Henri de Saint-Simon was born in Paris on October 17th, 1760. He belonged to a younger branch of the family of the duc de Saint-Simon. His education was directed by D'Alembert. At the age of nineteen he assisted 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.” 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. Although he was imprisoned in the Luxembourg during the Terror, he took no part of any importance in the Revolution, but profited by it to amass a little fortune by land speculation - not on any selfish 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 - undertaken merely that he might have a salon - which, after a year's duration, 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, but it 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 in 1825 (at Paris on the 19th of May), Saint-Simon had been reduced to the greatest 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. 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 suggesting much of what was afterwards elaborated into Comtism. Apart from the details of his socialistic teaching, which are vague 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 medieval 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 which universal association should suppress war. 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 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 takes the form of a religion.
For a more detailed treatment, see Christian socialism.
It was this development of his teaching 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 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; and 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 (q.v.), 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 at Paris, which were 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 metaphysical power, and was 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 (q.v.), 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 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 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 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 (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, 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, 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. 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.