Claude Henri de Rouvroy, comte de Saint-Simon

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Henri de Saint-Simon
Claude Henri de Saint-Simon.jpg
Born (1760-10-17)17 October 1760
Died 19 May 1825(1825-05-19) (aged 64)
Era 19th-century philosophy
Region Western philosophy

Claude Henri de Rouvroy, comte de Saint-Simon, often referred to as Henri de Saint-Simon (French: [sɛ̃ simɔ̃]; 17 October 1760 – 19 May 1825), was a French early socialist theorist whose thought influenced the foundations of various 19th century philosophies, including the philosophy of science and the discipline of sociology. His thought played a substantial role in influencing positivism, Marxism and the ideas of Thorstein Veblen.

Although he was born an aristocrat, in opposition to the feudal and military system, he advocated a form of technocratic socialism, where the economy would be managed by industrialists and technical specialists who would occupy positions of leadership based on technical merit. Simon believed that such an arrangement would lead to a national community of cooperation and technological progress that would eliminate the poverty of the lower classes. He felt that men of science, rather than the church, should be the leaders in society. Simon held the belief that those who are best suited to organize society for productive labour are entitled to rule it.


Early years[edit]

Henri de Saint-Simon was born in Paris as a French aristocrat. He belonged to a younger branch of the family of the duc de Saint-Simon. "When he was a young man, being of a restless disposition...he went to America where he entered into American service and took part in the siege of Yorktown under General Washington."[2]

From his youth, Saint-Simon was highly ambitious. He ordered his valet to wake him every morning with, "Remember, monsieur le comte, that you have great things to do."[3] Among his early schemes was one to connect the Atlantic and the Pacific oceans by a canal, and another to construct a canal from Madrid to the sea.[4]

At the beginning of the French Revolution in 1789, Saint-Simon quickly endorsed the revolutionary ideals of liberty, equality and fraternity. In the early years of the revolution, Saint-Simon devoted himself to organizing a large industrial structure in order to found a scientific school of improvement. He needed to raise some funds to achieve his objectives, which he did by land speculation. This was only possible in the first few years of the revolution because of the growing instability of the political situation in France, which prevented him from continuing his financial activities and indeed put his life at risk. During The Terror period, Saint-Simon was imprisoned on suspicion of engaging in counter-revolution activities. He was released in 1794 at the end of the Reign of Terror. After he recovered his freedom, Saint-Simon found himself immensely rich due to currency depreciation, but his fortune was subsequently stolen by his business partner. Thenceforth he decided to devote himself to political studies and research.

Life as a working adult[edit]

Henri de Saint-Simon, portrait from the first quarter of the 19th century

When he was nearly 40 he went through a varied course of study and experiment to enlarge and clarify his view of things. One of these experiments was an unhappy marriage in 1801 to Alexandrine-Sophie Goury de Champgrand, undertaken so that he might have a salon. After a year's duration the marriage was dissolved by mutual consent. The result of his experiments was that he found himself completely impoverished, and lived in penury for the remainder of his life. The first of his numerous writings, mostly scientific and political, was Lettres d'un habitant de Genève, which appeared in 1802. In 1817 he began in a treatise entitled L'Industrie to propound his socialist views, which he further developed in L'Organisateur (1819), a periodical on which Augustin Thierry and Auguste Comte collaborated.

The first publication caused a sensation, though one that brought few converts. A couple of years later in his writing career, Saint-Simon found himself ruined, and was forced to work for a living. After a few attempts to recover his money from his partner, he received financial support from Diard, a former employee, and was able to publish his second book in 1807: Introduction aux travaux scientifiques du XIX siècle. Diard died in 1810 and Saint-Simon found himself poor again, and this time also in poor health. He was sent to a sanatorium in 1813, but with financial help from relatives he had time to recover his health and gain some intellectual recognition in Europe. In 1821 Du système industriel appeared, and in 1823–1824 Catéchisme des industriels.

