After reading this article you will learn about Saint-Simon:- 1. Life of Saint-Simon 2. Political Ideas of Saint-Simon 3. Contributions to Political Thought.
Life of Saint-Simon:
Claude-Henry de Rouvroy, Comte de Saint-Simon, was born in 1760 in one of the great families of France. At the age of seventeen he entered the military service and participated in the French campaign of American Revolution.
As an army officer he went to Mexico and was engaged in peculiar activities. He then returned to France but was disgusted with the intellectual sterility of military service; He decided to devote his energy and time to intellectual activities.
He had a great ambition to be an academician. He also felt that his selection of military service was inappropriate. He finally decided to relinquish the military service.
The biographers of Saint-Simon say that he attained these two things. Within a very short time he acquainted himself with the leading intellectual circles of France. He also earned a lot of money from the speculative business of land.
Saint-Simon was both liberal and radical minded. He wanted to be known as a revolutionary. Saint-Simon renounced all his titles of nobility. He earned a lot of money and spent it liberally for hospitality to scientists and scholars.
Saint-Simon was specifically interested in science and political issues and he published several papers on these subjects. He wrote a number of books many of which were published after his death.
The important works of Saint-Simon are Letters of a Resident of Geneva (1802), The Reorganization of European Society (1814), The Industrial System (1821) and The New Christianity (1825). It is unfortunate that all his writings could not create any impact on the contemporary mind.
He had also few converts. His personal life was not happy. During the last years of his life he was faced with abject poverty. He lived on the donations from few philanthropic friends. In both adversity and prosperity he never lost his courage and laboured manfully to make his mission successful.
Although Saint-Simon could not get any recognition in his lifetime, death brought for him great honour. Maxey-says that Saint-Simonism became a fashionable creed. He was the enunciator of several doctrines and they were disseminated among the people. His doctrines created new hopes in the mind of the younger generation disillusioned by Rousseauism, Bonapartism and Legitimism.
Younger men found in his doctrines the answer to the age-old problems of government. Saint-Simon had the genius to express one idea in various forms and his doctrines catered to the interests of many people.
Political Ideas of Saint-Simon:
1. Social Change:
Saint-Simon studied history in order to understand the historical development of society and the study reveals that in the middle Ages the society was controlled by feudal landlords or specially by feudalism. Moreover, theology had great influence upon the functioning of society.
But at the same time he found that the development of science and scientific mind of people changed the society. Previously religion and superstition controlled the social behaviour of men and the individual relationship. Advent of science and its influence on men made their outlook reasonable. They lost their faith on supernatural elements and people’s outlook gradually became scientific.
As a result of the development of science a new power industrial power was created. The society witnessed the unprecedented flow of wealth. In the Middle Ages the leadership of society was provided by the church and feudal lords.
Now the industrial magnates assumed the leadership. Saint-Simon further observes that in the past both the feudal lords and the church demanded obedience from the commons.
But the leaders of the industry and the teachers of the academic institutions could not demand unconditional obedience. “Thus the spirit of the old society” comments Plamenatz “was quite contrary to the spirit of the new classes growing up inside it, the new society centered in the chartered towns and in the universities founded on them.” Plamenatz is perfectly right.
There was a conflict between the spirit and idea of the old regime and the philosophy as well as materialism of the industrial society. This conflict was quite inevitable.
Saint-Simon was the first man to draw our attention to this contradiction between the old and the new. Later on, Marx explained it more elaborately.
The new class had an outlook and objective, but it was weak. So the conflict between the old and the new could not surface. In the sixteenth century the old order was openly challenged by the new order.
According to Saint-Simon this change was caused by the emergence of three factors the discovery of America and route to India; the invention of printing, and the theories of Copernicus and Galileo. All these together helped the expansion of trade and commerce.
“The theories of Copernicus and Galileo, offering simpler and clearer explanations better supported by facts, were fatal to the anthropomorphic theology of the church.”
In the eighteenth century the development of science and the rise in the consciousness of the commons threatened the old order. Both the temporal and spiritual authority faced the greatest attack. This is a type of Enlightenment.
The development of science removed darkness from the mind of people. The immediate impact was people began to lose their faith in religion, belief and host of supernatural elements. Men’s mind was under the strong influence of reason and they began to see everything with an enlightened and reasonable outlook.
