Charles Fourier on Free Will — I



The Treatise on Free Will does not appear in the first edition of the Treatise on Universal Unity. It is the first of Fourier’s manuscripts delivered for publication since the death of the author.
The notebooks left by Fourier are in general only preliminary sketches that he condensed and published when he published then. Quite a number of these manuscripts date from the period prior to the appearance of the first edition of the Treatise on Universal Unity (1822).
The Treatise on Free Will is of this number.
Despite the imperfect state in which Fourier left the work, faithful to a law which we have imposed on ourselves, we have not wished to make any corrections: we reproduce the text literally, warning only that the manuscript is only a sketch, a draft, in which the words were often written in abbreviations. Gaps in words, when we have encountered them, have been filled, but in this case the intercalation is indicated by brackets.
The Treatise on Free Will is by no means the least interesting of Fourier’s works. The reader will find in it the fundamental character of the genius of the great man, a character which is nothing but good sense in the fullness of its strength and power, good sense raised so high, endowed with such a broad view, and armed with such authority, that it becomes clarity, light even, and becomes identified with universal reason, the genius of Humanity.
Surveying the annals of intellectual struggles, we encounter no question on which the philosophers of all schools, the theologians of all the sects and religions, have heaped us so many controversies, accumulated so many subtleties, as on the question of Free Will. Fourier approaches this problem in his customary manner; he goes right to the exit of the labyrinth, without even lowering his gaze to the tortuous routes which have been painfully traced there. It is good sense striding across the domain that the metaphysical subtleties of the philosophers and theologians had covered with tangles of barren, thorny branches.
Minds convoluted with metaphysical and psychological niceties, which are in philosophy what the seekers of the squaring of the circle are in mathematics, will doubtless find that Fourier has not even understood the premises of the problem to be solved. The solution appears to natural to them, too simple: the profound people who “seek noon at fourteen hours” always find quite simple those who simply accept noon at noon. As for those good sorts who believe that clarity and good sense are not incompatible with truth and profundity, they will easily recognize that the concrete solution of the problem of Liberty by Attraction, in the social world, is identical to the abstract solution of the problem in its metaphysical form. All the thorns of the problem of Free Willfall before the theory of Attraction and Universal Unity.


