Charles Fourier

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Charles Fourier
Portrait by Jean Gigoux, 1835 (detail)
François Marie Charles Fourier

(1772-04-07)7 April 1772
Died10 October 1837(1837-10-10) (aged 65)
Era19th-century philosophy
RegionWestern philosophy
SchoolUtopian socialism
Main interests
Political philosophy
Philosophy of desire
Notable ideas
"Attractive work"
Coining the term feminism
Critique of work

François Marie Charles Fourier (/ˈfʊri, -iər/;[1] French: [ʃaʁl fuʁje]; 7 April 1772 – 10 October 1837) was a French philosopher, an influential early socialist thinker, and one of the founders of utopian socialism. Some of his views, held to be radical in his lifetime, have become mainstream in modern society. For instance, Fourier is credited with having originated the word feminism in 1837.[2]

Fourier's social views and proposals inspired a whole movement of intentional communities. Among them in the United States were the community of Utopia, Ohio; La Reunion near present-day Dallas, Texas; Lake Zurich, Illinois; the North American Phalanx in Red Bank, New Jersey; Brook Farm in West Roxbury, Massachusetts; the Community Place and Sodus Bay Phalanx in New York State; Silkville, Kansas, and several others. In Guise, France, he influenced the Familistery of Guise [fr; de; pt]. Fourier later inspired a diverse array of revolutionary thinkers and writers.


Fourier was born in Besançon, France on 7 April 1772.[3] The son of a small businessman, Fourier was more interested in architecture than in his father's trade.[3] He wanted to become an engineer, but the local military engineering school accepted only sons of noblemen.[3] Fourier later said he was grateful that he did not pursue engineering because it would have taken too much time away from his efforts to help humanity.[4]

When his father died in 1781, Fourier received two-fifths of his father's estate, valued at more than 200,000 francs.[5] This enabled Fourier to travel throughout Europe at his leisure. In 1791 he moved from Besançon to Lyon, where he was employed by the merchant M. Bousquet.[6] Fourier's travels also brought him to Paris, where he worked as the head of the Office of Statistics for a few months.[3] From 1791 to 1816 Fourier was employed in Paris, Rouen, Lyon, Marseille, and Bordeaux.[7] As a traveling salesman and correspondence clerk, his research and thought was time-limited: he complained of "serving the knavery of merchants" and the stupefaction of "deceitful and degrading duties."

He began writing. His first book was published in 1808 but sold few copies. After six years, it fell into the hands of Monsieur Just Muiron, who eventually became Fourier's patron. Fourier produced most of his writings between 1816 and 1821. In 1822, he tried to sell his books again but with no success.[8][self-published source?]

Fourier died in Paris in 1837.[6][9]


Fourier declared that concern and cooperation are the keys to social success. He believed that a society that cooperated would see an immense improvement in its productivity. Workers would be recompensed for their labor according to their contribution. Fourier saw such cooperation occurring in communities he called "phalanxes", based upon structures called Phalanstères or "grand hotels". These buildings were four-level apartment complexes where the richest had the uppermost apartments and the poorest had ground-floor residences. Wealth was determined by one's job; jobs were assigned based on interest and desire. There were incentives: jobs people might not enjoy doing would receive higher pay. Fourier considered trade, which he associated with Jews, the "source of all evil", and advocated that Jews be forced to perform farm work in the phalansteries.[10] By the end of his life, Fourier advocated the return of Jews to Palestine with the assistance of the Rothschilds.[11] John K. Roth and Richard L. Rubenstein see Fourier as motivated by economic and religious antisemitism rather than the racial antisemitism that emerged later in the century.[11]

Attack on civilization[edit]

Fourier characterized poverty (not inequality) as the principal cause of disorder in society, and proposed to eradicate it by sufficiently high wages and a "decent minimum" for those unable to work.[12] He used the word "civilization" in a pejorative sense; as such, "Fourier's contempt for the respectable thinkers and ideologies of his age was so intense that he always used the terms philosopher and civilization in a pejorative sense. In his lexicon civilization was a depraved order, a synonym for perfidy and constraint ... Fourier's attack on civilization had qualities not to be found in the writing of any other social critic of his time."[13]

