In the previous posting on this subject we mentioned that as early as the 1820s in France there were a significant number of sects of the “democratic religion” — socialism — springing up everywhere. Within a generation there had grown to be so many that Alexis de Tocqueville commented in his recollections of the 1848 Revolution,
From the 25th of February onwards, a thousand strange systems came issuing pell-mell from the minds of innovators, and spread among the troubled minds of the crowd. . . . These theories were of very varied natures, often opposed and sometimes hostile to one another; but all of them, aiming lower than the government and striving to reach society itself, on which government rests, adopted the common name of Socialism.
Socialism will always remain the essential characteristic and the most redoubtable remembrance of the Revolution of February. The Republic will only appear to the on-looker to have come upon the scene as a means not as an end. (De Tocqueville, The Recollections of Alexis de Tocqueville. Cleveland, Ohio: The World Publishing Company, 1959, 78-79.)
|Alexis de Tocqueville|
Even though (as de Tocqueville hinted) there was a certain dreary sameness to all the various types of socialism proposed, a few names did take precedence, or gain notoriety, depending on how you look at it, when the modern phase of socialism began in the early nineteenth century. These were the socialists whose influence has lasted down to the present day, even to the extent of having some versions of their teachings accepted as authentic Christian doctrine, in some instances rivaling that of the Incarnation itself.
We specify “Christian doctrine,” because while the Catholic Church was the principal target, none of the mainstream organized religious was safe from the new doctrines. Particularly since it was a very social church and already cut off from the great mass of its own adherents by its political character and establishment by the government, the Church of England also came in for special attention.
While never truly separate from socialism itself, specifically religious aspects of socialism soon took on almost a life of their own under various (and mostly confusing) headings. Terms included modernism, liberalism, the New Christianity, Neo-Catholicism, and — perhaps most damaging — social justice.
|Msgr. Ronald A. Knox|
Of course, as Msgr. Knox pointed out in Enthusiasm, every new religion needs its prophets and saints, if only to make the members feel more special than anyone else. Nowhere is this more true than in all the various kinds of socialism.
One problem socialism has with its list of saints and prophets, in fact, is an embarrassment of riches. Trying to pick only a few key individuals from out of the many messiahs is a difficult task. This selection of the top three, therefore, is extremely tentative, but should be sufficient to give a good idea of what the Christian churches were dealing with two centuries ago — and why socialism was viewed as such a serious problem. All three (two of which we look at today) are critically important for reasons we hope to make clear — and purely by coincidence, each one in a country in which a different type of liberalism held sway.
Claude Henri de Rouvroy, comte de Saint-Simon (1760-1825). Henri de Saint-Simon, although pretty much a failure in his chosen career as a power behind the throne and social entrepreneur, has the somewhat dubious honor of being one of the most influential socialists in history, apart from Karl Marx — and in some respects he may even be said to have surpassed Marx in influence.
|Henri de Saint-Simon|
Saint-Simon began publishing works detailing his religious, social, political, and economic ideas in 1803. His idea was to “associate” all of society to integrate production with a moral code based on science that could be coercively enforced.
With his secretary Auguste Comte (1798-1857), the future founder of positivism, Saint-Simon decided that society needed to be run by religious authority of some kind, but not one relying on traditional concepts of God. (Comte would develop this idea more fully after Saint-Simon’s death by natural causes — he had failed in an earlier attempt at suicide — in his “Religion of Humanity” that replaced God with Collective Man.)
Saint-Simon and Comte developed the idea of a society organized like a “medieval theocracy” in which people would all associate on the basis of shared moral values and common social vision. In place of civil governors or ecclesiastical authorities, however, there would be an “Industrial Hierarchy” wielding economic, political, and military power, the last of which would soon fade away as society became harmonious through association.
By putting everything under the Industrial Hierarchy, there would be an end to conflict between classes and universal prosperity and harmony would ensue in a scientifically and morally directed economy. The whole of society, construed as exclusively economic in nature, would be devoted to material improvement, with special emphasis on uplifting the poor.
According to Saint-Simon, Christianity had been useful in its day, but that day was now past. He decided a new religion was needed to replace Christianity, not merely reform it along economic and humanitarian lines.
Consequently, in his last book, Le Nouveau Christianisme (1825), “The New Christianity,” Saint-Simon declared himself the prophet of a “true Christianity.” This was a universal religion returning to the pure doctrine of Christ with the goal of evolving a rational, scientific, positivist religion. A global social organization stressing “the spirit of association” and based on peace and the brotherhood of man would direct economic life and bring an end to poverty.
Saint-Simon’s great contribution to socialism was his articulation of the fundamental principle that drives and justifies all forms of socialism. His goal was “to resolve Christianity into its essential elements” by focusing on the moral teachings and removing anything purely religious. He summed up his efforts in the precept, “The whole of society ought to strive towards the amelioration of the moral and physical existence of the poorest class; society ought to organize itself in the way best adapted for attaining this end.”
François Marie Charles Fourier (1772-1837). Although Fourier had been writing books on his theories for many years, running through two inheritances in the process to pay for their publication (being poorly, even crudely written, they did not sell well), it was not until 1831 when he attacked the ideas of fellow socialists Saint-Simon and Robert Owen (1771-1858) in a pamphlet, Pièges et Charlatanisme de Deux Sects, St. Simon et Owen, as false religions (as opposed to his true one) that Fourier’s own work attracted any attention.
