Charles Fourier
1772 - 1837


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Social Organization



Excerpts from

M. C. Spencer: Charles Fourier

Twayne Publishers, Boston, 1981

Prepared by John Conley



“‘What is Utopia? It is the dream of well being without the means of execution, without en effective method. Thus, all philosophical sciences are Utopias, for they have always lad peoples to the very opposite of the state of wall—being thay promised them.’ This hostile definition of Utopia is a token of Fourier’s general intolerance of anything that might bear some comparison with his own ideas. Robert Owen, the Saint-Simonians, the author of Tólmaque, and indeed anyone who believed in human perfectibility or who had dared to imagine a better society, ware treated with the scorn born of his suspicious self—defensiveness. The irony of course is that Fourier is labeled a Utopian writer by all historians of literature and dictionaries of biography.” 1)

“Charles Fourier was born on April 7, 1772, at Besançon, a pleasant French town near the Swiss border. He was to live through tumultuous times: the last wears of the reign of Louis XVI; the 1789 Revolution; the Reign of Terror, in which he almost lost his life; the Directorate; the triumph and decline of Napoleon; the 1830 Revolution. All of these, and the condition of the poor in Lyons were to mark him in one way or another. Fourier was the youngest of the Family, having three sisters, one of whom became related by marriage to the gastronomer, Brillet—Savarin. There is evidence that ha was unhappy and frustrated as a child: not ill treated, but lacking a warm, sympathetic family background. He was sent to school at the local College de Besançon and did quite well, gaining the occasional prize1 His Favorite subject was geography; one of his innumerable later schemes was a whole series of new methods of teaching it. In 1781, Fourier’s father died, leaving a considerable fortune of which he was to receive two-fifths. Fourier wished to become a military engineer, but he did not have the requisite social standing, so it was decided that he should follow in his Father’s Footsteps. Around 1790 or 1791 he began his apprenticeship in commerce at Rouen and then Lyons. Ha became periodically itinerant and was never particularly well off, working variously as a commercial traveler, as an unlicensed broker, and in various clerical positions. Thus, having been frustrated in his choice of career, he spent a large part of his life doing something he detested— but talking to people, observing, and gathering a mass of information that would be put to good use in his later, devastating analysis of the commercial world of his day.”2)


“In 1793, after a stay in Marseilles he went to live in Lyons. Whatever did happen to him there in 1793— his biographer, Pellarin, claims that he lost most of his Fortune...- the events created in him a profound dislike of, social upheaval and revolutions. The city rebelled against the Convention (the central government) and was besieged in August and September. When it capitulated, Fourier was imprisoned and narrowly escaped being killed in the butchery that followed. Shortly afterwards, in 1794, ha was called up for military service. Although he was scarcely of nature or physique to enjoy this enforced servitude (he was discharged as medically unfit in 1796) something of it may have well rubbed off onto life in a Phalanx, certain aspects of which have a decidedly military ring about them.”3)

‘Over the next few years, he traveled a good deal and “began writing. Several short articles end poems of his were published in various Lyons newspapers from 1801 onwards. One of them, which outlined with considerable authority a plan for France's foreign policy, brought him to the attention of the police. Two others, “Harmonie universelle” and the “Letter au grand juge” both written late in 1803, were a brief outline of Fourier’s social system, a kind of indication of what Harmony might be. In 1808, he published his first major work, the Theorie des guatre mouvements at des destinees generales, with a false place of publication (Leipzig) and no real indication of the author. Fear of censorship and, according to Fourier later on, a desire to deceive his critics, are among the possible reasons for these subterfuges and the generally rebarbative disposition of the volume. Its effects might be likened to dropping a feather in a pond, and the notice at the end that the next six (unpublished) volumes could be reserved by advance payment to the author (‘Charles, a Lyon’) was hardly calculated to bring in a rush of subscriptions. The vagueness of the author’s address also taxed the perseverance of an early disciple, Just Muiron, who took two wears to track him down.”4)