Work and liberated passions[edit]

For Herbert Marcuse "The idea of libidinal work relations in a developed industrial society finds little support in the tradition of thought, and where such support is forthcoming it seems of a dangerous nature. The transformation of labor into pleasure is the central idea in Fourier's giant socialist utopia."[14]: 217 

Fourier insists that this transformation requires a complete change in the social institutions: distribution of the social product according to need, assignment of functions according to individual faculties and inclinations, constant mutation of functions, short work periods, and so on. But the possibility of "attractive labor" (travail attrayant) derives above all from the release of libidinal forces . Fourier assumes the existence of an attraction industrielle which makes for pleasurable co-operation. It is based on the attraction passionnée in the nature of man, which persists despite the opposition of reason, duty, prejudice. This attraction passionnée tends toward three principal objectives: the creation of "luxury, or the pleasure of the five senses"; the formation of libidinal groups (of friendship and love); and the establishment of a harmonious order, organizing these groups for work in accordance with the development of the individual "passions" (internal and external "play" of faculties).[14]: 217 

Fourier believed that there were 12 common passions, which resulted in 810 types of character, so the ideal phalanx would have 1,620 people.[15] One day there would be six million of these, loosely ruled by a world "omniarch", or (later) a World Congress of Phalanxes. He had a concern for the sexually rejected; jilted suitors would be led away by a corps of fairies who would soon cure them of their lovesickness, and visitors could consult the card-index of personality types for suitable partners for casual sex. He also defended homosexuality as a personal preference for some people. Anarchist Hakim Bey describes Fourier's ideas as follows:

In Fourier's system of Harmony all creative activity including industry, craft, agriculture, etc. will arise from liberated passion—this is the famous theory of "attractive labor." Fourier sexualizes work itself—the life of the Phalanstery is a continual orgy of intense feeling, intellection, & activity, a society of lovers & wild enthusiasts.[16]

Women's rights[edit]

Fourier supported women's rights. He believed that all important jobs should be open to women on the basis of skill and aptitude rather than closed on account of gender. He spoke of women as individuals, not as half the human couple. Fourier saw that "traditional" marriage could potentially hurt woman's rights as human beings and thus never married.[17] Writing before the advent of the term "homosexuality", he held that both men and women have a wide range of sexual needs and preferences, which may change throughout their lives, including same-sex attraction and androgénité. He argued that all sexual expressions should be enjoyed as long as people are not abused, and that "affirming one's difference" can actually enhance social integration.[18]

Fourier's concern was to liberate every human being, in two senses: through education and by liberating human passion.[19]

Children and education[edit]

Fourier felt that "civilized" parents and teachers saw children as little idlers.[20] But he himself believed that children as early as age two and three were very industrious. He listed children's dominant tastes as including:

  1. Rummaging or inclination to handle everything, examine everything, look through everything, to constantly change occupations;
  2. Industrial commotion, taste for noisy occupations;
  3. Aping or imitative mania.
  4. Industrial miniature, a taste for miniature workshops.
  5. Progressive attraction of the weak toward the strong.[20]

Utopian Aspirations[edit]

Fourier was deeply disturbed by the disorder of his time and wanted to stabilize the course of events. He saw a world full of strife, chaos, and disorder.[21]

Fourier is best remembered for his writings on a new world order based on unity of action and harmonious collaboration.[3] He is also known for certain utopian pronouncements, such as that the seas would lose their salinity and turn to lemonade,[22] and a coincidental view of climate change,[23] that the North Pole would be milder than the Mediterranean in a future phase of Perfect Harmony.[20][24][failed verification]

Perspective view of Fourier's Phalanstère


Fourier said Jews were "the leprosy and the ruin of the body politic".[25] He criticized the government for being weak and "prostrate" when confronted with what he called a "secret and indissoluble league" of Jews. Post-Medieval antisemitic rhetoric often accused Jews of being unable to assimilate into a unitary national culture (highly valued by the French nationalists). Fourier was one of the writers to argue that Jews were disloyal and would not make good French citizens. Like others, he placed great significance on the religious restrictions prohibiting Jews from eating at the same table as non-Jews:[26]

he confined himself to sitting down at table and drinking; he refused to eat any of the dishes, because they were prepared by Christians. Christians have to be very patient to tolerate such impertinence. In the Jewish religion it denotes a system of defiance and aversion for other sects. Now, does a sect which wishes to carry its hatred as far as the table of its protectors, deserve to be protected?


