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Charles Fourier

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François Marie Charles FourierEnlarge

François Marie Charles Fourier

François Marie Charles Fourier (April 7, 1772 - October 10, 1837) was an utopian socialist thinker active in France during the first part of the 19th century.


In 1789 he first started pondering about unitary architecture. In 1791 he moved from his native Besançon to Lyon, the second largest city in France. Here Francois-Joseph l'Ange was active, developing ideas for a nationalised company to buy and distribute corn through a network of centuries. Following a royalist insurrection, Fourier was arrested but avoided execution by lying.


Charles Fourier was among the first to formulate a right to a minimum standard of life. His radical approach involved a systematic critique of work, marriage and patriarchy, together with a parallel right to a sexual minimum. He also proposed a comprehensive alternative to the Christian religion. Finally, through the medium of a bizarre and extraordinary cosmology, Fourier argued that the poor state of the planet is the result of the evil practices of civilisation.

Man alone means nothing. The 1st level of humanity is the complete human body, made of a man and a woman. The 2nd level is the complete human soul, consisting of the 810 different characters harmonized in a whirl (phalanx). The 3rd level consists of the socially unified globe with its inhabitants. At the 4th level we have the solar system, then clusters of systems, galaxies, and a universe. Above universes, there exist biniverses, triniverses, etc.

As in celestial mechanics, the basic force underlying Harmony is attraction. Everyone's actions are driven by passions and follow attraction. Society must thus be organized in such a way as to balance all attractions.

Passions can be seen as a tree whose stem is uniteism, dividing itself into 3 branches, luxurism, groupism, and seriism.

Uniteism tends towards social unity.

Luxurism subdivides itself into the 5 senses, and it tends towards luxury, that is the combination of internal luxury, that is health, and external luxury, that is wealth.

Groupism subdivides itself into the 4 cardinal or affective passions, and it tends towards the formation of affectuous groups.

Seriism subdivides itself into the 3 distributive or mechanizing passions, and it tends towards the organization of groups into series.

The 4 cardinal and 3 distributive passions make the 7 animic passions, in contrast to the 5 senses which form material passions.

According to Fourier, every person has either a unique dominant passion, which can be anyone among the 12, or several dominant animic passions (between 2 and 7). People of the first category are called solitone (and in some sense they are monotonous), and those of the second category are polytone. Highest in the hierarchy of characters are the omnitone, who have all the 7 animic passions dominant. Fourier claimed to be one of them. A few persons have a mixed character, with several rallying passions instead of dominant ones.

As Civilization is not organized in the serial model, the 3 distributive passions do not find their proper place in it, and so they lead to immorality and anti-social behaviour. Persons living in Civilization, whose dominant passions number as many or more distributive ones than cardinal ones, tend to become dangerous. Examples include Nero, Sade, etc.

The 4 cardinal passions (ambition, friendship, love, familism) are the basis of affective relations. Each one involves both a material aspect (M) and a spiritual one (S):

- Ambition: (M) interest; (S) glory, honour. - Friendship: (M) community of industrial pursuits; (S) community of spirits. - Love: (M) physical lust; (S) sentimental love. - Familism: (M) blood affiliaton; (S) industrial adoption.

These 4 passions subdivide also into two modes, major and minor; these two terms have no connotation of size or relative importance; they rather relate to the two modes in music. Here the term "major" refers to public life and extraverted pursuits, while "minor" applies to private life and introverted pursuits. The major mode takes a small precedence of the minor one.

The two major passions are ambition and friendship. The leading one is ambition, and so it is called hyper-major, while friendship is called hypo-major.

The two minor passions are love and familism. The leading one is love, and so it is called hyper-minor, while familism is called hypo-minor.

The two hyper-passions (ambition and love) are essentially compound, involving both a material and a spiritual element; on the other hand, the two hypo-passions (friendship and familism) are essentially simple, because they are bound to one side: friendship is essentially spiritual, while familism depends on blood kinship.

In each mode, the correct development of the hyper-passion is necessary to that of the hypo-passion. In Civilization, things are done in the wrong way: love is subordinated to familism, while the demands of ambition are neglected under the pretext of friendship.

Each cardinal passion gives a characteristic direction to the group which it animates: 

- for ambition, it is ascent: respect is given to the superiors, and everyone strives to climb upwards; - for friendship, it is unison: all are together for the same activity, with all differences discarded; - for love, it is inversion: the strong bows to the weak; - for familism, it is descent: all care and concern goes to the young. To each age corresponds a dominating cardinal passion:

- in childhood: friendship; - in youth: love; - in maturity: ambition; - in old age: familism.

Fourier's favourite cardinal passion is love.

