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Tuesday, November 16, 2021

The Church of Saint-Simon

In the previous posting on this subject — the “Democratic Religion” of Socialism — we saw that the ultimate goal of socialism was the complete overturn of traditional society and the implementation of what was usually called “the Kingdom of God on Earth,” a materialist terrestrial paradise.  This was usually put in economic terms, frequently confusing people as to what the goal really was.


For example, after Saint-Simon’s death, his followers were initially viewed as adherents of a school of economic thought.  This was despite the fact they proclaimed themselves the Apostles of their Messiah or “Revelator,” Saint-Simon, and formed Le Église Saint-Simonienne, “the Church of Saint-Simonism.”  The socialists Saint-Amand Bazard (1791-1832) and Barthélemy Prosper Enfantin (1796-1864) were chosen as “Supreme Fathers.” (Strube, “Socialism and Esotericism in July Monarchy France,” op. cit., 3.)

The Saint-Simonians established a journal, Le Producteur, the name being taken from Saint-Simon’s belief that if all the forces of society were directed to production, consumption would take care of itself.  This directly contradicted “Say’s Law of Markets” stated by Jean-Baptiste Say (1767-1832), derived from the work of Adam Smith (1723-1790), that production and consumption would be in balance if every producer was a consumer, and vice versa.  The Saint-Simonians attacked Smith for his emphasis on free markets.  They advocated, among other things, abolishing competition, eliminating taking of interest on loans, and ending inheritance.

Saint-Amand Bazard


The journal folded less than a year after its founding, but the doctrines spread rapidly.  By the end of 1828 meetings of the group had taken place in Paris and a number of provincial towns.  It was in that year Bazard gave a popular series of lectures in Paris on “the Saint-Simon faith.”  He announced the commencement of a Golden Age that would merge Church and State and unite science, religion, and philosophy in a single body of thought.  Led by an élite class of priests, the perfection of humanity would be achieved and the Kingdom of God on Earth established. (“Saint-Simon,” Encyclopedia Britannica, op. cit.)

From 1828 to 1830 Bazard published his two-volume work, Exposition de la Doctrine de St. Simon, the second volume of which was largely the work of Enfantin.  Considered the best presentation of Le Religion Saint-Simonienne, it persuaded many people to join the sect.

Bazard and Enfantin were not in complete harmony, however.  With his more logical temperament, Bazard, in common with the Fabian socialists later in the nineteenth century, stressed the economic and political reforms in Saint-Simon’s thought.  Enfantin, of a more metaphysical (some might say hysterical) turn, emphasized the esoteric elements, and also tended to carry his conclusions to extremes.

Barthélemy Prosper Enfantin


The July Revolution of 1830 gave a much broader scope for the Saint-Simonians’ activities as well as a new freedom to promote their doctrines.  The group issued a proclamation demanding emancipation of women and the abolition of inheritance and private property.

In 1831, through the efforts of fellow Saint-Simonian Pierre Leroux, the group gained possession of the Globe newspaper.  A number of the most able of the rising generation of artists and intellectuals became members, joining such luminaries as Louis-Hector Berlioz (1803-1869), Félicien-César David (1810-1876), Franz Liszt (1811-1886), and Léon Halévy (1802-1883).

Members of the group formed a “family” or association, divided into three grades, contributing to and being maintained out of a common fund.  It was not long, however, before the philosophical differences between the co-leaders caused dissension, and the society divided.  Bazard left “the family,” taking with him most of the intellectuals supporting the group.


Théosophie, Mysticisme, and Illuminisme

Enfantin, head of the remnant, established an elaborate and fantastic priestly hierarchy with himself as pope of the new order.  He promoted what was now explicitly described as a new religion replacing Christianity.  His theology incorporated esoteric concepts loosely described as théosophie, mysticisme, and illuminisme, as well as “lax notions as to the relation of the sexes.”  A series of “extravagant entertainments” (possibly a euphemism for orgies; “[M]en and women giving themselves to many without ever ceasing to be to one another, but whose love on the contrary would be as a divine Banquet.”  “Societary Theories,” The American Review: A Whig Journal, Vol. 1, No., 6, June 1848, 640.) exhausted its financial resources and discredited the society in the eyes of the public. (“Saint-Simon,” Encyclopedia Britannica, op. cit.)

