François Charles Marie Fourier

The French socialist writer François Charles Marie Fourier (1772-1837) was the prophet of a utopian human society.

Charles Fourier was born at Besançon on April 7, 1772. He studied at the local Jesuit high school, after which his family apprenticed him to various commercial concerns. During the early years of the Revolution, Fourier lived at Lyons, where he fought on the counter-revolutionary side and lost his inheritance in a series of business failures. Drafted in 1794, he was discharged for illness in 1796. He spent the remainder of his life in Lyons and Paris, earning a livelihood at odd jobs, living in cheap rooming houses, preaching his "universal harmony," and waiting for the financier who would subsidize his utopian community, but who never appeared.

Fourier first set forth his ideas in an article entitled "Universal Harmony," published in the Bulletin de Lyon (1803). For the next 34 years he expounded them in a mountain of books, pamphlets, and unpublished manuscripts; including Theory of the Four Movements and General Destinies (1808), Treatise on Domestic and Agricultural Association (2 vols., 1822), and False Industry, Divided, Disgusting, and Lying, and Its Antidote (2 vols., 1835-1836). Although these works were written in a bizarre style that often defied comprehension and incorporated many eccentric ideas, they gradually gained Fourier a small coterie of disciples.

Fourier believed he had discovered the laws that govern society just as Isaac Newton had discovered the laws of physical motion. Among people, Fourier thought, the analogy to gravitational attraction was passional attraction, a system of human passions and their interplay. He listed 12 passions in humans, which in turn were combined and divided into 810 characters. The ideal community should be composed of 1,620 persons, called a "phalanx," which would exhibit all the possible kinds of characters. In such a phalanx, if all activities were properly ordered, the passions of the individuals would find fulfillment in activities that would redound to their benefit. Fourier described in detail the ordering of these communities, the members' life routines, the architecture, even the musical notation. Moving from social reform to cosmological speculation, he also described the way in which the creation of such a harmony on earth would create a cosmic harmony.

One Fourierist experiment was attempted in France (without his approval) during his lifetime but quickly failed. Fourierist disciples appeared in time all over Europe and in the United States. Fragments of his ideas were eventually taken up by socialists, anarchists, feminists, pacifists, and educational reformers. Fourier died in Paris on Oct. 10, 1837.

Further Reading on François Charles Marie Fourier

Nicholas Riasanovsky presents a full discussion of Fourier's work in The Teaching of Charles Fourier (1969). Other views of his ideas and their early-19th-century environment are found in J. L. Talmon, The Rise of Totalitarian Democracy (1952), and Frank E. Manuel, The Prophets of Paris (1962).

Additional Biography Sources

Beecher, Jonathan, Charles Fourier: the visionary and his world, Berkeley: University of California Press, 1986.

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