by Hwan Kim


Roots of socialism can be traced back as far as Plato's republic, Sir Thomas More's Utopia, to the primitive societies of  Jesuits of Paraguay, and even to the Diggers of Cromwell's Army.1)

However the modern connotation of socialism has its basis in the works and thoughts of those philosophers who opposed the appalling results of industrial revolution. The inequalities, the suffering, the injustice that were the results of capitalism and uncontrolled free market, were denounced and opposed by some of the best minds of the nineteenth century. Their works reflect humanitarian reaction to inhumanities of the age. Their ideological attack upon capitalism which was deemed responsible for the social ills 2) created the modern basis of socialism.

But what made the Utopian Socialists different from other socialists?  Certainly they shared the vision of a new community of producers bound together through fraternal solidarity.3)  The hope that men will once again reestablish harmony between men, nature, and with themselves  were shared by all the socialists.  They all shared humanistic opposition to indifference and selfishness of "acquisitive individualism" so prevalent in that era. Even the economic and political implications of socialism, i.e. confiscation of the means of production and taking the power of government from the hands of capitalists were views shared by both the "socialists" and the "utopian socialist" (with the exception of Saint-Simon). They, however , differed in the way of carrying it out.


Utopian Socialism was strongly colored by moralistic overtones and was hence very dogmatic although hope of happiness and faith in progress were always there. Since the utopian socialists were not afraid to claim that their vision is a perfect recipe for happiness 4) they provoked both inspiration and ridicule.

 Utopian, as opposed to Marx's scientific, socialism lacked "real basis," and was further scorned as being extravagant and rhetorical. In Marx and Engels's "Socialism Utopian and Scientific" Marx wrote that for those early reformers. 5)

“socialism is the expression of absolute truth, reason and justice, and has only to be discovered to conquer all the world by virtue of its own power. And as absol­ute truth is independent of time, space, and the his­torical development of man; it is mere accident when and where it is discovered. With all this, absolute truth, reason and justice are different with the founder of each different school. And as each one's special kind of absolute truth, reason and justice is again conditioned by his subjective understanding, his conditions of existence, the measure of his knowledge and his intellectual training, there is no other end­ing possible in this conflict of absolute truths than that they shall be mutually exclusive one of the other. Hence, from this nothing could come but a kind of eclectic, average socialism..


But utopian socialism has much more in essence than that. As a need felt by society to understand its general conditions utopian socialism glowed as its guiding light of social experiments.
Utopian socialism centers around three figures: Comte Saint­ Simon , Charles Fourier, and Robert Owen.

Saint-Simon viewed his age to be suffering from an unhealthy and dauntless individualism resulting from breaking down the order and hierarchy.6) He did not see the  roles  of individuals in pursuit of self interest as contributing to  an order guided by the "invisible hand."  He did not have the inherent faith in free market as Adam Smith did.  How could he when the excesses of free market and competition were creating so much misery to the society as a whole while the privileged few prospered forever, he also believed that the "seed of it own salvation" (as opposed to Marx's "seed of its own destruction") existed.7)   He believed the seed was to be found in the rising level of technology and science, and in the industrialists and technicians who had begun to build a new industrial order; it was to be a society run and ruled by technocrats and experts.8) 


This was argued as being necessary because the salvation brought on by technological advances and scientific discoveries were only possible when experts and techno­crats ordered the society rationally.   The result would not be an egalitarian society and far from democratic, not because of its nature as a technocracy, but because, it was argued by Saint-Simon, men were not equal by nature. However, he believed that a society should make maxi­mum use of its potential abilities by assuring every individual equal opportunity to realize his full potentials and award him a position appropriate to  his degree of talent.  Hence the degree of income differences will depend on the diversity of talents and the corresponding responsibility; this too is sure to be far from equal but would be equitable for every man would be paid according to his expertise (and not necessarily according to his needs). Thus it is no wonder education was so strongly emphasized by Saint-Simon.  

Saint-Simon wanted the future society to be run like a "giant workshop" in which rule of men would be replaced by admin­istration of things; elimination of state as a coercive institu­tion and replacing it by a system in which men did what they were best at was suppose to eliminate public disorder.9)  

It was argued by some of the disciples of Saint-Simon, that since the society was going to be ordered rationally private property was a concept incompatible with Saint-Simon's new indus­trial society; after all, transmission of property and power is inimical to a rational ordering of society.10)  Theoretically this was suppose to neutralize the unequal opportunities family en­dowment  creates, however, just how that was to be redistributed and how the justification for its confiscation exists when the individual is extraordinarily bright is left unanswered.  


Fourier was much more radical than Saint-Simon in a sense that his vision of historical transformation by men went beyond the reordering of a society; transformation was to occur in the realm of nature and was to have cosmological effects as well. Fourier believed that a natural social order existed corresponding to Newton's ordering of physical universe and that both occurred in eight ascending orders.11)  In the highest stage of such a development, called Harmony,  man's emotion were expressed freely uninhibited from his "artificial ethics"  That highest stage was to be created through dividing society into phalanges.  

