Men of Ideas
The Saint-Simonians were not equalitarian in their outlook. They were much too sure of their superiority to the common run of men, of their inherent intellectual pre-eminence, to partake in the sentimental adoration of 'the people' that characterized a number of contemporary radical tendencies. They were willing to do a great deal for the people, but they were convinced that none of these advances could be brought about by the people. There ought to be full equality of opportunity in the good society. But, because equality of endowment was nothing but a sentimental pipe dream, those who had what it takes should take what opportunities there were.
Yet, lest we conceive of these young Saint-Simonians as technocrats bent solely on coldly rational reorganization of society, it must be added that they decried not only the anarchy of their age but also its lack of community and brotherhood. The sickness of the age, they believed, could be traced to the atrophy of love, a dryness of heart. When community withers away, they preached, the impulse of egotism dominates, and the ties of sympathy among men relax. In their passionate desire to renovate society, they were always moved to escape the desert of love that was, to them, contemporary France. If science and industry were not joined to the cultivation of generous emotions, to the task of bringing together the men and women of France in a joyous and loving community, they would be of no use. Reason, science, and industrial capacity would remain barren if not tied to feelings of love and fraternity.
This book is not the place tb discuss in fuller detail the sometimes quite subtle elements of the Saint-Simonian doctrine; only a few major points have been sketched here. What is of central concern is the fact that, in Frank Manuel's words, 'The members of the movement practiced those virtues which would become normal among mankind in the future. The movement, the religion, was the new world in miniature.' Having projected a City of God into the future of mankind, they proceeded to live the ideal in the here and now, to reproduce the macroscopic vision of regenerated humanity in the microcosm of the Saint-Simonian sect.
What started as a propagandistic enterprise in the journals, Le Producteur and Le Globe, and in a series of conferences and lectures in which the new doctrine was expounded, clarified, and elaborated soon led to the foundation of a Saint-Simonian 'church.' From 1826 to 1829, Saint-Simonianism made a considerable impact on the advanced younger intellectuals of the day. It attracted a number of devoted disciples, especially from the ranks of young scientists at the Ecole Polytechnique, but it was still only a loose grouping of theoreticians preoccupied with tracing the outlines of the new doctrine and evolving the major dogmatic formulas for the new practice of the future. But, in this effort, these intellectuals had grown very close to one another. Linked by emotional bonds, they now began to feel the necessity of building an edifice that would represent to the world the visible community of new saints. And, as the doctrine insisted on the principle of hierarchy, the organization would have to be strongly hierarchical. The oldest members formed a 'college' of sixteen Fathers; at the next lower level, there were twenty-two members of the 'Second Degree' and below them were thirty-nine members of the 'Third Degree.' On top of the structure, Enfantin and Bazard, after election by the Fathers, reigned as Supreme Fathers. The whole constituted what was called the 'Saint-Simonian Family.' This sacred college of apostles, a brotherhood of dedicated saints' was from now on to carry the gospel to the gentiles.
One is tempted to smile at the weird and sometimes almost incredible proceedings of the 'church' and to dismiss them as the producers of disordered minds. The accounts of many Saint-Simonian gatherings read like records of the outpourings of madmen. These activities were no longer, one feels, the mere eccentricities of youthful enthusiasts. The apostles claimed that they were a clergy similar to the regular clergy and therefore subject to the same immunities. They adopted strange costumes—among others a garment that could only be buttoned in the back, which symbolized fraternity, for to get dressed one needed a brother. They sported long beards and addressed Enfantin with all the reverence due a new pope. They paraded through the streets of Paris, a little band of prophets, chanting the new gospel in ritual unison. They sent missions to the gentiles of provincial France and of foreign countries. They finally decided upon a collective retreat into the celibate monastic life on a suburban estate in Menilmontant. They organized a vain quest for a female messiah to share a double throne with the male Father. The record of their schisms and internal feuding, of their violent rivalries and personal antagonisms is one of intense emotion brought to a kind of paroxysm in the feverish environment of the 'church.' The intimacy and involvement with each other, which they preached and practiced, generated collective delusions and inhibited the operation of the 'reality principle.' Each new schism—the departure of Bazard, of Rodrigues, of many others—increased the common exaltation of the remnant still huddled around Father Enfantin.
George Santayana once defined a fanatic as 'a man who redoubles his efforts when he has forgotten his ends.' This definition applies exactly to the last stages of the Saint-Simonian Church. The Saint-Simonians began by laying great stress on the authority of science, but they proved ever more incapable of correcting their vision in the light of evidence or experience. Faith replaced science and ended in exotic rituals, strange new symbols, and veritable orgies of dreamlike trances. But this phase proved to be short-lived. Late in 1832, the disciples, one after the other, left the Menilmontant 'monastery.' On December 15, 1832, Enfantin and Michel Chevalier entered Saint-Pelagie prison to serve one-year sentences for having violated a law forbidding meetings of more than twenty persons. Father Enfantin abdicated. 'It is now necessary,' he wrote, 'that the Children find in themselves and without the Father the inspiration of what they must do.' Soon, almost all the disciples awakened to the realization that, in the words of one, the Father was 'neither Moses nor Christ, neither Charlemagne nor Napoleon—that he was only Enfantin, only Enfantin.'