The expansion of industry and progress of science changed the very structure and functioning of society and also its authority. The feudal lords and church receded to the past. Industrialists, middle class and intellectuals came forward to guide the society.
New authority, new hierarchy and new systems were created. Old systems collapsed. Saint-Simon maintains that this is inevitable. The old system had not the power to face the challenge of the new order.
So it had to bow to the new one. The transition from the old to the new took place smoothly says Saint-Simon. In the transition the lawyers and metaphysicians took the leadership. But Saint-Simon disapproved of it on the ground that these classes of people always misguide the general mass.
The French Revolution, according to Saint-Simon, overthrew the despotic rulers. But it failed to fulfill the economic, political and other aspirations of the people. A false notion about liberty and equality was created by the leaders of the Revolution.
Saint-Simon called them negative conceptions of liberty and equality. He said that the principle of liberty and equality in an industrial society must be positive. Positive principle meant to him the following. From everyone according to his capacity to everyone according to his contribution.
This principle gives every man his proper reward. The services of each individual must receive due recognition from society. But the growth of industry and the volume of wealth could not bring any relief for the toiling masses. Their poverty and sufferings multiplied in geometrical progression.
He was in great dilemma his mind was overwhelmed with sorrow and, on the other hand, he had no power to save the people. Being helpless he fervently appealed to the big industrialists to change their outlook.
Saint-Simon wanted to say that the industrialists must give a part of their huge profit to the workers. He appealed to them to change their outlook. But this did not happen.
2. Plan of Future Society:
Saint-Simon studied history, understood the root causes of the misery and extent of exploitation and as a remedy he appealed to the capitalists. This went in vain He thought that a future society was to be discerned in the light of past historical changes and trends.
He has interpreted the development of society in the light of historical materialism. Marx has recognized this approach of Saint-Simon and has expressed his indebtedness to him in this regard.
In past the society underwent changes and all these related to system of production. Saint-Simon has asserted that the political changes have been due to the evolution of the instruments of production. He relates the economic conditions to the system of production. Free competition, anarchy all are the causes of poverty and economic crises.
“The future society”, comments Kolakowski, “to which industrial concentration was leading, would be one in which industry was to be managed by the producers of wealth, production would be planned and measured by social needs, and private property would change its character, as its use would be subordinated to the general good and not left to the owner’s whim; inheritance would be abolished.”
Saint- Simon says that competition will be replaced by emulation. In his future society conciliation between private interests and common good is to be effected. But under no circumstances private interests will be given priority.
Saint-Simon, for this conception, is indebted to Rousseau. Indeed, many early socialists are indebted to Rousseau. Saint-Simon does not abolish the social hierarchy. But this must be made commensurate with the general welfare of the community and this will never be hereditary.
He emphasizes that the worth of every man must receive due recognition from the authority. The task of transforming the society will be carried out by bankers, scholars, manufacturers and not by workers themselves. But he has cautioned us by saying that their responsibility is to transform the society for the benefit of the poor.
They must not be given any power or authority to control and exploit the working class and other common people. In the future society the concept of political power will undergo considerable changes.
The persons in power will administer the state and will never govern the people. The purpose of this proposal is to utilize in the best possible way the gifts of the nature which few people possess. All persons have not the genius or ability to shoulder the burden of administration. If implemented this will ensure the maximum benefit.
3. Classes and Class Struggle:
Saint-Simon and his followers have interpreted history as a continual progress in which two phases alternate. The phases are organic and critical. Organic phase of history is characterized by the unity and integrity of faith and principles.
In the society there is a clear-cut hierarchy. All the parts are closely connected with each other. But the critical phase or period is the most important for our analysis. In this period there are dissentions and conflicts among the various sections of the community. From the unity point of view the nature of the community is lost.
Bonds are relaxed. Saint-Simon, studying the development of European history, comes to this generalization. The disharmony, says Saint-Simon, is both religious and economic.
Saint-Simon has correctly diagnosed the character and functioning of capitalism. Even Marx and Engels have endorsed the analysis of Saint-Simon. He observes that the competition among the capitalists is the chief cause of economic anarchy.
The privatization of the means of production is the source of all troubles. The workers are exploited. Moral degradation is the result of this exploitation.
A recent critic has observed:
“He linked exploitation with the institution of private property. He saw the defects of the social system based on private ownership as the main cause of crisis and production anarchy inherent in capitalism.”
The working class is the victim of this crisis and anarchy. The worker is exploited materially, intellectually and morally as the slave once was.
