Biography:Charles Fourier

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Short description: French utopian socialist and philosopher (1772–1837)
Charles Fourier
Françoise Foliot - Jean Gigoux - Portrait de Charles Fourrier (cropped) (1).jpg
Portrait by Jean Gigoux, 1835 (detail)
François Marie Charles Fourier

Besançon, Kingdom of France
Died10 October 1837(1837-10-10) (aged 65)
Paris, Kingdom of France
Era19th-century philosophy
RegionWestern philosophy
SchoolUtopian socialism
Main interests
Political philosophy
Philosophy of desire
Notable ideas
"Attractive work"
Coining the term feminism
Critique of work

François Marie Charles Fourier (/ˈfʊri, -iər/;[1]French: [ʃaʁl fuʁje]; 7 April 1772 – 10 October 1837) was a French philosopher, an influential early socialist thinker and one of the founders of utopian socialism. Some of Fourier's social and moral views, held to be radical in his lifetime, have become mainstream thinking in modern society. For instance, Fourier is credited with having originated the word feminism in 1837.[2]

Fourier's social views and proposals inspired a whole movement of intentional communities. Among them in the United States were the community of Utopia, Ohio; La Reunion near present-day Dallas, Texas ; Lake Zurich, Illinois; the North American Phalanx in Red Bank, New Jersey; Brook Farm in West Roxbury, Massachusetts ; the Community Place and Sodus Bay Phalanx in New York State; Silkville, Kansas, and several others. In Guise, France, he influenced the Familistery of Guise (fr). Fourier later inspired a diverse array of revolutionary thinkers and writers.


Fourier was born in Besançon, France on 7 April 1772.[3] The son of a small businessman, Fourier was more interested in architecture than in his father's trade.[3] He wanted to become an engineer, but the local military engineering school accepted only sons of noblemen.[3] Fourier later said he was grateful that he did not pursue engineering, because it would have consumed too much of his time and taken away from his true desire to help humanity.[4]

When his father died in 1781, Fourier received two-fifths of his father's estate, valued at more than 200,000 francs.[5] This inheritance enabled Fourier to travel throughout Europe at his leisure. In 1791 he moved from Besançon to Lyon, where he was employed by the merchant M. Bousquet.[6] Fourier's travels also brought him to Paris, where he worked as the head of the Office of Statistics for a few months.[3] From 1791 to 1816 Fourier was employed in Paris, Rouen, Lyon, Marseille, and Bordeaux.[7] As a traveling salesman and correspondence clerk, his research and thought was time-limited: he complained of "serving the knavery of merchants" and the stupefaction of "deceitful and degrading duties."

He began writing. His first book was published in 1808, but it only sold a few copies. Surprisingly, after six years, the book fell into the hands of Monsieur Just Muiron who eventually became Fourier's patron. Fourier produced most of his writings between 1816 and 1821. In 1822, he tried to sell his books again but with no success.[8]

Fourier died in Paris in 1837.[6][9]


Fourier declared that concern and cooperation were the secrets of social success. He believed that a society that cooperated would see an immense improvement in their productivity levels. Workers would be recompensed for their labors according to their contribution. Fourier saw such cooperation occurring in communities he called "phalanxes," based upon structures called Phalanstères or "grand hotels". These buildings were four-level apartment complexes where the richest had the uppermost apartments and the poorest had a ground-floor residence. Wealth was determined by one's job; jobs were assigned based on the interests and desires of the individual. There were incentives: jobs people might not enjoy doing would receive higher pay. Fourier considered trade, which he associated with Jews, to be the "source of all evil" and advocated that Jews be forced to perform farm work in the phalansteries.[10] By the end of his life, Fourier advocated the return of Jews to Palestine with the assistance of the Rothschilds.[11] John K. Roth and Richard L. Rubenstein have seen Fourier as motivated by economic and religious antisemitism, rather than the racial antisemitism that would emerge later in the century.[12]

Attack on civilization

Fourier characterized poverty (not inequality) as the principal cause of disorder in society, and he proposed to eradicate it by sufficiently high wages and by a "decent minimum" for those who were not able to work.[13] Fourier used the word civilization in a negative sense and as such "Fourier's contempt for the respectable thinkers and ideologies of his age was so intense that he always used the terms philosopher and civilization in a pejorative sense. In his lexicon civilization was a depraved order, a synonym for perfidy and constraint ... Fourier's attack on civilization had qualities not to be found in the writing of any other social critic of his time."[14]

Work and liberated passions

For Herbert Marcuse "The idea of libidinal work relations in a developed industrial society finds little support in the tradition of thought, and where such support is forthcoming it seems of a dangerous nature. The transformation of labor into pleasure is the central idea in Fourier's giant socialist utopia."[15]:217

