Henri de Saint-Simon

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The philosopher … is not just an observer, he is an actor; he is an actor of the highest kind in a moral world because it is his opinion of what the world must become that regulates society.

Claude-Henri de Rouvroy, comte de Saint-Simon (17 October 176019 May 1825), also referred to as Henri de Saint-Simon, was an early French utopian socialist, whose thought influenced the foundations of various 19th century philosophies, including the philosophy of science and the discipline of sociology.


Today, for the first time since the existence of societies it is a question of organizing a totally new system; of replacing the celestial with the terrestrial, the vague by the positive, and the poetic by the real.
The whole of society rests upon industry.
Saint-Simon was the prophet of meritocracy, seeking to reorder society in the image of the new chessboard he had designed for revolutionary France, with a hierarchy in which the king was replaced by a figure called Talent. ~ James H. Billington
  • La politique est … la science de la production.
    • Politics is the science of production.
      • De L'Industrie (1816), in Saint-Simon: sa víe et ses travaux (1857), by M. G. Hubbard, pp. 156–157
  • No man has a right to free himself from the law of labour
    • as quoted from The New International Encyclopædia, Volume 17, (1905 edition) p. 471, by Gilman, Daniel Coit; Colby, Frank Moore; Peck, Harry Thurston. Editor Dodd, Mead.
  • True equality consists in each drawing benefits from society in exact proportion to his social outlay, that is to his real capacity, to the beneficent use he makes of his abilities. And this equality is the natural foundation of industrial society.
    • Syst. Indus, VI, 17, as quoted from E.Durkheim, Socialism and Saint-Simon (1958)
  • Equality is the natural foundation of industrial society
    • Syst. Indus, VI, 17, as quoted from E.Durkheim, Socialism and Saint-Simon (1958)
  • In the old system Society is governed essentially by men; in the new it is governed only by principles
    • Org, IV, 197, as quoted from E.Durkheim, Socialism and Saint-Simon (1958)

  • [A]ujourd'hui … [i]l est question, pour la première fois depuis l'existence des sociétés, d'organiser un système tout-à-fait nouveau, de remplacer le céleste par le terrestre, le vague par le positif, le poétique par le réel.
    • Today, for the first time since the existence of societies it is a question of organizing a totally new system; of replacing the celestial with the terrestrial, the vague by the positive, and the poetic by the real.
      • L'Industrie, as quoted in L'Ami de la Religion et du Roi: journal ecclésiastique, politique et littéraire, No. 336 (29 October 1817)
  • [J]e me propose en m'adressant à différentes fractions de l'humanité, que je divise en trois classes: la première, celle à laquelle vous et moi avons l'honneur d'appartenir, marche sous l'étendard des progrès de l'esprit humain; elle marche sous l'étendard des progrès de l'esprit humain; elle est composée des savants, des artistes et de tous les hommes qui ont des idées libérales. Sur la bannière de la seconde il est écrit: point d'innovation; tous les propriétaires qui n'entrent point dans la première sont attachés à la seconde. La troisième, qui se rallie au mot égalité, renferme le surplus de l'humanité.
    • I have divided [the different sections of mankind] into three classes. The first, to which you and I have the honour to belong, marches under the banner of the progress of the human mind. It is composed of scientists, artists and all those who hold liberal ideas. On the banner of the second is written 'No innovation!' All proprietors who do not belong in the first category are part of the second. The third class, which rallies round the slogan of 'Equality' is made up of the rest of the people.
      • Oeuvres choisies: précédées d'un essai sur sa doctrine (1839), p. 15
  • Le philosophe se place au sommet de la pensée; de là il envisage ce qu'a été le monde et ce qu'il doit devenir. Il n'est pas seulement observateur, il est acteur; il est acteur du premier genre dans le monde moral, car ce sont ses opinions sur, car ce sont ses opinions sur ce que le monde doit devenir qui règlent la société humaine.
    • The philosopher places himself at the summit of thought; from there he views what the world has been and what it must become. He is not just an observer, he is an actor; he is an actor of the highest kind in a moral world because it is his opinion of what the world must become that regulates society.
      • Science de l'homme: Physiologie religieuse (1858), p. 437
  • La société tout entière repose sur l'industrie. L'industrie est la seule garantie de son existence, la source unique de toutes les richesses et de toutes les prospérités. L'état de choses le plus favorable à l'industrie est donc par cela seul le plus favorable à la Société.
    • The whole of society rests upon industry. Industry is the sole guarantee of its existence, the single source of all its wealth and all its prosperity. The state of things most favorable to industry is by that very reason the most favorable to society.
      • L'Industrie, in Œuvres de Saint-Simon, Vol. 18 (Paris, 1868), p. 13