Fourier invented the neologism céladonie; this name means sentimental love, by opposition with physical lust. He recognized the necessity and complementarity of both aspects of love. In Civilization, traditional morals extol sentimental love and condemns unbridled physical lust; the latter, like a wild animal, is acceptable only within the bounds of marriage, with the purpose of procreation. Fourier remarked that such an unbalanced view produces the opposite excess in public opinion and private lives: sentimental love is scoffed at, and serves only as a thin cover for sexual lust, which is the true purpose of courtship. The more morals condemn adultery and debauchery as vice, the more public opinion, novels, and theatre defend them. 

Love being a compound made of two complementary elements (physical and sentimental), it is impossible to simplify it to only one of them. Trying to do so only leads to a "subversive" development, where the repressed side revolts against the other, a situation which leads to vices and perversions. Fourier criticizes all the restrictions to love in Civilization, and announces its balanced development in future Harmony. He envisages even the possibility of a purely sentimental love relation: such a celadony can be sustained only if each of the two lovers is engaged in a compound relation with one or several exterior partners. Harmony will reward angelic couples, that is beautiful lovers who will - for a limited time period - lead a purely sentimental celadony while at the same time satisfying the demands of a great number of exterior suitors.

The sublime passion that makes humans feel like gods, seemingly useless and irrational, mysterious and uncontrollable, always surging despite repression, the longing of both the rich and the poor... What are its degrees? How can it be achieved? Here are its possible developments, ranked by increasing efficiency:

- simple celadony: one purely spiritual relation; - composite celadony: one compound relation (both physical and spiritual); - bimodal celadony: one spiritual relation and one compound relation; - multimodal celadony: one spiritual relation and several compound relations.

Angelic couples (who do not give themselves to each other until they have satisfied dozens of other suitors) lead multimodal celadony to its most glorious heights, providing love's public service.

Celadony is incompatible with Savage, Patriarcal, Barbarian, and Civilized orders, it will be achieved under Harmony.

The 3 distributive passions are satisfied thanks to the following features:

Cabalist: minute differences of interest between neighbouring groups within a series lead to emulation between these groups. Flitting: work sessions do not last more than 2 hours, so that different activities alternate during each day. Composite: a group's work is divided into sections, and each member chooses to practice those that (s)he likes. Individual egoism is counterbalanced by the individual's membership in the group. Group egoism is counterbalanced by the participation of each of its members to other groups.

Harmonian education starts from practice, leading then to theory. Children learn first to refine their senses, next start practising various crafts to which they are attracted. Only after mastering various practical skills are they taught to read and write.

The 3 distributive passions drive the arousal, combination, and alternation of the sensitive and affective passions. They are proper to human beings.

The cabalist and composite tend to arouse and sustain exaltation, but by opposite ways. Cabalist excitation is often a calculated intrigue, it is goal-driven, and it tends to make agreements based on identity. On the other hand composite enthusiasm is rather blind, it is stimulus-driven, and it tends to produce unions based on contrast.

Opposed to both is flitting, which can break this exaltation in order to produce a change.

The 3 distributive passions correspond to ways of thought. Cabalist is associated with arithmetic progression and sequential logic, composite with isomorphism and intuitive shortcuts, and flitting with alternations and breaks.

Fourier's favourite distributive passion is composite.

Relations between people are based on the 4 cardinal passions (ambition, friendship, love, familism), each of which can have a material and a spiritual aspect. There is not a unique classification of modes and combinations in Fourier's writings. 

A unimode relation involves the smallest combination, typically two people, but the bond between them can take three degrees, according to the single or compound passion felt by each. The simple unreciprocated passion:

A has a simple (material or spiritual) passion for B, but B does not have such a passion for A, is not counted as a real bond. Reciprocated bonds are:

A and B have a simple passion for each other. A has a compound (both material and spiritual) passion for B, while B has a simple passion for A. A and B have a compound passion for each other. A bimode relation involves more people; it can be graded both quantitatively and qualitatively. Quantitative degrees are:

A has a relation with both B and C. A has a relation with both B and C, while B has a relation with both A and D. Qualitative degrees are: Cryptomode: The relation between A and B is open, while that between A and C or between B and D is hidden. Delphimode: All relations between A, B, C, and D are open.

The above unimode and bimode relationship remain at the individual level. Socialized forms of relationship involving groups are multimode. A transition to a higher degree is provided by ultramode, where an individual has a passion for all people; for example ultraphilia, ultramode friendship, manifests itself by a life devoted to continuous welfare for all people. 

An omnimode relation involves huge masses of people sharing the same passion. In Civilization it happens for short moments on very rare occasions.

See also: Brook Farm