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

FOURIER,
ON THE CRITICAL STATE OF CIVILIZATION IN EUROPE.
There never was a greater want of useful discoveries in the civilized world than at present. Society is now afflicted with four disastrous elements of a comparatively modern date, which aggravate the primithve causes of human suffering. These modern elements of social misery are,
1. The new pestilence and its complications.[1]
2. The insalubrious effects of injudicious culture and the destruction of Forests.
3. The permanency of revolutionary ferment
4. The alarming increase of public debts and stock-jobbing speculation.
This quadruple plague proves that civilization and refinement are progressing like the lobster, backwards instead of forwards. Instead of approaching nearer to human happiness, society is daily becoming more and more miserable.
To these elements of social calamity we must add another which is worse than all; namely—The charlatanism of the scientific world which is more baneful in its effects on society than all the other social evils taken collectively, for it not only misleads public opinion, by advocating the present system which engenders so many evils, but it offers the most obstinate resistance to all effective plans of improvement.
The modern sect of economists are constantly lauding the present system of society and the incoherent principles of free trade, as the beau ideal of social perfection, and the pride of modern genius. If we believe them, the science of social progress has attained the limits of perfection in their refined sophistry concerning the wealth of nations.
To refute; these pseudo-economists we have only to point to the practical results of their doctrines, as they are embodied in the evils just now mentioned. If we take one of these evils alone, the increase of national debts and the penury of governments, where are we to look for a remedy? Can politicians and economists remedy the evil. Their arbitrary speculations only serve to increase national burdens, for those countries in which economists are the most numerous and their doctrines, have the greatest influence, are also the most oppressed by the weight of nominal property. France and England for instance. *  *  *  *
What folly it is for the present generation to pin their faith to the sophisms of these economists, who delude them. selves and society by visionary speculations concerning free-trade, and persuade the public that all truly progressive principles are impracticable. We shall prove however, in this work, that there are numerous modes of improving society on associative principles, though all plans of incoherent progress can only tend to enslave the people and increase the despotic power of money monopoly.
The exact sciences, mathematics, chemistry, &c., are progressing rapidly in real discoveries, and far from pretending to have already attained perfection, their votaries very modestly avow that much more remains yet to be discovered in every branch of these sciences. The philosophers and economists of the present day have adopted a very different line of conduct. The more their doctrines increase the real evils of society, the more they persist in their visionary mode of speculation, the absolute failure of which, after 30 years experience, proves that a new science is necessary to save society from ruin. *   *   *   *
If men had any real faith in the universality of Providence, they would be convinced that God has provided a natural code of laws for the government of society, and that It is I possible to discover those principles which are best adapted to the domestic and industrial prosperity of mankind.
I do not mention the principles of government, because the grand error of philosophical speculation on that subject, during the last three thousand years, has consisted in agitating questions of government, instead of studying the principles of social organization, The true method of progress would not give umbrage to any government, for all are desirous of seeing industry progress and prosperity increase, as the best sources of peace and security in society.
It is well known that domestic and industrial association if it were practicable, would realize an immense increase of wealth and comfort: The creator, therefore, must know this better than we; what, then, must be his intention in this respect? There are but two fundamentally different modes of social organization: the present system of incoherent industry and the associative method of organization. Which of these states of Society is the natural destiny of man? All the mental, moral, material, and religious advantages indicate the latter to be our real destiny upon Earth, and therefore it was the duty of philosophers to study the natural principles of association, which would have been easily discovered by a diligent inquiry,
But such an inquiry, concerning the laws of nature would have been in direct opposition to the arbitrary speculations of moral, political, metaphysical, and economical science, based as they are upon uncertain philosophy. A want of faith in Providence has caused men to trust to human reason instead of studying the divine will as it is revealed to us in the laws of nature. *   *   *   *
Let us examine more minutely the present state of society and the evils generated by political ignorance. This will give us an idea of the insufficiency of arbitrary science and the necessity of a new policy to save us from ruin.
THE MATERIAL ELEMENTS OF DECLINE.
1stly…. The Plague and its additional complications.
