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A History of French Literature by Edward Dowden

Was accepted by PIERRE JOSEPH PROUDHON 1809 65


As a basis for social reconstruction the spiritualist philosophy was ineffectual. Another school of thought issuing from the Revolution, yet opposing its anarchic individualism, aspired to regenerate society by the application of the principles of positive science. CLAUDE-HENRI DE SAINT-SIMON (1760-1825), and FRANCOIS-CHARLES FOURIER (1772-1837), differing in many of their opinions, have a common distinction as the founders of modern socialism. Saint-Simon's ideal was that of a State controlled in things of the mind by men of science, and in material affairs by the captains of industry. The aim of society should be the exploitation of the globe by associative effort. In his _Nouveau Christianisme_ he thought to deliver the Christian religion from the outworn superstition, as he regarded it, alike of Catholicism and Protestantism, and to point out its true principle as adapted to our nineteenth century--that of human charity, the united effort of men towards the well-being of the poorest class.

Saint-Simon, fantastic, incoherent, deficient in the scientific spirit and in the power of co-ordinating his results, yet struck out suggestive ideas. A great and systematic thinker, AUGUSTE COMTE (1798-1857), who was associated with Saint-Simon from 1817 to 1824, perceived the significance of these ideas, and was urged forward by them to researches properly his own. The positivism of Comte consists of a philosophy and a polity, in which a religion is involved. The quickening of his emotional nature through an adoring friendship with Mme. Clotilde de Vaux, made him sensible of the incompleteness of his earlier efforts at an intellectual reconstruction; he felt the need of worship and of love. Comte's philosophy proceeds from the theory that all human conceptions advance from the primitive theological state, through the metaphysical--when abstract forces, occult causes, scholastic entities are invented to explain the phenomena of nature--to the positive, when at length it is recognised that human knowledge cannot pass beyond the region of phenomena. With these stages corresponds the progress of society from militarism, aggressive or defensive, to industrialism. The several abstract sciences--those dealing with the laws of phenomena rather than with the application of laws--are so arranged by Comte as to exhibit each more complex science resting on a simpler, to which it adds a new order of truths; the whole erection, ascending to the science of sociology, which includes a dynamical as well as a statical doctrine of human society--a doctrine of the laws of progress as well as of the laws of order--is crowned by morals.

In the polity of positivism the supreme spiritual power is entrusted to a priesthood of science. Their moral influence will be chiefly directed to reinforcing the social feeling, altruism, as against the predominance of self-love. The object of religious reverence is not God, but the "Great Being"--Humanity, the society of the noble living and the noble dead, the company, or rather the unity, of all those who contribute to the better life of man. To Humanity we pay our vows, we yield our gratitude, we render our homage, we direct our aspirations; for Humanity we act and live in the blessed subordination of egoistic desire. Women--the mother, the wife, the daughter--purifying through affection the energies of man, act, under the Great Being, as angelic guardians, accomplishing a moral providence.

Comte's theory of the three states, theological, metaphysical, and positive, was accepted by PIERRE JOSEPH PROUDHON (1809-65), a far more brilliant writer, a far less constructive thinker, and aided him in arriving at conclusions which differ widely from those of Comte. Son of a cooper at Besancon, Proudhon had the virtues of a true child of the people--integrity, affection, courage, zeal, untiring energy. Religion he would replace by morality, ardent, strict, and pure. Free associations of workmen, subject to no spiritual or temporal authority, should arise over all the land. _Qu'est-ce que la Propriete?_ he asked in the title of a work published in 1840; and his answer was, _La Propriete c'est le Vol_. Property, seizing upon the products of labour in the form of rent or interest, and rendering no equivalent, is theft. Justice demands that service should be repaid by an equal service. Society, freely organising itself on the principles of liberty and justice, requires no government; only through such anarchy as this can true order be attained. An apostle of modern communism, Proudhon, by ideas leavening the popular mind, became no insignificant influence in practical politics.


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