Charles Fourier The Phalanstere

Charles Fourier The Phalanstere

As a matter of fact nothing could be more peaceful than the pros­pect which the Phalanstere presents to our view. Anything more closely resembling Owen's New Harmony or Cabet's Icaria or Cam-panella's Civitas Solis or More's Utopia would be difficult to imagine. Externally it looks for all the world like a grand hotel—a Palace Hotel on a gigantic scale with 1500 persons en pension. One is instinctively reminded of those familiar structures which have lately become such a feature of all summer and winter resorts, containing all manner of rooms and apartments, concert halls and lecture rooms, etc. All of this is described by Fourier with the minutest detail. No restrictions would be placed upon individual liberty. Anyone so choosing could have a suite of rooms for himself, and enjoy his meals in the privacy of his own room—that is, if he preferred it to the table d'hote. Hotel life is generally open only to the few. The Phalanstere would have rooms and tables at all prices to suit all five classes of society, with a free table in addition.

A number of people living under the same roof and eating at the same table, and adopting this as their normal everyday method of living, sums up the element of communism which the scheme con­tained. And the question is naturally asked, Why should Fourier attach such supreme importance to this mode of existence as to make it the sine qua non of his whole system and the key to any solution of the problem? The answer lies in the conviction, which he fully shared with Owen, that no solution is possible until the environment is changed, and so changed that an entirely new type of man will result from it.

Economically, of course, life under the same roof can offer to the consumer the maximum of comfort at a minimum of cost. Cooking, heating, lighting, etc., would under such conditions be cheaper and more efficient, and all the worries and anxieties of individual house­keeping would be swept aside.

Socially a common life of this kind would gradually teach different persons to appreciate one another. Sympathy would take the place of mutual antipathy, which under the present regime, as Fourier eloquently remarks, shows an "ascending scale of hatred and a descending scale of contempt." Besides, the multiplicity of relations and interests, and even of intrigues, which would occasionally enliven this little world would at any rate make life more interesting.

On this double series of advantages Fourier is quite inexhaustible. He reckons up the economies with the painstaking care of an old clerk, and boasts the superiority of the table d'hote over the family meal with the enthusiasm of an old bachelor. The social and moral advantages seem somewhat more doubtful. It is not very obvious that contact with the rich would make the poor more polished or amicable, nor is it very clear that either would be much happier for it. Fourier's Utopia is already in operation in the United States, where, owing to the increase in the cost of living, the economic advantages of a communal life are more fully taken advantage of. Not only are there a great number of bachelors living at the clubs but young couples have recently made a practice of taking up their abode at the hotels. They are already on the way to the Phalanstere.

This shows that Fourier was considerably in advance of his time, and those who hold that doctrines, after all, are always suggested by facts would find it difficult to discover anything pointing towards such communal experiments in the earlier part of the nineteenth century.

His solution of the servant problem, which is becoming more diffi­cult every day, has since been largely adopted. His suggestion was the substitution of collective for individual services as being more com­patible with human dignity and independence, and the development

Of industrial rather than domestic production. This has taken place in the case of bread making and laundry work, and has been extended to house sweeping, carpet cleaning, etc. A further extension to the art of cooking has also taken place.