"Declarations of Principles"

  • We regard society as the ensemble and union of men engaged in useful work. We can conceive of no other kind of society.
  • Since governmental activity may be deemed a service which is useful to society, society should consent to pay for this service.
  • It was in America, while I was fighting for the cause of industrial liberty, that I first felt the desire to see this plant from another world flower in my own country. This desire has since dominated all my thinking. Without respite I studied the course of advancement and further assured myself that the progress of civilisation could have no other end. And I invoked this aim of true liberty, true public happiness, with my most fervent hopes. For me every event that seemed to point in that direction was a new joy, a new hope. The French Revolution broke out, and at first it seemed to be thoroughly industrial. But it soon lost that character, and the many noble efforts which ought to have produced liberty resulted only in the tyranny of the Jacobins and military despotism. A happier age has now started to dawn for us: at last a government has been established which declares its own power to be based on the power of opinion. Ever since then France has yielded to common sense, that is, to the free discussion of its common interests.
  • It may be argued that writers stick to their convictions and serve only the truth, and that they only approve and support governmental conduct when they judge it to be in the interests of the governed. We accept that. We know that even those writers working under the eyes and under the influence of the Government always work, or at least claim to work only for society as a whole, and would be offended if it were thought otherwise. Nevertheless, we are convinced that the governed know better than anyone what they want and what is in their interest. We believe that government is at least an unnecessary intermediary between those who think about the public interest and those who feel it, between political writers and industry.

The Reorganization of the European Community (1814)


Complete Works vol. 15, pp. 152 248

  • The progress of the human mind, the revolutions which occur in the development of knowledge, give each century its special character.
    • Preface
  • The philosophy of the last century was revolutionary ; that of the nineteenth century must be constructive. Lack of institutions leads to the destruction of all society; outworn institutions prolong the ignorance and the prejudices of the times which produce them. Shall we be forced to choose between barbarism and stupidity? Writers of the nineteenth century, you alone can avert this frightful dilemma.
    • Preface
  • After a violent convulsion Europe fears fresh disasters, and feel the end for a long repose; the sovereigns of all the European nations are assembled to give her peace. All of them seem to desire peace, all are famed for their wisdom, yet they will not reach their goal. I have asked myself why all the efforts of the statesmen are powerless against the evils which afflict Europe, and I have perceived that there is no salvation for Europe except through a general reorganization. I have though out a plan of reorganization: the explanation of this plan is the subject of this work.
    • Opening, Ch. I

