Saint Simonians and Private Property

The Saint Simonians and Their Criticsm Of Private Property

Saint-Simon's works were scarcely ever read. His influence was essentially personal, and the task of spreading a knowledge of his ideas devolved upon a number of talented disciples whom he had succeeded in gathering round him. Augustin Thierry, who was his secretary from 1814 to 1817, became his adopted son. Auguste Comte, who occupied a similar post, was a collaborator in all his publications between 1817 and 1824. Olinde Rodrigues and his brother Eugene were both among his earliest disciples. Enfantin, an old student of the Polytechnic, and Bazard, an old Carbonaro who had grown weary of political experiments, were also of the number. Soon after the death of Saint-Simon his following founded a journal called Le Producteur with a view to popularizing his ideas. Most of the articles on economics were contributed by Enfantin. The paper lasted only for one year, although the number of converts to the new doctrine was rapidly in­creasing. All of them were persuaded that Saint-Simon's ideas fur­nished the basis of a really modern faith which would at once supplant both decadent Catholicism and political Liberalism, the latter of which, in their opinion, was a purely negative doctrine,
In order to strengthen the intellectual ties which already united them, this band of enthusiasts set up among themselves a sort of hierarchy having at its summit a kind of college or institution com­posed of the more representative members of the group, upon whom the title "fathers" was bestowed. The next lower grade was composed of "sons," who were to regard one another as "brothers." It was in 1828, under the influence of Eugene Rodrigues, that the Saint-Simonians assumed this character of an organized sect. About the same time Bazard, one of their number, was giving an exposition of the creed in a series of popular lectures. These lectures, delivered during the years 1828-30, and listened to by many men who were afterwards to play an important part in the history of France, such as Ferdinand de Lesseps, A. Carrel, H. Carnot, the brothers Pereire, and Michel Chevalier, were published in two volumes under the title Exposition de la Doctrine de Saint-Simon. The second volume is more particularly concerned with philosophy and ethics. The first includes the social doctrine of the school, and according to Menger forms one of the most important expositions of modern socialism.

Unfortunately, under the influence of Enfantin the philosophical and mystical element gained the upper hand and led to the downfall of the school.

The Saint-Simonians considered that it was not enough to take modern humanity into its confidence and reveal to it its social destiny. It must be taught to love and desire that destiny with all the ardour of romantic youth. For the accomplishment of this end there must exist a unity of action and thought such as a common religious con­viction alone can confer. And so Saint-Simonism became a religion, a cult with a moral code of its own, with meetings organized and churches founded in different parts of the country, and with apostles ready to carry the good tidings to distant lands. A striking phenomenon surely, and worthy the fullest study. It was a genuine burst of religious en­thusiasm among men opposed to established religion but possessed of fine scientific culture—the majority of whom, however, as it turned out, were better equipped for business than for the propagation of a new gospel.

Enfantin and Bazard were to be the popes of this new Catholicism. But Bazard soon retired and Enfantin became "supreme Father." He withdrew, with forty of the disciples, into a house at Menilmontant, where they lived a kind of conventual life from April to December 1831. Meanwhile the other propagandists were as active as ever, the work being now carried on in the columns of Le Globe, which became the property of the school in July 1831. This strange experiment was cut short by judicial proceedings, which resulted in a year's imprisonment for Enfantin, Duverger, and Michel Chevalier, all of whom were found guilty of forming an illegal association. This was the signal for dis­persion.

The last phase was the most extravagant in the whole history of the school, and naturally it was the phase that attracted most attention. The simple social doctrine of Saint-Simon was overwhelmed by the new religion of the Saint-Simonians, much as the Positivist religion for a while succeeded in eclipsing the Positive philosophy. Our concern, of course, is chiefly with the social doctrine as expounded in the first volume of the Exposition That doctrine is sufficiently new to be regarded as an original development and not merely as a resume of Saint-Simon's ideas. Both Bazard and Enfantin had some hand in it. But it is almost certain that it was the latter who supplied the economic ideas, and that to the formation of those ideas Sismondi's work con­tributed not a little. The work is quite as remarkable for the vigorous logical presentation of the doctrine as it is for the originality of its ideas. The oblivion into which it has fallen is not easily explicable, especially if we compare it with the many mediocre productions that have somehow managed to survive. There are not wanting signs of a revived interest in the doctrines, and for our own part we are inclined to give them a very high place among the economic writings of the century.

The Doctrine de Saint-Simon resolves itself into an elaborate criticism of private property.

