Reference > Fiction > Nonfiction > Warner, et al., eds. > The Library

C.D. Warner, et al., comp.  The Library of the World’s Best Literature.
An Anthology in Thirty Volumes.  1917.
By Orestes Augustus Brownson (1803–1876)
From ‘The Convert’

IF I drew my doctrine of Union in part from the eclecticism of Cousin, I drew my views of the Church and of the reorganization of the race from the Saint-Simonians,—a philosophico-religious or a politico-philosophical sect that sprung up in France under the Restoration, and figured largely for a year or two under the monarchy of July. Their founder was Claude Henri, Count de Saint-Simon, a descendant of the Duc de Saint-Simon, well known as the author of the ‘Memoirs.’ He was born in 1760, entered the army at the age of seventeen, and the year after came to this country, where he served with distinction in our Revolutionary War under Bouillié. After the peace of 1783 he devoted two years to the study of our people and institutions, and then returned to France. Hardly had he returned before he found himself in the midst of the French Revolution, which he regarded as the practical application of the principles or theories adopted by the reformers of the sixteenth century and popularized by the philosophers of the eighteenth. He looked upon that revolution, we are told, as having only a destructive mission—necessary, important, but inadequate to the wants of humanity; and instead of being carried away by it as were most of the young men of his age and his principles, he set himself at work to amass materials for the erection of a new social edifice on the ruins of the old, which should stand and improve in solidity, strength, grandeur, and beauty forever.  1
  The way he seems to have taken to amass these materials was to engage with a partner in some grand speculations for the accumulation of wealth,—and speculations too, it is said, not of the most honorable or even the most honest character. His plans succeeded for a time, and he became very rich, as did many others in those troublous times; but he finally met with reverses, and lost all but the wrecks of his fortune. He then for a number of years plunged into all manner of vice, and indulged to excess in every species of dissipation; not, we are told, from love of vice, any inordinate desire, or any impure affection, but for the holy purpose of preparing himself by his experience for the great work of redeeming man and securing for him a Paradise on earth. Having gained all that experience could give him in the department of vice, he then proceeded to consult the learned professors of L’École Polytechnique for seven or ten years, to make himself master of science, literature, and the fine arts in all their departments, and to place himself at the level of the last attainments of the race. Thus qualified to be the founder of a new social organization, he wrote several books, in which he deposited the germs of his ideas, or rather the germs of the future; most of which have hitherto remained unpublished.  2
  But now that he was so well qualified for his work he found himself a beggar, and had as yet made only a single disciple. He was reduced to despair and attempted to take his own life; but failed, the ball only grazing his sacred forehead. His faithful disciple was near him, saved him, and aroused him into life and hope. When he recovered he found that he had fallen into a gross error. He had been a materialist, an atheist, and had discarded all religious ideas as long since outgrown by the human race. He had proposed to organize the human race with materials furnished by the senses alone, and by the aid of positive science. He owns his fault, and conceives and brings forth a new Christianity, consigned to a small pamphlet entitled ‘Nouveau Christianisme,’ which was immediately published. This done, his mission was ended, and he died May 19th, 1825, and I suppose was buried.  3
  Saint-Simon, the preacher of a new Christianity, very soon attracted disciples, chiefly from the pupils of the Polytechnic School; ardent and lively young men, full of enthusiasm, brought up without faith in the gospel and yet unable to live without religion of some sort. Among the active members of the sect were at one time Pierre Leroux, Jules and Michel Chevalier, Lerminier, [and] my personal friend Dr. Poyen, who initiated me and so many others in New England into the mysteries of animal magnetism. Dr. Poyen was, I believe, a native of the island of Guadeloupe; a man of more ability than he usually had credit for, of solid learning, genuine science, and honest intentions. I knew him well and esteemed him highly. When I knew him his attachment to the new religion was much weakened, and he often talked to me of the old Church, and assured me that he felt at times that he must return to her bosom. I owe him many hints which turned my thoughts toward Catholic principles, and which, with God’s grace, were of much service to me. These and many others were in the sect; whose chiefs, after the death of its founder, were—Bazard, a Liberal and a practical man, who killed himself; and Enfantin, who after the dissolution of the sect sought employment in the service of the Viceroy of Egypt, and occupies now some important post in connection with the French railways.  4
  The sect began in 1826 by addressing the working classes; but their success was small. In 1829 they came out of their narrow circle, assumed a bolder tone, addressed themselves to the general public, and became in less than eighteen months a Parisian mode. In 1831 they purchased the Globe newspaper, made it their organ, and distributed gratuitously five thousand copies daily. In 1832 they had established a central propagandism in Paris, and had their missionaries in most of the departments of France. They attacked the hereditary peerage, and it fell; they seemed to be numerous and strong, and I believed for a moment in their complete success. They called their doctrine a religion, their ministers priests, and their organization a church; and as such they claimed to be recognized by the State, and to receive from it a subvention as other religious denominations [did]. But the courts decided that Saint-Simonism was not a religion and its ministers were not religious teachers. This decision struck them with death. Their prestige vanished. They scattered, dissolved in thin air, and went off, as Carlyle would say, into endless vacuity, as do sooner or later all shams and unrealities.  5
