Saint-Simon and Industrialism

Saint-Simon and Industrialism

Saint-Simon was a nobleman who led a somewhat dissolute, adven­turous life. At the early age of sixteen he took part in the American War of Independence. The Revolution witnessed the abandonment of his claim to nobility, but by successful speculation in national property he was enabled to retrieve his fortune to some extent. Im­prisoned as a suspect at Sainte-Pelagie, set free on the 9th Thermidor, he attained a certain notoriety as a man of affairs interested chiefly in travels and amusements and as a dilettante student of the sciences. From the moment of his release he began to regard himself as a kind of Messiah.1 He was profoundly impressed by what seemed to him to be the birth of a new society at which he had himself assisted, in which the moral and political and even physical conditions of life were suddenly torn up by the roots, when ancient beliefs disappeared and nothing seemed ready to take their place. He himself was to be the evangelist of the new gospel, and with this object in view on the 4th Messidor, An. VI, he called together the capitalists who were already associated with him and, pointing out the great necessity for restoring public confidence, proposed the establishment of a gigantic bank whose funds might be employed in setting up works of public utility—proof of the curious way in which economic and philosophic considerations were already linked together in his thoughts.2 An ill-considered marriage which was hastily broken off, however, was followed by a period of much extravagance and great misery. By the year 1805 so reduced were his circumstances that he was glad to avail himself of the generosity of one of his old servants. After her death he lived partly upon the modest pension provided him by his family and partly upon the contributions of a few tradesmen, but he was again so miserable that in 1823 he attempted suicide. A banker of the name of Olinde Rodrigues came to the rescue this time and supplied him with the necessary means of support. He died in 1825, surrounded by a number of his disciples who had watched over the last moments of his earthly life. During all these years, haunted as he was by the need for giving to the new century the doctrine it so much required, he was constantly engaged in publishing brochures, new works, or selections from his earlier publications, sometimes alone and sometimes in collaboration with others, in which the same suggestions are always revived and the same ideas keep recurring, but in slightly
different forms.

Saint-Simon's earlier work was an attempt to establish a scientific synthesis which might furnish mankind with a system of positive morality to take the place of religious dogmas. It was to be a kind of 'scientific breviary' where all phenomena could be deduced from one single idea, that of 'universal gravitation.' He himself has treated us to a full account of this system, which is as deceptive as it is simple, and which shows us his serious limitations as a philosopher whose ambition far outran his knowledge. Auguste Gomte, one of his disciples, attempted a similar task in his Cours de Philosophic positive and in the Politique positive, so that Saint-Simon, who is usually con­sidered the father of socialism, finds himself also the father of positivism.

From 1814 up to his death in 1825 he partly relinquished his interest in philosophy and devoted himself almost exclusively to the exposition of his social and political ideas, which are the only ones that interest us here.
His economics might be summed up as an apotheosis of industry, using the latter word in the widest sense, much as Smith had employed the term as synonymous with labour of all kinds.

His leading ideas, contained within the compass of a few striking pages, have since become known as "Saint-Simon's Parable."

"Let us suppose," says he, that France suddenly loses fifty of her first-class doctors, fifty first-class chemists, fifty first-class physiologists, fifty first-class bankers two hundred of her best merchants, six hundred of her foremost agriculturists, five hundred of her most capable ironmasters, etc. [enumerating the principal industries]. Seeing that these men are its most indispensable producers, makers of its most important products, the minute that it loses these the nation will degenerate into a mere soulless body and fall into a state of despicable weakness in the eyes of rival nations, and will remain in this subordinate position so long as the loss remains and their places are vacant. Let us take another supposition. Imagine that France retains all her men of genius, whether in the arts and sciences or in the crafts and industries, but has the misfortune to lose on the same day the king's brother, the Duke of Angouleme, and all the other members of the royal family; all the great officers of the Grown; all ministers of State, whether at the head of a department or not; all the Privy Councillors; all the masters of requests; all the marshals, cardinals, archbishops, bishops, grand vicars and canons; all prefects and sub-prefects; all Government employees; all the judges; and on top of that a hundred thousand proprietors—the cream of her nobility. Such an overwhelming catastrophe would certainly aggrieve the French, for they are a kindly-disposed nation. But the loss of a hundred and thirty thousand of the best-reputed individuals in the State would give rise to sorrow of a purely sentimental kind. It would not cause the community the least inconvenience.

In other words, the official Government is a mere facade. Its action is wholly superficial. Society might exist without it and life would be none the less happy. But the disappearance of the savants, industrial leaders, bankers, and merchants would leave the com­munity crippled. The very sources of wealth would dry up, for their activities are really fruitful and necessary. They are the true governors who wield real power. Such was the parable.