Fourier insists that this transformation requires a complete change in the social institutions: distribution of the social product according to need, assignment of functions according to individual faculties and inclinations, constant mutation of functions, short work periods, and so on. But the possibility of "attractive labor" (travail attrayant) derives above all from the release of libidinal forces . Fourier assumes the existence of an attraction industrielle which makes for pleasurable co-operation. It is based on the attraction passionnée in the nature of man, which persists despite the opposition of reason, duty, prejudice. This attraction passionnée tends toward three principal objectives: the creation of "luxury, or the pleasure of the five senses"; the formation of libidinal groups (of friendship and love); and the establishment of a harmonious order, organizing these groups for work in accordance with the development of the individual "passions" (internal and external "play" of faculties).[15]:217

He believed that there were twelve common passions which resulted in 810 types of character, so the ideal phalanx would have exactly 1620 people.[16] One day there would be six million of these, loosely ruled by a world "omniarch", or (later) a World Congress of Phalanxes. He had a concern for the sexually rejected; jilted suitors would be led away by a corps of fairies who would soon cure them of their lovesickness, and visitors could consult the card-index of personality types for suitable partners for casual sex. He also defended homosexuality as a personal preference for some people. Anarchist Hakim Bey describes Fourier's ideas as follows:

In Fourier's system of Harmony all creative activity including industry, craft, agriculture, etc. will arise from liberated passion—this is the famous theory of "attractive labor." Fourier sexualizes work itself—the life of the Phalanstery is a continual orgy of intense feeling, intellection, & activity, a society of lovers & wild enthusiasts.[17]

Women's rights

Fourier was also a supporter of women's rights in a time period when influences like Jean-Jacques Rousseau were prevalent. Fourier believed that all important jobs should be open to women on the basis of skill and aptitude rather than closed on account of gender. He spoke of women as individuals, not as half the human couple. Fourier saw that "traditional" marriage could potentially hurt woman's rights as human beings and thus never married.[18] Writing before the advent of the term 'homosexuality', Fourier held that both men and women have a wide range of sexual needs and preferences which may change throughout their lives, including same-sex sexuality and androgénité. He argued that all sexual expressions should be enjoyed as long as people are not abused, and that "affirming one's difference" can actually enhance social integration.[19]

Fourier's concern was to liberate every human individual, man, woman, and child, in two senses: education and the liberation of human passion.[20]

Children and education

On education, Fourier felt that "civilized" parents and teachers saw children as little idlers.[21] Fourier felt that this way of thinking was wrong. He felt that children as early as age two and three were very industrious. He listed the dominant tastes in all children to include, but not limited to:

  1. Rummaging or inclination to handle everything, examine everything, look through everything, to constantly change occupations;
  2. Industrial commotion, taste for noisy occupations;
  3. Aping or imitative mania.
  4. Industrial miniature, a taste for miniature workshops.
  5. Progressive attraction of the weak toward the strong.[21]

Fourier was deeply disturbed by the disorder of his time and wanted to stabilize the course of events which surrounded him. Fourier saw his fellow human beings living in a world full of strife, chaos, and disorder.[22]

Fourier is best remembered for his writings on a new world order based on unity of action and harmonious collaboration.[3] He is also known for certain Utopian pronouncements, such as that the seas would lose their salinity and turn to lemonade, and a coincidental view of climate change, that the North Pole would be milder than the Mediterranean in a future phase of Perfect Harmony. [21]

Perspective view of Fourier's Phalanstère


The influence of Fourier's ideas in French politics was carried forward into the 1848 Revolution and the Paris Commune by followers such as Victor Considerant.

