4. François Marie Charles Fourier. 'Children are seditious’.
This is how Fourier articulates his own formation:
‘My theory is limited to utilising the passions just as nature gives them and without changing anything. That is the whole mystery, the whole calculus of passionate attraction. The theory does not ask whether God was right or wrong to endow human beings with particular passions; the societary order utilises them without changing anything and just as God gives them.’
So for the metaphysicians out there, let’s just note in passing this conflation of Nature to God. Not uncommon, even if there have appeared in the history of philosophy many different ways to conceptualise this and in this period of the enlightenment it was almost de rigueur to mechanise, organicise or naturalise God. Note this is not exactly an atheism, rather that the materiality of God is active in nature’s Laws. Note also that what articulates these passions correctly endowed by nature, such that they orient and are the form of the social good, is a calculus. An application of geometrical reason, we might say, not to them as such but, such as they are endowed, these passions, so will they be manifest socially as they truly are.
You can see in this some Rousseau: insofar as the implication is that we have hitherto lacked the right reason in the face of our true nature, that our efforts have been corruptive in some way (and certainly Fourier is no slouch in pointing out the varieties of corruption) whether in the commercial world of the bourgeoisie under the ancien regime, the passionate chaos of the revolution or in Napoleon’s assertion of imperial power. Like Sade, Fourier traversed the three regimes.
For example, speaking of the enlightenment philosophes and those who take them up in the variety of fields including and especially education he says: ‘Like drowning men they clutch at anything, at metaphysics, at commerce, at any novelty. They are literary bandits who infest the high road of knowledge and try to intervene wherever they are not wanted. They rack their brains to find some safe haven for their exiled science; you listen to their pitiful mutterings about morality, rather as you smile at distant thunder after a storm. They are just busybodies: no reign could be more conclusively finished than theirs.'
Clearly, he could be describing our increasingly pitiful age of destruction, cynicism and defeat in which contemporary education struggles or doesn’t to take place but the point is of course that the epoch Fourier describes and decries, as Nietzsche would say, some decades later, is that of a singular decadence, organised and determined by the fetish of commerce, and is the one we live as an effective result. We are the graduates of this epoch, getting going from the 18th C. Clearly, struggle and conflict and antagonism marks the passage until now but we know what has come to dominate thus far. I say thus far because what dominates always carries within it that which it dominates which is, come a further turn of the screw, as it were, its undoing. That’s where education works – otherwise it’s not working; which is to say, it does not exist.
Let’s note that this calculus of Fourier’s, which realises nature as it is – note it’s a function not an interpretation or even a script as Galileo had it – is the function of a use or of utility as such. The calculus is what will know the order of nature as expressed in the passions it endows in human being – it is in a real way for Fourier, the form of a transmission. The social order will then be that which in no way nullifies, diminishes or negates or supplements the passions, which would be to challenge God, after all, which is the mark of ignorance tout court but which gives the passions free reign insofar as they are the truth of God or nature in man.
So we can mark three aspects of Fourier’s theory.
There is the decisive aspect: that nature is good or true. I use these as synonym because I understand good in the Greek sense not the Christian moral sense.
Second, there is the thought of this truth which makes it manifest as such for use: that’s the calculus brought to bear.
Third, there is the architecture of this or even the spatial geometry of it which realises itself as a social form – the Harmony of passions as passions – that’s to say, because the passions are God’s endowment the passions alone are the force of the social good.
So this is the architecture of the theory Fourier builds and literally seeks to build in the phalanstery.
He was a strange guy. It almost goes without saying, right? I’ll give some back-story to him in a minute, even if it seems to me less integral to what he tries to construct than it is for Rousseau and Loyola at least. But to orient this back-story let’s just note straight up how he orients himself to his time, to the thought of his time and how this is like a principle of operation for him. It’s the case that he came out of the provinces and in terms of schooling only had the education on offer at his Lycee in Besançon. Indeed when his mother inquired of a friend in Paris if young Charles should be sent to Paris to continue his studies, the friend wrote back that he would be crushed if he were to do so given how advanced the well-schooled Parisian boys were. Better, the friend said, to let him advance on his own. Prophetic advice, really, and Fourier is overwhelmingly an autodidact.
I have never liked this word. Even if I have absolutely no problem with the general sense of the procedure it names – to a certain degree and more or less every true thinker is autodidactic: self-directed, self-instructed, self-formed etc. But it’s a very clunky notion too because it has that structure to it whereby the self exists and does things to itself to make itself a self. Thus it’s a self that makes itself and so the original self is less than a full self insofar as it is made into something more itself by this self, acting on itself. Moreover, of course, there is no self, isolated from everything else in the way this suggests – that what it works on itself with, is only its-self.
Clearly, to be self-educated is to take up that which is not your-self – clearly, the work of others – and to work through it yourself as if your self is capable of a discernment already. So your new self as educated is not only yourself but the self of others such that you are not yourself as such and every becoming self you are is someone else and indeed a heady combination of many selves which are not yourself but are you, as we speak. So this is the subjective conceptual problem; it’s an educational problem too, obviously.
To be honest, the term mostly appears in a pejorative sense I think, certainly it’s used to suggest something lacking in someone. It’s worth thinking on for a moment that the pejorative sense of autodidactism reveals the value we place on the knowledge of others over our self to the extent that we have built for centuries institutions of knowledge whose role is to make selves which are clearly not ‘yourself’ even if the goal seems to be that the self they make will be your true or at least best one or at least that’s what you will learn from them.
Fourier is hardly the first or the last to put that into question, especially insofar as the makers of selves might themselves, as Marx said, need educating. But nevertheless we value a systematic or at least institutional education over an autodidactic one. I’m not saying there isn’t reason here – we don’t want our surgeon to be totally self-taught, even if the first surgeons, hence, those who taught the next ones who taught ours were. We accept that in the institutions there is a body of knowledge, so to speak, that works and which should be, at least, our starting point and is transmissible. Clearly, when the institution hardens and turns in on itself – like the Church say, or becomes the puppet of another power, like the University let’s say, it supposes that its body of knowledge is all there is of knowledge. Both are means of self-preservation, which is really the death of thought.
