- Social movement in France begun in the 19th century by Claude Henri de Rouvroy, the Comte of Saint-Simon
- Rouvroy wrote several books that outlined a utopian society, including Positive Politics, Positive Philosophy, and The New Christianity
- Saint-Simonianism can be defined as a socialism of sorts
- One of the movement's main goals was to stabilize the revolutionary situation in France and install a new social system
- Rouvroy believed in hierarchial social stratification, an aristocracy that should be created through equal opportunities for all, and equal rights for women
- They had overarching theories about communal welfare, and social and economic planning
- Saint-Simonists shared a sympathy for the working classes, and for the communal interests over the interests of the individual
- Starting in 1828 Saint-Simonists demanded liberal and democratic institutions
- The movement did not concern itself with the role of women until 1831-32
- When it did however, it advocated free love for women, and womenly emancipation from the shackles of marriage
- This naturally led to a rupture in the group, with some members aligning themselves with traditional views
- The group mostly dissolved after their leader Enfantin (Rouvroy's successor) left for Egypt to search for the “Woman Messiah”
Biography of Saint-Simon, taken from the World History Database
A utopian socialist in France, Claude-Henri de Rouvroy Saint-Simon envisioned a future society based on the spirit of science and industry, predicting that each individual would find fulfillment through the exercise of his or her productive powers in a hierarchical society overseen by technocrats.
Saint-Simon was born in France on October 17, 1760, the eldest son of an impoverished noble family. He claimed to have been educated by Jean le Rond d'Alembert, co-editor of Denis Diderot's Encyclopedia, one of the premier intellectual works of the Enlightenment. Like many impoverished French noblemen, Saint-Simon turned to a career in the military, taking up a commission at the age of 17. French intervention in the American Revolution brought Saint-Simon into combat against the British. In 1782, he was wounded and captured during a naval battle at Saintes. (He later received a commendation from the young American republic for his services.) After his release by the British, Saint-Simon took part in an attempt to build a canal in Panama. Once it was clear that this endeavor would fail, he returned to France.
In 1789, Saint-Simon participated in the early stages of the French Revolution. Giving up his title (count), he composed the cahier de doléances (list of grievances) for his district, to be submitted to the Estates-General as this body sought to quell widespread discontent in the nation. He also chaired a meeting at which local residents elected a mayor for the first time, rather than having one appointed by the royal administration. When the revolutionary government auctioned off property formerly owned by the Catholic Church, Saint-Simon saw an opportunity to make a tidy profit. He bought large swathes of land at a low price, selling later at a higher rate. He ultimately lost his profits, however, in a series of lawsuits.
Over the course of the revolution, Saint-Simon earned two certificates testifying to his civic-mindedness, an important safeguard for anyone of noble lineage. During the period of the Terror when revolutionary leaders turned on each other and unleashed untold violence on counterrevolutionaries and innocents alike, Saint-Simon was arrested and imprisoned in 1793, only to be released the following year. In the late 1790s, he served as a negotiator in peace talks with Britain. Finally, in 1802, he decided to leave government service and take up a full-time career as writer and visionary.
For three years, Saint-Simon studied physics and became friends with a number of scientists, some of whom he supported financially. He embarked on this study due to his conviction that the sciences offered a model of inquiry that should be applied to human affairs. (It was this conviction that have led some to see Saint-Simon as the father of sociology.) During this period, he also began to travel frequently, often visiting Switzerland, Germany, and England. In 1814, he met Augustin Thierry, soon to become an influential historian and politician. The two struck up a friendship that was partly that of two collaborators and partly that of mentor and disciple, with Saint-Simon playing the senior role. In 1816, Saint-Simon began to publish a journal entitled Industry, whose subscribers included the most prominent businessmen of the era. This publication was to be the main vehicle through which Saint-Simon disseminated his ideas.
The French Revolution had convinced Saint-Simon that utopian schemes for reforming society would inevitably fail unless they were based on a thorough analysis of social conditions—what he called the science of social physiology. He was convinced that he had achieved just such an analysis. Human history, he contended, consisted of successive epochs—periods in which organic harmony alternated with criticism and change as the keynotes of the age. The French Revolution was a period of change that had overthrown a social system appropriate to the social harmony of the middle ages. In that remote period, society had been overseen by the nobility and the church. This social system was not appropriate for the new era, however, in which science had dislodged religion as society's guiding force. In conformity to the spirit of science, this was an age in which ability had displaced lineage as the guarantor of social position. According to Saint-Simon, a new class of industrious men had come to the fore. These ideas would later strongly influence Karl Marx's writings on class conflict and social change.
Saint-Simon's social program was based on this analysis. Talent and ability, he argued, must fully displace all remaining vestiges of lineage. Those who based their social position on accidents of birth exercised a parasitic power that sapped society of its true productive strength. Yet the spirit of science had not fully penetrated all reaches of society: "Men still allow themselves to be governed by violence and ruse." The solution was for those who currently led industry to extend their power into the rest of society. Modern businessmen would bring their ethic of efficiency to their new roles as social administrators. As technocrats, they would ensure that all of society functioned smoothly, for the good of all. These men would ensure that all who were willing to deploy their productive powers would have the chance, in positions appropriate to their talents.
Though Saint-Simon's vision exalted equality of opportunity as a core value, it rejected political democracy and social equality. Saint-Simon saw no problem with a hierarchical social order, so long as the hierarchy was open to talent. He eventually proposed a three-branched central administration. In the first two branches, engineers, artists, and scientists would propose and analyze new social projects. In the third, businessmen would be responsible for implementing them. Taken as a whole, Saint-Simon saw his schemes as the path not only to social harmony, but also to personal fulfillment for every individual.
A year after the appearance of Saint-Simon's journal, he and Thierry had a parting of ways. Saint-Simon next took up with Auguste Comte, upon whom he exercised a similarly strong influence. Comte would go on to lay the foundations for modern sociology in a more systematic way than Saint-Simon had been able to do. Saint-Simon was a quixotic person: at one point, he married, but quickly annulled the union without consummating it. At another point, he attempted suicide, but he only succeeded in losing an eye when he shot himself in the head. His friendship with Comte lasted until the year before Saint-Simon died, on May 19, 1825, at the age of 64.