The criticism is directed from two points of view—that of distribu­tion and that of the production of wealth, that of justice and that of utility. The attack is carried on from both sides at once, and most of the arguments used during the course of the century are here hurled indiscriminately against the institution of private property. The doc­trines of Saint-Simon contributed not a little to the success of the campaign.

(a) Saint-Simon had already emphasized the impossibility of workers and idlers coexisting in the new society. Industrialism could hold out no promise for the second class. Ability and labour only had any claim to remuneration. By some peculiar misconception, however, Saint-Simon had regarded capital as involving some degree of personal sacrifice which entitled it to special remuneration. It was here that the Saint-Simonians intervened. Was it not perfectly obvious that private property in capital was the worst of all privileges? The Revolu­tion had swept away caste distinctions and suppressed the right of primogeniture, which tended to perpetuate inequality among mem­bers of the same family, but had failed to touch individual property and its privilege of "laying a toll upon the industry of others." This right of levying a tax is the fundamental idea in all their definitions of private property. Property, according to the generally accepted meaning of the term to-day, consists of wealth which is not destined to be immediately consumed, but which entitles its owner to a revenue. Within this category are included the two agents of production, land and capital. These are primarily instruments of production, whatever else they may be. Property-owners and capitalists—two classes that need not be distinguished for our present purpose—have the control of these instruments. Their function is to distribute them among the workers. The distribution takes place through a series of operations which give rise to the economic phenomena of interest and rent. Consequently the worker, because of this concentration of property in the hands of a few individuals, is forced to share the fruits of his labour. Such an obligation is nothing short of the exploitation of one man by another, an exploitation all the more odious because the privileges are carefully preserved for one section of the community. Thanks to the laws of inheritance, exploiter and exploited never seem to change places.

To the retort that proprietors and capitalists are not necessarily idle—that many of them, in fact, work hard in order to increase their incomes—the Saint-Simonians reply that all this is beside the point. A certain portion of the income may possibly result from personal effort, but whatever they receive either as capitalists or proprietors can obviously only come from the labour of others, and that clearly is exploitation.

It is not the first time we have encountered this word 'exploitation.' We are reminded of the fact that Sismondi made use of it, and the same term will again meet us in the writings of Marx and others. None of them, however, uses it in quite the same sense, and it might be useful to distinguish here between the various meanings of a term which plays such an important role in socialist literature and which leads to so much confusion.

Sismondi, we know, regarded interest as the legitimate income of capital, but at the same time admitted that the worker may be exploited.

Such exploitation, he thought, took place whenever the wages were barely sufficient to keep the wage-earner alive, although at the same time the master might be living in luxurious ease. In other words, there is exploitation whenever the worker gets less than a 'just' wage. It is merely a temporary defect and not an ineradicable disease of the economic system. It certainly does occur occasionally, although there is no reason why it ever should, and it may be removed without bring­ing the whole system to ruin. Conceived of in this vague fashion, what is known as exploitation is as difficult to define as the 'just price' itself. It appears under several aspects, and is by no means peculiar to the master-servant relation. An individual is exploited whenever advantage is taken of his ignorance or timidity, his weakness or isola­tion, to force him to part with his goods or his services at less than the 'just price' or to pay more for the goods or services of others than they are really worth.

The Saint-Simonians, on the other hand, considered that exploita­tion was an organic defect of our social order. It is inherent in private property, of which it is an invariable concomitant. It is not simply an incidental abuse, but the most characteristic trait of the whole system, for the fundamental attribute of all property is just this right to enjoy the fruits of labour without having to undergo the irksome task of producing. Such exploitation is not confined to manual labourers; it applies to every one who has to pay a tribute to the proprietor. The entrepreneur, in his turn, becomes a victim because of the interest which he pays to the capitalist, who supplies him with the funds which he needs.

The entrepreneur's profit, on the other hand, is not the result of exploitation. It represents payment for the work of direction. The master may doubtless abuse his position and reduce the wages of the workers excessively. The Saint-Simonians would then agree with Sismondi in calling this exploitation. But this is not a necessity of the system. And the Saint-Simonians look forward to a future state of society in which exceptional capacity will always be able to enjoy exceptional reward. This is one of the most interesting elements in their theory.