  • Numerous references to Fourierism appear in Dostoevsky's political novel Demons first published in 1872.[23]
  • Fourier's ideas also took root in America, with his followers starting phalanxes throughout the country, including one of the most famous, Utopia, Ohio.
  • Peter Kropotkin, in the preface to his book The Conquest of Bread, considered Fourier to be the founder of the libertarian branch of socialist thought, as opposed to the authoritarian socialist ideas of Babeuf and Buonarroti.[24]
  • In the mid-20th century, Fourier's influence began to rise again among writers reappraising socialist ideas outside the Marxist mainstream. After the Surrealists had broken with the French Communist Party, André Breton returned to Fourier, writing Ode à Charles Fourier in 1947.
  • Walter Benjamin considered Fourier crucial enough to devote an entire "konvolut" of his massive, projected book on the Paris arcades, the Passagenwerk, to Fourier's thought and influence. He writes: "To have instituted play as the canon of a labor no longer rooted in exploitation is one of the great merits of Fourier", and notes that "Only in the summery middle of the nineteenth century, only under its sun, can one conceive of Fourier's fantasy materialized."
  • Herbert Marcuse in his influential work Eros and Civilization praised Fourier saying that "Fourier comes closer than any other utopian socialist to elucidating the dependence of freedom on non-repressive sublimation."[15]:218
  • In 1969, Raoul Vaneigem quoted and adapted Fourier's Avis aux civilisés relativement à la prochaine métamorphose sociale in his text Avis aux civilisés relativement à l'autogestion généralisée.[25]
North American Phalanx building in New Jersey
  • Fourier's work has significantly influenced the writings of Gustav Wyneken, Guy Davenport (in his work of fiction Apples and Pears), Peter Lamborn Wilson, and Paul Goodman.
  • In Whit Stillman's film Metropolitan, the idealistic Tom Townsend describes himself as a Fourierist, and debates the success of social experiment Brook Farm with another of the characters. Bidding him goodnight, Sally Fowler says, "Good luck with your furrierism." [sic]
  • David Harvey, in the appendix to his book Spaces of Hope, offers a personal utopian vision of the future in cities citing Fourier's ideas.
  • Libertarian socialist and environmentalist thinker Murray Bookchin wrote that "The Greek ideal of the rounded citizen in a rounded environment — one that reappeared in Charles Fourier’s utopian works — was long cherished by the anarchists and socialists of the last century...The opportunity of the individual to devote his or her productive activity to many different tasks over an attenuated work week (or in Fourier’s ideal society, over a given day) was seen as a vital factor in overcoming the division between manual and intellectual activity, in transcending status differences that this major division of work created, and in enhancing the wealth of experiences that came with a free movement from industry through crafts to food cultivation."[26]
  • Nathaniel Hawthorne in Chapter 7 of his novel The Blithedale Romance gently mocks Fourier, saying
    "When, as a consequence of human improvement", said I, "the globe shall arrive at its final perfection, the great ocean is to be converted into a particular kind of lemonade, such as was fashionable at Paris in Fourier's time. He calls it limonade a cedre. It is positively a fact! Just imagine the city docks filled, every day, with a flood tide of this delectable beverage!"[27]
  • Writers of the post-left anarchy tendency have praised the writings of Fourier. Bob Black in his work The Abolition of Work advocates Fourier's idea of attractive work as a solution to his criticisms of work conditions in contemporary society.[28] Hakim Bey manifested that Fourier "lived at the same time as De Sade & (William) Blake, & deserves to be remembered as their equal or even superior. Those other two apostles of freedom & desire had no political disciples, but in the middle of the 19th century literally hundreds of communes (phalansteries) were founded on fourierist principles".[17]

In popular culture

In the movie Metropolitan, one of the main characters, Tom Townsend, mentions "I favor the socialist model developed by the 19th-century French social critic Charles Fourier".

Fourier's works

  • Fourier, Charles. Théorie des quatre mouvements et des destinées générales (Theory of the four movements and the general destinies), appeared anonymously in Lyon in 1808.[29]
  • Fourier, Charles. Le Nouveau Monde amoureux. Written 1816–18, not published widely until 1967.
  • Fourier, Ch. Œuvres complètes de Ch. Fourier. 6 tomes. Paris: Librairie Sociétaire, 1841-1848.
  • Fourier, Charles. La Fausse Industrie Morcelée, Répugnante, Mensongère, et L'Antidote, L'Industrie Naturelle, Combinée, Attrayante, Vérdique, donnant quadruple produit (False Industry, Fragmented, Repugnant, Lying and the Antidote, Natural Industry, Combined, Attractive, True, giving four times the product), Paris: Bossange. 1835.
  • Fourier, Charles. Oeuvres complètes de Charles Fourier. 12 vols. Paris: Anthropos, 1966–1968.
  • Jones, Gareth Stedman, and Ian Patterson, eds. Fourier: The Theory of the Four Movements. Cambridge Texts in the History of Political Thought. Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 1996.
  • Fourier, Charles. Design for Utopia: Selected Writings. Studies in the Libertarian and Utopian Tradition. New York: Schocken, 1971. ISBN:0-8052-0303-6
  • Poster, Mark, ed. Harmonian Man: Selected Writings of Charles Fourier. Garden City: Doubleday. 1971.
  • Beecher, Jonathan and Richard Bienvenu, eds. The Utopian Vision of Charles Fourier: Selected Texts on Work, Love, and Passionate Attraction. Boston: Beacon Press, 1971.
  • Wilson, Peter Lamborn, Escape from the Nineteenth Century and Other Essays. Brooklyn: Autonomedia, 1998.

