Charles Fourier: The Realistic Visionary

In France, Fourier's ideas on social and economic reform have been used as weapons in the battles of the co-operative and syndicalist movements. Today, a new attempt is being made to disinter the man and his thought from traditions and myths.

In Britain today, if Fourier is known at all, it is in the litany of Utopian Socialists—along with Saint-Simon and Robert Owen. While Marxists may reverence, without reading, their forerunners, most people are content to smile over the legends that have come to obscure these remarkable social critics. It is a pity that Fourier—“the greatest of all satirists,” as Engels called him—has been so effectively type-cast as a “Utopian Socialist.”

Fourier himself attacked Utopianism, in so far as it means insubstantial day-dreaming or the creation of a society in the image of an a priori ideology. Thus he condemned Fénelon’s Télémaque, which had been intended as a guidebook for the Most Christian Kings. He set out to be scientific in his analysis of existing societies and his prescriptions for their recognized ills. His polemic in this respect set the tone for Marx’s claim to have enunciated the only form of “scientific socialism.”

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