So anyway, Fourier is autodidactic and as such it makes him an outsider with regard to this instituted knowledge of the world he wants to influence or change. It doesn’t make him wrong, or ignorant or anything like that – that which is implied in the charge of autodidact and that’s the point, and moreover Fourier does what must be done: he makes this outsider-ness into a principle of knowledge itself, which is almost to say, Fourier prosecutes the non-knowledge of knowledge. Beecher says he was ‘ever at pains to separate himself from the ruling ideas and the ruling thinkers of the time’. He practiced, as I said, a radical ignorance of them or their knowledge or in his words, borrowing a concept not his, ‘a radical doubt’.
Absolute doubt and absolute deviation, he proclaimed as his method in 1808. Thus in devising his Utopia – which we’ll get too – he necessarily had to deviate consistently from all the received ideas and teachings of civilised or institutional philosophy and to stand in constant opposition to the established practices of civilisation. He said: ‘above all the method of doubt must be applied to civilisation; we must doubt its necessity, its excellence and its permanence.’
Today, all over again this excellence is assumed and everything is adapted to this assumption. Thus we educate our-selves and others for the form of the social relations that exist, which implies of course that they are best and thus not for changing as the Lady once said. I want to emphasise this distinction, as always. For Fourier, like all true educators – and this is not to affirm everything in his system but to affirm the point of his orientation – the form of the social relations cannot be assumed but must be included into the question at hand. It’s a lesson our educators choose to ignore today on an institutional and systemic basis. As I have said before: today, education is neo-liberal! Ironically, at least if you take the ideology of neo-liberalism at its face value, what is lacking in neo-liberal education is a true self – auto-didactic.
Clearly Fourier’s absolute doubt is Cartesian, which is to say, it is anything but a cynicism or a pessimism: the only way to know truly what is for all – universality being the mark of a true education – is to begin by doubting the for all that exists as such. This is the double movement which for me marks what I am calling the educational invariant. The key to it is that it does not doubt that what is at stake is what is true for all. Moreover, it does not doubt that there are truths, if you like, that they can be thought. In fact, this is the principle of doubt itself, to doubt the absolute knowledge of something such that the truth of that something can be thought.
Doubt is not an affect but a method and so a production, a form of thought – both in its procedure and in its end. This is why I said it’s the prosecution of ignorance. You need to make yourself ignorant of that which is always already known as knowledge in order that that knowledge can come to be truly known. It’s another variant on the old problem of Plato’s Meno concerning the status of knowledge: If I seek to know something I don’t know, how will I know I have come to know it if I don’t know what it is. That’s to say, you can be taught something, some knowledge but given you didn’t know that knowledge before how can you say you know this knowledge you have been taught is it?
That’s to say, you now might know what is known as knowledge but you are in no position to know this knowledge is knowledge – or in other words, because you know what is known as knowledge doesn’t mean you know the truth of this knowledge – which is what makes it knowledge in the first place – that it is not under the direction of some other determination, some use, some programme, some interests etc.
You can see we are close to what Marx called ideology, what Plato called sophistry, what Fourier means by philosophy/civilisation, which would be, I suppose, the knowledge of knowledge – thus knowledge submitted to a knowledge not it but which takes the form of the power of its determination. Like today we have this thing called a ‘knowledge economy’ – it’s what education is all about apparently – where what counts as knowledge is subject to the determination of the economy, which is to say, knowledge is recognised to exist as such if it conforms to or manifests the power of the market. The market really is the knowledge of knowledge and as such it can’t be known – it’s a virtuous circle jerk.
Hence the question as to the truth of this knowledge is not at all the question of its power. Indeed, the assertion or decision for the truth of knowledge is already to break away from this determination – that the knowledge of knowledge is not all there is to it. And then to prosecute this truth as the non-knowledge of knowledge is the method of the production of this truth itself which is not knowledge but without which knowledge is nothing but determination or ideology, if you like. Lacan, the anti-philosopher and thus pessimist, famously said that man is the animal that can get along very well without truth. But the truth is we can’t. That’s the philosophers optimistic riposte.
Now I’m a bit off track and certainly Fourier was not a fan of philosophers or of civilisation insofar as he saw civilisation as some sort of enactment of the wisdom of the philosophers, which sounds weird to us, perhaps, given the philosophers we usually think about, but it has a certain history to it insofar as for Fourier, in the tradition of anti-philosophy, philosophers were those whose ideas did not square with any experience and, as such, ‘civilisation was a deprived order, of perfidy and constraint’.
Fourier thought of himself as an inventor and as such ‘he had confounded 20 centuries of political [and so philosophical] imbecility’. For example, ‘What disturbed Fourier about the Revolution and its aftermath was not the disappearance of traditional authority, but rather the calamitous results of putting into practice the errors of metaphysics, the moral and political sciences and political economy. In the years up to 1793, France had become 'the testing ground for philosophical theories': first the hated Jacobin cult of equality and virtue, which had driven the country back to barbarism, and subsequently the 'free competition' celebrated by the 'economists', with its attendant scourges of poverty and unemployment.’
And in his The Theory of the Four Movements, he says much the same thing: that it had fallen to the lot of 'a near-illiterate' [him] to confound 'all the voluminous writings of the politicians and the moralists'. I love these sorts of claims. What I love about them is they serve precisely as the mark of the thought that is not susceptible to what is known as knowledge. It’s the mark of what Plato called the long detour, the only way to the truth of something, and it’s not easy and it puts you offside not just intellectually but in every facet of social existence. You have to be committed to go down this road and moreover just because you take this road of the long detour doesn’t mean you are right about it or that you will be. But this long detour is the only way to be right, in the sense we are speaking of. If you don’t take it, you can only be satisfied with what there is – the lack of truth.
Despite a whole raft of prejudices and assumptions in Fourier’s work – many of which merely repeat those common to his milieu and his times – it is the case that Fourier’s social criticism and his educational conceptualisation was, as Beecher puts it, ‘that of a man who absolutely refused to be taken in in by the lofty abstractions others used to rationalise or hide physical suffering and emotional deprivation that were the lot of most men and women in the world he knew.’ This is clearly the necessary condition for the inventor, who must bring his own, distinct, non-knowledge to bear in order that we can see and have something other than what knowledge knows.