Marx conceives of exploitation as an organic vice inherent in capitalism. But with him the term has quite a different connotation from that given it by the Saint-Simonians. Following the lead of certain English socialists, Marx comes to the conclusion that the origin of exploitation must be sought in the present method of exchanging wealth. Labour, in his opinion, is the source of all value, and conse­quently interest and profit must be of the nature of theft. The entre­preneur's revenue is quite as unjust as the capitalist's or landlord's.

This last theory, with its wholesale condemnation of income of every kind save the worker's wage, seems much more logical than any of the others. But as a matter of fact it is much more open to criticism. If it can be demonstrated that the value of products is not the mere result of manual labour, then Marx's idea falls to the ground. The Saint-Simonians were never embarrassed by any theory of value. Their whole contention rests upon the distinction between the income which is got from labour and the revenue which is derived from capital, which every one can appreciate. It was a distinction which had already been emphasized by Sismondi, and no conclusion other than the illegitimacy of all revenue not derived from labour can be drawn from the premises thus stated. Some basis other than labour must be discovered if this revenue is ever to be justified, and a new defence of private property must somehow be attempted.

The exigencies of production itself may supply such justification. Private property and the special kind of revenue which is derived from its possession justifies itself, in the opinion of a growing number of economists, on account of the stimulus it affords to production and the accumulation of wealth. This seems the most advantageous method of defence, and it is one of the grounds chosen by the Physiocrats.

But the Saint-Simonians from the very first set this argument aside and attacked the institution of private property in the interests of social utility no less than in the interest of justice. Production as well as distribution, in their opinion, demanded its extinction.

(b) This brings us to the second point, which Saint-Simon did little more than suggest, namely, whether the institution of private property as at present existing is in the best interests of producers. The Saint-Simonians hold that it clearly is not, so long as the present method of distributing the instruments of production continues. At the present moment capital is transmitted in accordance with the laws of inheri­tance. Individuals chosen by the accident of birth are its depositors, and they are charged with the most difficult of all tasks, namely, the best utilization of the agents of production. Social interest demands that they should be placed in more capable hands and distributed in those places and among those industries in which the need for those particular instruments is most keenly felt, without any fear of a scarcity in one place or a glut in another. To-day it is a blind chance that picks out the men destined to carry out this infinitely difficult task. And all the efforts of the Saint-Simonians are concentrated just on this one point—inheritance.

Their indignation is easily explained. There is certainly something paradoxical in the fact to which they draw attention. If we accept Smith's view, that government "is in reality instituted for the defence of those who have some property against those who have none at all" —a very narrow conception of the function of government—inheri­tance is simply inevitable. On the other hand, if we put ourselves at the point of view of the Saint-Simonians, who lived in an industrial society where wealth was regarded, not as an end, but as a means, not merely as a source of individual income, but as the instrument of social production, it seems utterly wrong that it should be left at the disposal of the first comer. The practice of inheritance can only be justified on the ground that it provides a stimulus to the further accumulation of wealth, or that in default of a truly rational system the chances of birth are not much more open to criticism than any other.

Such scepticism was little to the taste of the Saint-Simonians. But they were firmly convinced that all the disorders of production, whether apparent or real, were due to the dispersion of property according to the chances of life and death.

Each individual devotes all his attention to his own immediate dependants. No general view of production is ever taken. There is no discernment and no exercise of foresight. Capital is wanting here and excessive there. This want of a broad view of the needs of consumers and of the resources of production is the cause of those industrial crises whose origin has given rise to so much fruitless speculation and so many errors which are still circulating in our midst. In this important branch of social activity, where so much disturbance and such frequent disorder manifests itself, we see the evil result of allowing the distribution of the instruments of produc­tion to be in the hands of isolated individuals who are at once ignorant of the demands of industry, of other men's needs, and of the means that would satisfy them. This and nothing else is the cause of the evil.

Escape from such economic anarchy, which has been so frequently described, can only become possible through collectivism—at least, so the Saint-Simonians thought. The State is to become the sole inheri­tor of all forms of wealth. Once in possession of the instruments of production, it can distribute them in the way it thinks best for the general interest. Government is conceived on the model of a great central bank where all the wealth of the country will be deposited and again distributed through its numerous branches. The uttermost ends of the kingdom will be made fertile, and the necessaries of life will be supplied to all who dwell therein. The best of the citizens will be put to work at tasks that will call forth their utmost efforts, and their pay will be as their toil. This social institution would be invested with all the powers which are so blindly wielded by individuals at the present moment.

We need not insist too much on this project or press for further details, which the Saint-Simonians would have some difficulty in supplying.

