Saint-Simon, Claude Henri de Rouvroy

views updated


Social philosopher and reformer; b. Paris, Oct. 17, 1760; d. Paris, May 13, 1825. He is said to have been educated by D'Alembert. He visited America, fought at Yorktown, suggested a linking of the Atlantic and Pacific oceans through Nicaragua, was during his later life in France rich and poor in turn, and attempted suicide in 1823 because he had failed to impress the men in power with his schemes of social reconstruction.

Saint-Simon's thought, which was not without fluctuations, was based on belief in a general law of history and the conviction that society, which in the past had been organized for war, would in the future be organized for production and peace. He saw his own day as a period of transition, mankind's "crisis of puberty." The feudal nobility had steadily declined; the industrial class had progressively developed and was ready to assume the responsibility of the state and society. Defining the industrial class as including both employers and workers, Saint-Simon understated the distinction, soon to be emphasized by Marx, between the propertied and the propertyless strata. He saw all engaged in industry (including agriculture) as bound together by a common interest in technical progress and rising standards of living. Thus he was not, properly speaking, a socialist. Rather, he envisioned a society led by a managerial élite.

In its detail, Saint-Simon's system was characterized by many ideas of the age, notably egalitarianism, representative government, liberalism, and utilitarianism. In domestic politics Saint-Simon expected "domination over men" to be replaced by a noncontentious "administration of things"; in international affairs he recommended supranational parliaments to look after common concerns. In philosophy of science, he started as a nearrationalist, seeing the laws of physics as the model of all true scientific insights, but he changed after 1814 to a more romantic position and tended increasingly to set biology up as the master science. Finding "critical" periods, such as the 18th century, lacking an inner principle of spiritual coherence, he advocated a nondogmatic and moralistic Nouveau Christianisme to do for the coming "organic" period of industrialism what Catholicism had done for the Middle Ages.

Owing to the presence of disparate strains in his thought, Saint-Simon fathered at least three dissimilar movements. One, developed by Barthélemy Prosper Enfantin and Saint-Amand Bazard, was quasi-religious, producing a sect and a cult that went beyond Saint-Simon's own position. The second brought out the more scientific implications of Saint-Simon's thought; Auguste comte based his attempt to create a positivist (i.e., unmetaphysical) social science on the inspirations of his master. Finally, Saint-Simon influenced men of action such as Ferdinand de Lesseps, creator of the Suez Canal, and the brothers Jacob Émile and Isaac Péreire, founders of the Crédit Mobilier. The fervor with which they pursued their projects owed much to Saint-Simon's messianic belief that concentration on the task of production, in a humanitarian spirit, would remove most of the evils from which humanity was suffering.

Bibliography: m. leroy, La Vie véritable du Comte Henri de Saint-Simon (17601825) (Paris 1925). h. g. gouhier, La Jeunesse d'Auguste Comte et la formation du positivisme, 3 v. (Paris 193341), esp. v. 2. f. e. manuel, The New World of Henri Saint-Simon (Cambridge, Mass. 1956). m. m. dondo, The French Faust: Henri de Saint-Simon (New York 1955). The Doctrine of Saint-Simon: An Exposition, tr. g. g. iggers (Boston 1958), a course of lectures given in Paris in 182829 by the Enfantin-Bazard circle.

[w. stark]

About this article

Saint-Simon, Claude Henri de Rouvroy

Updated About content Print Article