1. The inhabitants of Northern Europe think themselves secure from the effects of this pestilential disease, because it has been generally confined to the coast of Spain, but in spite of quarantine regulations, the yellow fever will sooner or later be imported to England and France, for it is becoming more and more prevalent in the West Indies, while medical men are still ignorant, both of the nature of the malady and the means of curing it.
2. The old pestilence peculiar to the Levant is likely to become more prevalent in Europe, since the increase of intercourse between the Turks and the Christians.
3. The typhus fever, which decimates both the negro and the while population of America is another specimen of modern perfection, which is already said to increase the malignity M the yellow fever.
4. The cholera morbus is approaching from the East. It has already reached Bagdad, and will no doubt be speedily transmitted to us through the medium of our amiable allies, the Turks, who, from their filthy habits and blind belief in fatalism, will soon have allowed the Indian and the Egyptian plagues to unite, and these two united to the typhus and the yellow-fever, will form a compound of pestilential elements, and a new plague of more malignant and disastrous effects than any of the simple infections. These are the material results of our present system of progress, and our philosophers are deluding themselves and the public with  declamatory twaddle about progress. This one positive symptom of decline is enough to undeceive all thinking people; but we will enumerate three others.
As a set-off to these positive signs of decline, great stress is laid on partial degrees of progress, such as the discovery of vaccination, which has almost entirely neutralised the effects of the small-pox. That is certainly an advantage, but it is not enough to counterbalance the very serious evils which are rapidly increasing around us. The general of an army might as well boast of having taken a thousand prisoners in the field of battle, after losing several thousands of his own men, as for, statesmen to boast of progress in the present state of things. How is it that the statesmen of the present age, who are constantly talking of the balance of power and the progress of civilization, do not perceive that both the political and the material world are receding ten times as much of the one hand as they are progressing on the other? I shall often have occasion to remind them of this curious result of their learned theories concerning the progress of commerce and the balance of power.
2ndly: The insalubrious effects of injudicious culture and the destruction of forests. The seasons are now completely deranged in their alternations; they are subject to sudden transitions and periodical excess which cause permanent injury to the culture In Europe. The chief cause of these pernicious irregularities and inclemencies of the seasons, is the reckless manner in which the great mountains in Europe have been deprived of their forest wood. This one blunder alone will be the cause of very serious injury to the agricultural interests of Europe so long as it remains unrepaired; and as that is not likely to be very soon, we have nothing but an increase of bad harvests to expect for a long time to come.
There has been already so much said on this subject that it would be difficult for me to make the picture worse than it has been made by others, unless I add that the evil is often increased by those unexpected seasons which are generally deemed favourable. For instance; after a series of bad seasons from 1816 to 1821, the mild winter and the early spring of 1822 were mistaken for a return to a healthy state of alternation in the seasons, but the result proved the contrary. After experiencing a series of winters which were prolonged to the month of June, our planet seemed in 1822, to have had no winter season; and this irregularity was the cause of an Immense increase of vermin, in addition to premature and persevering droughts and innumerable hurricanes, Which devastated, not two or three parishes here and there, but whole provinces; so that, after all the fine appearances of crops, and the high expectations of the people, the harvest was one of the most indifferent.
These multiplied irregularities, and their disastrous consequences sufficiently prove the material derangement and decline of our planet, and the urgency of a general system of progressive improvement, but how are our natural philosophers to discover a remedy which they never think of looking for? Which of our philosophers is likely to speculate concerning the causes of decline and irregularity in the material functions of our planet, when none of them has ever yet thought of calculating and classifying the mere effects of evil, either in the physical or in the political department?
The political world is evidently not less diseased than the physical world, as we shall clearly show in our next article.


[1] Formerly the pestilential disease which ravaged different parts of the world from time to time was of a comparatively simple nature, and commonly called the Plague, but it has now assumed a quadruple developement: namely,
1. The Ancient Plague or Mediterranean Pestilence.
2. The Yellow fever or American Pestilence.
3. The Typhus fever or European Pestilence.
4. The Cholera-morbus or East Indian Pestilence, which is rapidly progressing towards Turkey and Africa, and will soon be in Europe. (The reader must bear in mind that Fourier made this prediction in 1822, and in 1831 it was fully realized.)

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Independent scholar, translator and archivist.