Founding a new, scientific religion and declaring himself the successor of Jesus and Sir Isaac Newton (1642-1726, Old Style), Fourier collected a small number of disciples. These adherents began expressing themselves in religious language and claimed to be the only true Christians.
Fourier’s ideas included the belief that association would replace individualism and competition. “Unrestrained indulgence of human passion,” however, is the true path to happiness and virtue.
As Fourier theorized, all creation is but a manifestation of God. The evolution of Collective Man toward the perfect society is the evolution of God Himself. The more perfect society becomes, the less need there is for God. Progress consists of Collective Man gaining absolute freedom through transformation into the immanent God, and the gradual death of the transcendent God.
According to Fourier, one of the most damaging barriers society erects is the institution of marriage. Marriage and family must be abolished and replaced with libidinal associations if human beings are to realize their potential.
|"I'm not making this up, you know!"|
Fourier’s idea was that civilization must be abolished; free access to sex and food as the basics of life must be available to all, even children, without restraint. All work is to be “libidinalized,” and to be performed only so long as the task itself gives sexual pleasure.
Fourier also declared that in his future world the oceans would be desalinated and turn to lemonade. In the perfect harmony that would come about through the implementation of his ideas, the North Pole would become a sunny paradise.
Look it up yourself. Not one word of that was invented or exaggerated.
The influence of both Saint-Simon and Fourier was, not to put too fine a point on it, immense. Soon after his death, the followers of Saint-Simon organized a new religion along the lines detailed by their “prophet,” Le Église Saint-Simonienne.
After going through a series of scandals and schisms, however (which may have included outraging even Parisian public decency with bizarre orgies), the sect eventually disappeared. Their influence, however, continues down to the present day. It can be seen especially in the work of the sociologist David Émile Durkheim (1858-1917), who developed a form of fascist and socialist solidarism later corrected and substantially modified by Father Heinrich Pesch, S.J. (1854-1926) . . . although some of Pesch’s latter day followers failed to see any difference.
It is interesting to note that, while still a student, Antoine-Frédéric Ozanam (1813-1853), renowned as the founder of the Society of Saint Vincent de Paul (in part to counter the spread of socialism) and venerated as a “beatus” by the Catholic Church (one step away from canonization), wrote a pamphlet, Réflexions sur la Doctrine de Saint-Simon (1831). Having observed the strange antics of the followers of Saint-Simon, Ozanam studied their doctrines, concluded they were nonsense, and harshly criticized the thought of socialism in general and Saint-Simon in particular.
|François-René de Chateaubriand|
The work brought him to the attention of the poet and orator Alphonse Marie Louis de Prat de Lamartine (1790-1869) and the French writer, politician, diplomat, and historian François-René (Auguste), vicomte de Chateaubriand (1768-1848), himself the author of Génie de Christianisme (1802), a defense of Catholicism. (Ozanam’s work also impressed Alexis de Tocqueville, although they never met.)
Chateaubriand praised the pamphlet and its author highly, but as he held Saint-Simonianism and its adherents in utter contempt, thought Ozanam had wasted his time writing it. As Chateaubriand wrote in a letter to a friend,
I have glanced over the little work by Monsieur Ozanam. I had already seen something of it in the Précurseur. [The journal in which the pamphlet had originally appeared — ed.] The work is excellently conceived and the closing passage is arresting. I am sorry that the author should have squandered his time and his talents in refuting what was not worthy of his attention. (Ainslie Coates, Letters of Frédéric Ozanam. London: Elliot Stock, 1886, 19.)
Fourier’s influence was also by any measure incredible, especially in the United States, where “Fourierism,” “Associationism,” and “socialism” were often used as synonyms, along with “the New Christianity” of Saint-Simon and the “Neo-Catholicism” of de Lamennais (of whom more later). Largely through the efforts of Albert Brisbane (1809-1890) and the newspaperman Horace Greeley (1811-1872), a much-sanitized version of Fourier’s theories with the sexual aspects and anti-marriage features expurgated was promoted in the United States.
Bowdlerized Fourierism influenced most American socialists, including (or especially) the agrarian socialist Henry George (1839-1897) and his Catholic cohort, Father Edward McGlynn (1837-1900). Significantly, both George and McGlynn made speeches claiming to be founding a new Christianity and establishing the Kingdom of God on Earth. McGlynn was excommunicated in 1887 for refusing to go to Rome to explain his theories. The ban was lifted in 1893 when McGlynn finally agreed to go to Rome, where he failed to convince Pope Leo XIII that socialism in any form is consistent with Catholic social doctrine.
A significant number of utopian communities were formed, especially in Texas, most of which survive today as ordinary municipalities. Brook Farm, the Transcendentalist commune founded by George Ripley (1802-1880), became a Fourierist community over the strenuous protests of Orestes Brownson.
Still, as dangerous as the New Christianity turned out to be to all forms of traditional Christianity, Catholic, Protestant, and — to a lesser degree — Orthodox, it was not the most immediate threat to the Church of England. That dubious distinction belonged to Neo-Catholicism, the brainchild of the “tormented, headstrong Breton priest” Hugues-Félicité Robert de Lamennais (1782-1854), who set out to eliminate the threat of “religious indifferentism.”
Somewhat ironically, de Lamennais’s theories managed briefly to escape scrutiny at the highest levels of the Catholic Church, and rapidly spread far and wide having gained what appeared to be ecclesiastical sanction. Once they were closely examined, however, they were condemned, and their author abjured Christianity, proclaiming himself the Apostle of Humanity.
That, however, will be the subject of the next posting on this subject.