According to Saint-Simon, little observation is needed to realize that the world we live in is based upon industry, and that anything besides industry is scarcely worth the attention of thinking people. A long process of historical evolution, which according to Saint-Simon commenced in the twelfth century with the enfranchisement of the communes and culminated in the French Revolution, had prepared the way for it. At least industry is the one cardinal feature of the present day.
The political concerns of his contemporaries were regarded with some measure of despair. The majority of them were engaged either in defending or attacking the Charter of 1814. The Liberals were simply deceiving themselves, examining old and meaningless formulae such as 'the sovereignty of the people,' 'liberty,' and 'equality'— conceptions that never had any meaning, but were simply meta­physical creations of the jurists, and they ought to have realized that this kind of work was perfectly useless now that the feudal regime was overthrown. Men in future will have something better to do than to defend the Charter against the 'ultras.' The parliamentary regime may be very necessary, but it is just a passing phase between the feudalism of yesterday and the new order of to-morrow. That future order is Industrialism—a social organization having only one end in view, the further development of industry, the source of all wealth and prosperity.

The new regime implies first of all the abolition of all class distinc­tion. There will be no need.for either nobles, bourgeois, or clergy. There will be only two categories, workers and idlers—or the bees and the drones, as Saint-Simon puts it. Sometimes he refers to them as the national and anti-national party. In the new society the second class is bound to disappear, for there is only room for the first. This class includes, besides manual workers, agriculturists, artisans, manu­facturers, bankers, savants, and artists. Between these persons there ought to be no difference except that which results from their different capacities, or what Saint-Simon calls their varying stakes in the national interest. "Industrial equality," he writes, "consists in each drawing from society benefits exactly proportionate to his share in the State—that is, in proportion to his potential capacity and the use which he makes of the means at his disposal—including, of course, his capital." Saint-Simon evidently has no desire to rob the capitalists of their revenues; his hostility is reserved for the landed proprietors.

Not only must every social distinction other than that founded upon labour and ability disappear, but government in the ordinary sense of the term will largely become unnecessary. "National association" for Saint-Simon merely meant "industrial enterprise." "France was to be turned into a factory and the nation organized on the model of a vast workshop"; but "the task of preventing thefts and of checking other disorders in a factory is a matter of quite secondary importance and can be discharged by subordinates." In a similar fashion, the function of government in industrial society must be limited to "defend­ing workers from the unproductive sluggard and maintaining security and freedom for the producer."

So far Saint-Simon's 'industrialism' is scarcely distinguishable from the 'Liberalism' of Smith and his followers, especially J. B. Say's. Charles Comte and Dunoyer, writing in their review, Le Censeur, were advancing exactly similar doctrines, sometimes even using identical terms. "Plenty of scope for talent" and laissez-faire were some of the favourite maxims of the Liberal bourgeois. Such also were the aspira­tions of Saint-Simon.

But it is just here that the tone changes.

Assuming that France has become a huge factory, the most im­portant task that awaits the nation is to inaugurate the new manu­facturing regime and to seek to combine the interests of the entre­preneurs with those of the workers on the one hand and of the consumers on the other. There is thus just enough room for government—of a kind. What is required is the organizing of forces rather than the governing of men. Politics need not disappear altogether, but "must be transformed into a positive science of productive organization."

Under the old system the tendency was to increase the power of government by establishing the ascendancy of the higher classes over the lower. Under the new system the aim must be to combine all the forces of society in such a fashion as to secure the successful execu­tion of all those works which tend to improve the lot of its members either morally or physically.

Such will be the task of the new government, where capacity will replace power and direction will take the place of command. Apply­ing itself to the execution of those tasks upon which there is complete unanimity, most of them requiring some degree of deliberation and yet promptness of action, it will gradually transform the character of politics by concentrating attention upon matters affecting life or well-being—the only things it need ever concern itself with.

In order to make his meaning clearer, Saint-Simon proposes to con­fine the executive power to a Chamber of Deputies recruited from the representatives of commerce, industry, manufacture, and agriculture. These would be charged with the final acceptance or refusal of the legislative proposals submitted to them by the other two Chambers, composed exclusively of savants, artists, and engineers. The sole concern of all legislation would, of course, be the development of the country's material wealth.

An economic rather than a political form of government, adminis­tering things instead of governing men, with a society modelled on the workshop and a nation transformed into a productive association having as its one object "the increase of positive utility by means of peaceful industry"—such are the ruling conceptions which distinguish Saint-Simon from the Liberals and serve to bring him into the ranks of the socialists. His central idea will be enthusiastically welcomed by the Marxian collectivists, and Engels speaks of it as the most important doctrine which its author ever propounded. Proudhon accepts it, and as a practical ideal proposes the absorption of government and its total extinction in economic organization. The same idea occurs in Menger's Neue Staatshhre, and in Sorel's writings, where he speaks of "reorganizing society on the model of a factory."

It is this novel conception of government that most clearly dis­tinguishes Saint-Simon's industrialism from economic Liberalism.

But, despite the fact that he gave to socialism one of its most fruit­ful conceptions, we hardly know whether to class Saint-Simon as a socialist or not, especially if we consider that the essence of socialism consists in the abolition of private property. It is true that in one celebrated passage he speaks of the transformation of private property. But it is quite an isolated exception. Capital as well as labour, he thought, was entitled to remuneration. The one as well as the other involved some social outlay. He would probably have been quite content with a purely governmental reform.

It would not be difficult, however, to take the ideal of industrialism as outlined by Saint-Simon as the basis of a demand for a much more radical reform and a much more violent attack upon society. Such was the task which the Saint-Simonians took upon themselves, and our task now is to show how collectivism was gradually evolved out of industrialism.