The Idea of Progress eBook

J.B. Bury
This eBook from the Gutenberg Project consists of approximately 354 pages of information about The Idea of Progress.

Fourier was moved by the far-reaching effects of Newton’s discovery to seek a law which would coordinate facts in the moral world as the principle of gravitation had co-ordinated facts in the physical world, and in 1808 he claimed to have found the secret in what he called the law of Passional Attraction. [Footnote:  Theorie des quatre mouvements et des destinees generales.  General accounts of his theories will be found in Charles Fourier, sa vie et sa theorie, by his disciple Dr. Ch.  Pellarin (2nd ed., 1843), and in Flint, Hist. of Philosophy of History in France, etc., pp. 408 sqq.] The human passions have hitherto been sources of misery; the problem for man is to make them sources of happiness.  If we know the law which governs them, we can make such changes in our environment that none of the passions will need to be curbed, and the free indulgence of one will not hinder or compromise the satisfaction of the others.

His worthless law for harmonising the passions without restraining them need not detain us.  The structure of society, by which he proposed to realise the benefits of his discovery, was based on co-operation, but was not socialistic.  The family as a social unit was to be replaced by a larger unit (phalange), economically self-sufficing, and consisting of about 1800 persons, who were to live together in a vast building (PHALANSTERE), surrounded by a domain sufficient to produce all they required.  Private property is not abolished; the community will include both rich and poor; all the products of their work are distributed in shares according to the labour, talents, and capital of each member, but a fixed minimum is assured to every one.  The scheme was actually tried on a small scale near the forest of Rambouillet in 1832.

This transformation of society, which is to have the effect of introducing harmony among the passions, will mark the beginning of a new epoch.  The duration of man’s earthly career is 81,000 years, of which 5000 have elapsed.  He will now enter upon a long period of increasing harmony, which will be followed by an equal period of decline—­like the way up and the way down of Heraclitus.  His brief past, the age of his infancy, has been marked by a decline of happiness leading to the present age of “civilisation” which is thoroughly bad—­here we see the influence of Rousseau—­and from it Fourier’s discovery is the clue to lead humanity forth into the epoch in which harmony begins to emerge.  But men who have lived in the bad ages need not be pitied, and those who live to-day need not be pessimistic.  For Fourier believed in metempsychosis, and could tell you, as if he were the private secretary of the Deity calculating the arithmetical details of the cosmic plan, how many very happy, tolerably happy, and unhappy lives fall to the lot of each soul during the whole 81,000 years.  Nor does the prospect end with the life of the earth.  The soul of the earth and the human souls attached to it will live again in comets, planets, and suns, on a system of which Fourier knew all the particulars. [Footnote:  Details will be found in the Theorie de l’unite universelle, originally published under the title Association domestique-agricole in 1822.]

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The Idea of Progress from Project Gutenberg. Public domain.
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