Charles Fourier on the Pear-Grower’s Series

This illustration of Fourier’s theory of the play of passional attractions and progressive series is something I have referred to in the past, in “The Lesson of the Pear-Growers’ Series.” Ian Patterson has done a lovely, complete translation of it for the Cambridge edition of The Theory of the Four Movements, but I’ve wanted for some time to spend enough time with the French to work up a usable translation of my own, since I expect to have recourse to the example again in forthcoming work. Working through Fourier’s prose is at once maddening and delightful, since there is frequently a whole lot going on. Hopefully, I’ve captured at least some of that. I have not translated the second section on the Parade Series, but can certainly recommend it, either in French or in English, to anyone who is intrigued by this bit.

The Theory of the Four Movements

Note A

I must anticipate one objection that will no doubt be addressed to me on the subject of that new domestic Order that I call the PROGRESSIVE SERIES. It will be said that the invention of such an order was a child’s reckoning, and that its arrangements seem mere amusements. Little matter, provided we reach the goal, which is to produce industrial attraction, and lead one another by the lure of pleasure to agricultural work, which is today a torment for the well-born. Its duties, such as plowing, rightly inspire in us a distaste bordering on horror, and the educated man is reduced to suicide, when the plow is his only resort. That disgust will be completely surmounted by the powerful industrial attraction that will be produced by the progressive Series of which I am going to speak.

If the arrangements of that Order rest only on some child’s reckonings, it is a remarkable blessing of Providence which has desired that the science most important to our happiness was the easiest to acquire. Consequently, in criticizing the theory of the progressives series for its extreme simplicity, we commit two absurdities: to criticize Providence for the ease that it has attached to the calculation of our Destinies, and to criticize the Civilized for the forgetfulness that causes them to miss the simplest and most useful of calculations. If it is a child’s study, our savants are below the children for not having invented that which required such feeble illumination; and such is the fault common to the Civilized who, all puffed up with scientific pretentions, dash ten times beyond their aim, and become, by an excess of science, incapable of grasping the simple processes of Nature.

We have never seen more striking evidence of it than that of the stirrup, an invention so simple that any child could make it; however, it took 5000 years before the stirrup was invented. The cavaliers, in Antiquity, tired prodigiously, and were subject to serious maladies for lack of a stirrup, and along the routes posts were placed to aid in mounting horses. At this tale, everyone is dumbfounded by the thoughtlessness of the ancients, a thoughtlessness that lasted 50 centuries, though the smallest child could have prevented it. We will soon see that the human race has committed, on the subject of the “passional series”, the same thoughtlessness, and that the least of our learned men would have been sufficient to discover that little calculation. Since it is finally grasped, every criticism of its simplicity will be, I repeat, a ridicule that the jokers will cast on themselves and on 25 scholarly centuries which have lacked it.

Let us come to the account I have promised; I will explain here only the material order of the series, without speaking in any way of their relations.

A “passional series” [considered as a group] is composed of persons unequal in all senses, in ages, fortunes, characters, insights, etc. The sectaries must be chose in a manner to form a contrast and a gradation of inequalities, from rich to poor, from learned to ignorant, [from young to old,] etc. The more the inequalities are graduated and contrasted, the more the series will lead to labor, produce profits, and offer social harmony.

[When a large mass of series is well-ordered, each of them] divide in various groups, whose order is the same as that of an army. To give the picture of it, I am going to suppose a mass of around 600 persons, half men and half women, all passionate about the same branch of industry, such as the cultivation of flowers or fruit. Take, for example, the series of the cultivation of pear trees: we will subdivide these 600 persons into groups which devote themselves to cultivating one or two species of pear; thus we will see a group of sectaries of butter-pears, one of sectaries of the bergamot, one of sectaries of the russet, etc. And when everyone will be enrolled in groups of their favorite pear (one can be a member of several), we will find about thirty groups which will be distinguished by their banners and ornaments, and will form themselves in three, or five, or seven divisions, for example :


Composed of 32 groups.

Divisions. Numeric PROGRESSION Types of culture.

1° Forward outpost. 2 groups. Quince and hard hybrids.