The influence of Fourier's ideas in French politics carried forward into the 1848 Revolution and the Paris Commune by followers such as Victor Considerant.

  • Numerous references to Fourierism appear in Dostoevsky's political novel Demons, published in 1872.[27]
  • Fourier's ideas also took root in America, with his followers starting phalanxes throughout the country, including one of the most famous, Utopia, Ohio.
  • Peter Kropotkin, in the preface to his book The Conquest of Bread, considered Fourier the founder of the libertarian branch of socialist thought, as opposed to the authoritarian socialist ideas of Babeuf and Buonarroti.[28]
  • In the mid-20th century, Fourier's influence began to rise again among writers reappraising socialist ideas outside the Marxist mainstream. After the Surrealists broke with the French Communist Party, André Breton returned to Fourier, writing Ode à Charles Fourier in 1947.
  • Walter Benjamin considered Fourier crucial enough to devote an entire "konvolut" of his massive, projected book on the Paris arcades, the Passagenwerk, to Fourier's thought and influence. He writes: "To have instituted play as the canon of a labor no longer rooted in exploitation is one of the great merits of Fourier", and notes that "Only in the summery middle of the nineteenth century, only under its sun, can one conceive of Fourier's fantasy materialized."[29]
  • Herbert Marcuse in his influential work Eros and Civilization wrote, "Fourier comes closer than any other utopian socialist to elucidating the dependence of freedom on non-repressive sublimation."[14]: 218 
  • In 1969, Raoul Vaneigem quoted and adapted Fourier's Avis aux civilisés relativement à la prochaine métamorphose sociale in his text Avis aux civilisés relativement à l'autogestion généralisée.[30]
North American Phalanx building in New Jersey
  • Fourier's work significantly influenced the writings of Gustav Wyneken, Guy Davenport (in his work of fiction Apples and Pears), Peter Lamborn Wilson, and Paul Goodman.[citation needed]
  • In Whit Stillman's film Metropolitan, the idealistic Tom Townsend describes himself as a Fourierist, and debates the success of social experiment Brook Farm with another character. Bidding him goodnight, Sally Fowler says, "Good luck with your furrierism." [sic]
  • David Harvey, in the appendix to his book Spaces of Hope, offers a personal utopian vision of the future in cities citing Fourier's ideas.
  • Libertarian socialist and environmentalist thinker Murray Bookchin wrote that "The Greek ideal of the rounded citizen in a rounded environment—one that reappeared in Charles Fourier’s utopian works—was long cherished by the anarchists and socialists of the last century...The opportunity of the individual to devote his or her productive activity to many different tasks over an attenuated work week (or in Fourier’s ideal society, over a given day) was seen as a vital factor in overcoming the division between manual and intellectual activity, in transcending status differences that this major division of work created, and in enhancing the wealth of experiences that came with a free movement from industry through crafts to food cultivation."[31]
  • Nathaniel Hawthorne in Chapter 7 of his novel The Blithedale Romance gently mocks Fourier, writing:

    "When, as a consequence of human improvement", said I, "the globe shall arrive at its final perfection, the great ocean is to be converted into a particular kind of lemonade, such as was fashionable at Paris in Fourier's time. He calls it limonade a cedre. It is positively a fact! Just imagine the city docks filled, every day, with a flood tide of this delectable beverage![32]

  • Writers of the post-left anarchy tendency have praised Fourier's work. Bob Black in his work The Abolition of Work advocates Fourier's idea of attractive work as a solution to his criticisms of work conditions in contemporary society.[33] Hakim Bey wrote that Fourier "lived at the same time as De Sade & [William] Blake, & deserves to be remembered as their equal or even superior. Those other two apostles of freedom & desire had no political disciples, but in the middle of the 19th century literally hundreds of communes (phalansteries) were founded on fourierist principles".[16]

