Henri de Saint-Simon

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Claude Henri de Rouvroy, comte de Saint-Simon, often referred to as Henri de Saint-Simon (October 17, 1760May 19, 1825) was a French utopian socialist thinker.

Early years

Saint-Simon was born in Paris. He belonged to a younger branch of the family of the duc de Saint-Simon. He claimed his education was directed by Jean le Rond d'Alembert, though no proof of this exists; it is likely that Saint-Simon himself invented this false intellectual pedigree. At the age of sixteen he was in America helping the Thirteen Colonies in the American Revolution against Britain. From his youth, Saint-Simon was highly ambitious. He ordered his valet to wake him every morning with, "Remember, monsieur le comte, that you have great things to do."<ref>Busky, Donald F.: "Communism in History and Theory: From Utopian Socialism to the Fall of the Soviet Union"</ref> Among his early schemes was one to connect the Atlantic and the Pacific by a canal, and another to construct a canal from Madrid to the sea.<ref>Manuel, Frank E.: "The Prophets of Paris", Harper & Row 1962</ref> He was imprisoned in the Palais de Luxembourg in Paris during the Terror. He took no part of any importance in the Revolution, although he profited from it by amassing a sizable fortune through land speculation; he said that this was motivated not by self-interest but by the desire to facilitate his future projects.

Beginning career

When he was nearly 40 he went through a varied course of study and experiment to enlarge and clarify his view of things. One of these experiments was an unhappy marriage — undertaken so that he might have a salon. After a year's duration the marriage was dissolved by mutual consent. The 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 1802; but his early writings were mostly scientific and political. In 1817 he began in a treatise entitled L'Industrie to propound his socialistic views, which he further developed in L'Organisateur (1819), a periodical on which Augustin Thierry and Auguste Comte collaborated.

The first number caused a sensation, though one that brought few converts. In 1821 appeared Du système industriel, and in 1823–1824 Catéchisme des industriels. The last and most important expression of his views is the Nouveau Christianisme (1825), which he left unfinished. For many years before his death, Saint-Simon had been reduced to the direst straits. He was obliged to accept a laborious post, working nine hours a day for £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, losing his sight in one eye. Only very late in his career did he link up with a few ardent disciples.



As a thinker Saint-Simon was not particularly systematic, but his great influence on modern thought is undeniable, both as the historic founder of French socialism, which influenced the thought of Karl Marx, and as suggesting much of Auguste Comte's theory of industrial progress, which in turn influenced Émile Durkheim. Apart from the details of his socialist teaching, which are vague and unsystematic, we find that the ideas of Saint-Simon as to the reconstruction of society are very simple. One of these ideas is "the Hand of Greed," the image Saint-Simon uses to describe the basic avarice of human beings. In the simplest forms of society, human beings try to survive. All people therefore have the motivation to try to gain a higher place in society, no matter how insignificant the higher statuses at which their aim may be. To create his form of utopian socialism, society must eradicate this way of thinking and behaving over time through education. 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 begin building the new order.

In opposition to the feudal and military system, the former aspect of which had been strengthened by the restoration, he advocated an arrangement whereby the industrial chiefs should control society. In place of the medieval church, the spiritual direction of society should fall to the men of science. The men who are fitted to organize society for productive labour are entitled to rule it. The conflict between labour and capital so much emphasized by later socialism is not present in Saint-Simon's work, but it is assumed that the industrial chiefs, to whom the control of production is to fall, shall rule in the interest of society. Later on the cause of the poor receives greater attention, until in his greatest work, The New Christianity, it takes on the form of a religion. This development of his ideas occasioned his final quarrel with Comte.


Prior to the publication of the Nouveau Christianisme, Saint-Simon had not concerned himself with theology. In this work, 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 that he says gathered round the Catholic and Protestant forms of it. He 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.


During his lifetime the views of Saint-Simon had very little influence; he left only a few devoted disciples, who continued to advocate the doctrines of their master, whom they revered as a prophet. Of these the most important were Olinde Rodrigues, the favoured disciple of Saint-Simon, and Barthélemy Prosper Enfantin, who together had received Saint-Simon's last instructions. Their first step was to establish a journal, Le Producteur, but it was discontinued in 1826. The sect, however, had begun to grow, and before the end of 1828, had meetings not only in Paris but in many provincial towns.

An important departure was made in 1828 by Amand Bazard, who gave a "complete exposition of the Saint-Simonian faith" in a long course of lectures in Paris, which was well attended. His Exposition de la doctrine de St Simon (2 vols., 1828–1830), which is by far the best account of it, won more adherents. The second volume was chiefly by Enfantin, who along with Bazard stood at the head of the society, but who was superior in philosophical acumen and prone to push his deductions to extremities. The revolution of July (1830) brought a new freedom to the socialist reformers. A proclamation was issued demanding the community of goods, the abolition of the right of inheritance, and the enfranchisement of women.

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 in France, many of the pupils of the École Polytechnique 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 stolid 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 relations between the sexes.

End of the sect

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 removed to Ménilmontant, 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 in 1832. Many of its members became famous as engineers, economists, and men of business.


In the school of Saint-Simon we find a great advance on the vague and confused views of the master. 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 characterized by war, egotism, and anarchy; the latter, which is controlled by religion, is marked by the spirit of obedience, devotion, and association. 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, however, 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 the keynote of the social development of the future. Under the present system the industrial chief exploits the proletariat, the members of which, though nominally free, must accept his terms under pain of starvation. 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, entrusting 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 his 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. 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. 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. In 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 was a vague principle open to varying interpretations by Saint-Simon's followers. Enfantin's interpretation would have been considered highly immoral at the time: it was a kind of sensual mysticism, a system of free love with a religious sanction.


An edition of the works of Saint-Simon and Enfantin was published by the survivors of the sect (47 vols., Paris, 1865–1878). See, in addition to the works cited above, L. Reybaud, Études sur les réformateurs contemporains (7th edition, Paris, 1864); Paul Janet, Saint-Simon et le Saint-Simonisme (Paris, 1878); AJ Booth, Saint-Simon and Saint-Simonism (London, 1871); Georges Weill, Un Précurseur du socialisme, Saint-Simon et son œuvre (Paris, 1894), and a history of the École Saint-Simonienne, by the same author (1896); G Dumas, Psychologie de deux messages positivistes St Simon et Comte (1905); E. Levasseur's Etudes sociales soles la Restauration, contains a good section on Saint-Simon.

Collected Works

(all volumes available at Gallica)

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On his passing, Claude Henri de Rouvroy, Comte de Saint-Simon, was interred in Le Père Lachaise Cemetery in Paris.

External links