Charles Fourier, The Critical State of Civilization (1 of 2)

[This section from The Treatise on Domestic-Agricultural Association immediately follows the material already posted from The Morning Star. It appeared in the November 25, 1840 issue (No. 6) of that paper.]

The most recent and the most remarkable elements of decline in the political organization of society in Europe, are, national debts and revolutions, which generate each other. Our political doctors have hitherto failed in devising remedies for these social evils. As a check on the prodigality of national expenditure and the increase of national debts, they have established what is called constitutional government and national representation, the principal property of which, according to experience, is to increase taxes, national debts, and popular fermentation. As a check to revolutionary ferment amongst the people, they have established repressive laws, which only tend to multiply the seeds of discontent, and generate a new revolutionary spirit by those very means which are used to put down sedition.
The only effective means of neutralizing the modern spirit of revolution, consists in creating new interests, having the power of absorbing popular-attention, by eclipsing the paltry interests of democratic institutions: such would be the effect of progressive association.
The first positive result obtained by association will change the popular current of opinion from the channels of political agitation to those of productive organization, and thus absorb at once the delusive spirit of sedition and false liberalism, which is now the cause of so much anxiety to all the governments of Europe. Political agitation will be scouted as a senseless loss of time, which only tends to thwart the collective and the individual interests of all classes. Those who deem themselves the most liberal, according to our present notions, will be found to be very wide of the principles of true liberality, notwithstanding their honourable intentions, for the present state of society offers us no type of real liberality.
We shall prove that the most enlightened policy of liberalism ought to conciliate the existing authorities, by confining reform to industrial and economical combinations, without disturbing the functions of general administration, which will always adapt themselves spontaneously to the social state of the people. Besides, it has already been proved by repeated experiments, that political revolutions only increase the burdens of the people for the benefit of intriguing factions, instead of bettering the social condition of the labouring population.
The increase of public debts and stock-jobbing rapacity are so well understood, and the rapidity of their progress is so very notorious, that it is hardly necessary to dwell upon them here; and this fact alone is enough to show the utter inefficiency of that arbitrary science called Political Economy. This leads me to speak of one grand defect, more or less connected with the preceding causes of decline ill society, and that is, charlatanism in science, or the delusive pretensions of arbitrary systems of economy, which are found by experience to produce effects contrary to those which they announce. Tile authors of these systems should be made more or less responsible for the results of their application, and then, perhaps, they would be less reckless in their speculations.
Those philosophers who have talked so long and so loudly about the responsibility of ministers and other public officers, have never said a word about subjecting themselves to similar laws of responsibility concerning the results of their own schemes. And yet it is probable that such a mode of proceeding might be very useful. A penal code for sophistical speculation, proved to be injurious in their results, would have cured the age of the mania for making arbitrary systems, and forced philosophers and economists into the natural method of speculation, which leads to useful discoveries. The present generation may be endowed with great powers Of wit and ingenuity, but it has proved itself to be very deficient in sagacity with respect to the direction of scientific speculation.
I have only mentioned four general causes of decline in the physical and the social world of the present day, but it would be very easy to multiply that number tenfold, as we shall see in the sequel of these pages; enough has been said, however, to show that our champions of progress and perfectibility are completely lost in their own sophistical labyrinths, and that they are causing us to retrograde, in a collective sense, faster than we- progress in an individual sense. It is evident that they are misleading us; and therefore it is highly necessary to verify whether or not association is the only source of healthy progress, and, if so, whether or not the method of corporate organization, which I am about to explain, is the true basis of progressive association.
Without association, it will be impossible to protect the rights of labour against the inroads of national debts, and secure property against the dangers of revolutionary re-action. But to understand the principles of association, we must divest ourselves of all that economico-philosophical superstition which darkens the minds even of those who think themselves open to conviction.. These prejudices may be truly termed the original sin of the present generation, and they will require a considerable degree of preparatory instruction to neutralize them effectually.