Quotes about Saint-Simon

  • Saint-Simon was the founder of corporatism, or at least of technocracy. It is in Saint-Simon that we find the identification of the categories life, or society, with industry. Saint-Simon helps to generate a theme which subsequently pervades all socialist traditions, for he raises the issue of status or legitimacy of citizenship with reference to productivity. Saint-Simon's hoped-for world is not only one where those who do not work shall not eat; it is also a place where they absolutely shall not rule. As Paul Ricoeur points out, Saint-Simon leaves a legacy which affects all socialisms, for he introduces into social theory (he theme of idleness and parasitism as social problems consequent on the evasion of the central social responsibility ascribed to citizens: the duty to be productive. Saint-Simon then adds his second profound message – that the elimination of the social problem of parasitism can finally lead to the disappearance of the state. For the logic of Saint-Simon is that the only legitimate social functions are those of production, and those of the scholarship which aids production. It is no accident that this corporatist utopia is today defended by western labour movements, for it exhausts the contemporary utopic vision of citizenship – good citizens are those who either boost Gross National Product or who conduct Wissenschaft as part of that process. For Saint-Simon was indeed to argue that 'Politics is the science of production'; here there is a politics of economic interests, but no other politics. Thus the second legacy – for where there is no politics, there need be no state, or at least no state conventionally defined. Saint-Simon proposes that there ought henceforth to be three chambers of government, functionally defined and solely directed to the national productive task." Politics would thus become administration, society would become a technocratic utopia untroubled by the routine vicissitudes of everyday life as encountered by the 'unproductive' masses. Bourgeoisie and proletariat would be locked into perpetual embrace, while parasites rich and poor alike would wither and government along with them. For the new society would only have hands, head and heart, and the parasites would be expelled by the body corporate.
    • Peter Beilharz, Labour's Utopias: Bolshevism, Fabianism, Social Democracy (1992), p. 4
  • In contrast with Babeuf, the French theorist the Comte de Saint-Simon was no believer in equality, but he has some claim to be regarded as the ‘founder of modern theoretical socialism, conceived not merely as an ideal but as the outcome of a historical process’. Saint-Simon believed that free economic competition produced poverty and crises and that society was moving inexorably to a stage when its affairs would be planned in accordance with social needs. He was resolutely opposed to violence and held that the most educated section of society would become convinced of the necessity of the development of more rational administration, based upon the application of science, and that other social groups would be won over to an appreciation of such a development. Although Saint-Simon’s was the first form of socialism to which the young Karl Marx was introduced – by his future father-in-law, Ludwig von Westphalen – Marx was later to pour scorn on Saint-Simon’s followers on account of their utopianism, commitment to peaceful change and trust in the possibility of class cooperation rather than the inevitability of class struggle.
    • Archie Brown, The Rise and Fall of Communism (2009), p. 16
  • [Count Henri de Saint-Simon] was for a time supported by his former valet, whose function had been—so the Saint-Simonian legend says, and it is not hard to believe—to rouse the count each day with the words, "Get up, my lord, you have great things to do today!"
    • Robert B. Carlisle, The Proffered Crown: Saint-Simonianism and the Doctrine of Hope (1987), p. 11
  • A religion of life had come to replace a religion of penance and emaciation, of fasting and prayer. The crucified body had risen in its turn and was no longer abashed Man had reached a harmonious unity: he had discovered that he is a single being not made, like a pendulum, of two different metals, that check each other; he realised that the foe in his members had ceased to exist.
  • Of the "utopian socialists," to use Marx's label, Saint-Simon was the most accurate forecaster of the politics and economics of industry. Rational, worldwide territorial planning is implied in Saint-Simon's system...
  • Saint-Simon was the first to emphasize the efficiency of huge industrial undertakings and argued that the government should actively intervene in production, distribution, and commerce in the interest of promoting the welfare of the masses. He sanctioned both private property and its privileges as long as they were used to promote the welfare of the masses.
    • E. K. Hunt, Property and Prophets: The Evolution of Economic Institutions and Ideologies (2002), p. 80
  • The man who was born Claude Henri de Rouvroy, Comte de Saint-Simon, and who died in poverty surrounded by a group of young disciples who looked upon him as the prophet of a new religion, must be considered something of an eccentric, as was Fourier, his younger contemporary. But, unlike the latter, whose origins and behavior were utterly bourgeois, Saint-Simon led a life as a cavalier as the name he renounced.
    • Albert Fried and Ronald Sanders, Socialist Thought: A Documentary History (1964)
  • Yet ideas about forcible equalization of status and property were catching the imagination of others. Although Napoleon Bonaparte imposed a personal dictatorship in 1799, France remained a forcing bed for revolutionary ideas well into the nineteenth century. Among the influential figures was Henry de St Simon. He and his followers called for the gathering of ‘instruments of labour, land and capital in a social fund.’ Hereditary wealth was to be expropriated. St Simon aimed at creating a vast ‘association of toilers’ who would be organized from above. They would be assigned tasks according to their talent and rewarded according to their work. St Simon’ doctrine envisaged an end to war and the start of an endless era of plenty for humankind. This was meant to come about through dutiful propaganda.
    • Robert Service, Comrades! A History of World Communism (2007), p. 17
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