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Saint-Simon and Saint-Simonism

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Claude Henri de Rouvroy, Comte de Saint-Simon, was born in Paris, 17 Oct., 1760; died there, 19 May, 1825. He belonged to the family of the author of the "Memoirs". At an early age he showed a certain disdain for tradition; at thirteen he refused to make his first Communion and was punished by imprisonment at Saint Lazare, whence he escaped. During the War of Independence he followed his relative, the Marquis de Saint-Simon, to America, took part in the battle of Yorktown, was later made prisoner, and recovered his liberty only after the Treaty of Versailles. Before leaving America, being as yet only twenty-three years old, he presented to the Viceroy of Mexico the plan of a canal between the two oceans. In 1788 he drew up important schemes for the economic improvement of Spain. During the Revolution he grew rich by speculation, was imprisoned for eleven months, and under the Directory, though leading a prodigal and voluptuous life, continued to dream of a scientific and social reform of humanity, gathering about him such scholars as Monge and Lagrange, and capitalists with whose assistance he proposed to form a gigantic bank for the launching of his philanthropic undertakings. He married Mlle. de Champgrand in August, 1801, and divorced her less than a year later in the hope of marrying Mme. de Staël, who had just become a widow, but she refused. In 1805, completely ruined by his disordered life, he became a copyist at the Mont de Piété, relying for his living on his activity as a writer; failing in this, he led a life of borrowings and make-shifts, and in 1823 attempted to kill himself. Fortunately for him he made the acquaintance of the Jew Olinde Rodrigues who became enamoured of his social ideas and assured him his daily bread till the end of his life. When dying, Saint-Simon said to Rodrigues: "Remember that to do anything great you must be impassioned". Ardent passion is what characterized Saint-Simon and explains the peculiarities of his life and of his system. This precursor of socialism was not afraid to be a fanatic and even to pass for a fool, while he retained his feudal pride and boasted of having Charlemagne among his ancestors.

The "Lettres d'un habitant de Genève à ses contemporains" (1803), the "Introduction aux travaux scientifiques du XIXe siècle" (1808), and the "Mémoire sur la science de l'homme" (1813) show his trust in science and savants for the regeneration of the world. The second of these works is a hymn to Bonaparte who created the university and the institute. In 1814, assisted by the future historian, Augustin Thierry, Saint-Simon published a treatise entitled, "De la réorganisation de la société européene," in which he dreamed of a politically homogeneous Europe, all of whose nations should possess the same institutions, relying on England to take the initiative in this federation. Later he turned his attention to political economy. The "Industrie", which he founded, brought out in relief the conflict waged throughout Europe between the military and feudal class on the one hand and the working class on the other. The same idea was emphasized in the "Censeur européen", edited by Charles Comte and Dunoyer, but while the "Censeur européen" distrusted scholars and learned men, Saint-Simon's originality consisted in trying to combine manufacturing industry and what he called "literary industry", and create a moral code which all men should study. idea displeased Augustin Thierry and he abandoned Saint-Simon, who in 1817 (the date set by Monsieur Pereire) took as his secretary, Auguste Comte, then 18 years old, the future founder of Positivism. Influenced by the writings of Joseph de Maistre, whose "Le Pape" appeared in 1819, and by those of Bonald, Saint-Simon and Auguste Comte, reacting against the individualist ideas of the French Revolution, recognized the necessity in modern society of a power similar to the medieval theocracy. The "positive scientific capacity" was to replace the ancient ecclesiastical power; there should be "no more governors to command" but "administrators to exercise a directing function"; in a society become an industrial association; the governmental, or military régime under which the people was "subject" should give way to the administrative or industrial régime in which the people is to be associated. Saint-Simon drew political conclusions; he found that the working people occupied too small a place in the electoral body and desired that power should be vested in committees composed of the directing elements of the industrial world. Thus he was in no wise a democrat; he would have only the heads of the industrial hierarchy elected by the people, but would have them recruited by co-option by choosing from the lower ranks of society those who deserve an elevation of their condition. Liberal economists long considered that between their liberalism and Saint-Simon's industrialism, which accorded so many prerogatives to an industrial hierarchy, there was little difference; but Saint-Simonism as it was developed by his disciples was destined to be a socialist school.

