Saint-Simonian, The Saint-Simonians and The Beginings Of Collectivism

Sismondi, by supplementing the study of political economy by a study of social economics, had already much enlarged the area traced for the science by its founders. But while giving distribution the position of honour in his discussion, he never dared carry his criticism as far as an examination of that fundamental institution of modern society — private property. Property, at least, he thought legitimate and necessary. Every English and French economist had always treated it as a thing apart—a fact so indisputable and inevitable that it formed the very basis of all their speculations.

Suddenly, however, we come upon a number of writers who, while definitely rejecting all complicity with the earlier communists and admitting neither equality of needs nor of faculties, but tending to an agreement with the economists in claiming the maximum of produc­tion as the one aim of economic organization, dare lay their hands upon the sacred ark and attack the institution of property with whole­hearted vigour. Venturing upon what had hitherto been holy ground, they displayed so much skill and courage that every idea and every formula which became a commonplace of the socialistic literature of the later nineteenth century already finds a place in their system. Having definite ideas as to the end which they had in view, they challenged the institution of private property because of its effects upon the distribution and production of wealth. They cast doubt upon the theories concerning its historical evolution, and concluded that its abolition would help the perfection of the scientific and in­dustrial organization of modern society. The problem of private property was at last faced, and a recurrence of the discussion was henceforth to become a feature of economic science.

Not that it had hitherto been neglected. Utopian communists from Plato and More up to Mably, Morelly, Godwin, and Babeuf, the eighteenth-century equalitarians, all rest their case upon a criticism of property. But hitherto the question had been treated from the point of view of ethics rather than of economics. The originality of the Saint-Simonian treatment is that it is the direct outcome of the economic and political revolution which shook France and the whole of Europe towards the end of the eighteenth and the beginning of the nineteenth centuries. The socialism of Saint-Simon is not a vague aspiration for some pristine equality which was largely a creation of the imagination. It is rather the naive expression of juvenile enthusiasm in the presence of the new industrial regime begotten of mechanical invention and scientific discovery. The modern spirit at its best is what it would fain reveal. It sought to interpret the generous aspira­tions of the new bourgeois class, freed through the instrumentality of the Revolution from the tutelage of baron and priest, and to show how the reactionary policy of the Restoration threatened its triumph. Not content, however, with confining itself to the intellectual orbit of the bourgeoisie, it sought also to define the sphere of the workers in future society and to lay down regulations for their benefit. But its appeal was chiefly to the more cultured classes—engineers, bankers, artists, and savants It was to these men—all of them members of the better classes—that the Saint-Simonians preached collectivism and the sup­pression of inheritance as the easiest way of founding a new society upon the basis of science and industry. Hence the great stir which the new ideas caused.

Consequently Saint-Simonism appears to be a somewhat unexpected extension of economic Liberalism rather than a tardy renewal of ancient socialistic conceptions.

We must, in fact, distinguish between two currents in Saint-Simonism. The one represents the doctrine preached by Saint-Simon himself, the other is that of his disciples, the Saint-Simonians. Saint-Simon's creed can best be described as "industrialism" plus a slight admixture of socialism, and it thus naturally links itself with economic Liberalism, of which it is simply an exaggerated development. The disciples' doctrine, on the other hand, can only be described as collec­tivism. But it is a collectivism logically deduced from two of the master's principles which have been extended and amplified. For a history of economic ideas it is the theories of the disciples that matter most, perhaps. But it would be impossible to understand these without knowing something of Saint-Simon's theory. We shall give an explana­tion of his doctrine, first attempting to show the links which surely, though strangely enough, affiliate the socialism of Saint-Simon with economic Liberalism.