2° Ascending wing-tip 4 groups. Hard cooking pears.

3° Ascending wing. 6 groups. Crisp pears.

4° Center of Series. 8 groups. Soft pears.

5° Descending wing. 6 groups. Compact pears.

6° Descending wing-tip. 4 groups. Floury pears.

7° Rear outpost. 2 groups. Medlars and soft hybrids.

It does not matter if the series be composed of men or women, or children, or some mixture; the arrangement is always the same.

The series will take more or less that distribution, either of the number of groups, or the division of labor. The more it approaches that regularity in gradation and degradation, the better is will be harmonized and encourage labor. The canton which gains the most and gives the best product under equal conditions, is the one which has its series best graduated and contrasted.

If the series is formed regularly, like the one I just mentioned, we will see alliances between the corresponding divisions. Thus the ascending and descending wings will unite against the center of the series, and agree to make their productions prevail at the cost of those of the center; the two wingtips will be allies and unite with the center to combat the two wings. It will result from this mechanism that each of the groups will produce magnificent fruits over and over again.

The same rivalries and alliances are reproduced among the various groups of a division. If one wing is composed of six groups, three of men and three of women, there will be industrial rivalry between the men and the women, then rivalry within each sex between group 2, which is central, and the end groups, 1 and 3, which are united against it; then an of No. 2 groups, male and female, against the pretensions of groups 1 and 3, of both sexes; finally all the groups of the wing will rally against the pretensions of the groups of the wingtips and center, so that the series for the culture of pears will alone have more federal and rival intrigues than there are in the political cabinets of Europe.

Next come the intrigues of series against series and canton against canton, which will be organized in the same manner. We see that the series of pear-growers will be a strong rival of the series of apple-growers, but will ally with the series of cherry-growers, these two species of fruit trees offering no connection which could excite jealousy among heir respective cultivators.

The more we know how to excite the fire of the passions, struggles and alliances between the groups and series of a canton, the more we will see them ardently vie to labor and to raise to a high degree of perfection the branch industry about which they are passionate. From this results the general perfection of every industry, for there are means to form series in every branch of industry. If it is a question of a hybrid [ambiguous] plant, like the quince, which is neither pear nor apple, we place its group between two series for which it serves as link; this group of quinces is the advanced post of the series of pears and rear post of the apple series. It is a group mixed from two types, a transition from one to another, and it is incorporated into the two series. We find in the passions some hybrid and bizarre tastes, as we find mixed productions which are not of any one species. The Societary Order draws on all these quirks and makes use of every imaginable passions, God having created nothing that is useless.

I have said that the series cannot always be classified as regularly as I have just indicated; but we approach as closely as we can this method, which is the natural order, and which is the most effective for exalting the passions, counterbalancing them and bringing about labor. Industry becomes a diversion as soon as the industrious are formed in progressive series. They labor then less because of the lure of profit than as an effect of emulation and of other vehicles inherent in the spirit of the series [and at the blossoming of the Cabalist or tenth passion.]

From here arises a result that is very surprising, like all those of the Societary Order: the less that we concern ourselves with profit, the more we gain. In fact, the Series most strongly stimulated by intrigues, the one which would make the most pecuniary sacrifices to satisfy its self-esteem, will be the one that will give the most perfection and value to the product, and which, as a consequence, will have gained the most by forgetting to concern itself with interest and only thinking of passion; but if it has few rivalries, intrigues and alliances, little self-esteem and excitement, it will work [coldly, ] by interest more than by special passion, and its products and profits alike will be much inferior to those of a series with many intrigues. Therefore, its gains will be less, to the degree that it has been stimulated by the love of gain. [We must then plot a grouped series, organize intrigue, as regularly as we would a dramatic piece, and, in order to achieve this, the principal rule to follow is the gradation of inequalities.]

I have said, that in order to properly organize intrigues in the series and raise to the highest perfection the products of each of their groups, we must coordinate as much as possible the ascending and descending; I will give a second example to better etch that arrangement in the mind of the readers. I choose the parade series.

[Working translation by Shawn P. Wilbur]