See also


  1. "Fourier". Unabridged. Random House. 
  2. Goldstein 1982, p. 92.
  3. 3.0 3.1 3.2 3.3 3.4 Serenyi 1967, p. 278.
  4. Pellarin 1846, p. 14.
  5. Pellarin 1846, p. 7.
  6. 6.0 6.1 Pellarin 1846, p. 235.
  7. Pellarin 1846, pp. 235–236.
  8. Wilson, Pip (2006) (in en). Faces in the Street. ISBN 9781430300212. 
  9. Pellarin 1846, p. 213.
  10. Roberts, Richard H. (1995). Religion and the Transformations of Capitalism: Comparative Approaches. Routledge. p. 90. 
  11. Rubenstein, Richard L., and John K. Roth. Approaches to Auschwitz: The Legacy of the Holocaust. London: SCM, 1987, p.71
  12. Rubenstein, Richard L., and John K. Roth. Approaches to Auschwitz: The Legacy of the Holocaust. London: SCM, 1987, p.71
  13. Cunliffe 2001, p. 461.
  14. Beecher, Johnathan (1986). Charles Fourier: The Visionary and His World. University of California Press. pp. 195–196. 
  15. 15.0 15.1 15.2 Marcuse, Herbert (1955). Eros and Civilization. Boston: Beacon Press. 
  16. Fourier, Charles (1971). Beecher, Jonathan; Bienvenu, Richard. eds. The Utopian Vision of Charles Fourier Selected Texts on Work, Love and Passionate Attraction. Beacon Press. p. 220. ISBN 9780807015384. 
  17. 17.0 17.1 Bey, Hakim (1991). "The Lemonade Ocean & Modern Times". 
  18. Denslow 1880, p. 172.
  19. Fourier, Charles (1967). Le Nouveau Monde amoureux. Paris: Éditions Anthropos. pp. 389, 391, 429, 458, 459, 462, and 463. written 1816–18, not published widely until 1967. 
  20. Goldstein 1982, p. 98.
  21. 21.0 21.1 21.2 Charles Fourier, 1772-1837 -- Selections from his Writings Retrieved November 25, 2007.
  22. Serenyi 1967, p. 279.
  23. Postoutenko, Kirill (2009). The Influence of Anxiety: Figures of Absolute Evil in French Socialists and Dostoevsky. Retrieved 22 August 2016. 
  24. Kropotkin, Peter (1906). The Conquest of Bread. New York and London: Putnam. 
  25. Fourier, Charles. "Notice to the Civilized Concerning Generalized Self-Management". 
  26. Bookchin, Murray (1990). "The Meaning of Confederalism". 
  27. Hawthorne, p. 166.
  28. Black, Bob (1985). "The Abolition of Work". "The secret of turning work into play, as Charles Fourier demonstrated, is to arrange useful activities to take advantage of whatever it is that various people at various times in fact enjoy doing. To make it possible for some people to do the things they could enjoy it will be enough just to eradicate the irrationalities and distortions which afflict these activities when they are reduced to work." 
  29. "Recent French Social Philosophy—Organization of Labour". The North British Review (Edinburgh: W.P. Kennedy) (XVII): 126. May 1848. OCLC 908317665. Retrieved 2020-05-01. 

Further reading

On Fourier and his works

  • Beecher, Jonathan (1986). Charles Fourier: the visionary and his world. Berkeley: U of California Press. ISBN 0-520-05600-0. 
  • Burleigh, Michael (2005). Earthly powers : the clash of religion and politics in Europe from the French Revolution to the Great War. New York: HarperCollins Publishers. ISBN 0-06-058093-3. 
  • Calvino, Italo (1986). The Uses of Literature. San Diego: Harcourt Brace & Company. ISBN 0-15-693250-4.  pp. 213–255
  • Cunliffe, J (2001). "The Enigmatic Legacy of Charles Fourier: Joseph Charlier and Basic Income", History of Political Economy, vol.33, No. 3.
  • Denslow, V (1880). Modern Thinkers Principally Upon Social Science: What They Think, and Why, Chicago, 1880
  • Goldstein, L (1982). "Early Feminist Themes in French Utopian Socialism: The St.-Simonians and Fourier", Journal of the History of Ideas, vol.43, No. 1.
  • Hawthorne, Nathaniel (1899). The Blythedale Romance. London: Service and Paton.  p. 59
  • Lloyd-Jones, I D."Charles Fourier, The Realistic Visionary " History Today 12#1 (1962): pp198–205.
  • Pellarin, C (1846). The Life of Charles Fourier, New York, 1846.Internet Archive Retrieved November 25, 2007
  • « Portrait : Charles Fourier (1772-1837) ». La nouvelle lettre, n°1070 (12 mars 2011): 8.
  • Serenyi, P (1967). "Le Corbusier, Fourier, and the Monastery of Ema", The Art Bulletin, vol.49, No. 4.

On Fourierism and his posthumous influence

External links