Uncollected Prose, by Ralph Waldo Emerson

Fourierism and the Socialists

The increasing zeal and numbers of the disciples of Fourier, in America and in Europe, entitle them to an attention which their theory and practical projects will justify and reward. In London, a good weekly newspaper (lately changed into a monthly journal) called “The Phalanx,” devoted to the social doctrines of Charles Fourier and bearing for its motto, “Association and Colonization,” is edited by Hugh Doherty. Mr. Etzler’s inventions, as described in the Phalanx, promise to cultivate twenty thousand acres with the aid of four men only and cheap machinery. Thus the laborers are threatened with starvation if they do not organize themselves into corporations, so that machinery may labor for instead of working against them. It appears that Mr. Young, an Englishman of large property, has purchased the Benedictine Abbey of Citeaux, in the Mont d’Or, in France, with its ample domains, for the purpose of establishing a colony there. We also learn that some members of the sect have bought an estate at Santa Catharina, fifty miles from Rio Janeiro, in a good situation for an agricultural experiment, and one hundred laborers have sailed from Havre to that port, and nineteen hundred more are to follow. On the anniversary of the birthday of Fourier, which occurred in April, public festivals were kept by the Socialists in London, in Paris, and in New York. In the city of New York, the disciples of Fourier have bought a column in the Daily Tribune, Horace Greeley’s excellent newspaper, whose daily and weekly circulation exceeds twenty thousand copies, and through that organ are now diffusing their opinions.

We had lately an opportunity of learning something of these Socialists and their theory from the indefatigable apostle of the sect in New York, Albert Brisbane. Mr. Brisbane pushes his doctrine with all the force of memory, talent, honest faith, and importunacy. As we listened to his exposition, it appeared to us the sublime of mechanical philosophy; for the system was the perfection of arrangement and contrivance. The force of arrangement could no farther go. The merit of the plan was that it was a system; that it had not the partiality and hint-and-fragment character of most popular schemes, but was coherent and comprehensive of facts to a wonderful degree. It was not daunted by distance, or magnitude, or remoteness of any sort, but strode about nature with a giant’s step, and skipped no fact, but wove its large Ptolemaic web of cycle and epicycle, of phalanx and phalanstery, with laudable assiduity. Mechanics were pushed so far as fairly to meet spiritualism. One could not but be struck with strange coincidences betwixt Fourier and Swedenborg. Genius hitherto has been shamefully misapplied, a mere trifler. It must now set itself to raise the social condition of man, and to redress the disorders of the planet he inhabits. The Desert of Sahara, the Campagna di Roma, the frozen polar circles, which by their pestilential or hot or cold airs poison the temperate regions, accuse man. Society, concert, cooperation, is the secret of the coming Paradise. By reason of the isolation of men at the present day, all work is drudgery. By concert, and the allowing each laborer to choose his own work, it becomes pleasure. “Attractive Industry” would speedily subdue, by adventurous, scientific, and persistent tillage, the pestilential tracts; would equalize temperature; give health to the globe, and cause the earth to yield ‘healthy imponderable fluids’ to the solar system, as now it yields noxious fluids. The hyaena, the jackal, the gnat, the bug, the flea, were all beneficent parts of the system; the good Fourier knew what those creatures should have been, had not the mould slipped, through the bad state of the atmosphere, caused, no doubt, by these same vicious imponderable fluids. All these shall be redressed by human culture, and the useful goat, and dog, and innocent poetical moth, or the wood-tick to consume decomposing wood, shall take their place. It takes 1680 men to make one Man, complete in all the faculties; that is, to be sure that you have got a good joiner, a good cook, a barber, a poet, a judge, an umbrella-maker, a mayor and aldermen, and so on. Your community should consist of 2000 persons, to prevent accidents of omission; and each community should take up 6000 acres of land. Now fancy the earth planted with fifties and hundreds of these phalanxes side by side, — what tillage, what architecture, what refectories, what dormitories, what reading rooms, what concerts, what lectures, what gardens, what baths! What is not in one, will be in another, and many will be within easy distance. Then know you and all, that Constantinople is the natural capital of the globe. There, in the Golden Horn, will be the Arch-Phalanx established, there will the Omniarch reside. Aladdin and his magician, or the beautiful Scheherzarade, can alone in these prosaic times, before the sight, describe the material splendors collected there. Poverty shall be abolished; deformity, stupidity, and crime shall be no more. Genius, grace, art, shall abound, and it is not to be doubted but that, in the reign of “Attractive Industry,” all men will speak in blank verse.

