourier claimed to have discovered the force holding the individuals of human society in a state of mutual attraction. This force was lattraction passionnelle; that is, human beings were drawn to one another by their passions. Fourier drew up a list of passions—sex, companionship, food, luxury, variety, and so on, to a total of 810.
Since existing society thwarted their satisfaction, Fourier proposed it be remodeled into units that he called phalanges (phalanxes), each containing 400 acres of land and accommodating 500 to 2,000 (though ideally 1,620) persons. Volunteers would form a phalanx by setting up a community company and agreeing to split its profits three ways—five twelfths to those who did the work, four twelfths to those who undertook the management, and three twelfths to those who supplied the capital.
Fourier’s phalanx, with its relatively generous rewards to managers and capitalists, fell short of complete equality. Yet it did assign to labor the largest share of the profits, and it foreshadowed many other features of socialist planning. Each phalanx would be nearly self-sufficient, producing in its own orchards, fields, and workshops most of the things required by its inhabitants.
Adult workers who performed the most dangerous or unpleasant tasks would receive the highest remuneration. Members of the phalanx would change their jobs eight times a day because “enthusiasm cannot be sustained for more than an hour and a half or two hours in the performance of one particular operation.”
They would work from four to five in the morning to eight or nine at night, enjoying five meals. They would need only five hours of sleep, since the variety of work would not tire them. All would become so healthy that physicians would be superfluous, and everyone would live to age 140.
Both to eliminate the evil of prostitution and to allow human association the fullest possible scope, Fourier advocated complete sexual freedom in the phalanx; he recommended marriage only for the elderly, whose passions had begun to cool. While colonies sprang up in which Fourierism was tried, especially in the New World, public opinion, including working-class opinion, remained hostile to surrendering the privacy of the family.
Underneath the perhaps foolish details lay significant contributions to socialist theory and social psychology. Some of Fourier’s recommendations, like higher pay for dangerous jobs and devices for relieving the tedium of work, have become common practice in modern business. In the short run, however, Utopian socialism came to be identified with free love and therefore, in the popular mind, with the grossest immorality.
Another Utopian was a self-made British businessman, Robert Owen (1771-1858). In 1800 Owen took over the large cotton mills at New Lanark in Scotland and found conditions that shocked him. A large part of the working force in the mills consisted of children who had been recruited from orphanages in Edinburgh when they were between six and eight years old. Although the youngsters did get a little schooling after hours, Owen found many of them “dwarfs in body and mind.” Adult laborers at New Lanark fared little better.
Remaking New Lanark into a model industrial village, Owen set out to show that he could increase profits and the welfare of his laborers at the same time. For the adults he provided better working conditions, a tenand-one-half-hour day, higher pay, and improved housing. He raised the minimum age for employment to ten, hoping ultimately to put it at twelve, and he gave his child laborers time off for schooling.
A properly educated nation, Owen believed, would refute the gloomy predictions of Malthus, who “has not told us how much more food an intelligent and industrious people will create from the same soil, than will be produced by one ignorant and ill-governed.”*
In the 1820s Owen visited America to finance an abortive effort to set up a colony at New Harmony, Indiana. Undaunted by this failure, he spent the rest of his career publishing and supporting projects for social reform. He advocated the association of all labor in one big union—an experiment that failed, though the call was taken up later in the United States; and he sought to reduce the workers’ expenditures by promoting the formation of consumers’ cooperatives—an experiment that succeeded. He, too, offended many of his contemporaries by his advocacy of sexual freedom, by his attacks on established religion, and by his enthusiasm for spiritualism.
Both Owen and Fourier relied on private initiative to build their model communities. In contrast, Louis Blanc (1811-1882) developed Saint-Simon’s vaguely formulated principle of “organization” into a doctrine of state intervention to achieve Utopian ends. Blanc outlined his scheme for social workshops in a pamphlet, The Organization of Labor (1840), which began with the statement, “The other day a child was frozen to death behind a sentry-box in the heart of Paris, and nobody was shocked or surprised at the event.”
“What proletarians need,” Blanc wrote, “is the instruments of labor; it is the function of government to supply these. If we were to define our conception of the state, our answer would be that the state is the banker of the poor.”** The government would finance and supervise the purchase of productive equipment and the formation of social workshops; it would withdraw its support and supervision once the workshops were on their feet.
As the workshops gradually spread throughout France, socialistic enterprise would replace private enterprise, private profits would vanish, and labor would emerge as the only class left in society, thereby achieving a classless society.
Much of Louis Blanc’s socialism was characteristically Utopian, particularly in his reliance on workers to make their own arrangements for communal living. The real novelty of his plan lay in the role he assigned to the state and in the fact that he began to move socialism from philanthropy to politics. Ironically, politics was to prove his undoing. Alarmed conservatives identified the national workshops of 1848 as an effort to implement his social ideas, and he was forced into exile.