The workers sell their labour because they have nothing to sell and also they own nothing except their ill-fate. And in exchange of labour they are given a wage which is not sufficient to lead a comfortable life.
On the other hand, the owners of capital or the industrialists live a quite comfortable and luxurious life and the monetary source of this life style comes from the huge profit produced by the workers. This is not only an inequality but gross injustice. Workers are the source of profit but they are deprived of it.
Saint-Simon had a lot of sympathy and feeling for the workers. Even Marx has admitted it in his Capital; “Just as in the writings of the physiocrats the Cultivateur does not stand for the actual tiller of the soil, but for the big farmer, so the travailleur with
n, and continuing on through his disciples, does not stand for the labourer but for the industrial and commercial capitalist. In fact one should bear in mind that Saint-Simon speaks directly for the working class and declares their emancipation to be the goal of his efforts.”
We find its reverberation in Engels’s writing. Engels writes that the lot of the working class is his main interest, because this class is the most numerous and exploited.
Saint-Simon has said that before the Industrial Revolution there was practically no working class and hence no conflict between workers and the capitalists. The Industrial Revolution not only created these two classes, but also inequality in wealth or mal-distribution of wealth.
The society was infested with class conflict. Saint-Simon calls capitalists as idlers because they do not perform any physical labour. The workers were quite aware that the income of the capitalists was derived from their labour. But due to lack of organisation they could not protest.
Let us sum up the views of Saint-Simon. Industrial Revolution created capitalism and the system of private property. A new class working class came out of the industrialisation. Contradiction surfaced between the capitalists and workers because of the capitalists’ motive to give labourers less than what is their due, leading to the exploitation.
Finally, the degradation in all its forms is the offspring of exploitation. A new society is to be built up based on equality and freedom.
4. Saint-Simon’s Utopianism:
The general impression about Saint-Simon’s socialist thought is that it is Utopian in character.
John Plamenatz, a noted interpreter of political thought, is of opinion that Saint-Simon’s socialist principles are quite unrealistic. But on that ground we cannot call it Utopian.
Plamenatz’s argument is that Saint-Simon’s idea about the transformation of society is based on illusions.
He assiduously appealed to the leaders of industry to change their hearts and methods of activities so that the labourers could get their legitimate share of national wealth. But they took no notice of it.
It is pity that though Saint-Simon discovered the cause of illness, he failed to prescribe the correct medicine. Rather, he resorted to a wrong and illusive path. That is utopianism. He was under the influence of illusion that his appeal to the industrialists would bring about a change in the hearts of capitalists.
Why did he believe the capitalists?
Saint-Simon had sufficient knowledge about social development and the nature and functioning of capitalists. In spite of this why did he keep faith on the capitalists did he not know that without application of force the capitalists would never stop exploitation?
The impracticality of his suggestion (appeal to the capitalists) makes him Utopian. Saint-Simon knew it quite well that as a result of Industrial Revolution the society was divided into two opposing classes and an innocuous appeal had no power to change merciless hearts of the capitalists.
One or two particular industrialists might have a soft corner for common men but this is not the general case. Naturally class interest prevented them from giving any benefits to labourers. Saint- Simon failed to realize the class character of capitalists.
We are forced to say that Saint-Simon understood the nature and development of society but he failed to enter into the depth of the heart of the heartless capitalists. This failure constitutes the centre of his Utopian thought.
Marx and Engels have called him Utopian on two grounds. He laid too much confidence upon the benevolent character of capitalists. Secondly, he believed that socialism could be achieved without revolution.
Many people of his day were convinced that the leaders of the industry could not be entrusted with the management of economy, because it was not possible for them to keep themselves above personal interests. But he believed the industrialists. Adam Smith, Ricardo and Sismondi the classical economists of his time realized the class interests.
The transformation of society required the destruction of privileges enjoyed by the few. In that case, Saint-Simon might have appealed to the workers or the unprivileged. There was only one effective way of ending exploitation and that was to enlighten the workers through the spread of education and by encouraging them to organize themselves until they are strong enough to launch a decisive fight against the leaders of industry and privileged section of the community
Contributions of Saint-Simon to Political Thought:
Acknowledging the debt to Saint-Simon, Engels says that in Saint-Simon we find a comprehensive breadth of view, by virtue of which almost all the ideas of later socialists that are not strictly economic are found in him in embryo.
