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Friday, November 2, 2012

Saint-Simon (and friends)

The development of this group is bizarre, fascinating, and at some points chilling and detestable.
Starting with Saint-Simon, himself.  (a very rough sketch - please fill in missing details or correct me if I missed something.  This is not my own research, it's an abstract of one book on Saint-Simonism)

1760- born, Paris, to a family claiming noble heritage, with distant family lines to Charlemagne.
1777- enters the army, age 17.
1779- shipped of to America to fight in the war, age 19, sees substantial battle and conflict there during 5 campaigns.
1783- returns to France, age 23.  Takes up an interest in math and science, notably through the lectures of Monge.  Unhappy as a peacetime soldier, leaves the army and travels.
1789- returns to France again.  Invests in real estate and a factory and does very well by his investments.
c 1790s - Imprisoned (somehow related to investments?).  While in jail, Saint-Simon has a vision or dream where Charlamagne appears before him and says that everything he had accomplished in state and military as king, Saint-Simon will accomplish in philosophy, that Saint-Simon will be great within philosophy.
c 1795- Back in school, living in the Latin Quarter, studying various math and science-related disciplines.  Befriends many in Paris who are knowledgeable in these areas, while also associating himself with those who are in poverty or are living on the fringes of Parisian society.
1802- visits Geneva and writes his first pamphlet outlining his ideas.
1803- Publishes pamphlet.

The pamphlet: Introduces a social model for reorganizing wealth and social structure in europe.  Model is based on the socio-economics of the middle ages.  The main points:
- Reharmonizing Science (knowledge) and Religion (belief) to mend the broken relationship between them.
- Society organized into a strict hierarchy of three groups: Spiritual Power (the top), Temporal Power (aka politics, the middle), and Humanity (? couldn't find a clear name for this one, aka the working masses).
- Science basically is rewritten as religion; Simon wants to put scientists and mathematicians in the social roles typically held by priests and clergy.
- All science must reduce to one clear and fundamental principle, which Saint-Simon identifies as gravity.  Isaac Newton, therefore, will be made the founder of the New Religion and the figurehead of Spiritual Power.  His priests will be accomplished scientists, who will have their own temples, and each temple will have an academy attached for the teaching of science.
- Citizens will vote for their administrative leaders (who are above the level of citizen, but below the Scientist-Priests).  Both men and women will vote.  Elections every year. 
- Everyone must work.  Motto: "Tous les hommes doivent travailler." 

1808-  Second publication, in response to Napoleon's call for a summary or history of progress in society.  Simon writes that religion must exist to enforce social order, but he dramatically reconfigures the basic elements of christianity.  'Religion,' in his reworking of it, is basically the enforcement of a dominant idea by those in power, to control the uneducated masses.  Simon's ideas here take a horrible turn towards elitism and racism.  Humankind is moving, with each passing year (he writes), towards a greater state of perfection (and thus each year, leaving behind a lesser state).  People move towards perfection through the advances of science, but only the educated understand this.  He even suggests two separate religions; a public one for the people, and a secretive one for those in power. 
The most important idea, however, is that Paradise is not behind and in the past (i.e., a lost Eden), but is ahead and in the future.  Society is progressing towards paradise, and everything that happens is justified towards that end.  This idea goes on to influence Saint-Simonism several decades later, while many of Simon's other concepts are left behind by his followers. 

c. 1820s (don't have the date) Simon dies in poverty, without the money needed to launch a newspaper outlining his ideas.

There was also a third publication I haven't summarized....

....more to come later on Saint-Simonism


  1. Thanks Tim!
    This is actually quite a bit more detail than I've been able to find anywhere--where's the website? The Socialism, Feminism, French Romanticism book has some good stuff on the Saint-Simonist organisation/s after 1830, but not a general overview, nor much of a full synopsis of Saint-Simonism generally. It seems like it didn't take long either before a lot of people started developing his theory in various ways, and I don't have a good idea how much they changed his theory, or in what ways...

    I knew that it was a technocracy with republican elements, but the emphasis here on the two 'levels' of the religion and the seeming e Saint-Simonists were operating in the 1830s--again though, only based on my limited information.

    There's a lot more to chew on even with this synopsis, much more ambivalent than I'd have expected to find...

  2. my only source is the same book by Booth which you cite in Vol. II of the reader; I'm going mostly from the first chapter on Saint Simon, and sometimes doing rough translation of Simon's statements. it definitely looks to me like the Saint-Simonists dramatically changed Simon's own ideas in practice.