Certainly we listened with great pleasure to such gay and magnificent pictures. The ability and earnestness of the advocate and his friends, the comprehensiveness of their theory, its apparent directness of proceeding to the end they would secure, the indignation they felt and uttered at all other speculation in the presence of so much social misery, commanded our attention and respect. It contained so much truth, and promised in the attempts that shall be made to realize it so much valuable instruction, that we are engaged to observe every step of its progress. Yet in spite of the assurances of its friends, that it was new and widely discriminated from all other plans for the regeneration of society, we could not exempt it from the criticism which we apply to so many projects for reform with which the brain of the age teems. Our feeling was, that Fourier had skipped no fact but one, namely, Life. He treats man as a plastic thing, something that may be put up or down, ripened or retarded, moulded, polished, made into solid, or fluid, or gas, at the will of the leader; or, perhaps, as a vegetable, from which, though now a poor crab, a very good peach can by manure and exposure be in time produced, but skips the faculty of life, which spawns and scorns system and system-makers, which eludes all conditions, which makes or supplants a thousand phalanxes and New-Harmonies with each pulsation. There is an order in which in a sound mind the faculties always appear, and which, according to the strength of the individual, they seek to realize in the surrounding world. The value of Fourier’s system is that it is a statement of such an order externized, or carried outward into its correspondence in facts. The mistake is, that this particular order and series is to be imposed by force of preaching and votes on all men, and carried into rigid execution. But what is true and good must not only be begun by life, but must be conducted to its issues by life. Could not the conceiver of this design have also believed that a similar model lay in every mind, and that the method of each associate might be trusted, as well as that of his particular Committee and General Office, No. 200 Broadway? nay, that it would be better to say, let us be lovers and servants of that which is just; and straightway every man becomes a centre of a holy and beneficent republic, which he sees to include all men in its law, like that of Plato, and of Christ. Before such a man the whole world becomes Fourierized or Christized or humanized, and in the obedience to his most private being, he finds himself, according to his presentiment, though against all sensuous probability, acting in strict concert with all others who followed their private light.

Yet in a day of small, sour, and fierce schemes, one is admonished and cheered by a project of such friendly aims, and of such bold and generous proportion; there is an intellectual courage and strength in it, which is superior and commanding: it certifies the presence of so much truth in the theory, and in so far is destined to be fact.

But now, whilst we write these sentences, comes to us a paper from Mr. Brisbane himself. We are glad of the opportunity of letting him speak for himself. He has much more to say than we have hinted, and here has treated a general topic. We have not room for quite all the matter which he has sent us, but persuade ourselves that we have retained every material statement, in spite of the omissions which we find it necessary to make, to contract his paper to so much room as we offered him.

Mr. Brisbane, in a prefatory note to his article, announces himself as an advocate of the Social Laws discovered by CHARLES FOURIER, and intimates that he wishes to connect whatever value attaches to any statement of his, with the work in which he is exclusively engaged, that of Social Reform. He adds the following broad and generous declaration.

“It seems to me that, with the spectacle of the present misery and degradation of the human race before us, all scientific researches and speculations, to be of any real value, should have a bearing upon the means of their social elevation and happiness. The mass of scientific speculations, which are every day offered to the world by men, who are not animated by a deep interest in the elevation of their race, and who exercise their talents merely to build up systems, or to satisfy a spirit of controversy, or personal ambition, are perfectly valueless. What is more futile than barren philosophical speculation, that leads to no great practical results?”

http://ebooks.adelaide.edu.au/e/emerson/ralph_waldo/e53u/essay12.html

Last updated Saturday, March 1, 2014 at 20:37