Leaving their former headquarters in the Rue Monsigny, Enfantin and his followers established themselves at Ménilmontant, where they lived in common and adopted a special costume.  There they sought to rehabilitate or glorify the flesh and give “woman” her proper place by including “the Woman-Messiah,” “the priest-woman” or “the mother” in the new hierarchy. (“Societary Theories,” op. cit., 640.)

Pierre-Ange-Casimir-Émile Barrault


This mystic exemplar or avatar of the emancipated woman seems to have been some sort of prophet for whom the Saint-Simonians searched via occult divination.  At first it was believed that the “Woman-Messiah” might be found among the Parisian prostitutes.  These had presumably freed themselves from servitude to men and had achieved “a higher order in humanity.” (Ibid.)  Later, causing widespread derision, Enfantin’s disciple Pierre-Ange-Casimir-Émile Barrault (1799-1869) undertook a pilgrimage to Constantinople in search of “the woman-mother.” (“Saint-Simon,” Catholic Encyclopedia, op. cit.)

Activities of the group became so notorious that they led in 1832 to the arrest, trial, and imprisonment of Enfantin and other leaders, and the banning of the community on the grounds that they were “prejudicial to the social order.”  After that, a number of Enfantin’s disciples went to North Africa and the Middle East in pursuit of Messianic revelations in the ancient holy lands. (“Saint-Simon,” Encyclopedia Britannica, op. cit.)

Animal Magnetism


Despite being disbanded and discredited as well as subject to public mockery and ridicule, the doctrines of the group heavily influenced the pseudo religious movements of the nineteenth century.  Including various forms of magnetism, spiritualism, occultism, and theosophy, among a host of others, toward the end of the nineteenth century these ultimately became lumped together under the general heading of New Age thought.

An explanatory note may be in order here.  “Magnetism” was an ambiguous term meaning everything from today’s attraction for iron observed in lodestone and a magnet, inseparably associated with moving electricity and characterized by fields of force, to “animal magnetism” covering personal charm, magical glamor, hypnotism (mesmerism), and psychic control.  (See Christopher North, “On Animal Magnetism,” The International Magazine of Literature, Art, and Science, Vol. 4, No. 1, August 1851, 27-28; “Magnetism, Mineral and Animal,” The Manufacturer and Builder, Vol. 4, No. 3., March 1872, 60-61; Gilles de la Tourette, “The Wonders of Animal Magnetism,” The North American Review, Vol. 146, N0. 375, February 1888, 131-143; Louis Alphonse Cahagnet, The Celestial Telegraph, or, Secrets of the Life to Come, Revealed Through Magnetism.  New York: J.S. Redfield, 1851.)


Downplaying Saint-Simon’s esotericism, Bazard and those who followed him out of the group, including Rodriguez, worked to integrate other aspects of their prophet’s concepts into economic and political policy, having an influence far beyond the borders of France. (Butler, In Search of the American Spirit, op. cit., 46-47.) They had significant influence on the industrial movement of the nineteenth century, especially in France during the Second Empire (1852-1870), and were involved in the founding of important business concerns, such as the Suez Canal Company and the Crédit Mobilier bank. (“Saint-Simon,” Catholic Encyclopedia, op. cit.)

In common with John Maynard Keynes (1883-1946), Saint-Simonians believed that concentrated capital ownership is an inevitable law of economics if humanity is to progress.  They failed to consider the potential of widespread ownership to spread out power by securing the rights of private property to a broad base of worker and citizen owners, e.g., voting shares and full payout of dividends.  Consequently, they advocated increased centralization and State control of the economy.

They did not, however, neglect Saint-Simon’s call for a New Christianity, reoriented to material and social concerns and away from the purely religious and supernatural.  In 1878, Isaac Rodriguez Pereire (1806-1880), one of the last of the Saint-Simonians, published La Question Religieuse, pleading with the newly elected Leo XIII to reform the Catholic Church and implement Saint-Simon’s proposals. (Ibid.)