So let’s take a quick tour through the life and then we’ll give some general detail of Fourier’s critiques of society, but only in order to look more closely at two key things: his conception of the passions and the Utopia this conception underpins – the phalanstery. (As ever the biography draws on various other sources.)
Charles Fourier was born in Besançon in 1772 and he died in Paris, quite famous, in 1837. As noted, Fourier was provincial, but came from bourgeois stock. His father, who died when Fourier was nine, was untutored, as Stedman-Jones puts it, but had made a considerable fortune as a cloth merchant. His mother, to put it succinctly, was pious and narrow minded even as she was quite influential in his life – for good and ill. Fourier, initially, was brought up as heir to the business, as the only boy among three sisters. But as his later life shows, he didn’t take to it at all.
As noted, he was schooled at the College de Besançon. It was a provincial sort of education in a school first set up by the Jesuits but who were suppressed in the great purge that took place in France in 1764. Fourier received some Latin and theology but he did most of his study on his own, following his own lights, including building a garden in his bedroom and collecting and pouring over maps and charts of sea and stars. In 1789 he was sent to Lyons to become apprenticed as a merchant. He did this on and off for several years before and during the revolution but early on he despised the necessary falsity of commerce and trade and took notes on the possibility of an honest commerce, which, he acknowledged, would require the end of the bourgeois mindset entirely.
We can mark off three things in Fourier’s upbringing that would seem to matter in terms of the life and work.
Firstly, he was by no means 'a near-illiterate', as he puts it, even if his background was narrow-minded and oppressive – this pertains both to the business world of his father, uncles and cousins and to the piety of his mother. Besançon was a garrison town near the frontier and the seat of an archbishopric. The Church was the main employer of its population of 35,000 and the piety of Counter-Reformation Catholicism set the cultural tone of the region. In Stedman-Jones’ words, ‘Besançon was scarcely touched by the Enlightenment’.
There seems little doubt that Fourier's childhood experience of this religious milieu engendered a profound hostility towards the Catholic religion, as would his experience of the business world lead him to despise commerce and its mantra of free competition all the more, ‘under whose dominance civilisation had reached the very bottom of the abyss’, he said. There are so many of these type of saying in Fourier but note: ‘Anyone who denounces the manoeuvrings of market-riggers, lawyers or anybody else might well be even more grasping if he were in their place; one should never blame the passions of individuals, only Civilisation which offers no path but vice for the satisfaction of the passions, and thus forces man to practice vices to obtain wealth, without which there is no happiness.’
Again, you can see the influence of Rousseau here: he despises commerce but not the individuals who make it up or at least it is not their passions that are false or wrong or despicable but that their passions are corrupted by the civilisation that conditions their reception.
The second aspect that was critical to Fourier was of course this mercantilist life into which he was born and raised: It’s probably an apocryphal story but his disciples claim that as a child he swore a 'Hannibalic oath' against commerce after being punished for refusing to deceive a customer. But a perhaps more likely and more close to home demonstration to Fourier of the corruption of commercial life was the real and substantial fraud practiced by his uncle in the management of the paternal estate after the death of Fourier's father in 1781. By the time Fourier received his portion in 1793, only 84,000 of 204,000 livres remained. All this is recounted in some detail in Beecher’s book on Fourier: it’s a litany of corrupt practices, ones familiar to us every day, but for Fourier, he saw a little more in it, especially given that there is the sort of unwritten rule in all this commerce that everyone shares in the knowledge that everyone else is out to rip you off.
Thus, if everyone knows it’s corrupt can anyone really be corrupted? Moreover, this clearly implies that there must be a knowledge of what is not corrupt, a space outside corruption, then, which allows us to know of or see the corruption of commerce. So it’s like a game we enter into and come out of. But for Fourier, it’s essentially this game playing that would seem so unnecessary and stupid, basically. Is there not a way to produce and trade in goods that does not require deceit? He tries to set this up and it is sort of at the heart of his idea that the philosophers and politicians and priests have failed by ideas and so we need to change things from the position of trade and goods and work. That is to say, invent a new way of sociality that manifests the truth of the passions, an association of them in fact.
So we can speculate as to what Fourier's own childhood, or its day-dreams supplied of the raw material from which his Utopia was composed. But whatever part this played in the vision of Harmony he’d later construct, it is more clearly that it was the French Revolution ‘which’, both Stedman-Jones and Beecher note ‘set Fourier in pursuit of an as yet unknown science of 'social well-being'.
Beecher tells the long story of this but here is Stedman-Jones truncated version:
‘Early in 1793, he set himself up as a merchant in Lyons with what remained of his inheritance, but in July the city was placed under siege. The goods which Fourier had purchased were requisitioned without compensation and when the city fell to the Jacobins he was lucky to escape execution in the ensuing reprisals. He fled to Besançon and after a brief imprisonment and an unlikely spell as a cavalry officer in the army of the Rhine, he resumed work as a commercial traveler for his former employer in Lyons. His work took him mainly to Marseilles, the centre of a region ravaged by poverty, crime and brigandage. It was there in the late 1790s, in an economy afflicted by food shortages and by wartime profiteering, that Fourier's theory of 'free competition' as the 'declining' phase of civilisation took shape. For Fourier, these local calamities were but the symptoms of a universal condition, a basic disorder of civilisation with cosmic consequences.’
These two – particular and universal – would ever go together in Fourier, and for some later critics, especially those socialists who were rightly wary of Fourier being included among them, his efforts to link a cosmology and the social were a bit too far-fetched and came to obscure somewhat the strong criticisms at their heart: ‘speculations about Earth's barren efforts to procreate, the future recovery of its six moons, the prospective end of sea monsters and the future lemonade flavouring of the sea’ were a little out there for the scientific socialist of later years – Engels quite liked him though, and Marx had some guarded praise.