"In 1812, Fourier’s mother died, leaving him a life annuity of 90 francs, a precious supplement to what little he received from his various jobs. He was thus able to withdrew to the country in the winter of 1815-1816 in order to perfect his theories as and to map out his Great Treatise (although this was never written), living first with his nieces at a village called Talissieu and then with his sister at Belley, where Muiron finally caught up with him in 1816.Ironically, ~ was qi ite deaf, a fitting disciple for such an elusive man to have. Posterity should be grateful for his infirmity, as their inter laws were written down and parts have been preserved. At Muiron’s insistence, he moved to Besançon in 1821; in the, following year, he published the two volume Traite de l’association domestique—agricole, the contents of which bore ‘, little relation to the title, which was subsequently changed to the Theorie de l’unite universelle. Full of hope, Fourier went to Paris to whip up enthusiasm for his discovery, sending copies and prospectuses to all end sundry, including Robert Owen, whose ideas on social organization bore some similarity  to his own. Nobody took any notice at all of him or his books."5)

 "In spite of his lack of success, Fourier had acquired by 1825 a small group or school of disciples, among them Muiron, Victor Considerant, and Clerisse Vigoureux, who were to expound his doctrine after his death. The miracle is that he should have found any at all. From 1826 on, and in spite of his lack of success there, Fourier decided to live in Paris. In 1829, he published a slightly more accessible account of his theories entitled La Nouveau Monde industrial at sociataire. From now on, he began to be obsessed with finding a patron who would finance a trial run for his Phalanx. Unfortunately, he had competitors, since he was by no means the only men of his times to invent systems to save humanity in which the social and the religious, the serious, the comic, and the downright bizarre coexisted in uneasy fashion. Fearing these competitors, he also did what all inventors of strange systems do and published in 1831 a virulent pamphlet entitled Traps and Charlatanism of the Saint—Simonian and Owenite Sects, Who Promise Association and Progress). In 1832 the first Fourierist Journal, La Phalanstère, began publication, some Saint-Simonians were coming over to the Fourierist cause, end the first Phalanx was founded, at Condé-sur-Vesgre, on the edge of Rambouillet.” 6)


“Thus, in spite of Fourier himself, a Fourierist movement had begun to take shape. His attitude toward the project at Conde-sur-Vesgre is of particular interest in the light of the efforts he had been making to attract a Maecenas. That the whole scheme was ill—conceived is not in doubt; the architect was clearly either incompetent or a lunatic: the most luxurious part of the buildings was the pigsty, except that no provision for an entrance had been made, so that the animals would have had to be lifted in and out by a pulley. Fourier had been cosignatory of a circular letter to newspaper editors seeking free publicity for the project, but his general attitude seems to have been one of distant disapproval. In his last major published work, the tired and bitter La Fausse Industrie of 1835—1836, he repudiated the whole enterprise: ‘It’s rumored that I tried out my system at Conde S.V. and THAT IT FAILED. It’s yet another calumny spread by gossips. I did nothing at Conde. A domineering architect wouldn’t have anything to do with my plan...a mad Anglomaniac, who only wanted whet he’d seen in England...’ Fourier was by 1832 Did and in ill health, and the project clearly was a disaster. Yet we are left with the uneasy feeling that he wanted it to Fail quickly, possibly because he wanted to keep his reputation intact: the great inventor betrayed by his followers.” 7)

“From 1833 on, Fourier’s health declined. The describer of gastronomic orgies who had spent his life eating bad food in cheap restaurants began to suffer from intestinal troubles. For the last year of his life he was virtually confined to his tiny apartment, declining medical aid and human companionship. On the morning of October 10, 1837, his concierge found him dead, kneeling by his bad, dressed in his frock—coat. He was accorded an orthodox Catholic funeral, which scandalized some of his followers (Fourier was hardly an orthodox Christian) and interred in the Cimetiere de Montmartre. On the neglected tombstone one can just make out the inscription: ‘Here lie the remains of Charles Fourier. The Series distribute the Harmonies. The Attractions are proportional to the Destinies.”  8)


