Sismondi - Social Reorganization

Saint-Simon, SISMONDI, Social Reorganization

The chief goal of Saint Simon's new order was to increase the control of humans over things, not over people. Hence, the "control" implied in his proposed organizational structure is not government in the traditional sense but rather industrial administration. Saint-Simon was very antagonistic toward government as we know it and its interference in the industrial sphere. "Government always harms industry when it mixes in its affairs," he wrote; "it harms it even in instances where it makes an effort to encourage it" (Oeuvres, XVIII, p. 186).

Despite his zealous and persistent plea for reorganization, however, Saint-Simon was rarely explicit or even consistent on the specific nature of industrial organization in the modern age. This lack of consistency in his various pro­grams of reorganization probably attests to his own unsettled mind on the op­timum social organization in an industrial society, but it also reflects his con­viction that the most appropriate form of organization is historically relative, and hence subject to change.
What Saint-Simon clearly did advocate was that the technical expertise of artists, scientists, and industrial leaders be formally recognized and utilized in the conception and planning of public works designed to increase social wel­fare. Top-priority items on Saint-Simon's list of public works were the con­struction of roads and canals, drainage projects, land clearance, and the pro­vision of free education.

In his plan for an "industrial parliament" Saint-Simon outlined a program of economic organization that would utilize the talents of the scientific and indus­trial elite. This industrial parliament, patterned after the British government, would consist of three bodies. The first (the Chamber of Invention) would be composed of 300 members: 200 civil engineers, 50 poets, 25 artists, 15 archi­tects, and 10 musicians. Its primary duty, according to Saint-Simon, would be to draw up a plan of public works "to be undertaken in order to increase France's wealth and to improve the condition of its inhabitants" (Oeuvres, XX, p. 51). The second assembly (the Chamber of Examination) would also consist of 300 members, the majority being mathematicians and physical sci­entists. Its job would be to evaluate the feasibility and desirability of projects proposed by the first chamber and also to develop a master plan for public ed­ucation. Finally, a third assembly (the Chamber of Execution) of unspecified number would include representatives of each branch of industry. The third chamber was the most important in the overall plan. It would exercise veto power over all projects proposed and approved by the Chambers of Invention and Examination, and it would also levy taxes.

Some later writers have interpreted Saint-Simon's industrial parliament as a blueprint for a fully planned economy. However, Saint-Simon himself con­fined the concept of centralized planning only to the production of public works, and in this he was not outside the classical economic tradition. Adam Smith, for example, had noted that government should provide:
... those public institutions and those public works, which, although they may be in the highest degree advantageous to a great society are, however, of such a nature, that the profit could never repay the expense to any individual or small number of individuals, and which it therefore cannot be expected that any individual or small number of individuals should erect or maintain (The Wealth of Nations, p. 681).

Saint-Simon nevertheless went beyond classical economics in other respects. He struck a distinctly Keynesian note, for example, when he argued that gov­ernment should, if necessary, provide employment for the able-bodied and as­sistance for the disabled.

In the end, Saint-Simon's major departure from classical economic liberal­ism was his distrust of self-interest as a guiding force and his insistence that it be replaced by cooperation and the identification of class interests. Where the production of private goods was concerned, Saint-Simon advocated merely a loose confederation of professional associations, "more or less numerous and connected... to permit their formation into a generalized system by being di­rected toward a great common industrial goal" (Oeuvres, XXII, p. 185). This "common industrial goal" was, of course, increased output. Industrial associ­ations could contribute to economic efficiency in production by sharing knowl­edge and technology among their members. Saint-Simon gave no indication that the interests of these associations would be in conflict with those of soci­ety at large. On the contrary, he consistently avowed that all men had a stake in the outcome of the production process. Nevertheless, Saint-Simon did add certain qualifications to his proposals. He insisted, for example, that new forms of social and economic organization

... must conform directly to the interests of the greatest majority of the population; they must be considered as a general political consequence deduced from the divine moral principle; all men must regard themselves as brothers; they must concern themselves with helping one another (Oeuvres, XXII, pp. 116-117).

In his later years, Saint-Simon's writings took on a more religious tone, and his followers eventually modified his doctrine almost beyond recognition. It was they who developed a social doctrine called (somewhat inappropriately) Saint-Simonism, which in most respects little resembled the ideas of the mas­ter. The Saint-Simonians were often men of skill and genius—a few had a hand in the construction of the Suez Canal—but they were also zealots in the ex­treme. Some appeared unrestrained in their pursuit of physical pleasures, and one small band of Saint-Simonians even attracted, by their frequent orgies, the attention and condemnation of a French society inclined to be extremely lib­eral in such matters.

Nevertheless, Saint-Simon himself seems to have accurately charted the fu­ture direction of capitalism in many important respects. He seems, for exam­ple, to have fully anticipated the advent of the corporate society and its social implications—a theme upon which the modern economist John Kenneth Galbraith has frequently elaborated.