Charles Fourier

This article is about the French utopian socialist philosopher. For other people named Fourier, see Fourier.

François Marie Charles Fourier (April 7, 1772 - October 10, 1837) was a French utopian socialist and philosopher. Fourier is credited by modern scholars with having originated the word féminisme in 1837; as early as 1808, he had argued that the extension of women's rights was the general principle of all social progress. Fourier inspired the founding of the communist community called La Reunion near present-day Dallas, Texas as well as several other communities within the United States of America, such as the North American Phalanx.

Biography

Fourier was born in Besançon on April 7, 1772. Born a son of a small businessman, Fourier was more interested in architecture than he was in his father's trade. In fact, he wanted to become an engineer, but since the local Military Engineering School only accepted sons of noblemen, he was automatically ineligible for it. Fourier later was grateful that he did not pursue engineering, for he stated that it would have consumed too much of his time and taken away from his true desire to help humanity. In July 1781 after his father's death, Fourier received two-fifths of his father's estate, valued at more than 200,000 francs. This sudden wealth enabled Fourier the freedom to travel throughout Europe at his leisure. In 1791 he moved from Besançon to Lyon, where he was employed by the merchant M. Bousqnet. Fourier's travels also brought him to Paris where he worked as the head of the Office of Statistics for a few months. Fourier was not satisfied with making journeys on behalf of others for their commercial benefit. Having a desire to seek knowledge in everything he could, Fourier often would change business firms as well as residences in order to explore and experience new things. From 1791 to 1816 Fourier was employed in the cities of Paris, Rouen, Lyon, Marseilles, and Bordeaux. As a traveling salesman and correspondence clerk, his research and thought was time-limited: he complained of "serving the knavery of merchants" and the stupefaction of "deceitful and degrading duties". A modest legacy set him up as a writer. He had three main sources for his thought: people he had met as a traveling salesman, newspapers, and introspection. His first book was published in 1808.

In April 1834, Fourier moved into a Paris apartment where he later died in October 1837.

On October 11, 1837 at three o'clock in the afternoon, Fourier's funeral procession began from his home to the church of the Petits-Peres. The ceremony was attended by over four hundred people from all trades and backgrounds.

Ideas

Fourier declared that concern and cooperation were the secrets of social success. He believed that a society that cooperated would see an immense improvement in their productivity levels. Workers would be recompensed for their labors according to their contribution. Fourier saw such cooperation occurring in communities he called "phalanxes". Phalanxes were based around structures called "grand hotels," (or Phalanstère). These buildings were four level apartment complexes where the richest had the uppermost apartments and the poorest enjoyed a ground floor residence. Wealth was determined by one's job; jobs were assigned based on the interests and desires of the individual. There were incentives: jobs people might not enjoy doing would receive higher pay. Fourier considered trade, which he associated with Jews, to be the "source of all evil" and advocated that Jews be forced to perform farm work in the phalansteries.

Fourier characterized poverty (not inequality) as the principal cause of disorder in society, and he proposed to eradicate it by sufficiently high wages and by a "decent minimum" for those who were not able to work.

He believed that there were twelve common passions which resulted in 810 types of character, so the ideal phalanx would have exactly 1620 people. One day there would be six million of these, loosely ruled by a world "omniarch", or (later) a World Congress of Phalanxes. He had a touching concern for the sexually rejected - jilted suitors would be led away by a corps of "fairies" who would soon cure them of their lovesickness, and visitors could consult the card-index of personality types for suitable partners for casual sex. He also defended homosexuality as a personal preference for some people.

Fourier was also a big supporter of women's rights in a time period where influences like Jean-Jacques Rousseau were prevalent. Fourier believed that all important jobs should be open to women on the basis of skill and aptitude rather than closed on account of gender. He spoke of women as individuals, not as half the human couple. Fourier saw that "traditional" marriage could potentially hurt woman's rights as human beings and thus never married.

Fourier's concern was to liberate every human individual, man, woman, and child, in two senses: Education and the liberation of human passion.

On Education, Fourier felt that "civilized" parents and teachers saw children as little idlers. Fourier felt that this way of thinking was wrong. He felt that children as early as age two and three were very industrious. He listed the dominant tastes in all children to include, but not limited to:

1. Rummaging or inclination to handle everything, examine everything, look through everything, to constantly change occupations; 2. Industrial commotion, taste for noisy occupations; 3. Aping or imitative mania. 4. Industrial miniature, a taste for miniature workshops. 5. Progressive attraction of the weak toward the strong.