  Saint-Simon himself, who as presented to us by his disciples is a half-mythic personage, seems, so far as I can judge by those of his writings that I have seen, to have been a man of large ability and laudable intentions; but I have not been able to find any new or original thoughts of which he was the indisputable father. His whole system, if system he had, is summed up in the two maxims “Eden is before us, not behind us” (or the Golden Age of the poets is in the future, not in the past), and “Society ought to be so organized as to tend in the most rapid manner possible to the continuous moral, intellectual, and physical amelioration of the poorer and more numerous classes.” He simply adopts the doctrine of progress set forth with so much flash eloquence by Condorcet, and the philanthropic doctrine with regard to the laboring classes, or the people, defended by Barbeuf and a large section of the French Revolutionists. His religion was not so much as the Theophilanthropy attempted to be introduced by some members of the French Directory: it admitted God in name, and in name did not deny Jesus Christ, but it rejected all mysteries, and reduced religion to mere socialism. It conceded that Catholicity had been the true Church down to the pontificate of Leo X., because down to that time its ministers had taken the lead in directing the intelligence and labors of mankind, had aided the progress of civilization, and promoted the well-being of the poorer and more numerous classes. But since Leo X., who made of the Papacy a secular principality, it had neglected its mission, had ceased to labor for the poorer and more numerous classes, had leagued itself with the ruling orders, and lent all its influence to uphold tyrants and tyranny. A new church was needed; a church which should realize the ideal of Jesus Christ, and tend directly and constantly to the moral, physical, and social amelioration of the poorer and more numerous classes,—in other words, the greatest happiness in this life of the greatest number, the principle of Jeremy Bentham and his Utilitarian school.  6
  His disciples enlarged upon the hints of the master, and attributed to him ideas which he never entertained. They endeavored to reduce his hints to a complete system of religion, philosophy, and social organization. Their chiefs, I have said, were Amand Bazard and Barthélemy Prosper Enfantin….  7
  Bazard took the lead in what related to the external, political, and economical organization, and Enfantin in what regarded doctrine and worship. The philosophy or theology of the sect or school was derived principally from Hegel, and was a refined Pantheism. Its Christology was the unity, not union, of the divine and human; and the Incarnation symbolized the unity of God and man, or the Divinity manifesting himself in humanity, and making humanity substantially divine,—the very doctrine in reality which I myself had embraced even before I had heard of the Saint-Simonians, if not before they had published it. The religious organization was founded on the doctrine of the progressive nature of man, and the maxim that all institutions should tend in the most speedy and direct manner possible to the constant amelioration of the moral, intellectual, and physical condition of the poorer and more numerous classes. Socially men were to be divided into three classes,—artists, savans, and industrials or working men, corresponding to the psychological division of the human faculties. The soul has three powers or faculties,—to love, to know, and to act. Those in whom the love-faculty is predominant belong to the class of artists, those in whom the knowledge-faculty is predominant belong to the class of savans, the scientific and the learned, and in fine, those in whom the act-faculty predominates belong to the industrial class. This classification places every man in the social category for which he is fitted, and to which he is attracted by his nature. These several classes are to be hierarchically organized under chiefs or priests, who are respectively priests of the artists, of the scientific, and of the industrials, and are, priests and all, to be subjected to a supreme Father, Père Suprême, and a Supreme Mother, Mère Suprême.  8
  The economical organization is to be based on the maxims, “To each one according to his capacity,” and “To each capacity according to its work.” Private property is to be retained, but its transmission by inheritance or testamentary disposition must be abolished. The property is to be held by a tenure resembling that of gavel-kind. It belongs to the community, and the priests, chiefs, or brehons, as the Celtic tribes call them, to distribute it for life to individuals, and to each individual according to his capacity. It was supposed that in this way the advantages of both common and individual property might be secured. Something of this prevailed originally in most nations, and a reminiscence of it still exists in the village system among the Slavonic tribes of Russia and Poland; and nearly all jurists maintain that the testamentary right by which a man disposes of his goods after his natural death, as well as that by which a child inherits from the parent, is a municipal, not a natural right.  9
