François Marie Charles Fourier

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The following article is from The Great Soviet Encyclopedia (1979). It might be outdated or ideologically biased.

Fourier, François Marie Charles


Born Apr 7, 1772, in Besançon; died Oct. 10, 1837, in Paris. French Utopian socialist.

Fourier’s family were merchants, and he worked in commercial houses through most of his life. Beyond his secondary school education he was entirely self-taught. Fourier’s world view reflected his profound disillusionment with the outcome of the French Revolution.

Fourier first set forth his historical and social views in the article “Universal Harmony” (1803), in the anonymous brochure “On Trade Charlatanism” (1807), and in the book Theory of the Four Movements and of General Destinies (1808; Russian translation, 1938). Fourier worked out a detailed organizational plan for the society of the future in his Treatise on Domestic Agricultural Association (vols. 1–2, 1822), reprinted posthumously in the first French collection of his works (vols. 2–5, 1841–43) under the title Theory of Universal Unity, and in his book The New World of Industry and Partnership (1829; Russian translation, 1939).

Fourier rejected the social philosophy and economic doctrines of the Enlightenment, which he judged to be contradicted by experience and used to justify a worthless social order. At the same time, Fourier adopted and developed some of the ideas of 18th-century materialism: for example, he recognized the unity of the universe in all the variety of its forms and types of movement—a universe of eternally existing matter in regular motion—and he accepted the definition of the historical process as a movement directed toward universal well-being. Fourier viewed it as his life’s task to work out a “social science” within the context of the “theory of universal unity” and on the basis of the principle of “passional attraction.” According to Fourier, this universal principle underlies man’s natural inclination toward some type of collective labor.

Fourier worked out an original scheme of the history of mankind, according to which the successive stages of society are the primitive “heavenly” period, or Eden, and the periods of savagery, barbarism, and civilization. Concerning himself primarily with the analysis and criticism of the “period of civilization,” or modern period, Fourier exposed its internal contradictions, such as the crises due to surpluses and the poverty that is born of plenty. He maintained that civilization must be replaced by a higher social order—namely, harmony, which not only corresponds to nature’s god-given plan but also reflects historical necessity.

Fourier’s system retains private property, classes, and unearned income. The success of the new society, according to Fourier, requires the increasing productivity of labor, resulting in the wealth of all through the following distribution of social income; four-twelfths for capital, five-twelfths for labor, and three-twelfths for talent. With the strengthening and development of Fourier’s associative community organization, these proportions would change in labor’s favor. The system, as envisioned by Fourier, would entail the large-scale collectivization and mechanization of agriculture, combined with industrial production; the two would be joined together in the primary social units, or cells—Fourier’s “phalanxes”—which would be quartered in huge palaces, or “phalansteries.” A society thus organized would result in the abolition of the antithesis between town and country and in the birth of a new type of settlement, combining all the various forms of human activity and all the advantages of city and country living.

According to Fourier, man’s natural passions, suppressed and perverted under civilization, would be directed toward creative labor, full of variety and joyful competition. The mighty armies of the workers, rationally organized on a regional, national, and international basis, would transform the face of the earth. And the new conditions of social life would give birth to a new man with a fully developed and well-integrated personality.

Quite a few of Fourier’s concepts and ideas were subsequently elaborated in philosophy, sociology, and economics, as well as in such specialized disciplines as social psychology, industrial psychology, and pedagogy. His doctrine, which contains elements of materialism and dialectics, is marked at the same time by his idealist interpretation of history, methodological inconsistency, and groundless fantasies. Fourier’s world view bears the imprint of petit bourgeois ideology: the ideal order of “harmony” was far from satisfying the economic requirements of large-scale social production.

In the judgment of K. Marx and F. Engels, “Fourier proceeds directly from the teaching of the French materialists” (Soch., 2nd ed., vol. 2, p. 146) and, in the words of Engels, he “uses the dialectic method in the same masterly way as his contemporary, Hegel” (ibid., vol. 19, p. 197). While pointing out that Fourier brilliantly worked out many of the problems facing the society of the future, at the same time both Marx and Engels criticized Fourier for his rejection of any kind of political struggle whatever, including revolution and the class struggle, his preservation of the basic elements of capitalist social relations in his proposed system of association, and his hope that the worthiest representatives of the ruling classes would cooperate in the national restructuring of society. Marx and Engels did recognize that Fourier, along with C. H. Saint-Simon and R. Owen, belongs among those thinkers “whose genious anticipated innumerable things the correctness of which is now being scientifically proved by us” (F. Engels, ibid., vol. 18, p. 499).

Fourier’s doctrine significantly influenced social and philosophical thought in a number of countries. In France, his ideas were propagated by such groups as V. Considérante’s “communitarian school.” The Fourierists sought to establish an experimental phalanstery and a “social party,” but their attempts invariably failed in practice, collapsing altogether during the Revolution of 1848. Fourier’s ideas were reflected in French literature—for example, in the works of E. Sue, F. Pyat, P. J. de Béranger, and E. Pottier—as well as in the works of the French Utopian socialists, such as C. Pecqueur, F. Vidal, P. Leroux, and P. J. Proudhon. In the 1830’s and 1840’s, Fourier’s ideas influenced such early socialist thinkers as Hugh Doherty in England, W. Weitling and M. Hess in Germany, B. G. Mure and S. Savini in Italy, and J. S. Abreu in Spain; the Fourierists, in fact, were the first to champion socialist ideas in Spain. In North America, Fourier was such an important influence in the development of progressive social ideas that the 1830’s and 1840’s have been called the Fourierist period of socialist history in America, where Fourier’s followers included A. Brisbane, W. Godwin, and H. Greeley. More than 40 Fourierist colonies, such as Brook Farm, were founded.

As early as the first quarter of the 19th century, Fourier’s ideas were known in Russia to some of the Decembrists and like-minded members of the intelligentsia. In the 1830’s and 1840’s, A. I. Herzen and N. P. Ogarev became interested in Fourier’s theories. M. V. Petrashevskii and his followers were prominent adherents of Fourierism. F. M. Dostoevsky, M. E. Saltykov-Shchedrin, and N. G. Chernyshevskii were among the writers whose work reflected Fourier’s influence.


Oeuvres complètes, vols. 1–6. Paris, 1841–1870.
Oeuvres complètes, vols. 1–11. Paris, 1966–67.
In Russian translation:
Izbr. soch., vols. 1–4. Moscow-Leningrad, 1951–54.


Bebel, A. Sh. Fur’e. Moscow, 1923. (Translated from German.)
Dvortsov, A. T. Sharl’ Fur’e: Ego zhizn’ i uchenie. Moscow, 1938.
Ioannisian, A. R. Sharl’ Fur’e. Moscow, 1958.
Zil’berfarb, I. I. Sotsial’naia filosofiia Sharlia Fur’e i ee mesto v istorii sotsialisticheskoi mysli pervoi poloviny XIX v. Moscow, 1964. (Bibliography.)
Armand, F. Fourier, vols. 1–2. Paris, 1937.


The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition (1970-1979). © 2010 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.
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