Phalanges are cooperative agricultural communities bearing responsibility for the social welfare of the individual, and characterized by continuously shifting of roles among its members.12) Phalanges were the germ cell of a good society of future; men  would not be forced to work but would work in tune with their temperaments and inclinations.13) Men would attend cabbage patch in the morning and sing in operas in the evening. The obvious problems of incentives and accurately comprehending temperaments of each individual so that he would be in tune; in terms of social cost would be enormous; and this seriously weakens Fourier's vision.  

Nevertheless, phalanges would distribute wealth among its member "more equitably" than under capitalism. Individual member of a phalange was to be rewarded (not necessarily in terms of in­come) on the basis of the total productivity of the phalange.14)


It was argued that phalanges system could be introduced under any political system. However once phalanges were introduced the spontaneity made the external regulation unnecessary. Emphasi­zing the need to formulate a society and ordering it according to human needs, Fourier was different from Saint-Simon; the latter believed in the rule of the experts while the former believed that men would be bound together by love and passion in an harmonious and non-coercive social order. Wastefulness of competitive capital­ism would be eliminated by the force of human nature organized in phalanges. 15)


Cooperative settlement Brook farm in Massachusetts, and in Phalanx at Red Bank, New Jersey, attempted to establish a commune according to the dictates of phalanges system but failed. 16)

Out of the three, Owen was probably most realistic and practical. Owen attributed the evils of industrialization to competition and education defects. He believed that elimination of competition and countering of educational defects by "rational enlightenment" would allow the productive forces to benefit man­kind. 

Owen stressed cooperation in place of competition and such cooperation was to be institutionalized through creating village of unity and cooperation.  An experimental village was created by Owen in Indiana in the later part of the nineteenth century (called New Harmony) but, like Fourier's experiment, failed.   The legacy of Owen and his optimism were  inspiration for many people;  few intellectuals of his age saw the light at the end of the tunnel and his faith in men and his belief that men can improve their stature if the stultifying effects of unhealthy environment were only removed  were a source of great motivation for those who attempted to improve the society rather than rejecting it. In Owenism, the seed of labor party movements can be found.  

It is easy to see why they were called the utopians; after all, their ideas of creating a new order were impractical economically and politically. Some proposals put more faith in human nature than it could possibly be. Often the wishful thinking of the utopian socialists blinded the practical possibilities. Nevertheless their contributions to humanity are great and worthy of praise.  For one thing, they introduced the spirit of social experimentalism into the intellectual climate of their era. Their faith that the repressive and hateful environment, could be changed inspired many. Their belief that men could be one with himself, with his fellow men, and with nature inspired and helped germinate the seed of social movements for decades to come. But most importantly, their attempts of social engineering were the first real attempts to bring about change.    



  • 1) Encyclopedia of Philosophy, Macmillan Pub. Co., New York, 1972 Vol. 7, pp 46.

  • 2)  Loubre, Leo, Utopian Socialism, Shenkman Pub. Co, Cambridge, MA. Pp 2.           

  • 3) Encyclopedia Britannica,  15 th Edt, Micropaedia, Chicago, 1985 Vol 27, pp4~~3

  • 4) Op.cit. Loubre pp3

  • 5) Marx & Engels, Socialism Utopian and Scientific. International Publishers, New York 1935 pp 43 - 44

  • 6) Saint-Simon, H, Social Organization; Science of Man and other writings Felix Markham,  Harper & Row Inc., NY 1971,

  • 7) Ibid., pp53.

  • 8) Op. Cit., Encyclopedia Britannica, pp 444  

  • 9) Op. Cit., Encyclopedia Britannica, pp 444  

  • 10) Op. Cit., Encyclopedia of Philosophy  Vol 7, pp  47

  • 11)     Beecher & Bienvenu,  THe Utopian Vision of Charles Fourier, Beacon Press, Boston, 1981.  PP 235-240

  • 12) Ibid.,  pp 236

  • 13) Ibid., pp 99-100

  • 14) Ibid., pp 237

  • 15) Ibid., pp 238

  • 16) Op. Cit.,Encyclopedia. Britannica., Micropaedia pp906  




  • Encyclopedia Britannica Inc., 15th Edtion, Micropaedia/Macropaedia,  Chicago,  1985.

  • The Encvclopedia of Philosophy,  Macmillan Publishing Co., Inc. and the Free Press,  New York,  1972.

  • Beecher & Bienvenu,  The Utopian Vision of Charles Fourier. Beacon Press,  Boston,  1981.

  • Hill, Harvey Rowland,  Robert Owen - Socialist Idea, University of California Press,  Berkeley and Los Angeles,  1949.

  • Loubere, Leo , Utopian Socialism,  Shenkman Pub. Comp.,  Cambrdige

  • Marx & Engels,  Socialism; Utopian and Scientific, International Publishers,  New York,  1935.

  • Saint-Simon, Henri de:  Social Organization; the Science of Man and Other Writings,  Translated by Fleix Markham,  Harper& Row Publishers,  New York, 1971.





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