If we except the necessity of waging war with sophistical doctrines, we may present the science of association as a doctrine of universal conciliation, for it teaches us how to enrich all classes without injuring any. It will even conciliate philosophers themselves, when they become indifferent to the fate of their arbitrary systems, and can feel the pleasure of true knowledge concerning the science of destiny and the system of Nature, the discovery of which they have never dared to hope for.
The most limited experiment of association uniting about one hundred families on a plot of land containing a few square miles will prove that philosophers have never had any adequate idea of social happiness, nor of the true means of practising that truth, liberty and economy, of which so much has been said, and so little understood.
During a period of at least twenty-fire centuries, since the origin of moral and political science, little has been effected for the general happiness of mankind. Philosophy has only tended to perpetuate misery and reproduce the same calamities under different forms. This proves that mere philosophy is inadequate to the task of solving the problem of human happiness.
And yet, there is a universal uneasiness of mind which proves that humanity has not yet arrived at that state of existence which is called for by Nature, and this uneasiness seems to be prophetic of an extraordinary change in social organization. The nations of the earth, hundreds of times deceived by political quacks seem to hope for some miraculous delivery, like a sick patient abandoned by the doctors. Nature seems to whisper in the ears of the human race,—“that we are destined to a happy state of existence in this world, the road to which we have not yet found, but that a miraculous discovery will dispel the darkness of incoherent policy and reveal at once the true road to terrestrial happiness.
The science of association will justify this hope, and secure to the whole human race that Slate of graduated and progressive refinement which is universally desired. Science may be said to have effected comparatively little for social happiness, so long as the primary wants of humanity have not been satisfied by a graduated sufficiency of riches and comfort, securing a decent independency to the poorest individuals. Social science itself would only be another source of humility to human reason, if it only enriched the domain of science without creating that abundance of production which will destroy the fear of want and the cause of discord in society.
The present state of incoherent civilization and competitive industry, from which we are about to emerge, is only a temporary state of social existence, to which every globe is subjected during the period of its political infancy. The savage, the Patriarchal, the barbarian or military, and the civilized states of competitive industry are only so many successive degrees in the progress of society from ignorance and poverty to science and social comfort, and this transitional state has been greatly prolonged on our globe by the error of philosophy in neglecting the study of moral attraction and universal harmony.
It would have been eternally vain for philosophers to speculate on metaphysical subtilities concerning human happiness, with competitive industry as a basis of .social organization, for that basis is in opposition to the universal laws of truth and economy, and therefore it is not the natural destiny of mankind; it is not the perfection of society as designed by God.
Philosophers must now confess, either that terrestrial happiness is not the real destiny of mankind, or that their arbitrary methods have not been able to penetrate the secrets of Nature and her laws. And yet it must be owned that the laws of Nature are not impenetrable to those who observe them simply as the mathematicians and chemists do, instead of imagining arbitrary systems and substituting them in lieu of Natures laws, as moralists and metaphysicians have done generally.
The votaries of the exact sciences have observed nature instead of dictating laws to her, but moralists have constantly endeavoured to deny the authority of nature, and stifle the passions and attractions of man instead of studying their natural mechanism in society. Those human passions and desires which have been so long the subject of moral declamation, are nevertheless the eternal springs of human activity and -the permanent interpretation of the divine will, as it is revealed in the universal laws of attraction and repulsion, the analysis and synthesis of which lead us to association as the only means of harmonizing the innate attractions of human nature. And be it observed here, that we use the word passion in a general sense, and not in the common acceptation of brutal impulse or violent agitation.
The deviations of the passions have been mistaken by moralists for innate depravity, and thence it is that they have not been able to discover the laws of social harmony. Instead of observing human nature to discover the secret springs of ac lion, they have studied only to resist those impulsions which they could not destroy. This is the cause of all their blundering.
What a marked contrast there is between the errors of uncertain philosophy, and the sublime results of the exact sciences! Every day adds new errors to old sophisms in the sphere of metaphysical speculation, while on the other hand the physical and mathematical sciences are daily revealing new truths and shedding a lustre upon modern times which is only equalled by the depth of philosophical obscurity which disgraced the eighteenth century.
About Shawn P. Wilbur 2196 Articles
Independent scholar, translator and archivist.