Fourier's works[edit]

  • Fourier, Charles. Théorie des quatre mouvements et des destinées générales (Theory of the four movements and the general destinies), appeared anonymously in Lyon in 1808.[34]
  • Fourier, Charles. Le Nouveau Monde amoureux. Written 1816–18, not published widely until 1967.
  • Fourier, Ch. Œuvres complètes de Ch. Fourier. 6 tomes. Paris: Librairie Sociétaire, 1841-1848.
  • Fourier, Charles. La fausse industrie morcelée, répugnante, mensongère, et l'antidote, l'industrie naturelle, combinée, attrayante, véridique, donnant quadruple produit (False Industry, Fragmented, Repugnant, Lying and the Antidote, Natural Industry, Combined, Attractive, True, giving four times the product), Paris: Bossange. 1835.
  • Fourier, Charles. Oeuvres complètes de Charles Fourier. 12 vols. Paris: Anthropos, 1966–1968.
  • Jones, Gareth Stedman, and Ian Patterson, eds. Fourier: The Theory of the Four Movements. Cambridge Texts in the History of Political Thought. Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 1996.
  • Fourier, Charles. Design for Utopia: Selected Writings. Studies in the Libertarian and Utopian Tradition. New York: Schocken, 1971. ISBN 0-8052-0303-6
  • Poster, Mark, ed. Harmonian Man: Selected Writings of Charles Fourier. Garden City: Doubleday. 1971.
  • Beecher, Jonathan and Richard Bienvenu, eds. The Utopian Vision of Charles Fourier: Selected Texts on Work, Love, and Passionate Attraction. Boston: Beacon Press, 1971.
  • Wilson, Peter Lamborn, Escape from the Nineteenth Century and Other Essays. Brooklyn: Autonomedia, 1998.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "Fourier". Unabridged (Online). n.d.
  2. ^ Goldstein 1982, p. 92.
  3. ^ a b c d e Serenyi 1967, p. 278.
  4. ^ Pellarin 1846, p. 14.
  5. ^ Pellarin 1846, p. 7.
  6. ^ a b Pellarin 1846, p. 235.
  7. ^ Pellarin 1846, pp. 235–236.
  8. ^ Wilson, Pip (2006). Faces in the Street. ISBN 9781430300212 – via Google Books.[self-published source]
  9. ^ Pellarin 1846, p. 213.
  10. ^ Roberts, Richard H. (1995). Religion and the Transformations of Capitalism: Comparative Approaches. Routledge. p. 90.
  11. ^ a b Rubenstein, Richard L.; Roth, John K. (1987). Approaches to Auschwitz: the Holocaust and its legacy. Atlanta: John Knox Press. p. 70–71. ISBN 978-0-8042-0777-5. OCLC 1193376133 – via Internet Archive.
  12. ^ Cunliffe 2001, p. 461.
  13. ^ Beecher, Johnathan (1986). Charles Fourier: The Visionary and His World. University of California Press. pp. 195–196.
  14. ^ a b c Marcuse, Herbert (1955). Eros and Civilization. Boston: Beacon Press.
  15. ^ Fourier, Charles (1971). Beecher, Jonathan; Bienvenu, Richard (eds.). The Utopian Vision of Charles Fourier Selected Texts on Work, Love and Passionate Attraction. Beacon Press. p. 220. ISBN 9780807015384.
  16. ^ a b Bey, Hakim (1991). "The Lemonade Ocean & Modern Times". Retrieved January 16, 2017.
  17. ^ Denslow 1880, p. 172.
  18. ^ Fourier, Charles (1967) [1818]. Debout-Oleszkiewicz, Simone (ed.). Le Nouveau monde amoureux [The New World of Love] (in French). Paris: Editions Anthropos. pp. 389, 391, 429, 458, 459, 462, and 463. OCLC 4930481. Archived from the original on 2023-08-05. Retrieved 2023-10-18.
  19. ^ Goldstein 1982, p. 98.
  20. ^ a b c Fried, Albert; Sanders, Ronald, eds. (1964). Socialist Thought: A Documentary History. New York: Columbia University Press. pp. 129–151. ISBN 0231082657. Archived from the original on 2023-03-05. Retrieved 2005-11-25.