Of all the blunders of our century, there is no more grievous than the spirit of liberty, good and praiseworthy in the abstract, but so badly directed in its application, that it has rallied to the banners of despotism even those who had inclined to liberty—an unfortunate proof that there is only illusion and pejoratism in these lovely theories.
Why then aren’t the civilized nations able to enjoy a good which is the object of collective and individual desires? That is a question quite worthy of our attention! It is the first question which should concern us in an analysis of Civilization: it is first necessary to demonstrate in the civilized mechanism a speculative aberration, ignorance of the conditions of collective and individual liberty. That will be the object of the 1st section, from which we will pass to the analysis of practical errors and some springs whose ill-directed play condemns Civilized society to the role of permanent servitude, no matter what form it gives its codes and institutions, in populous countries, the exception bearing only on new countries.
The enslavement of the Civilized, even in the republics, where they are often much more enslaved than under a king, witness the oligarchies of Venice, Bern and Fribourg; that enslavement, I say, is so well established that every proof in that regard would be superfluous; but there remains to pride some entrenchment from which it engages in resistance, and lacking political and material liberties, it boasts of spiritual liberties, and particularly of Free Will, which everyone agrees to accept, to guard against the belief in predestination andfatalism, making man a automaton, raises crime to the level of virtue. I do not pretend to treat these abstruse questions, but only the part which relates to Attraction.
When the King Louis XVI, blocked at the Tuileries by the Convention, was obliged to sign all the decrees proposed to him, an engraving shows him locked in a prison, passing his hand through the bars to write: I am free.
Such is the independence which we enjoy in Civilization in the exercise of our passions: we are free to suffer, but not free to complain. An animal not only has a right to pleasure, without anyone bringing a suit against it for larceny or adultery, but it also has the right to complain if its pleasure is prevented. A dog retains the right to howl in its cage, but a conscript does not have that same privilege, and, snatched by henchmen from his family and his customary haunts, he must still cry, like Louis XVI: I am free. I swoon with love for the sacred person of Bonaparte. I enjoy my freedom of will, etc., etc.
Such are the judgments of philosophy and theology. We will not lead them to confess that the Civilized human being is a vile slave, scoffed at for its unfortunate virtues, and exalted in its fortunate crimes. It is, they say, a being which has to the free will to choose between good and evil. In the meantime, prudent steps are taken to see that they do not hesitate over the choice.
If there is a question to which we must apply the precept of Bacon, “to remake the human understanding and forget all that we have learned,” it is certainly that of the Free Will. It takes all the effrontery of our sophists to pretend that the human beings are free to choose between good and evil, when they have been convinced that if they opt for what is called evil, they will be tortured in this world by the executioners and assassins of philosophy; in the other world by the demons and assassins of theology. The animal even, though deprived of reason, would not dare, given such a chance, to choose the alleged evil.
Place a starving dog near a meat pie, and its first concern will be to commit the evil, to steal and eat the desired object; but make it see the whip suspended over its head, and the poor animal will move away and will seem to say to you: If I was free, I would eat the pie, but you will beat me, so I would rather go hungry.
This is the Free Will enjoyed in Civilization and Barbarism. Human beings are free to choose greater or lesser privations and tortures, and not the well-being of which they see the elements around them. If they are averse to being hanged, they can choose the little inconvenience of being left to die of hunger, according to the principles of social perfectibility which condemn the poor to the gallows, when the dare to ask for work, bread, and a social minimum.[1]
The two sciences, philosophy and theology, which assure so much happiness to the poor, disguise themselves with masks of balance, counterweights, equilibrium, guarantee, and perfectibility. We can compare this verbiage to that of the Jacobins of 1793, who, with each word, made principles, acts, justice, the good of the homeland, and the like resound. It is an admirable thing, this abuse of words in Civilization! When Condillac said to us: “Words of the true signs of our ideas,” would have done better saying: Words are the true masksof our ideas.
Let’s come to the subject. It is a question of establishing that if human beings do not enjoy Free Will, neither does God enjoy it on our Globe. In fact, Attraction comes from God, and if it is stifled by a privileged eighth of the population, suppressing the other seven eighths, the wage-workers, slaves and other classes, the impulsion of God is really and completely hobbled, since the seven eighths, in the calculation of movement, signifies the whole, and the exception of the one eighth confirms the rule. Thus it is not humans alone, but God and humans, who are deprived of Free Will on the whole globe where Attraction is impeded. That deprivation is composite, and not simple, since it applies to the two fundamental agents of the social movement, to God and human beings.
Thus, with Free Will we have a double problem to resolve. It must guarantee the liberties of God and those of man, and assure the cooperation of the two liberties, their unitary action, through the development of Attraction. Such is the true sense of the question of which our philosophers and theologians have only envisioned half: for they have only dreamed of the Free Will of man, without accepting that of God, who is oppressed in a world where Attraction does not enjoy its full exercise.
To oppress God! Don’t be surprised by this expression. Theologians arguethat man can tempt God, that is to say, make him commit evil: for temptation supposes the chance of the tempted individual succumbing. My assertion is not as unseemly as that of the theologians; I only claim that human beings can hinder God in his beneficial measures, hindering his works and falling into misfortune by wanting to be guided without his intervention. Such is the result in our world of the lack of Free Will. It does not exist in any sense: two circumstances combine to deprive us of it. They are the ignorance of the laws of nature and the perversity of the sciences which claim to interpret them. They attribute the lack of Free Will to the despotism of governments. Nothing is more untrue, and the proof is that the philosophers are still more despotic than the princes when they are entrusted with the administration. Thus it is very false that philosophy has had the sincere intention of bringing liberties to the nations.
From the moment when humans recover the use of Free Will or just of rough good sense, they will not fail to recognize that they are dupes of the two sciences that they have chosen for guides, and if they still do not perceive it, it must be that some incidents hinder the full exercise of their judgment. We will begin by examining these obstructions.
[to be continued…]
[Working translation by Shawn P. Wilbur]


[1] Sentence written in margin: The legislature will respond that we see hardly any people die of hunger. To only see one per century, like those in Seignelay and Brussels, would be enough to condemn the legislation which does not assure a minimum to the poor, and claims that they enjoy Free Will. In fact, isn’t the sufferer of hunger and privations a victim like the one who dies of hunger? The only difference is between a long torment and a sudden death.

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