As noted previously, Fourier was a businessman for many years, holding numerous positions. It was through these experiences that he came to detest commerce. “Commerce is ‘a method of exchange in which the vendor has the right to cheat with impunity and to determine himself, without independent arbitration, the profit he should receive. The vendor is thus Judge of his own case and the purchaser is deprived of any guarantee against the vendor’s rapacity and dishonesty.’ In civilization, its particular form is that of free competition, or chaos, in which. the proliferation of shopkeepers, commercial travelers, brokers, and the like simply mean that profits are low, bankruptcies frequent, and the productive workforce is vastly reduced." 9)

Moreover “the worst effect of anarchy in production and distribution is the encouragement of hoarding and speculation, which Fourier analyzes in minute detail and with obviously First-hand knowledge. Hoarding and its ‘brother,’ speculation, are the most odious of the ‘crimes of commerce,’ since they always hit hardest at those who suffer most from shortages, the poor. ‘Thus commerce is, on a small or a large scale, a parasite which, under the pretext of creating circulation, obstructs it, insinuating itself between producer and consumer, holding them up to ransom and devouring them.’”10)

“Three other evils of commerce frequently denounced by Fourier are bankruptcy, money-lending, and slavery. Bankruptcy’s a dual evil; on the one hand, the small businessman may be driven to it by the mechanisms of overproduction, hoarding and speculation. On the other, most species of bankruptcy described by Fourier seldom harm anyone, least of all the rich bankrupt, and are surrounded by the moral double-talk so characteristic of Civilization. ‘Bankruptcy is in Fact the quickest way of making a fortune. The best way of doubling two million Francs is to borrow eight million. It doesn’t matter if you lose the sum you started with, since you will only repay half the borrowed amount over a period of years, and you end up with twice the original sum.”11)


Thus, for these reasons involving commerce and other injustices presented in society (e.g. sex, age, etc.) Fourier constructed Harmony. “The Phalanx is the small community in which people will, live in Harmony. Its ideal size is 1,620 men, women, and children. This figure is sometimes increased, but more often reduced, particularly in later years, when Fourier became more and more desperate in his attempts to find a benefactor. The calculation of size is indeed quite crucial. Smaller phalanxes would work well enough to persuade people to try bigger ones, but were only a transitional measure justified on pragmatic grounds. Conversely, on no occasion did Fourier put the ideal number higher than two thousand. The basis of the ideal number is 810, an arbitrary figure forming part of a series of analogies with the human body, since there are, he claims incorrectly, 810 muscles in the Female couple (there are actually ‘*50 pairs in each body). But the main justification of the figure is the size of the social body, of which the twelve passions are part. No one person has them all developed to the same degree: ‘The twelve radical passions are subdivided into a multitude of’ nuances which are more or less dominant according to the individual. Accordingly there are an infinite number of characters, but which can be brought down to 810 principal ones’".  12)

“In other words, what Fourier calls the ‘integral soul’, is Formed of a large number of parts, which, while contributing towards the whole, are infinitely precious in themselves. The serial method is the means whereby they are combined so as to permit each person to develop his ‘passional’ potential while simultaneously fostering the ‘industrial’ and passional well being of the community. Not only are characters taken into consideration by Fourier’s taxonomy, but also age, sex and social standing; the result is a detailed blueprint For Harmonian life, From the cradle to old age (death on the Phalanx is never discussed)” 13)