  21. ^ Serenyi 1967, p. 279.
  22. ^ Fourier, Charles (1996). Jones, Gareth Stedman; Patterson, Ian (eds.). Théorie des quatre mouvements et des destinées générales [Theory of the Four Movements]. Translated by Patterson, Ian. Cambridge University Press. p. 50. Archived from the original on 2018-01-25. Retrieved 2024-01-12.
  23. ^ Goldstein, Amanda Jo (2019). "Attracting the Earth: Climate Justice for Charles Fourier". Diacritics. 47 (3): 74–105. doi:10.1353/dia.2019.0027. S2CID 239435739 – via Project MUSE.
  24. ^ Kreis, Steven (2009-08-03). "Lectures on Modern European Intellectual History: Lecture 21: The Utopian Socialists: Charles Fourier" (PDF). The History Guide. Archived (PDF) from the original on 2024-01-13. Retrieved 2024-01-12.
  25. ^ Brustein, William I.; Roberts, Louisa (2015). "2 - France". The Socialism of Fools? Leftist Origins of Modern Anti-Semitism. Cambridge University Press. pp. 24–82. doi:10.1017/CBO9781139046848.003. ISBN 978-1-139-04684-8.
  26. ^ Brustein, William; Roberts, Louisa (2015). The Scialism of Fools: Leftist Origins of Modern Anti-Semitism. New York: Cambridge University Press. pp. 33–34. ISBN 978-1-139-04684-8. OCLC 915136563.
  27. ^ Postoutenko, Kirill (2009). "The Influence of Anxiety: Figures of Absolute Evil in French Socialists and Dostoevsky". Retrieved 22 August 2016.
  28. ^ Kropotkin, Peter (1906). The Conquest of Bread. New York and London: Putnam.
  29. ^ Nguyen, Duy Lap (2022). "Fourier or the Arcades: The Liberation of Work and Desire or an Eternity of the New". Walter Benjamin and the Critique of Political Economy. Bloomsbury Academic. pp. 151–192. doi:10.5040/ ISBN 978-1-350-18042-0. OCLC 1289456629.
  30. ^ Fourier, Charles. "Notice to the Civilized Concerning Generalized Self-Management".
  31. ^ Bookchin, Murray (1990). "The Meaning of Confederalism".
  32. ^ Hawthorne 1852, p. 62.
  33. ^ Black, Bob (2002-04-15). "The Abolition of Work". Archived from the original on 2010-11-26. The secret of turning work into play, as Charles Fourier demonstrated, is to arrange useful activities to take advantage of whatever it is that various people at various times in fact enjoy doing. To make it possible for some people to do the things they could enjoy it will be enough just to eradicate the irrationalities and distortions which afflict these activities when they are reduced to work.
  34. ^ "Recent French Social Philosophy—Organization of Labour". The North British Review (XVII). Edinburgh: W.P. Kennedy: 126. May 1848. OCLC 908317665. Retrieved 2020-05-01.


  • Cunliffe, J (2001). "The Enigmatic Legacy of Charles Fourier: Joseph Charlier and Basic Income", History of Political Economy, vol.33, No. 3.
  • Denslow, V (1880). Modern Thinkers Principally Upon Social Science: What They Think, and Why, Chicago, 1880
  • Goldstein, L (1982). "Early Feminist Themes in French Utopian Socialism: The St.-Simonians and Fourier", Journal of the History of Ideas, vol.43, No. 1.
  • Hawthorne, Nathaniel (1852). The Blithedale romance. New York: A.L. Burt Co. ISBN 978-0-393-09150-2. OCLC 697899845. OL 7197432M – via Internet Archive.
  • Pellarin, C (1846). The Life of Charles Fourier, New York, 1846.Internet Archive Retrieved November 25, 2007
  • Serenyi, P (1967). "Le Corbusier, Fourier, and the Monastery of Ema", The Art Bulletin, vol.49, No. 4.

Further reading[edit]

On Fourier and his works[edit]

On Fourierism and his posthumous influence[edit]

External links[edit]