Here is Engels in 1845, repeated in 1880:
‘…we find in Fourier a criticism of the existing conditions of society, genuinely French and witty, but not upon that account any the less thorough. Fourier takes the bourgeoisie, their inspired prophets before the Revolution, and their interested eulogists after it, at their own word. He lays bare remorselessly the material and moral misery of the bourgeois world. He confronts it with the philosophers’ dazzling promises of a society in which reason alone should reign, of a civilisation in which happiness should be universal, of an illimitable human perfectibility, and with the rose-coloured phraseology of the bourgeois ideologists of his time. He points out how everywhere the most pitiful reality corresponds with the most high-sounding phrases, and he overwhelms this hopeless fiasco of phrases with his mordant sarcasm. Fourier is not only a critic; [he is] … assuredly one of the greatest satirists of all time. He depicts, with equal power and charm, the swindling speculations that blossomed out upon the downfall of the Revolution, and the shop-keeping spirit prevalent in, and characteristic of, French commerce at that time. Still more masterly is his criticism of the bourgeois form of the relations between the sexes, and the position of woman in bourgeois society.
He was the first to declare that in any given society the degree of woman’s emancipation is the natural measure of the general emancipation. But Fourier is at his greatest in his conception of the history of society. He divides its whole course, thus far, into four stages of evolution — savagery, the patriarchate, barbarism, civilisation. This last is identical with the so-called bourgeois society of today. He proves “that the civilised stage raises every vice practiced by barbarism in a simple fashion into a form of existence, complex, ambiguous, equivocal, hypocritical”, that civilisation moves in a “vicious circle”, in contradictions which it constantly reproduces without being able to solve them; hence it constantly arrives at the very opposite to that which it wants to attain, or pretends to want to attain, so that, e.g., “under civilisation poverty is born of superabundance itself”.
What predominated in Fourier’s approach, what attracts Engels as a dialectic, is the way he understands local events in the framework of a universal theory. He was sure that this is how things must be and so this was the heart of his ambition: to make what he called his 'Columbus-like' discovery of the universal science of 'passionate attraction', and the modality of this he called the ‘laws of universal analogy’, which, as mentioned, he thought scientific insofar as what pertains in the material world is what pertains in terms of the passions.
‘One Law for all organisation … solar or human…’ he says, ‘thus there is possible a science of the passions’; what is in one area is in another, analogously. This is ‘beyond the enlightenment’ he asserts.
Ok we will look at three things: a bit more of his criticism of our civilisation – the lowest stage in the history of humanity thus far; the theory of passionate association and finally the Harmonious community, the phalanx.
So I won’t detail the critiques too much – even if they sometimes run to great detail. At one point he gives a list of 144 permanent vices of civilisation, including that of the slavery of the wage system and the ‘excitation of hurricanes and all sorts of climatic excesses’. As I said, the critique was underpinned by the principle of radical doubt – thus arrived at because they could be put into question. Again this is crucial, educationally speaking, because the very idea of education he tracks is at its most extensive – it concerns not just utility and pragmatics but what these must assume.
For Fourier, the most definitive symbol of the venality of civilisation was poverty – especially insofar as this poverty was the lot of those who worked and moreover for Fourier it was the case that poverty was most severe in so called advanced countries and as he says in ‘direct proportion to the advance of industry.’ ‘Our plebeians’ he says, ‘work and experience their poverty all the more in the face of massive abundance’. Basically, what you cannot have is every day shoved in your face. It is, he says sarcastically, this civilised modernity, ‘a perfidious gift, a mocking gesture on the part of nature – a punishment. Note this last… nature punishes us for our civilisation … for making its agents into slaves. Free by nature, slaves in civilisation, again, very Rousseau-like.
For Fourier, ultimately, the problem is essentially in the division of labour and in the individualisation of tasks consequent on it. This had two consequences: for example, the production of goods was very uneven – ‘most potatoes’, he argued, ‘were rubbish, badly grown and cultivated’ etc. – thus the best method should be generalised; second, most tasks, for example, baking bread or cooking meals are done individually – so in a hundred homes every night, a hundred women are cooking an evening meal.
So you can see the genesis of the idea – generalised efficiency and collective or common work and production. The fragmentation of everyday life was the root of inefficiency, repetition and the stratification of society – individual interests determined every move in the economy and nothing essentially controlled these whims, desires and self-interests, which clearly pit one against another, thus undermining and overwhelming at once. Moreover, this individualisation and inefficiency meant that workers and industry itself were at the whims of the desires of others, sometime thousands of miles away.
The fashion for English cotton among the ladies of the French court under Marie Antoinette, for example, put the silk workers of Paris out of work, as did the preferences of those in America. Basically, being at the mercy of what we’d call the market meant clearly that you were not free. We may be individualised but we are not free, being at the whim of others. Note this is a structural issue not a personal one – this individualisation, inefficiency and slavery is at the heart of the market or commercial state. Of course we know what it is to be at the mercy of the stock exchange, the financiers etc.
Moreover, as Fourier notes, this meant precisely that ‘most people were in work that annulled or made deficient what talents and capacities they may have developed, demanding of them a repetitious industry, useless tasks, positively harmful’, he says. Fourier dutifully drew up a ‘table of unproductive classes in civilisation.’ Not many escape this table I have to say, but the crux of it is that most of us are doing stupid, pointless wasteful tasks that serve no common good and thus have no idea of what we are capable of and thus really no idea of the future.
Let me just note that while Fourier focusses this list on production – or un-production – it is not production per se that is the problem for him but exchange: the forms of commercial exchange determines the means of production. Thus for him, the merchant, bourgeois, is the cause of ‘civilisation’. I say ‘cause’ here because for Fourier the point is that the middleman, this commercial agent who should be an effective function of the system has come to dominate. Farmers and workers are enslaved to them and philosophers and kings bow down to them but for Fourier, ultimately, they create nothing.