Death and legacy[edit]

Saint-Simon's grave in Père Lachaise Cemetery, Paris

In 1823, disappointed by the lack of results of his writing (he had hoped they would guide society towards social improvement), he attempted suicide in despair. Remarkably, he shot himself in the head six times without succeeding, losing his sight in one eye. Finally, very late in his career, he did link up with a few ardent disciples. The last and most important expression of his views is Nouveau Christianisme (1825), which he left unfinished.

He was buried in Le Père Lachaise Cemetery in Paris, France.



Politics played a central role in his thought. He considered that as the emergence of a new society (industrial society) occurred, a new form of politics would be necessary. Saint-Simon believed that this new politics would be founded with the neutralization of power by itself, from its dispersion. New, "non-power" politics, linked to industrialization, science, and even a new religion, would bring social improvement that would culminate in the socialist society imagined by Saint-Simon.

In "Eighth Letter", in "L'Industrie", Saint-Simon wonders about the existence of a general principle of politics. He establishes seven statements that consider the more general and certain assertions of political science, such as: (1) the production of useful things is the only reasonable objective that industry can propose to itself; (2) the government will always affect the industry when it acts outside limits; (3) producers, being the ones who pay taxes, are the only useful men to society and, therefore, the only ones who can vote; (4) men can never fight each other without decreasing production; (5) the desire to subjugate other people is harmful because it reduces the production; (6) as the industries improve, morale is improved; (7) men should consider themselves a society of workers. From such considerations, Saint-Simon concludes that political science can only be understood and synthesized as the "science of production".

Early Socialism[edit]

Heavily influenced by the absence of social privilege he saw in the early United States, Saint-Simon renounced his aristocratic title and came to favor a form of meritocracy, becoming convinced that science was the key to progress and that it would be possible to develop a society based on objective scientific principles.[5] As a thinker Saint-Simon was not particularly systematic, but his great influence on modern thought is undeniable, both as the historic founder of French socialism (which played a role in influencing the thought of Karl Marx), and as suggesting much of Auguste Comte's theory of industrial progress, which in turn influenced Émile Durkheim. Apart from the details of his vision of socialism, which are vague and unsystematic, the ideas of Saint-Simon regarding the reconstruction of society are very simple.

One of these ideas is "the Hand of Greed", the image Saint-Simon uses to describe the basic avarice of human beings. In the simplest forms of society, human beings try to survive. All people therefore have the motivation to try to gain a higher place in society, no matter how insignificant the higher statuses at which they aim may be. To create this form of socialism, society must, through education, eradicate this way of thinking and behaviour over time. His opinions were conditioned by the French Revolution, and by the feudal and military system still prevalent in France. The key focus of Saint-Simon's socialism was on administrative efficiency and industrialism, and a belief that science was the key to progress.[5] In opposition to the destructive liberalism of the Revolution, he insisted on the necessity of a new and positive reorganization of society. So far was he from advocating fresh social revolt that he appealed to Louis XVIII to begin building the new order.[6]

Saint-Simon is considered to be a utopian socialist. For this doctrine, industrial society was divided into working people and non-working people (whom he called "thieves"). However, social improvement in his ideal society would depend on full employment on the one hand, and on the other hand the absence of exploitation of individuals by each other. Society would be subdivided into three classes: owners, workers, and the wise and artists (who would rule society).

Feudalism and aristocracy[edit]

In opposition to the feudal and military system—the former aspect of which had been strengthened by the restoration—he advocated a form of technocratic socialism, an arrangement whereby industrial chiefs should control society. In place of the medieval church, spiritual direction of society should fall to the men of science. Men who are fitted to organize society for productive labour are entitled to rule it. The conflict between labour and capital emphasized by later socialism is not present in Saint-Simon's work, but it is assumed that the industrial chiefs, to whom the control of production is to fall, shall rule in the interest of society. Later on, the cause of the poor receives greater attention, until in his greatest work, The New Christianity, it takes on the form of a religion. This development of his ideas occasioned his final quarrel with Comte.