  The most striking feature in the Saint-Simonian scheme was the rank and position it assigned to woman. It asserted the absolute equality of the sexes, and maintained that either sex is incomplete without the other. Man is an incomplete individual without woman. Hence a religion, a doctrine, a social institution founded by one sex alone is incomplete, and can never be adequate to the wants of the race or a definite order. This idea was also entertained by Frances Wright, and appears to be entertained by all our Women’s Rights folk of either sex. The old civilization was masculine, not male and female as God made man. Hence its condemnation. The Saint-Simonians, therefore, proposed to place by the side of their sovereign Father at the summit of their hierarchy a sovereign Mother. The man to be sovereign Father they found; but a woman to be sovereign Mother, Mère Suprême, they found not. This caused great embarrassment, and a split between Bazard and Enfantin. Bazard was about marrying his daughter, and he proposed to place her marriage under the protection of the existing French laws. Enfantin opposed his doing so, and called it a sinful compliance with the prejudices of the world. The Saint-Simonian society, he maintained, was a State, a kingdom within itself, and should be governed by its own laws and its own chiefs without any recognition of those without. Bazard persisted, and had the marriage of his daughter solemnized in a legal manner, and for aught I know, according to the rites of the Church. A great scandal followed. Bazard charged Enfantin with denying Christian marriage, and with holding loose notions on the subject. Enfantin replied that he neither denied nor affirmed Christian marriage; that in enacting the existing law on the subject man alone had been consulted, and he could not recognize it as law till woman had given her consent to it. As yet the society was only provisionally organized, inasmuch as they had not yet found the Mère Suprême. The law on marriage must emanate conjointly from the Supreme Father and the Supreme Mother, and it would be irregular and a usurpation for the Supreme Father to undertake alone to legislate on the subject. Bazard would not submit, and went out and shot himself. Most of the politicians abandoned the association; and Père Enfantin, almost in despair, dispatched twelve apostles to Constantinople to find in the Turkish harems the Supreme Mother. After a year they returned and reported that they were unable to find her; and the society, condemned by the French courts as immoral, broke up, and broke up because no woman could be found to be its mother. And so they ended, having risen, flourished, and decayed in less than a single decade.  10
  The points in the Saint-Simonian movement that arrested my attention and commanded my belief were what it will seem strange to my readers could ever have been doubted,—its assertion of a religious future for the human race, and that religion, in the future as well as in the past, must have an organization, and a hierarchical organization. Its classification of men according to the predominant psychological faculty in each, into artists, savans, and industrials, struck me as very well; and the maxims “To each according to his capacity,” and “To each capacity according to its works,” as evidently just, and desirable if practicable. The doctrine of the Divinity in Humanity, of progress, of no essential antagonism between the spiritual and the material, and of the duty of shaping all institutions for the speediest and continuous moral, intellectual, and physical amelioration of the poorer and more numerous classes, I already held. I was rather pleased than otherwise with the doctrine with regard to property, and thought it a decided improvement on that of a community of goods. The doctrine with regard to the relation of the sexes I rather acquiesced in than approved. I was disposed to maintain, as the Indian said, that “woman is the weaker canoe,” and to assert my marital prerogatives; but the equality of the sexes was asserted by nearly all my friends, and I remained generally silent on the subject, till some of the admirers of Harriet Martineau and Margaret Fuller began to scorn equality and to claim for woman superiority. Then I became roused, and ventured to assert my masculine dignity.  11
  It is remarkable that most reformers find fault with the Christian law of marriage, and propose to alter the relations which God has established both in nature and the gospel between the sexes; and this is generally the rock on which they split. Women do not usually admire men who cast off their manhood or are unconscious of the rights and prerogatives of the stronger sex; and they admire just as little those “strong-minded women” who strive to excel only in the masculine virtues. I have never been persuaded that it argues well for a people when its women are men and its men women. Yet I trust I have always honored and always shall honor woman. I raise no question as to woman’s equality or inequality with man, for comparisons cannot be made between things not of the same kind. Woman’s sphere and office in life are as high, as holy, as important as man’s, but different; and the glory of both man and woman is for each to act well the part assigned to each by Almighty God.  12
  The Saint-Simonian writings made me familiar with the idea of a hierarchy, and removed from my mind the prejudices against the Papacy generally entertained by my countrymen. Their proposed organization, I saw, might be good and desirable if their priests, their Supreme Father and Mother, could really be the wisest, the best,—not merely the nominal but the real chiefs of society. Yet what security have I that they will be? Their power was to have no limit save their own wisdom and love, but who would answer for it that these would always be an effectual limit? How were these priests or chiefs to be designated and installed in their office? By popular election? But popular election often passes over the proper man and takes the improper. Then as to the assignment to each man of a capital proportioned to his capacity to begin life with, what certainty is there that the rules of strict right will be followed? that wrong will not often be done, both voluntarily and involuntarily? Are your chiefs to be infallible and impeccable? Still the movement interested me, and many of its principles took firm hold of me and held me for years in a species of mental thraldom; insomuch that I found it difficult, if not impossible, either to refute them or to harmonize them with other principles which I also held, or rather which held me, and in which I detected no unsoundness. Yet I imbibed no errors from the Saint-Simonians; and I can say of them as of the Unitarians,—they did me no harm, but were in my fallen state the occasion of much good to me.  13

Shakespeare · Bible · Strunk · Anatomy · Nonfiction · Quotations · Reference · Fiction · Poetry
© 1993–2015 · [Top 150] · Subjects · Titles · Authors · World Lit.