These two versions of early 19th century French socialism are frequently mentioned in the works of the period, e. g., in Elizabeth Barrett Browning's Aurora Leigh. Both Saint-Simon and Fourier held proto-feminist beliefs which in turn influenced the direction of British utopian socialism.
Claude-Henri De Ronvroy, Comte de Saint-Simon (1760-1825), a French social philosopher, is credited with the founding of French socialism. Saint-Simon was the eldest son of an impoverished nobleman, and was educated by tutors. He participated in the French revolution, actively supporting some of the measures introduced after 1789. His writings began to reach a wide audience after 1814, including prominent business managers and industrialists. In 1817 he began a significant association with Comte, who was later able to systematize and restate Saint-Simon's fundamental conceptions to better advantage.
Saint-Simon maintained that "the philosophy of the eighteenth century has been critical and revolutionary; that of the nineteenth century will be inventive and destructive." He called for human social affairs to be scientifically examined to discover conditions that cause historical change. He believed that sincerely held utopian ideas, even when worked out in practical programs, were by themselves quite useless if they did not take account of these conditions, a lack which he believed had undermined the French Revolution. The destruction of outmoded institutions was one thing, their replacement by others adapted to the technological, economic, and social requirements of the time, was another.
Saint-Simon studied the transformation of European society since the feudal period, and (anticipating Marx) observed the conflict of classes and the extent to which political organizations and ideologies are adapted to the interests of the economically dominant class. He was an internationalist, and he believed that religion had become the means for keeping masses in political servitude. Saint-Simon appealed to the new class of industrialists in his belief that efficient administrators should be permitted to reorganize society to reward productivity and eliminate idle bureaucracy. He envisioned a hierarchy granting equality of opportunity but not of wealth, in effect, a meritocracy (in this he anticipates the English Fabians, of whom Shaw was a member).
In Saint-Simon's model society, three chambers would rule the government--engineers would propose plans, scientists or learned persons would assess these proposals and educate the young, and captains of industry would execute the proposals selected (the idea of "Captains of Industry" was borrowed by Carlyle) in the interests of all. Such a society would need little law or government, a notion which anticipates the marxist (and anarchist) view that the state will wither away. Saint-Simon influenced a large number of 19th century thinkers, including Marx, Carlyle, and Mill; his ideas were directly influential for a brief time in England, and those of his disciple August Comte influenced British thought through the 19th century.
In the 1830s Saint-Simonian missionaries arrived in England and arranged conversion meetings. They championed trade unionism and the abolition of private property, inheritance, competition, and marriage, as the necessary means to free the two dependent groups, workers and women, to be liberated respectively from employers and husbands. They were attacked by outraged English moralists proclaiming that the foreign arrivals were not only interested in community of goods but in a community of women, but befriended by the co-operative movement leader William Thompson, Anna Wheeler, and other English socialists, who were attracted by their enraged critique of a competitive, unequal industrial society.
A feminist ideology was an important portion of Saint-Simonian teachings and they directed a special propaganda to women. Mrs. Wheeler translated a Saint-Simonian appeal to women from a Frenchwomen's periodical, La Femme Libre. The feminist side of Saint-Simonianism in England may also have drawn inspiration from the French feminist Flora Tristan, who visited England in 1826, 1831, 1835, and 1839. On one of her visits she dressed up in Turkish clothes in order to gain admission to the visitors' galleries of parliament, then closed to women.
Saint-Simonian ideals were influential in their generally meliorist view of the possibility of human progress and advocacy of social organization rather than laissez-faire. The Saint-Simonians were never able to establish an independent sect in England, however, in part because of their hierarchical internal organization and emphasis on religious metaphors and terminology. Over time they became increasingly conservative and declined from a progressive movement.
Perhaps their most remembered action was a voyage to the east to search for a female messiah, led by Enfantin, an episode which has perhaps been overemphasized by historians. Still they remained as the memory of co-operativist ideals which were taken up by others later in the century.
Francois Charles Fourier (1772-1837), an early nineteenth-century French utopian socialist, pioneered in a critique of nineteenth-century morality--asserting the need for pleasurable and varied work, shared living conditions (phanlangsteries), and gender equality. Though his account of the "passions" and some of his cosmological ideas can seem eccentric after the passage of two centuries, his social ideas made an important contribution to equalitarian traditions.
Born into a wealthy merchant family and mostly self-educated, Fourier led a quiet life as a minor business employer while producing his first major work in 1808, Theorie des quatres mouvements et des destines generales. According to this work, happiness could replace misery if man's thirteen passions, now repressed by civilization, could find release through the organization of life into phalanxes. The thirteen passions were: ambition, friendship, love, family feeling, the passion for intrigue, the passion for diversification, the passion for combining pleasures, and most important of all, the passion for harmony or unity (the sense of harmony and goodwill to all humankind). Each Fourierian phalanx would consist of about 1800 persons, and by a scientific combination of each person's tastes and inclinations, each would be enabled to give expression to his passions and capacities and avoid misery and vice.
Fourier believed that if a trial phalanx could be established, "Civilization" would be abolished in a year or so. His life became a search for money to establish such a phalanx, to be called Harmony. Because the world was one, Fourier believed, the coming of Harmony would lead to new, beneficial organisms on earth and would result in the appearance of new satellites, in the regaining of health by our planet, and in more distant desirable cosmic repercussions. At the moment, however, earth remained deplorably behind other planets in its social and biological development, and Fourier hoped that sufficiently powerful telescopes would enable men to observe the system of Harmony as practiced by the Solarians, the inhabitants of Jupiter.
Despite his eccentricities, Fourier wrote acute denunciations of exploitation and pretense in society, the family, and the state, fraud in commerce, and the appalling conditions of the masses. His accounts of how children learn and his belief in the value of a practical education for the young anticipate insights of modern educational theory. His interests included psychology, pedagogy, the conditions for work (he advocated brief sessions, variety of occupation), and the reform of sexual relations. Outraged by the degraded position of women, he believed the condition of women measured the true state of a society.
Fourier's criticisms were appreciated by Marx, Engels and Morris, and in several ways anticipated later socialist thought. His opposition to monogamy made him generally contemned in England as the harbinger of prostitution and the dissolution of every social bond. Even the narrator of Elizabeth Barrett Browning's Aurora Leigh dismisses him as too extreme to attract her heroine. But several model communities, calling themselves phalangsteries, were established in the United States, among them New Harmony. Usually phalangsteries were large communal dwellings, a choice perhaps inspired in part by the need for economy.