Fourier details the crimes of the merchant: 36 distinct crimes of commerce to be exact. But I won’t go into this, you get the gist but the ultimate point is that this dominance of commerce underpins everything else. Not only the production and trade in goods but as noted it determines the lived lives and experiences of us all including giving orientation and determination to what we are capable of and this is again where the question of education comes in because if commerce has the power of determination then in such an epoch what is education for that epoch which takes its orientation and its end from commerce? And so Fourier’s absolute doubt is the principled intervention into that power of determination which we learn so well that it becomes a second nature, thus not even a matter for critique. Under such a determination education is really the ways and means of following orders but the true genius of it is we don’t even know that is what it effects or amounts to. So as much as it is the production of poverty, it is also the production of ignorance – that type of knowledge which doesn’t know what it supposes it knows.
On this note then let me say a few things about Fourier’s consideration of the philosophers, who for him are in lock step with the merchants. The former might be the idealist arm of the latter’s materialism. Indeed for Fourier, the philosophers have precisely provided the cover of the merchants or prepared the pedagogy of them in advance. For Fourier, the philosophers were like a cabal of, he says, ‘toadies and pedants’ who ‘spent their time devising incomprehensible ways of expressing commonplace observations and concocting specious justifications for the pain and suffering that were the lot of most people in civilisation’. He did except from this a few thinkers – Socrates and Rousseau to name two who knew their ignorance and pursued and indeed prosecuted this ignorance as an advance of one’s capacities. He called them expectant philosophers – which is clearly a relation to Socrates’ analogy of the philosopher as maieutic or midwife.
But as for the rest, obscurantists all, claiming all was discovered and there was nothing more to do, basically, which is of course the basis of the assumptive pedagogy I have been talking about. It reminds us clearly of the contemporary end of history thesis of Hayek and neoliberalism, and certainly today the vast majority of our philo-sophists accept this thesis without thought. Basically, then, they discuss everything but the foundations of those things they discuss – ‘methodical mindlessness’, Fourier calls it. Let me note also that Fourier’s merciless assaults on the philosophers – and he means those who have some influence and status – is driven as much by critique as it is by personal resentment. He was an outsider to all this and moreover he didn’t hide the fact of this resentment.
I can’t detail Fourier’s critiques, which range across the three key areas – metaphysics, politics and morality. But the general gist of it all is that the philosophers never treat with the way people actually live – be they conservative or radicals. The key thing never treated with in its material reality is the right of the poor to work, to achieve the means of subsistence or more existentially to be free from despair. The philosophers were sophists: ‘speaking of things like sovereignty and rights, what they really progressed was the rights of servitude, the right to work for the pleasure of others’ and so on. Basically Fourier wanted the poor, the workers to be accorded the rights of nature, those experienced by the ‘savage’ – basically, that you control the means of production and you keep and distribute on your own terms what it is you catch or produce.
It’s not an egalitarianism as such, it’s an accord with what nature makes possible for all its creatures. It’s also not a romanticism insofar as he works to set out the discipline and organisation nature requires of us. ‘Civilisation has corrupted this natural form of the economy’, he argues. The moralists who then justified all this were the third group subject to Fourier’s withering critique. I can probably sum it up with this quote regarding Seneca, the exemplary figure of the moralising tradition: Fourier says: ‘Seneca vaunts the virtues of poverty while gorging himself on a fortune of sixty million’.
Moralist are frankly ridiculous for Fourier, collectively, he argues, their treatises all amount to the same thing – the way to virtue is to correct the passions. Thus moralist do not study man but the means of his repression. Of course, this would appear to clash with an age of unbridled capitalism but as we know today, repression is for the many not for the few and the repression of the many is the key to the liberty of this few. A pedagogy which institutionalises this disjunction as the true and final order of things is where we are today and if you read the early tracts of the neo-liberals from the 1930’s and 40’s you’ll see that they knew this full well.
Fourier was already arguing this. As he asserted, changing a famous quote from Condillac – words are not the veritable sign of our ideas, they are the veritable mask of our idea. One of the great things about Fourier’s position is that he does not put human suffering at the centre of it. He refuses to accept this is the natural fate of man. Our contemporary ethicists of human rights could learn from this, given they all seem to presuppose the victimised suffering animal which only they can save.
Ok let’s look at the theory of the passions then: this is because what he has to say critically and also in terms of the phalanstery, the material construction of Utopia relies on this psychology of the passions. Let me just stress a couple of things here: the first is and really I should have mentioned this, the term Utopia. I’m sure you are familiar with it and perhaps the history of the idea or even the desire. And I’m sure you are familiar with the cynical and pejorative way it is usually remarked. But that it is impossible is the point. From here and now, within the framework of knowledge that organises and enframes us, anything else must be impossible, and so has no place. That’s to say, the very conditions of possibility for the reign of knowledge as such is that nothing other than this form of knowledge is knowable; so Utopia is precisely the non-place of this knowledge as such.
We need, then, to establish the non-impossibility of this non-place, some form of intervention on what is known or what is known as knowledge; an intervention establishes the space for something else by opening up knowledge to its inherent contradiction. That its knowledge is not all, so every intervention has some theory of this not all of knowledge. On or at this point will the space of what is impossible for knowledge be established. So you see, Utopia is a place that needs to be established.It’s this absolutely rational paradox that lets knowledge prosecute it as unknowable, but truly, and this goes back at least to Plato, it is thinkable; thought and knowledge are not the same thing!
To think Utopia, which is nowhere visible but not impossible, as Plato said, Fourier needs to go outside known knowledge: his critiques of civilisation is precisely of its knowledge. Hence the theory of the passions, which, as we know, have traditionally be ruled out of reason or rationality as precisely the corruption of a reasoned knowledge. The passions are of course ‘of nature’ and nature in the Hobbesian vision is what we need to free ourselves of to become subject, which is to say, to become civilised under a sovereign.
As we know, Rousseau inverts and undermines this and Fourier does too, in his own fashion. So when I say to go outside I really mean to go inside and invent the point of the non-knowledge of knowledge. What is assumed outside, inexistent, excluded by knowledge is really the point of its own possibility to be what is knowledge and so the ‘hole in knowledge’ is constitutively within it as what is nothing to it. Education truly invents this nothing to knowledge as what is true of it. In order that is to get going, to make what is true of knowledge manifest – for F, the anti-philosopher, so to speak – this truth is not some ideal but what is lived out already even as it is displaced by the corruption and decadence of civilisation itself. The passions must be free.