Who, for example, is to undertake the formidable task of judging of the capacity of the workmen or of paying for their work? They are to be the "generals"—the superiors who are to be set free from the trammels of specialization and whose instinctive feelings will naturally urge them to think only of the general interest. The chief will be he who shows the greatest concern about the social destiny of the com­munity. It is not very reassuring, especially when we remember that even with the greatest men there is occasionally a regrettable confusion of general and private interests.

But admitting the incomparable superiority of the "generals," what of obeying them? Will the inferiors take kindly to submission or will they have to be forced to it? The first alternative was the one which they seemed to favour, for the new religion, " Saint-Simonism," would always be at hand to inspire devotion and to deepen the respect of the inferiors for their betters. One is tempted to ask what would become of the heretics if ever there happened to be any.

Further criticism of this kind can serve no useful purpose, and it applies to every collective system, differing only in matters of detail. Whenever it is proposed to set up an elaborate plan of economic activity, directed and controlled by some central authority, with a view to supplanting the present system of individual initiative and social spontaneity, we are met at the threshold with the difficulty of setting up a new code of morality. Instead of the human heart with its many mixed motives, its insubordination and weaknesses, in place of the human mind with all its failings, ignorance, and error, are to be substi­tuted a heart and mind altogether ideal, which only serve to remind us how far removed they are from anything we have ever known. The Saint-Simonians recognized that a change so fundamental could only be accomplished through the instrumentality of religion. In doing this they have shown an amount of foresight which is rare among the critics who treat their ideas with such disdain.

It is more important that we should insist upon another fact, namely, that the Saint-Simonian system is the prototype of all the collectivist schemes that were proposed in the course of the century.

The whole scheme is very carefully thought out, and rests upon that penetrative criticism of private property which differentiates it from other social Utopias. The only equality which the Saint-Simonians demanded was what we call equality of opportunity—an equal chance and the same starting-point for every one. Beyond that there is to be inequality in the interests of social production itself. To each according to his capacity, and to every capacity according to the work which it has accomplished—such is the rule of the new society.

An interesting resume of the Saint-Simonians' programme, given in a series of striking formulae which they addressed to the President of the Chamber of Deputies, is worth quoting:

The Saint-Simonians do not advocate community of goods, for such community would be a manifest violation of the first moral law, which they have always been anxious to uphold, and which demands that in future every one shall occupy a situation becoming his capacity and be paid according to his labour.

In view of this law they demand the abolition of all privileges of birth without a single exception, together with the complete extinc­tion of the right of inheritance, which is to-day the greatest of all privileges and includes every other. The sole effect of this system is to leave the distribution of social advantages to a chance few who are able to lay some pretence to it, and to condemn the numerically superior class to deprivation, ignorance, and misery.

They ask that all the instruments of production, all lands and capital, the funds now divided among individual proprietors, should be pooled so as to form one central social fund, which shall be em­ployed by associations of persons hierarchically arranged so that each one's task shall be an expression of his capacity and his wealth a measure of his labour.

The Saint-Simonians are opposed to the institution of private property simply because it inculcates habits of idleness and fosters a practice of living upon the labour of others.

(c) Critics of private property, generally speaking, are not content with its condemnation merely from the point of view either of distri­bution or production. They almost invariably employ a third method of attack, which might be called the historical argument. The argu­ment generally takes the form of a demonstration of the path which the gradual evolution of the institution of private property has hitherto followed, coupled with an attempt to show that its further transforma­tion along the lines which they advocate is simply the logical outcome of that process. The argument has not been neglected by the Saint-Simonians.

The history of this kind of demonstration is exceedingly interesting, and the role it has played in literature other than that of a socialist complexion is of considerable importance. Reformers of every type, whether the immediate objective be a transformation of private property or not, invariably base their appeals upon a philosophy of history.

Marx's system is really a philosophy of history in which communism is set forth as the necessary consummation of all industrial evolution. Many modern socialists, although rejecting the Marxian socialism, still appeal to history. M. Vandervelde builds his faith upon it. So do Mr and Mrs Sidney Webb and all the Fabian Socialists. Dupont-White's State Socialism is inspired by similar ideas, and so is the socialism of M. Wagner. Friedrich List has a way of his own with history; and the earliest ambition of the Historical school was to trans­form political economy into a kind of philosophy of history. If we turn to the realm of philosophy itself we find somewhat similar con­ceptions—the best-known, perhaps, being Comte's theory of the three estates, which was borrowed directly from Saint-Simon.