Fourier was deeply disturbed by the disorder of his time and wanted to stabilize the course of events which surrounded him. Fourier saw his fellow human beings living in a world full of strife, chaos, and disorder.

Fourier is best remembered for his writings on a new world order based on unity of action and harmonious collaboration.

In one of Fourier's most well-noted works, On the Phalanstere, which refers to his Utopian project, he addresses twelve fundamental passions, the core concepts of human behavior. They are: five of the senses (hearing, sight, tough, taste, smell), four of the soul, or the cardinal passions, (friendship, family, love, ambition), and the three distributive passions, which required elaboration by Fourier due to their complexity. The first of the distributives, la Papillone, refers to passion for variety. In the text Fourier attacks routine and notes a person's inability to enjoy life fully should he or she devote him or herself to only to one task. Fourier criticized Christianity for making people feel guilt whenever they pursued this natural desire, in both work and in play. Fourier also let it be known that not only the poor became disgruntled with performing one task over and over again, but even ministers could grow tired of doing their job for years. He believed that society had to eliminate all unpleasant jobs and allow citizens to shift freely between occupations. The second distributive, la Cabaliste, focuses on rivalry and conspiracy. Man, says the cabalist, is competitive by nature. This innate drive for competition amongst rival companies would increase the production of goods, ranging from shoes to butter pears, and consider the general will of society. In recognition of the harmful elements of competition- conflict and violence- Fourier thought his phalanstere organized well enough to emphasize the good of society over individual profit, which often drove men to conflict in competition. Fourier described la Composite as the most beautiful and complex of all the twelve passions. La Composite involved a combination of passions, such as sharing a hearty meal (senses) with close friends (soul) while plotting (la Cabaliste) to arrange a sexual orgy with the couple at the next table. Fourier's defense over all types of sexuality stem from this passion. He viewed bisexuality, homosexuality, and even masochism as man's natural desires, and any natural sexual energy was not to be curbed by religion or morality.

Fourier held the belief that every person either held one dominant passion- any one of his twelve- or several dominant animic passions, the animics consisting of the four cardinal passions and the three distributive passions. To Fourier, immorality occurred in modern society because it didn't follow his serial model of organization, which fit in the distributive passions whereas modern society did not. All twelve passions constructed the core of human behavior, and for any of these passions to face limitations from society would repress the nature of man. In the Phalanstere Fourier argues his own conception of God, in which God has endowed mankind with these passions, represented by a child's preference for sweets over bread, in order to provide man with a means of satisfaction, not clash with the morals of Christianity and their own God-concept. In short, if man enjoys sweets, then God wishes him to enjoy sweets, so why should men feed mainly on bread instead?

Fourier's emphasis on pleasure indicates a parallel with the liberal thinkers of the 19th century, most notably John Stuart Mill and Jeremy Bentham, with the exception of the Utopian Socialist Fourier finding the key to a perfect civilization in the form of a people or society rather than in the individual, a trademark of Nineteenth Century Liberalism.

Influence

The influence of Fourier's ideas in French politics was carried forward into the 1848 Revolution and the Paris Commune by followers such as Victor Considérant.

Numerous references to Fourierism appear in Dostoevsky's political novel The Possessed first published in 1872. In it Fourierism is used by the revolutionary faithful as something of an insult to their brethren and those within the circle are quick to defend themselves from being labeled a Fourierist. Whether this is because it is a foreign ideology or because they believe it to be archaic is never made entirely clear.

Fourier's ideas also took root in America starting several branches of what is often called a cult. Fourier's followers started phalanxes throughout America and were responsible for one of the more famous ones, Utopia, Ohio.

In the middle of the 20th century, Fourier's influence began to rise again among writers reappraising socialist ideas outside the Marxist mainstream. After the Surrealists had broken with the French Communist Party, André Breton returned to Fourier, writing Ode à Charles Fourier in 1947. In 1969, the Situationists quoted and adapted Fourier's Avis aux civilisés relativement à la prochaine métamorphose sociale in their text ''Avis aux civilisés relativement à l'autogestion généralisée''.

Contemporary influence

Fourier's work has significantly influenced the writings of Gustav Wyneken, Guy Davenport (in his work of fiction Apples and Pears), Peter Lamborn Wilson, and Paul Goodman and probably influenced the Italian boss Adriano Olivetti in the management of his electronics company.

In Whit Stillman's film Metropolitan, social idealist Tom is described as a Fourierist, and debates the success of social experiment Brook Farm with another of the characters.

Fourier's works

References

On Fourier and his works