1902 Encyclopedia > Claude Henri de Rouvroy, comte de Saint-Simon (Henri de Saint-Simon)

Claude Henri de Rouvroy, comte de Saint-Simon
(also known as: Henri de Saint-Simon)
French utopian socialist thinker

CLAUDE HENRI, COMTE DE SAINT-SIMON (1760-1825), the founder of French socialism, was born at Paris on 17th October 1760. He belonged to a younger branch of the family of the celebrated duke of that name. His education, he tells us, was directed by D'Alembert. At the age of nineteen he went as volunteer, to assist the American colonies in their revolt against Britain. From his youth Saint-Simon felt the promptings of an eager ambition. His valet had orders to awake him every morning with the words, "Remember, monsieur le comte, that you have great things to do"; and his ancestor Charlemagne appeared to him in a dream foretelling a remarkable future for him. Among his early schemes was one to unite the Atlantic and the Pacific by a canal, and another to construct a canal from Madrid to the sea. He took no part of any importance in the Revolution, but amassed a little fortune by land speculation,—not on his own account, however, as he said, but to facilitate his future projects. Accordingly, when he was nearly forty years of age he went through a varied course of study and experiment, in order to enlarge and clarify his view of things. One of these experiments was an unhappy marriage, which, after a year's duration, was dissolved by the mutual consent of the parties. Another result of his experiments was that he found himself completely impoverished, and lived in penury for the remainder of his life. The first of his numerous writings, Lettres d'un Habitant de Genève, appeared in 1803 ; but his early writings were mostly scientific and political. It was not till 1817 that he began in a treatise entitled L'Industrie to propound his socialistic views, which he further developed in L'Organisateur (1819), Du Système Industriel (1821), Catéchisme des Industriels (1823). The last and most important expression of his views is the Nouveau Christianisme (1825). For many years before his death in 1825 (at Paris on 19th May) Saint-Simon had been reduced to the greatest straits. He was obliged to accept a laborious post for a salary of £40 a year, to live on the generosity of a former valet, and finally to solicit a small pension from his family. In 1823 he attempted suicide in despair. It was not till very late in his career that he attached to himself a few ardent disciples.

As a thinker Saint-Simon was entirely deficient in system, clearness, and consecutive strength. But his great influence on modern thought is undeniable, both as the historic founder of French socialism and as suggest-ing much of what was afterwards elaborated into Comtism. Apart from the details of his socialistic teaching, which are vague, inconsistent, and unsystematic, we find that the ideas of Saint-Simon as to the reconstruction of society are very simple. His opinions were conditioned by the French Revolution and by the feudal and military system still prevalent in France. In opposition to the destructive liberalism of the Revolution he insisted on the necessity of a new and positive reorganization of society. So far was he from advocating fresh social revolt that he appealed to Louis XVIII. to inaugurate the new order of things. In opposition, however, to the feudal and military system, the former aspect of which had been strengthened by the restoration, he advocated an arrangement by which the industrial chiefs should control society. In place of the mediaeval church the spiritual direction of society should fall to the men of science. What Saint-Simon desired, therefore, was an industrialist state directed by modern science. In short, the men who are fitted to organize society for productive labour are entitled to bear rule in it. The social aim is to produce things useful to life ; the final end of social activity is " the exploitation of the globe by association." The contrast between labour and capital so much emphasized by later socialism is not present to Saint-Simon, but it is assumed that the industrial chiefs, to whom the control of production is to be committed, shall rule in the interest of society. Later on the cause of the poor receives greater attention, till in his greatest work, The New Christianity, it becomes the central point of his teaching and takes the form of a religion. It was this religious development of his teach-ing that occasioned his final quarrel with Comte. Previous to the publication of the Nouveau Christianisme, Saint-Simon had not concerned himself with theology. Here he starts from a belief in God, and his object in the treatise is to reduce Christianity to its simple and essential elements. He does this by clearing it of the dogmas and other excrescences and defects which have gathered round both the Catholic and Protestant forms of it, which he subjects to a searching and ingenious criticism. " The new Christian organization will deduce the temporal insti-tutions as well as the spiritual from the principle that all men should act towards one another as brethren." Ex-pressing the same idea in modern language, Saint-Simon propounds as the comprehensive formula of the new Christianity this precept—"The whole of society ought to strive towards the amelioration of the moral and physical existence of the poorest class; society ought to organize itself in the way best adapted for attaining this ' end." This principle became the watchword of the entire school of Saint-Simon; for them it was alike the essence of religion and the programme of social reform.

