Angilbert (fl. ca. 840/50), On the Battle Which was Fought at Fontenoy

The Law of Christians is broken,
Blood by the hands of hell profusely shed like rain,
And the throat of Cerberus bellows songs of joy.

Angelbertus, Versus de Bella que fuit acta Fontaneto

Fracta est lex christianorum
Sanguinis proluvio, unde manus inferorum,
gaudet gula Cerberi.

Monday, December 27, 2010

Virtue and Its Substitutes: Social Engineering

YVES SIMON FINDS ANOTHER SUBSTITUTE FOR VIRTUE in something he calls "social engineering." He focuses one of the fathers of this notion, the French socialist and utopian Charles Fourier (1772-1837). If nothing else, Fourier may be said to have been a visionary, an odd one to be sure, but one without the spirit of the prophet since the seas did not turn to lemonade as he predicted. Reacting against the real social problems ushered in by the Industrial Revolution, Fourier tried to offer some solutions for addressing solving them, but like many do-gooders, he made the mess worse. He wrote numerous books on the subject of social science, beginning with this first book published (anonymously) in 1808 entitled Théorie des quatre mouvements et des destinées générales, or Theory of the Four Movements and the General Destinies. He caught the imagination of peoples, if for nothing else the sheer audacity of some his projects and some of his predictions, and the hubris of some of his self-accolades, such as believing himself to be the Newton of a new social science. But he was really nothing more than a "petit bourgeois with the wildest of imaginations." Simon, 10. Yet Fourier had impact. among his contemporaries and posterity. He shows up, for example in Dostoevsky's Crime and Punishment summarized and excoriated by Razumihin:
I'll show you their pamphlets. Everything with them is 'the influence of environment,' and nothing else. Their favorite phrase! From which it follows that, if society is normally organized, all crime will cease at once, since there will be nothing to protest against and all men will become righteous in one instant. . . . The living soul demands life, the soul won't obey the rules of mechanics, the soul is an objection of suspicion, the soul is a retrograde. But what they want though it smells of death and can be made of india-rubber, at least is not alive, has no will, is servile and won't revolt! And it comes in the end to their reducing everything to the building of walls and the planning of rooms and passages in a phalanstery! The phalanstery is ready, indeed, but your human nature is not ready for the phalanstery . . . .
Simon, 9 (quoting Dostoevsky, Crime and Punishment (New York: Modern Library), 251-52).

Charles Fourier by Jean Francois Gigoux

Fourier made himself an easy target for lampooning. Included in some of his outlandish predictions, which may have been the use of ill-advised hyperbole, were that the seas would turn to lemonade if only his social reforms were introduced! In his novel, The Blithedale Romance, a story centered on an experimental community called Blithedale which is reminiscent of the Brook Farm Transcendental group with which the author Nathaniel Hawthorne had briefly been associated in Roxbury, Massachusetts, Hawthorne seizes upon this very notion to caricature him through a discussion between Miles Coverdale and Hollingsworth:
I talked about Fourier to Hollingsworth, and translated, for his benefit, some of the passages that chiefly impressed me.

"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 à cèdre. It is positively a fact! Just imagine the city-docks filled, every day, with a flood-tide of this delectable beverage!"

"Why did not the Frenchman make punch of it, at once?" asked Hollingsworth. . . . "Take the book out of my sight!" said Hollingsworth, with great virulence of expression, "or, I tell you fairly, I shall fling it in the fire! And as for Fourier, let him make a Paradise, if he can, of Gehenna, where, as I conscientiously believe, he is floundering at this moment!"
Hawthorne, The Blithedale Romance (Stilwell: Digireads, 2007), 28.

Fourier's lemonade theory is much more sophisticated than Hawthorne portrays it, and for its sophistication even more absurd. The reasoning of Fourier begin to seem like retrogression into philosophical theories of the Four Elements:

[Fourier] propagated the idea of a boreal fluidum that was the agent of a beneficient change of the earth and its oceans, a change which would be effected concurrently to the transformation from social chaos to universal harmony. One of his rather fantastic theories was that the boreal fluidum would effect a change in the taste of sea-water causing an increase of the boreal citric acid and thus dissolve or precipitate the aniline particles of the sea-water. Together with the salt, the boreal fluidum would give the sea-water a taste similar to lemonade, which Fourier called aigre de cèdre.

Betsy van Schlun, Science and the Imagination: Mesmerism, Media and the Mind (Galda: Wilch Verlag, 2007), 103.