Religious views[edit]

Prior to the publication of the Nouveau Christianisme, Saint-Simon had not concerned himself with theology. In this work he starts from a belief in God, and his object in the treatise is to reduce Christianity to its simple and essential elements. He does this by clearing it of the dogmas and other excrescences and defects that he says gathered round the Catholic and Protestant forms of it. He propounds as the comprehensive formula of the new Christianity this precept: "The whole of society ought to strive towards the amelioration of the moral and physical existence of the poorest class; society ought to organize itself in the way best adapted for attaining this end." This principle became the watchword of the entire Saint-Simon school of thought.


During his lifetime the views of Saint-Simon had very little influence; he left only a few devoted disciples who continued to advocate the doctrines of their master, whom they revered as a prophet .[citation needed] The most important were Olinde Rodrigues, the favoured disciple of Saint-Simon, and Barthélemy Prosper Enfantin who together had received Saint-Simon's last instructions. Their first step was to establish a journal, Le Producteur, but it was discontinued in 1826. The sect had begun to grow, and before the end of 1828 had meetings not only in Paris but in many provincial towns.

An important departure was made in 1828 by Amand Bazard, who gave a "complete exposition of the Saint-Simonian faith" in a long course of lectures in Paris, which was well attended. His Exposition de la doctrine de St Simon (2 vols., 1828–1830), which is by far the best account of it, won more adherents. The second volume was chiefly by Enfantin, who along with Bazard stood at the head of the society, but who was superior in philosophical acumen and was prone to push his deductions to extremities. The revolution of July (1830) brought a new freedom to the socialist reformers. A proclamation was issued demanding the community of goods, the abolition of the right of inheritance and the enfranchisement of women.

Early next year the school obtained possession of the Globe through Pierre Leroux, who had joined the school. The school now numbered some of the ablest and most promising young men in France, many of the pupils of the École Polytechnique having caught its enthusiasm. The members formed themselves into an association arranged in three grades, and constituting a society or family, which lived out of a common purse in the Rue Monsigny. Before long dissensions began to arise in the sect. Bazard, a man of stolid temperament, could no longer work in harmony with Enfantin, who desired to establish an arrogant and fantastic sacerdotalism with lax notions as to marriage and the relations between the sexes.

End of the sect[edit]

After a time Bazard seceded and many of the strongest supporters of the school followed his example. A series of extravagant entertainments given by the society during the winter of 1832 reduced its financial resources and greatly discredited it in character. They moved to Ménilmontant, to a property of Enfantin, where they lived in a communalistic society, distinguished by a peculiar dress. Shortly after, the chiefs were tried and condemned for proceedings prejudicial to the social order and the sect was entirely broken up in 1832. Many of its members became famous as engineers, economists and men of business.

French feminist and socialist writer Flora Tristan (1803–1844) claimed that Mary Wollstonecraft, author of A Vindication of the Rights of Woman, anticipated Saint-Simon's ideas by a generation.[7]

In Fyodor Dostoyevsky's novel The Possessed, 'Saint-Simonist' and 'Fourierist' are used as derogatory insults of others by many of the politically active characters.


  • An edition of the works of Saint-Simon and Enfantin was published by the survivors of the sect (47 vols., Paris, 1865–1878).

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Horowitz, Irving Louis, ;;Veblen's Century: A Collective Portrait;; (2002), p. 142
  2. ^ Isaiah Berlin, Freedom and Its Betrayal, Princeton University Press, 2002, p. 109
  3. ^ Busky, Donald F.: "Communism in History and Theory: From Utopian Socialism to the Fall of the Soviet Union"
  4. ^ Manuel, Frank E.: "The Prophets of Paris", Harper & Row 1962
  5. ^ a b Newman, Michael. (2005) Socialism: A Very Short Introduction, Oxford University Press, ISBN 0-19-280431-6
  6. ^ Kirkup, T., A History of Socialism (London: Adam and Charles Black, 1892), p. 21.
  7. ^ Promenades dans Londres, first published 1840. Page 276, Broché edition (2003) from La Découverte.


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