Like for Freud, man is a collection of drives, and civilisation in the form of its pedagogical variants – philosophy, commerce, morality – is simply the means of their repression. Like Freud, Fourier sees the return of the repressed in the civilised barbarity of commerce, which is thus the cause of all human misery. So the liberation of the passions is key but as I noted this does not mean a free for all but an organisational discipline within which the passions are free. So to organise such that the freedom of the passions are its discipline and not so that organisation is their repression. Such would be the happy society.
The first thing in Fourier’s determination here is that man is not a blank slate, which is a theory of man and education which still finds its acolytes. In Fourier, the passions are already active and formative and so man is not what is made of knowledge so to speak. Of course the passions were not Fourier’s discovery – as noted, the theories of their repression abound but so too in the 17 and 18th c did the theories of their absolute liberation – maybe Sade is the avatar and inheritor of this – but also there were the theories of equilibrium – a balance of passions with reason. So Fourier’s originality here is not so much in their discovery but in their orientation, so to speak. And in this he was not dissimilar to Sade insofar anyway as it wasn’t some form of their control or harmonisation that he sought, he wasn’t a Republican, which is to say, it wasn’t about disciplining the passions but about a society who took its mode of discipline from the passions themselves: ‘to liberate and utilise’ is Fourier’s idea.
So Fourier does go further than most of the enlightenment figures on this, but he also couples this with a providential God – something even the deists had left behind. Basically, if God is all knowing then man must fit within that knowledge and so there must be a divine plan of what is the good of man, and this must be discoverable. As noted, this is where physics and geometry come in for Fourier, as these essentially are the knowledge of God. Or at least the way we can know God and thus live accordingly. ‘The failure of civilisation was in not recognising that science, specifically Newtonian science, was this knowledge of God. So the task was to translate Newton’s ‘knowledge of God’ into the social – to establish as real the analogy Fourier took for granted’ and which he took for granted because it was stupid to suppose God didn’t have such a design.
From Newton – and in this he wasn’t alone – ‘Fourier took the theory of attraction or gravity as the basis of what would be his analogous theory of associations’; association through the natural passions or by way of them; passionate attraction. He says: ‘Passionate attraction is the drive given us by nature prior to any reflection, and it persists despite the opposition of reason, duty prejudice etc.’
Fourier was a keen taxonomist: ‘he depicts twelve radical passions oriented around one central or trunk like passion’ – so it’s a sort of tree of passions with the trunk being their effective unity. He called this unityism a state of ‘unlimited philanthropy and universal fellow feeling’ – the link of each to all. On the branches of this tree were the five senses, which Fourier classified in turn and gave social force too.
That’s to say the gratification of the sense depended in part on one’s social position. Hence he called them the ‘luxurious passions’ – only the rich could afford the opera for example and thus only they could have the audible senses gratified. For Fourier, taste was the imperious sense because it was the first and last enjoyment of man. Thus in Utopia we can see the gratification of the sense is central to the organisation of the social. The second category of the passions were the affective ones – parenthood or family, friendship, love and ambition. So where the five sensual passion were directed toward things, the affective passions directed one toward others. These passion too were subject to hierarchy in society – such that ‘friendship was a passion of the children, love, of the young, ambition, of the middle aged and family of the old and the old had managed to impose their affects on the rest thus thwarting the others in various ways; the end of the family in this sense was necessary, then, to the full effect of the passions in the new community’.
All utopians have been against the bourgeois version of the family, which is why family values are so perfectly in tune with neo-liberalism. As such, the family is simply a repressive form. But for Fourier, the passions will remain, just take another form; their uncorrupted or true form. And form is the key. The passions that top Fourier’s tree are what he calls the ‘cabalist, the Butterfly and the composite’. These already exist unknown as such in civilisation, thus perverted, and will be the key to the new society.
The first is an imperious one, the need to scheme and intrigue – thus to organise with others. It’s the creative aspect of it Fourier affirms; second the butterfly, is concerned with variation and change and so on. Certainly a fancy or sign of inconstancy in society but also the sign of an intrinsic desire society represses. Thirdly, the composite, which Fourier likes best. It’s basically a blind enthusiasm – unreflective, decidedly irrational. Love is the obvious example of it and in love also we can sort of see the other passions ‘combined’ – the sense and the soul are in effect. Thus in any pursuit, both aspects need to be in effect. Thus he says, ambition is only powerful if it brings into play the two motives of ‘glory and interest’. It is then that it becomes capable of ‘brilliant efforts’. Glory is clearly the mark of the universal and interest that of the particular. These two together, being the ‘chords’ of all the possible notes which make them up are the condition of Harmony (Stedman-Jones).
Or in other words, what we have here is what he called his alphabet of the passions and there is of course their grammar or structure of the state of their relations, which he elaborates in detail. But the overall point was to effect the possibility of the passions working their effect without being thwarted by reason or what passes as reason in civilisation, which is always this thwarting. If the passions had free rein, the proper form of their association would be the result. Of course, Fourier psychologies this too and taxonomises and so in terms of combinations of passions we get 810 distinct personality types. But let’s not go there.
But, for example, the individual as the atomists saw it or as liberal individualism saw it, was false; an individual is only the passions which make him up and these passions yearn for association not the individual as such; a society of passions, if you like is the necessary condition for happiness, not individuals making their way. One cannot achieve the twelve passions alone, and indeed the passions are what connect one to another, transcending age, sex, race etc., all the logics of difference; a group for Fourier, and again unlike anyone else’s group theory, refers to a mass brought together by a common taste for a particular function.
Thus: There are four basic types of groups, in each of which the cohesive element is provided by one of the four affective passions. Thus some groups are centred by friendship, and others by love, family feeling, or shared ambitions; each type of group has its own particular mores and ‘tone.’ Groups in which friendship is the binding passion are marked by ‘cordiality and confusion of ranks.’ Groups of ambition are marked by deference of inferiors to superiors; groups of love by deference of the strong to the weak; and groups in which familism prevails by deference of the old to the young. Further to this, Fourier worked out a split system of affinities – spiritual and material which formed the bond of these associations. Moreover for Fourier, these groups were necessarily ‘serialised’. That’s to say that the belonging to a group couldn’t be a factor of isolation. A member of a group could effect a series, with others depending on their affinities to one task or other.