In Saint-Simon there was always a double tendency: his positivist and scientific studies impelled him to found a purely practical and demonstrable moral code, while his sentimental and mystical tendencies led him to desire a religion. He believed that Christianity had greatly forwarded morality, but he declared that its reign was at an end. His religious tendency grew by degrees; he declared that the crisis was reached which had been predicted by the Old Testament, prepared for by the Biblical societies, and expected by the Jews for eighteen centuries, which was to end in the establishment of a truly universal religion, in the adoption by all nations of a pacific social organization and the speedy betterment of the condition of the poor. Such was the dream developed in his book, "Le nouveau christianisme", which death prevented him from finishing. The Saint-Simonian School under the influence of the book in which Sismondi made known the great labour crisis of England, considered it necessary to perfect their master's doctrine. In making the most intense industrial production the unique aim of society, Saint-Simon had not foreseen that the problem was much more complex. Must production be carried on even when there are no consumers? The liberals replied in the affirmative for there are always consumers; but Fourier said no, the necessary condition of an increased production is a better distribution of labour and of wealth among the workers. The former Carbonaro, Bazard (1791-1832), Enfantin (1796-1864); and Olinde Rodrigues, in the review "Le Producteur", which they founded, attacked the regime of competition and went so far as to aim at the theories of Adam Smith; then in 1829 Bazard's conferences published under the title, "Exposition de la doctrine de Saint-Simon" marks the Credo of the School. The Saint-Simonians thought that two survivals of the feudal system enslaved the working-man—lending at interest and inheritance; these two survivals should disappear.

By degrees the Saint-Simonian School became a sort of Church. Enfantin assumed the rôle of pope; Bazard and later Rodrigues separated from him when preaching the rehabilitation of the flesh, he wished to associate with him the "priest-woman", the "mother", in the government of Saint Simonism. The ceremonies he performed at Menilmontant, his trial and imprisonment in 1832, the journey to Constantinople undertaken by his disciple Barrault in search of the "woman-mother" excited ridicule. Nevertheless Enfantin, whose last work only appeared in 1861, exercised great influence over many of the best minds. Saint-Simonism left its mark on such men as the philosopher Jean Reynaud, Buchez, who in 1848 played an important political part, the religious critic Gustave d'Eichthal the economists Barrault and Michel Chevalier, the publicists Edouard Charton and Maxime du Camp, General Lamoricière and Baron Blanc, future minister of Italy. The industrial movement of the nineteenth century was to a large extent promoted by engineers imbued with Saint-Simonian doctrines; the railways of France, the financial establishment of the Second Empire were due to Saint-Simonian influences.

The Saint-Simonians foresaw that industry would be more and more concentrated in great syndicates and that the State as the organ of social centralization would intervene more and more. What they did not foresee was that industrial production would become democratic. They had, beforehand, intuition of what we call trusts and deals, but they did not foresee labour unions, and they were thus less clear-sighted than Ketteler, Manning, and Leo XIII. Lamartine describes Saint-Simonism as "a daring plagiarism which emerges from the Gospel and will return thither", and Isaac Pereire, the last of the Saint-Simonians, in a work entitled, "La question religieuse" (1878), urged the recently-elected Pope Leo XIII to undertake the direction of universal social reform. This, the last echo of Saint-Simonism was, as it were, an appeal to the "Rerum Novarum".


Expos. de la doctrine saint-simonienne (Paris. 1829); Œuvres de Saint-Simon et d'Enfantin, XLVII (Paris, 1865-78); WEILL, Un précurseur du socialisme: Saint-Simon et son œuvre (Paris, 1894); IDEM, L'école saint-simonienne, son histoire, son influence jusqu'à nos jours (Paris, 1896); PEREIRE, Des premiers rapports entre Saint-Simon et Auguste Comte in Revue Historique, XCI (1906); GEORGE DUMAS, Psychologie de deux messies positivistes, Saint-Simon et Auguste Comte (Paris, 1905); WEISENGRÜN, Die socialwissenschaftlichen Ideen Saint Simon's; ein Beitrag zur Geschichte des Socialismus (Basle, 1895); CHARLETY, Hist. du saint-simonisme, 1825-1864 (Paris, 1896); HALÉVY, La doctrine économique de Saint-Simon et des Saint-Simoniens in Revue du mois (1908); BOOTH, Saint Simon and Saint Simonism (London, 1871).

About this page

APA citation. Goyau, G. (1912). Saint-Simon and Saint-Simonism. In The Catholic Encyclopedia. New York: Robert Appleton Company.

MLA citation. Goyau, Georges. "Saint-Simon and Saint-Simonism." The Catholic Encyclopedia. Vol. 13. New York: Robert Appleton Company, 1912. <>.

Transcription. This article was transcribed for New Advent by Douglas J. Potter. Dedicated to the Sacred Heart of Jesus Christ.

Ecclesiastical approbation. Nihil Obstat. February 1, 1912. Remy Lafort, D.D., Censor. Imprimatur. +John Cardinal Farley, Archbishop of New York.

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