William Henry Channing, “Charles Fourier” (1843)


The zeal and ability with which Albert Brisbane has for several years devoted himself to the propagation of Fourier’s doctrines of association, begin to be appreciated as they deserve. And whatever conclusive judgment his countrymen may pass upon this peculiar system, all must admit, that this earnest advocate of social reorganization has hastened and widened the great reform movement of our day. Few who have paid Fourier the respect he merits, of deep study, will deny that he has cast light, much needed and timely, upon the darkest problems, whether they adopt his social science without modification or not. And the Present will endeavor candidly to describe this system of “passional harmonies” and “attractive industry,” with the hope that every such discussion may add new impulse to the flood-tide which is now sweeping Christendom and civilization to a more active recognition of the law of love. Space and time permit, in this number, only a few preparatory remarks.

The biographical sketches which we have of Fourier, are fitted to engage our interests for the man. Such brave and lonely consecration to a great aim, for such a series of years, claiming no sympathy, buoyed up alone by a sublime hope, communing in stillness with truth, is deeply gratifying. One feels as if such a patient miner must have treasured rich ingots. He claims, and has fairly won, a right to the patient heed of his fellow.men. When we add to this fact of his resolute pursuit of a settled object, the quality of his impelling motive, his indignation at the mean artifices of trade, his confidence that heaven has made possible a state of consummate well-being and beauty for the human race, and his bold self-trust that, though seeking to the death, he would find the clue out of this labyrinth of inhumanity; when, finally, we are told by his friends of the grand style of character to which he was moulded, the justice, clear penetration, inflexibleness, and tender pity, the profound enthusiasm for men, as they certainly one day should be, the utter scorn for men as they were, we place a confidence in the sincerity of the teacher, that goes far to forestall our approval of his doctrine. And yet there is this abatement to our sympathy. The study for some forty years of ” harmony,” should have made his eye of love so clear as to see through wrong and meanness to the vital good; and the consciousness of a generous purpose should have disarmed petty opposition and criticism of their sting. One is pained at the sardonic sneer with which this keenest of observers cuts through disguises, and plucks away from shivering, naked folly the last rag that covers its shame. His denunciation is the condensed essence of bitter contempt. He should have been patient, too, with the dullards who misapprehended, and distorted in their show-boxes the truth he tried to teach. But let his papal arrogance pass. There is this comfort in listening to him—that you have before you a man who, with unblenching eyes and clear, steady voice, tells you truly and exactly what he thinks. One knows the ground on which both parties stand. There is no blowing first hot, then cold. He gives no quarter. He asserts without compromises, without ifs or buts, what he believes he knows. In the same spirit should he be met. Concessions, apologies, etiquettes, may be dropped. Here is earnest work. There is the asserted fact, there the announced law, there the argument and evidence. Test it. Is the coin sterling? For this number these few words must suffice. 
But before closing, let the fact be noted, that the interest now awakening in this subject of association is all but universal in this country. Every’ day brings tidings of some new movement of those who are roused by a great hope to leave accustomed spheres of business, wonted social circles, the old mill rounds where for years they have been grinding saw dust for bread, and to enlist in these raw militia of social reformers. Such drilling and countermarching and sounding of drums and trumpet#betokens that Providence is gathering the hosts of the faithful for some hew battle with wrong. Doubtless, as in all recruiting, the idle and shiftless and weak, whose sandy foothold has slipped away and left them stationless in life, are occasionally drafted for these armies of industry. Doubtless brigands in heart, selfish and eager for gain, will also join. But the soul of this soldiery of peaceful conquest over injustice, are men and women sick at heart of the inevitable insincerities, unkindnesses, and numberless degradations of our present social state. In the various communities which within two years have been founded or are now in the process of formation, may be found some of the choicest spirits of our land. I wish here to give to all such a hearty invitation to communicate their hopes, ‘ prospects, and the results of their experience through the pages of the Present. As every grain of gold dust, and leaf of new trees and plants, and root and berry of the New World were precious and curious to Europe after the first voyages of Columbus, so every specimen of actual life from these Eldorados and Utopias is valuable to those who stand gathering their tools and clothing to follow. Send us news, brethren, from your little oases in the deserts, your coral islands in the sea. 
W. H. C.

  • William Henry Channing, “Charles Fourier,” The Present 1, no. 1 (September 1843): 28-29.