This is not the place to discuss historical parallels. The point will come up in a later chapter in connexion with the Historical school. What we would remark here is the good use which the Saint-Simonians made of the argument. All the past history of property was patiently ransacked, and the arguments of other writers who have extolled the merits of collectivism were thus effectually forestalled.

"The general opinion seems to be," says the Doctrine de Saint-Simon that whatever revolutions may take place in society, this institution of private property must for ever remain sacred and inviolable; it alone is from eternity unto eternity. In reality nothing could be less correct. Property is a social fact which, along with other social facts, must submit to the laws of progress. Accordingly it may be extended, curtailed, or regulated in various ways at different times.

This principle, once it was formulated, has never failed in winning the allegiance of every reformer. Forty years later the Belgian economist Laveleye, who has probably made the most thoroughly scientific study of the question, used almost identical words in summing up his inquiry into the principal forms of property.

The Saint-Simonians feel confident that a glance at the progress of this evolution is enough to convince anyone that it must have followed the lines which they have indicated. The conception of property was at first broad enough to include men within its connotation. But the right of a master over his slaves gradually underwent a transforma­tion which restricted its exercise, and finally caused its disappearance altogether. Reduced to the right of owning things, this right of possession was at first transmissible simply according to the proprietor's will. But the legislature intervened long ago, and the eldest son is now the sole inheritor. The French Revolution enforced equal distri­bution of property between all children, and so spread out the benefits which the possession of the instruments of production confers. To-day the downward trend of the rate of interest is slowly reducing the advantages possessed by the owners of property, and goes a long way towards securing to each worker a growing share of his product. There remains one last step which the Saint-Simonians advocate, which would secure to all workers an equal right to the employment of the instruments of production. This reform would consist in making everybody a proprietor, but the State the sole inheritor. "The law of progress as we have outlined it would tend to establish an order of things in which the State, and not the family, would inherit all accumu­lated wealth and every other form of what economists call the funds of production."

These facts might be employed to support a conclusion of an entirely different character. That equality of inheritance which was preserved rather than created by the French Revolution might be taken as a proof that modern societies are tending to multiply the number of individual proprietors by dividing the land between an increasing number of its citizens. But such discussion does not belong to a work of this kind. We are entitled to say, however, that the Saint-Simonian theory is a kind of prologue to all those doctrines that ransack the pages of history for arguments in favour of the transformation, or even the suppression, of private property.

Here again the Saint-Simonians have merely elaborated a view which their master had only casually outlined. Saint-Simon also believed that in history we have an instrument of scientific precision equal to the best that has yet been devised.

Saint-Simon, who owes something in this matter to Condorcet, regarded mankind as a living being having its periods of infancy and youth, of middle and old age, just like the individuals who compose it. Epochs of intellectual ferment in the history of the race are exactly paralleled by the dawning of intellectual interests in the individual, and the one may be foretold as well as the other. "The future," says Saint-Simon, "is just the last term of a series the first term of which lies somewhere in the past. When we have carefully studied the first terms of the series it ought not to be difficult to tell what follows. Careful observation of the past should supply the clue to the future." It was while in pursuit of this object that Saint-Simon stumbled across the term 'industrialism' as one that seemed to him to express the end towards which the secular march of mankind appeared to lead. From family to city, from city to nation, from nation to inter­national federation—such is the sequence which helps us to visualize the final term of the series, which will be some kind of "a universal association in which all men, whatever other relations they may possess, will be united." In a similar fashion the Saint-Simonians interpret the history of individual property and predict its total abolition through a process of its gradual extension to all individuals combined with the extinction of private inheritance.

The doctrine of the Saint-Simonians may well be regarded as a kind of philosophy of history. Contemplation of the system fills them with an extraordinary confidence in the realization of their dreams, to which they look forward not merely with confidence, but with feelings of absolute certainty. "Our predictions have the same origins and are based upon the same kind of foundations as are common to all scientific discoveries." They look upon themselves as the conscious, voluntary agents of that inevitable evolution which has been foretold and defined by Saint-Simon. This is one trait which their system has in common with that of Marx. But there are two important differences. The Marxians relied upon revolution consummating what evolution had begun, while the Saint-Simonians relied upon moral persuasion. The Saint-Simonians, true children of the eighteenth century that they were, believed that ideas and doctrines were sufficiently powerful agents of social transformation, while the Marxians preferred to put their hope in the material forces of production, ideas, in their opinion, being nothing better than a pale reflection of such forces.