For Simon, Fourier's significance lies not in his theories of boreal fluidum, but in his being a representational character of the "greatest aspiration of his time, which was to produce a reliable science of society patterned after the science of nature." Simon, 9. Attracted by Newtonian theories of physics, Fourier developed his own analogous law of gravitational attraction in the area of social relations, positing a theory of "passional attraction," l'attraction passionnée. The world must take cognizance of these laws that Fourier had discovered, and not work against them, but work with them. This theory, in Fourier's febrile mind, was his grand discovery. These laws of passional attraction he opposed to any matrix of traditional morality. Traditional morality--and this would include any traditional notion of the virtues--was oppressive in that it sought to chain, suppress, inhibit the "passional attraction" against the very laws that governed them. It was, in Fourier's view, to kick against the pricks. As he puts it:
The learned world is wholly imbued with a doctrine termed MORALITY, which is a mortal enemy of passional attraction.

Morality teaches man to be at war with himself, to resist his passions, to repress them, to believe that God was incapable of organizing our souls, our passions wisely; that he needed the teachings of Plato and Seneca in order to know how to distribute characteristics and instincts. Imbued with these prejudices regarding the impotence of God, the learned world was not qualified to estimate the natural impulses or passional attractions, which morality proscribes and relegates to the rank of vices.
Selections from the Works of Fourier (London: Swan Sonnenschein & Co., 1901), 55 (Julia Franklin, trans.)

The passions, which Fourier classified religiously and which would have impressed Carl Linnaeus, were "all natural, they were all good, they were all providential." Simon, 10. So traditional morality and the virtues was working, in Fourier's morally anomalous view, against God himself.

Patently, Fourier is an enemy of traditional morality and the virtues. He seeks to replace them with something entirely different. Indeed, he views traditional morality as an ancien régime which ought to be entirely overthrown and replaced by a nouvelle régime based upon supposed "scientific" principles. By working with instead of against the passions, as Fourier's "scientific" laws advised, the current "Age of Civilization" would be replaced by an "Age of Harmony." Part of his recipe was to unleash women from traditional roles--Fourier is said to be the coiner of the word feminism (féminisme)--and reconfigure all of society in the form of phalanxes which lived in Phalansteries (Phalanstère).

There is, as Simon notes in The Definition of Moral Virtue, a superficial similarity between Fourier and the pantheism/naturalism of Rousseau and Emerson. But there is a world of difference between them. They stood on the opposite ends of Janus.* In a manner of speaking, one may classify Rousseau and Emerson as looking backward to a time where nature was uncorrupted by society. Fourier, on the other hand, looked forward, to a time where nature would no longer be corrupted by society. Rousseau and Emerson had a spirit of Epimetheus. Fourier had a spirit of Prometheus.** It is perhaps the difference between nostalgia and reform.

Watercolor of a Phalanstery of Fourier
Early Socialism at its Weirdest

One of Fourier's concepts was therefore to structure the social arrangements in accordance with his "laws of passional attraction." His concept was to form "phalanxes," social groups composed of 1620 people (810 males and 810 females of each "type" of person per Fourier's classifications) which, carefully selected in accordance with the "laws of passion," were to gather together in specially designed communes housed in buildings called Phalansteries (Phalanstères), and there live their harmonious life to usher in the new age. So, those who loved to play in trash, would, naturally be trash gatherers, and so on. Phalansteries could be further divided upon whether one's ruling passion was monogamous marriage, polyandrous marriage, no marriage at all, or other kinds of sexual relations. Fourier was a hippie before hippie was cool. The Phalansteries were, though they had some life especially in the United States, as might be expected, abject failures.

Unfortunately, there is one aspect of Fourier's thought that seems, despite is rather curious, bizarre, and anomalous beginnings, to have continued, and that is the notion that "social engineering" can fix a whole slew of problems that relate to mankind and his social arrangements, and can do so without the need of inculcating virtue. Having to suffer the onslaught of the application of pseudo-scientific, social "technology" advanced by social designers, which is the engine behind a whole slew of government programs, campaigns, social and sex education, etc., etc., instead of working with the traditional ways of life which pass through family and kindred and allied institutions, and which have been largely forgotten, is the bane of modern life. The loss of organic institutions, and their replacement with dictats from above based upon notions of social engineering and the thoughts and ideologies of a small cadre of self-anointed periti, is a significant feature of modern life. It is why we are without roots. It is why there are parts of modern life not sweet like lemonade, but as bitter as lemons.

*The Roman god Janus is typically depicted with two faces, one looking backward, the other looking forward in time.
**Epimetheus (from Greek, Ἐπιμηθεύς, which means "hindsight" or "afterthought") was brother to Prometheus (from Greek, Προμηθεύς, which means "foresight" or "fore-thought") were Titans, sons of Iapetus. One could only look forward, the other could only look backward.

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