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 (17 October 1760 – 19 May 1825) was a French early socialist theorist whose thought influenced the foundations of various 19th century philosophies; perhaps most notably Marxism, positivism and the discipline of sociology. He was born an aristocrat.

In opposition to the feudal and military system, he advocated a form of state[dubious ]-technocratic socialism, an arrangement where industrialists would lead society and found a national community based on cooperation and technological progress, which would be capable of eliminating poverty of the lower classes. In place of the church, he felt the 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.[2]


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."[3]

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."[4] 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.[5]

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 organize a big 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. That was only possible in the first few years of the revolution, because of the growing instability of political situation in France, which prevented him to continue his financial activities and, more than that, put his own life at risk. During the Terror period, Saint-Simon was made prisoner for being suspect of counter-revolution activities. He was released in 1794, by the end of the reign of Terror. After he recovered his freedom, Saint-Simon constructed a fortune, which was stolen by his business partner. Then, he decided to devote himself to political studies and research.


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, Lettres d'un habitant de Genève, appeared in 1802; but his early writings were mostly scientific and political. In 1817 he began in a treatise entitled L'Industrie to propound his socialistic 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 writer career, Saint-Simon found himself ruined, and was forced to work for subsistence. After a few attempts of taking back his money from his partner, the French philosopher received financial support from Diard, a former employee, and could 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 also sick at this time. He was even sent to a sanatorium in 1813, but at the same year received help from relatives, which gave him time to recover his health and obtain some intellectual recognition in Europe. In 1821 appeared Du système industriel, and in 1823–1824 Catéchisme des industriels.

Death and legacy[edit]

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

In 1823, disappointed with the absence of the expected results of his writing (that would guide society to the social improvement), he attempted suicide in despair by remarkably shooting himself in the head six times, losing his sight in one eye. Only very late in his career did he link up with a few ardent disciples. The last and most important expression of his views is the Nouveau Christianisme (1825), which he left unfinished.

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



Politics have a central role in his studies, because he considers that as the emergence of a new society (industrial society) happens, new politics would be just as needed. Saint-Simon believed that the emergence of the industrial society would bring to light new politics, which would be founded above 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 utopian socialist society imagined by Saint-Simon.

In "Eighth Letter", at 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 principles.[6] 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 influenced 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 socialist teaching, which are vague and unsystematic, the ideas of Saint-Simon as to 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 utopian 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.[6] 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.[7]

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 on 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.[8]

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), p142
  2. ^
  3. ^ Isaiah Berlin, Freedom and Its Betrayal, Princeton University Press, 2002, p. 109
  4. ^ Busky, Donald F.: "Communism in History and Theory: From Utopian Socialism to the Fall of the Soviet Union"
  5. ^ Manuel, Frank E.: "The Prophets of Paris", Harper & Row 1962
  6. ^ a b Newman, Michael. (2005) Socialism: A Very Short Introduction, Oxford University Press, ISBN 0-19-280431-6
  7. ^ Kirkup, T., A History of Socialism (London: Adam and Charles Black, 1892), p. 21.
  8. ^ Promenades dans Londres, first published 1840. Page 276, Broché edition (2003) from La Découverte.


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