As Beecher relates it:
‘Groups functioned properly only when they were brought together to form series of groups, or "passionate series." According to Fourier, a passionate series was "a league of various groups, arranged in ascending and descending order, passionately joined together because they share a common liking for some task" or activity. For a series to function properly … three conditions would have to be met. First … although the members of a series shared a common caste, they, would have to be different in other respects such as "wealth, age, and strength. Just as in music a chord is formed by excluding notes too close to one another, so contrast and antipathy were essential to the proper functioning of a series.
Second, since neither groups nor series could exist in isolation. each series, would have to be "enmeshed" with others. In even the most modest form of simple association there would have to be at least forty-five or fifty series, each composed of at least seven groups, and each enmeshed with at least two adjoining series. Finally, for this meshing to occur, the extreme elements in each series would have to be transitional. The series of peach growers and plum growers, for example, would be linked by the nectarine fanciers. Transitional groups thus had a vital role to play in Fourier's system. Just as he was fascinated by transitional or "ambiguous" species in the natural, world – for example, the bat, the quince, and the frog – he regarded transitional or ambiguous groups as indispensable links in the social structure of the Phalanx.’
Of course, it’s all a bit mad, but I’d say no more so and even much less so than almost any psychological theorising done today but what is important in it is precisely the effort to think through in a radical and strangely systematic or at least ‘serial’ way, a new way into the realistion of human capacities for thought, knowledge, sociality and indeed happiness – all the things educators and moralists and politicians too, set out for us in their own ‘received’ terms. It’s not just a new way ‘on their terms’ but a new set of terms which makes their way impossible.
Ok, let’s finally look at what this is to look like or how it is to materialise. It materialises in the phalanx of course, which is the material site of the harmony of the groups and indeed all the strange institutions of the Phalanx Fourier creates – the Little hordes, the opera, the hierarchy of honours, the novel systems of adoption and inheritance, for example – are set up with the intent of ‘either creating sympathetic illusions between antipathetic people’ or of ‘removing obstacles that prevent the accord of such people.’ This he calls his theory of ralliements: ‘the art of creating passionate ties between members of classes that appear to be essentially antipathy etc., such as the poor and the rich, masters and valets, greybeards and young women, heirs and possessors.’
You see that what unites these disparities is shared passions. In civilisation, Fourier argues, it’s not that the passions themselves are repressed as such – though this is the cause – but they are so because it is through them that such disparities would be united. In a way, the passions are the underlying and axiomatic equality of all souls. Hence their repression and subsequently, human misery in all its variant forms – material, psychological, intellectual and so on. Fourier even accuses Sade of a moral repression of the passions, which manifests as cruelty. Civilisation, moralism, philosophy, commerce – all are the barbarous expression and result of the repression of the passions and the repression serves to prevent universal association for the sake of individualised horror.
‘The individual’, Fourier says, ‘must march toward the realm of the good by submitting himself blindly to his passions.’
There must be a place for that.
Now, as we have seen, Fourier loves to draw up plans and maps. Engels noted this of all the Utopians – they have elaborate schemes of what this non-place looks like but don’t spend too much time on how to get there or make it manifest.
Fourier’s no exception – the schema of the place is very detailed and drawn out and pertains to everything from numbers and types to be associated, to fruit yield, surviving winter doldrums, barnyard animals, colour schemes and so on. As for getting there, as it were, most of the work is addressed to a benefactor who will fund a trial – so it’s to be situated within existing society; a trial of passions within the larger confines of their repression. Some rich guy, basically, will fund the scheme. Of course this is what Robert Owen did in the UK, precisely, and there is again in fact any number of such communities set up in the 19th C in particular, remnants still survive. A whole community of Australians set up in Paraguay a communist utopia … a new Australia. Or even Silly-Con Valley of the Dolls?
Anyway, Fourier did let his imagination get the better of him, as he would slip from the problems of foundation into reveries of the several generations of Harmony into the future:
‘At sunrise on a spring morning … one can see thirty groups with their distinctive banners and emblems passing out through the gates of the palace. These various squadrons take their places in the fields and the gardens. If, we could see . . . all of these groups in activity, well sheltered from the sun by coloured tents, working in dispersed masses, moving about with their banners and tools, singing hymns in chorus as they march along, [if we could see] the country, side dotted, with small castles and belvederes with colonnades and spires instead of thatched huts, we would suppose that the landscape was enchanted.’
That kind of thing.
Ok I’m going to leave out descriptions of the architecture; its fascinating to be sure but the building which is the phalanx is designed to support and of course to reproduce as natural the social framework he has described and envisions. Benjamin argued that its architectonics were based heavily on the new Arcades and galleries of commercial France – on the social visibility they accorded, a space in which every distinction could be associated and be seen to be so.
Fourier himself acknowledged this and the larger structural design was also influenced by the Louvre and Palais Royal. The central point is that it was designed so that these were a means of both distinction and association; seriality was accommodated or its integrity was built in. One thing to note is that for Fourier, Harmony is not a communism – he despises the doctrine of equality.
For him, class distinctions – which were based on wealth and which gave access to cultural distinction – were maintained in the phalanx, and indeed he developed an economy of return on these distinctions – 5/12 for labour; 4/12ths for wealth (investment); 3/12ths for talent … He thought this a great discovery and the economic means of Harmony.
For as we saw, the passions are the real equaliser and these don’t effect social rank. So disparity in class distinction was in fact necessary to Harmony within the phallanstery and nothing was done which would thwart its reproduction, either, which of course meant he had to design a way for class distinction to not become class antagonism. Perhaps this is the real Utopia here, in the more disparaging sense, of a vision without any historical materialism.
Anyway. There were two things that could make endure this enduring distinction not becoming a revolutionary antagonism, which is to say, by which the poor could be persuaded to accept social inequalities and the rich could be persuaded to tolerate the company of the poor.