During his lifetime the views of Saint-Simon had very little influence; and he left only a very few devoted disciples, who continued to advocate the doctrines of their master, whom they revered as a prophet. An important departure was made in 1828 by Hazard, who gave a "complete exposition of the Saint-Simonian faith" in a long course of lectures at Paris in the Rue Taranne. In 1830 Bazard and Enfantin were acknowledged as the heads of the school; and the fermentation caused by the revolution of July of the same year brought the whole movement prominently before the attention of France. Early next year the school obtained possession of the Globe through Pierre Leroux, who had joined the school, which now numbered some of the ablest and most promising young men of France, many of the pupils of the Ecole Poly-technique having caught its enthusiasm. The members formed themselves into an association arranged in three grades, and constituting a society or family, which lived out of a common purse in the Rue Monsigny. Before long, however, dissensions began to arise in the sect. Bazard, a man of logical and more solid temperament, could no longer work in harmony with Enfantin, who desired to establish an arrogant and fantastic sacerdotalism with lax notions as to marriage and the relation of the sexes. After a time Bazard seceded and many of the strongest supporters of the school followed his example. A series of extravagant entertainments given by the society during the winter of 1832 reduced its financial resources and greatly discredited it in character. They finally re-moved to Menilmontant, to a property of Enfantin, where they lived in a communistic society, distinguished by a peculiar dress. Shortly after the chiefs were tried and condemned for proceedings prejudicial to the social order; and the sect was entirely broken up (1832). Many of its members became famous as engineers, economists, and men of business. The idea of constructing the Suez Canal, as carried out by Lesseps, proceeded from the school.

In the school of Saint-Simon we find a great advance both in the breadth and firmness with which the vague and confused views of the master are developed ; and this progress is due chiefly to Bazard. In the philosophy of history they recognize epochs of two kinds, the critical or negative and the organic or constructive. The former, in which philosophy is the dominating force, is charac-terized by war, egotism, and anarchy; the latter, which is controlled by religion, is marked by the spirit of obedience, devotion, associa-tion. The two spirits of antagonism and association are the two great social principles, and on the degree of prevalence of the two depends the character of an epoch. The spirit of association, how-ever, tends more and more to prevail over its opponent, extending from the family to the city, from the city to the nation, and from the nation to the federation. This principle of association is to be '.he keynote of the social development of the future. Hitherto the law of humanity has been the " exploitation of man by man " in its three stages, slavery, serfdom, the proletariat; in the future the aim must be " the exploitation of the globe by man associated to man." Under the present system the industrial chief still exploits the proletariat, the members of which, though nominally free, must accept his terms under pain of starvation. This state of things is consolidated by the law of inheritance, whereby the instruments of production, which are private property, and all the attendant social advantages are transmitted without regard to personal merit. The social disadvantages being also transmitted, misery becomes here-ditary The only remedy for this is the abolition of the law of inheritance, and the union of all the instruments of labour in a Social fund, which shall be exploited by association. Society thus becomes sole proprietor, intrusting to social groups and social functionaries the management of the various properties. The right of succession is transferred from the family to the state. The school of Saint - Simon insists strongly on the claims of merit ; they advocate a social hierarchy in which each man shall be placed according to bis capacity and rewarded according to his works. This is, indeed, a most special and pronounced feature of the Saint-Simon socialism, whose theory of government is a kind of spiritual or scientific autocracy, degenerating into the fantastic sacerdotalism of Enfantin. With regard to the family and the relation of the sexes the school of Saint-Simon advocated the complete emancipation of woman and her entire equality with man. The "social individual " is man and woman, who are associated in the exercise of the triple function of religion, the state, and the family. In its official declarations the school maintained the sanctity of the Christian law of marriage. On this point Enfantin fell into a prurient and fantastic latitudinarianism, which made the school a scandal to France, but many of the most prominent members besides Bazard refused to follow him. Connected with these doctrines was their famous theory of the "rehabilitation of the flesh," deduced from the philosophic theory of the school, which was a species of Pantheism, though they repudiated the name. On this theory they rejected the dualism so much emphasized by Catholic Christianity in its penances and mortifications, and held that the body should be restored to its due place of honour. It is a vague principle of which the ethical character depends on the interpretation ; and it was variously interpreted in the school of Saint-Simon. It was certainly immoral as held by Enfantin, by whom it was developed into a kind of sensual mysticism, a system of free love with a religious sanction.

An excellent edition of the works of Saint-Simon and Enfantin was begun by survivors of the sect in Paris (1865), and now numbers forty vols. See Iteybaud, Études sur les Réformateurs modernes (7th edition, Paris, 1864) ; Janet, Saint-Simon et le Saint-Simonisme (Paris, 1878) ; A. J. Booth, Saint-Simon and Saint-Simonism (London, 1871). (T. K.)

The above article was written by: Thomas Kirkup, M.A.

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