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Saint-Simon Although the Comte de Saint-Simon had been dead for twenty-three years, his ideas and his followers (see Saint-Simonians) were everywhere present in 1848. That these ideas were often contradictory and the followers often at odds with each other contributes to an understanding of the ambivalent nature of the revolution and the republic.

What was revolutionary and what was counter-revolutionary in Saint-Simon's thought? What had his thought done to shape responses to the crisis of 1848? He had seen cooperation as the first law of nature. The body politic like the body biologic existed as the result of each link and each organ sustaining the health and life of the whole. History was like the body politic. It experienced "organic" epochs, when all social and political forces reinforced each other; it experienced "critical epochs" when all forces at war with each other, a state which created social sickness. The Revolution of 1789 had been such a sickness. The 19th century would see health restored as the result of work and the fruits of work so organized as to ameliorate the lot of the "poorest and most numerous class."

The emphasis on work was perhaps the most revolutionary aspect of Saint-Simon's theory, because tied to it was a theory of class beyond economic function. The obstacles to restored health were the oisifs, those who did not work, who produced nothing, who monopolized capital and who had no capacity or imagination to plan an ever-expanding economy and an ever-wider distribution of wealth. The political social and economic systems must be organized by wise men, artists, "industriels" to assure the greatestproductivity of useful and emotionally satisfying things. The institution of property must be redefined, the institution of the "family" must be broadened. Egoism must be replaced by what was eventually named (by Saint-Simonian Pierre Leroux) "socialism."

Disentangling the revolutionary and the quietistic elements in Saint-Simon (as opposed to his disciples) is not easy. Louis Blanc and Proudhon both recognized a debt to Saint-Simon and both were obviously present in 1848. So indeed were a number of those who hadfounded the Saint-Simon religion 1829 and who had pursued a variety of careers and ideologies since the formal dissolution of the school in 1832. But clearly on the revolutionary side of Saint-Simon is the denigration of those who held power and wealth by virtue of birth and inheritance. Henceforth, Saint-Simon tells us, competence and industry are the major claims to social consideration. To be sure, the competent and industrious bourgeois "industriel" was often the target of the '48 Revolution--what had permeated the ideology of 1848.

More concretely the idea of an industrial army devoted to the construction of roads, bridges, canals, the draining of marshes, the planting of forests had been part of the Saint-Simonian vision. And the notion that such works financed by social capitol and easy credit would create work, markets, and world-wide communication emerges, no matter if unsuccessfully, as one of the crucial aspirations of 1848.

What was not particularly in the tradition of Saint-Simon was the idea of a republic nor the idea of worthy workers failing to respond to the enlightened leadership of their technologically superior masters. Liberty for Saint-Simon was the consequence of the good society, not its object. It is this major respect that Saint-Simon and the revolution of 1848 part company.

Robert B. Carlisle


Carlisle, Robert B. The Proffered Crown: Saint-Simonianism and the Doctrine of Hope. Baltimore, 1987.

Charléty, Sebastien. L'histoire du Saint-Simonisme. Paris, 1896.

Manuel, Frank. The New World of Henri Saint-Simon. Cambridge, Mass., 1956.

Saint-Simon, Henri de, and Enfantin, Prosper-Barthélémy. Oeuvres. 47 Vols., Paris 1865-78.

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