Of course, all of Harmony's institutions were meant to play a role in the muting of class antagonism and the creation of an atmosphere of ‘unity’ and social harmony throughout the Phalanx. But as noted, two were key: the ‘social minimum’ and his system of ‘unitary’ education.
The social minimum is back on the agenda today – it’s basically a universal income guaranteed to all. Fourier reckoned that it wasn’t inequality which was the cause of social antagonism but poverty and thus if the basics were provided then the poor would be satisfied with the rule of inequality and anyway this rule gave them the possibility of not being poor anymore. What F does is take out or supposes to take out the structural necessity of inequality and remake it as natural.
The opposite problem though is how to have the wealthy tolerate the poor. This is where education in common comes in. Thus rather than each class having their own education – the rich, the academicians, the middle classes and their pedagogues, the poor, the local schoolmaster – all are in together, learning good manners and refinement, the latter the price of the rich tolerating the poor.
‘This new system of education will make good breeding universal.’
But this education in common was of course the development of the phalanx’s social organisation and its logical reinforcement or really, reproduction. After the first generations, the next would grow up into the instruction of the phalanx, naturally, so to speak and so under the organisation of the passions. Hence, as Beecher relates, ‘the phalanx provides as integral to its architecture and in the long term as integral to its socio-cultural being, a place of the most diverse associations without antagonism. He has rooms for this, where distinct series dwell and rooms where series meet and the kitchen also becomes focal here.’
One of the intense passions is to eat, for Fourier and here again he is ahead of his time recognising not only that communal eating is a social bond tied to a singular passion but also (perhaps behind the times a la Pythagoras) that what is eaten is critical. And in line with this, but crucially of course for Fourier, once this place is in place, once it starts to produce and thus attain the capacity to reproduce itself, what occurred under the regimes of civilisation will no longer occur; in fact will no longer exist. Precisely, the conditions of possibility for the destructive effect of the passions on man and world will have been made impossible. These have to be made impossible just as now this vision is made impossible.
It takes two things, then, the intervention on knowledge, on what exists such that it is of this knowledge and it takes then and only then education; education is the ways and means of transforming the knowledge of what exists out of what is seen to be impossible to exist: transmit, form and transform!
As Fourier himself noted in exemplary, ignorant fashion:
‘There is no problem about which people have had more foolish things to say than that of public instruction and its methods. Nature, in this branch of social politics, has perennially taken a malign pleasure in confounding all our theories and their spokesmen. The disgrace of Seneca, who was Nero 's teacher, has been matched in more recent times by the failures of Condillac, who trained a political dunce, (Louis xv nephew) and Rousseau, who did not even dare to educate his own children.’
This is blatantly true and we only need to change the example to more contemporary ones to see it is true now – worse so, in fact. For Fourier though, the key to education as we have seen is not the imparting of a body of knowledge, or a knowledge economy, which is at best highly ambiguous educationally speaking, but the creating of the conditions for the free expression of the passions of all – women especially – such that these condition the shape and form of the subject and ultimately the social reality itself.
Thus to avoid the consequences of the incoherence of civilised education – basically the discord between what is taught in the school, by parents and then also by peers – Fourier insisted that Harmony maintain ‘a system of education that is ONE for the whole Phalanx and for the whole globe.’ According to this system, children should not be shut up in schools for the greater part of the day, nor, should their upbringing be entrusted to their biological parents, within the framework of the isolated household.’
Fourier, as was his way, ‘developed a specified series of the child’s development, giving names to each stage and position too, oriented around the Utopian ideal of the common upbringing of the child’. Each stage was the same for all kids. even if all kids were not and never would be the same, individually, speaking. For Fourier, unlike most of his contemporaries or predecessors on this, work, manual work, the development of the physical attributes was the central feature; not reading, or academic trials and so on. Workshops were a key feature and function. ‘In order to prepare the way for the education of the soul, or the noble side of man, [Harmony] begins by concentrating for a long time on the perfection of the secondary element or material shell, and on adapting it to all the habits it wishes to give to the soul, that is, to justice, truth, unity, to a horror for everything that would offend these social virtues.’
‘Fourier's plans for the education of children between nine and twenty focused primarily on their moral and emotional growth on the developing and channeling of the emerging passions of friendship and ambition and, later, of love… as in Plato … book learning was not to be emphasised in Fourier' s new world. Fourier believed that books were only effective when the knowledge they contained was actively sought after by the child.’
Given Fourier's emphasis on the linkage between intellectual growth and practical experience, it follows that teaching in the Phalanx ‘was not to be confined to any single, assigned space. There were to be no separate schools or classrooms. Nor was there to be a specialised class of professional teachers. Such teaching as was done, would take place within the various groups and series and would be provided by individuals called Sybil’s, who were generally the most knowledgeable members of a group. They might gather children in small groups for special instruction. But this would only be done at the request of the children. Thus Harmony would reverse the customary civilised relation between teacher and student. Students would no longer be classroom captives who detested their teachers. Able to study whatever they wished with whomever they wished, children would "regard as so many friends, as so many saviours, all those elderly men and women who are willing to give [them] instruction in work and study.’
One interesting thing about Fourier’s theory of the institution of education here is that he doesn’t eschew testing, necessary in the phalanx for the child to advance from one ‘choir’ as he calls them, ‘to another’: he says, the more the better precisely because in that way the child becomes less anxious about them -unlike the way we do it now. He also says this about the test or the ‘trial’ if you like, and I’m going to leave things on this critical note: ‘one of the consequences of the examination system is to make it impossible for parents to deceive themselves about the inferiority of their children or to ‘extol as they now do the virtues of a little blockhead.’
This indeed, this familial delusion, generalised as society at large with regard to its own productions of knowledge is that of which Fourier sought the total transformation.
Jonathan Beecher, Charles Fourier, The Visionary and His World.
Gareth Stedman-Jones and Ian Patterson (ed.), The Theory of the Four Movements.
Jonathan Beecher and Richard Bienvenu, The Utopian Vision of Charles Fourier.