“The administrative apparatus of a Phalanx is very light, since work groups are Freely formed, by mutual consent or attraction. The Harmonian’s day is a long one, since he sleeps very little, the prospect of another round of pleasures end intrigues getting everybody up at the crack of dawn— even if his bed has been shared by the most congenial of companions. The day is filled by work, eating and erotic activities, the enumeration of which Fails to do justice to their close association. Even the poorest man in Harmony has a timetable full of enough interest to last a rich man in Civilization an entire year. However, Fourier vigorously defended the principle of inequality, since it is a concomitant of contrast, although he also maintained the principle of a decent minimum for all. Gross inequalities in Harmony are prevented by the yearly payments of dividends, calculated according to the Harmonian’s “input” of capital, work, and talent. To calculate the dividend, first, the initial dividend is given to each series based on the combined productivity of all series. Second, the proportion the series receives is modified according to its necessity, utility, or attractiveness. Fourier skillfully uses all factors, including the number of series frequented and the duration of work sessions, to ensure justice-but not equality-for everybody.” 14)

“The ‘decent minimum,’ which all Harmonian’s enjoyed was not just an ‘industrial’ right. Men, women, and children of all classes were entitled to a social minimum, in the widest sense OF that term, brought about by the serial organization of work and pleasure. If one single person were not accommodated in terms of’ a decent living standard and full satisfaction of his passions, then the whole system would have failed. Conversely, Fourier’s analysis of Civilization underlines the ways in which it excludes all kinds of people from its doubtful benefits. Among them are the young, the old, the female, the eccentric, and the morally or sexually ‘perverted.’ The great merit of Fourier’s design for Harmonian living is to find a place for them all." 15)


Nevertheless, “only now, with civilization on the threshold of its post—industrial stage, does Fourier seem to have found the audience that he was never able to attract during his lifetime (excluding his small circle of disciples). The joys and pleasures that characterize life on the Phalanx are almost certainly destined to extinction by the development of technology end the plague of’ overpopulation. Yet, industrial progress and the extension of affluence have at the same time made certain aspects of Fourier’s vision appear less incredible. In some ways we are closer to Fourier’s goal of a non-repressive society than his scandalized contemporaries would have thought possible. The steady growth of our productive capacity and the liberating potential of automation have encouraged critics of industrial society to question the necessity of a work ethic which still condemns most men to repulsive, meaningless, and boring work. Fourier urged his generation to reject the new chains that were being forged for it in the guise of’ an ennobling and holy ethic of’ work. Years before Marx demonstrated that ‘scientific’ social theory was often merely an ideology serving the interests of a dominant class, Fourier had exposed even the most libertarian political and social doctrines of his own day as fraudulent and oppressive. And long before twentieth century man began to suspect that he had built his own prison and sown briars along life’s way, Fourier had tried to convince the ‘civilized’ to throw off their self—imposed yoke of psychological and erotic immaturity. For this reason, it seems the Phalansterian has a claim to our attention," 16)



 1) M.C. Spencer, Charles Fourier (Boston, Ma., Twayne Publishers, 1981), p. 126.

2) Spencer, pp. 14 - 15.

3) Spencer, p. 15.

4) Spencer, pp. 15—16.

5) Spencer, p. 16.

6) Spencer, pp. 16—17.

7) Spencer, pp. 17.

8) Spencer, pp. 17—18.

9) Spencer, pp. 52-53.

10) Spencer, p. 53.

11) Spencer, p. 54.

12) Spencer, p. 60.

13) Spencer, p. 61,

14) Spencer, pp. 66-68.

15) Spencer, p. 76.

16) Jonathan Beecher and Richard Bienvenu, The Utopian Vision of Charles Fourier (Boston, Ma.: Beacon Press, 1971), pp. 74 -75.




 Beecher, Jonathan and Bienvenu, Richard. The Utopian Vision of Charles Fauriere. Boston, Beacon Press, 1971.

 Beecher, Jonathan. Charles Fourier. Berkeley, Ca.: University of California Press, 1986.

 Godwin, Parks. A Popular View of the Doctrines of Charles Fourier. Philadelphia, Pa.: Porcupine Press Inc., 1972.

 Riasanovsky, Nicholas U. The Teachings of Charles Fourier. Berkeley, Ca.: University of California Press, 1969.

 Spencer, M.C. Charles Fourier. Boston, Ma.: Twayne Publishers, 1981.





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