If the assessment of Engels is correct, and there is no ground of it being wrong, then we should say that Saint-Simon may aptly be regarded as the harbinger of the latter day socialism. Marx has also expressed his indebtedness to Saint-Simon. This is not courtesy or formality. The indebtedness is a fact.
Saint-Simon’s conception of history, which is called historical materialism, is akin to Marx’s materialist interpretation of history. Saint-Simon assumed that the leaders of industry would take the leadership in transforming the society.
Marx also assumed that the proletariat would play the historic role in the realm of transformation. Both the industrialists and the proletariat would be enlightened by a sublime thought.
Saint-Simon and Marx admitted that the workers are exploited by capitalists and private property is the root cause of dissension and inequality.
“Just as Marx treats political history as essentially the record of a struggle for influence and power between classes, some of which are growing stranger and others weaker through the operation of causes of which they are unconscious, so too does Saint- Simon”.
In all these respects Marx comes closer to Saint- Simon than to any other of the early socialists. The socialist movement of France and several other countries of Europe started with Saint-Simon. We do not agree with his method and mode of presentation. But the fact is that he was the icon of socialism. He considered the socialist way as the only saviour of the working class.
Anikin’s observation may be quoted here:
“Nevertheless the influence of Saint-Simonism on the future development of socialist ideas in France and to a certain extent, other countries, was extremely great. For all the defects of their religion, the strength of Saint-Simonists lay in the fact that they had a bold and consistent programme of struggle against bourgeois society.”
Saint-Simon was the first man who drew our attention to the fact that economic issues control political affairs and general administration of state. This view of Saint- Simon later on built up a famous conception known as base-superstructure relation.
Marx and Engels elaborated this but Saint-Simon, in an indirect way, was the originator of the concept. Saint-Simon deplored the industrial civilization for social injustice and negative principles of private interests.
The formula “From each according to his ability to each according to his needs” was taken over by the Marxist socialism from Louis Blanc, who modified Saint-Simon’s doctrine on this point.
Kolakowski concludes “of all pre-Marxist doctrines, Saint-Simonism had the strongest effect in diffusing socialist ideas among the educated classes. It was chiefly due to the Saint-Simonists that a belief in socialism spread to the intellectuals of the great European countries, including German Romantics, British utilitarians, and Russian and Polish radicals.”
Some critics have called Saint-Simon an over-ambitious socialist. But Gide and Rist noted critics of economic thought hold different opinion. They have argued that his desire to achieve equality was not the outcome of his over ambitiousness. It was very much a down-to-earth expectation.
He raised his voice against the inhuman consequences of Industrial Revolution. He did not hesitate to criticize the barons of big industries. He also challenged liberalism. He did not want its modification but its overthrow.
In Maxey’s estimate Saint-Simon was not in the rank of Descartes, Bacon and Newton. It may be that he had not unparalleled brilliance, intelligence and genius. But he was unquestionably the first nineteenth century thinker to envision a fully rounded science of society. We crown him with the glory of foreshadowing some of the notable ideas of modern political thought, including socialism, positivism, technocracy and internationalism.
Saint-Simon believed that science would rule the world and in that case universal peace would be feasible. Saint-Simon proposed a plan for international federation of politics and economics.
A supranational parliament might also be created to regulate the affairs of the world. It embodied the dreams of internationalism. The scientific socialism of Marx and Engels also envisaged internationalism. Saint-Simon strongly emphasized the correlation between world peace and efficient industrial production.
As a thinker he had both plus and minus points. Needless to say that nobody is free from limitations. Naturally he cannot be an exception. Marxey’s valued judgment is “though he is ticketed as a precursor of modern socialism, it is doubtful whether Saint-Simon should be called a socialist at all.
Saint-Simon argued that there could not be real progress so long there existed private property. But he did not suggest any method of confiscating private property. Here there is a great inconsistency.
Private property and socialism cannot peacefully coexist. He had no proposal of universal collective ownership of property. Pious hope or pontifical declaration cannot ensure the advent of socialism.
Concrete programme, scientific outlook, well-built organisation and revolutionary zeal can make socialism a great success. Needless to say, Saint-Simon’s plan lacked all these.
His heart was magnanimous, objective was noble, knowledge about history and development of society was of high quality. But his suggestion for achieving socialism was impractical.
He failed to study the character of the capitalists and this failure bracketed him within the Utopian socialists.