Socialists and Historicists

Saint-Simon, SISMONDI : Examples Of European Evolutionary Thought


The idea of progressive "stages" in historical and economic development was expanded, first by Henri Saint-Simon and then by Simonde de Sismondi and Friedrich List. Taken together, their writings provide a cross-sectional illus­tration of the historical evolutionary approach to economic development. Each contributed to the development of that approach in his own way.

Saint-Simon: Prophet of Industrialism

Claude Henri de Rouvroy Comte de Saint-Simon (1760-1825) was both an ec­centric and a prophet. Born into the French nobility, Saint-Simon claimed to be a descendant of Charlemagne, who allegedly appeared to him while he was imprisoned during the French Revolution. By Saint-Simon's account, Charlemagne charged him with a great mission: to save the French Republic in the wake of the French Revolution. Saint-Simon certainly held no modest view of his own importance. He is said to have instructed his servant to awaken him each day with the following adjuration: "Arise, Monsieur le Comte, you have great things to do today."

Despite his eccentricity, however, Saint-Simon frequently revealed keen analytical insight into social and economic processes. He succeeded in found­ing a school of followers, and he influenced a number of important thinkers, including Auguste Comte, Karl Marx, and John Stuart Mill.

Reason and the Identity of Class Interests

In economics, Saint-Simon's in­fluence was more on method than on analysis. As indicated above, he devel­oped an evolutionary theory of history, which his secretary, Auguste Comte, later refined into the popular "three-stage" theory of history. Basically, Saint-Simon's own investigation of history revealed a juxtaposition of two contra­dictory social systems. The first (pre-Revolutionary France) was based on mil­itary force and the uncritical acceptance of religious faith; the second (France after the Revolution) was based on industrial capacity and the voluntary ac­ceptance of scientific knowledge. To Saint-Simon, science and industry were the hallmarks of the modern age, and his major concern was to reorganize so­ciety so as to remove all barriers to the development of both. In increased pro­duction lay the future welfare of society, he felt. Accordingly, "the production of useful things is the only reasonable and positive end that political societies can set themselves" (Oeuvres de Saint-Simon el d'Enfantin, XVIII, p. 13).

Although this is the same welfare concept accepted by the classical econo­mists, Adam Smith had shown how it could be accomplished outside politics by general reliance on the principle of self-interest. In contrast, Saint-Simon found the key to increased production in reason and in the identity of class interests. His singular distrust of self-interest was buttressed by his discovery in the study of history of a growing commonality of interests that accompanied the advance of civilization. He therefore felt that economic cooperation and industrial organization would result spontaneously from the progress of soci­ety. Saint-Simon declared:

All men are united by the general interests of production, by the need they all have for security in work and liberty in exchange. The producers of all lands are therefore essentially friends. Nothing stands in the way of their uniting, and the coalition of their efforts is the indispensable condition if industry is to attain the ascendency it can and should enjoy (Oeuvres, XIX, p. 47).