The Callaghan administration once toyed with the idea of having a Minister of the Family. What with the débâcle of back-to-basics and other such mantras, the arrival on these shores of Fourier in translation is perhaps timely. The Fourierist utopia does not have a Minister of the Family, but it does have a Minister of Amorous Relations. Her duties—the Minister is ‘une ministre’—are not specified in any detail (in The Theory of the Four Movements she is mentioned briefly in connection with a characteristically ingenious and complicated scheme for the use of courtship rituals in the raising of a large army, whereby the young women follow the young men, love-choices are made and all-round morale is correspondingly higher).footnote＊ It is doubtless one of her tasks therefore to help organize the regime of what Fourier delightfully calls, in Le Nouveau monde amoureux, omnigamy. As the name suggests, the omnigamous order is open to all, and it is an order in which social life is conceived as an ongoing party. The Minister’s choreographing talents might be somewhat stretched where apparently dissonant desires are concerned, but such is Fourier’s capacity to think of everything and attend to all the angles, even the potentially most recalcitrant situations are amenable to Fourierist remedy. Here is a typical dilemma, not in fact for the Minister but for the system—or rather the systématique, an entity at once rule-bound and infinitely permutable: Urgèle, aged eighty, intensely desires Valère, aged twenty, and the problem is how to overcome Valère’s ‘natural antipathy’ to sleeping with a woman sixty years older than himself.
The solution comes in a form that gives us virtually the whole of Fourier in a nutshell. Valère’s multiple activities across the social division of labour have brought him into contact with Urgèle at various points in the system: as a five-year old, he has enrolled in the Blue Hyacinths group—one of the many devised for the education of the young—where he has been taught by Urgèle, the group’s President; Urgèle is also the Doyenne of the engravings group, in which Valère has shown considerable talent. He has moreover shown even greater talent in the science known as ‘amorous algebra’ or ‘amour composé’, where once again Urgèle, in her long and active career, has been something of an expert—it is a science that requires substantial amounts of both practice and theory. Finally, Valère has harboured ambitions to join one of the
André Breton sought to claim Fourier for Surrealism. One can see why—though Fourier’s imaginings put Breton’s in the shade. More to the point, Michel Butor took the fable of Valère and Urgèle as paradigmatic of Fourier’s vision of social harmony. He also reminds us (in the 1973 edition) that this section of Le Nouveau monde industriel was excised by Fourier’s disciples from the 1845 edition; anxious to make Fourier’s message respectable by downplaying the decisive emphasis on the emancipation of sexual relations, they effectively mutilated it. Fourier placed the word ‘orgie’ at the centre of his preoccupations and thereby takes us on a trip to the wilder shores of utopian imagining. He does so for several reasons, but principally because the link between pleasure and wealth is the very ground of his conception of an alternative social order. And alternative it most definitely is. Fourier was an ‘economist’ (of sorts) who detested political economy and indeed the entire legacy of the Enlightenment, which he identified with the perverse, misery-inducing set of arrangements he calls Civilization. It is important to start here, given Fourier’s reputation as a utopian socialist. This is in many ways a misnomer, but if we are to think of Fourier in relation to the emergence of socialist thought, we have to do so on his terms, which begin not from a modification but a complete rejection of the categories of Enlightenment political and economic discourse and the modern form of commercial society based on rights and contract which those categories legitimized. In this respect, he can be said to belong to the tradition of anti-Enlightenment critique that, in its English versions, Raymond Williams examined in Culture and Society. What is distinctive about his place in this tradition, however, is the priority given to pleasure. He in fact echoes certain forms of Enlightenment thought in making ‘happiness’ the object of human and social aspiration—he is close here, for example, to Bentham, the only Enlightenment philosopher for whom he showed any respect—but then offers his own singularly upbeat version of what happiness is: ‘Happiness consists in having many passions and many means of satisfying them’. Society is to be arranged not just to gratify passions but to produce passions, to multiply them and, as part of the same process, the means of gratifying them. Against the perversions of Civilization (abundance leading to scarcity, the waste and destruction of competition), Fourier proposes (and predicts) the reign of Harmony, an economy of delights based on cooperation and mutuality, the organizational matrix of which is the Phalanx and the Phalanstery, the complex building in which the community is housed.
Life in the Phalanstery is exceedingly agreeable. No-one works in any particular occupation for more than two hours at a stretch—this is an iron rule; there is much feasting, and enormous amounts of love-making. Fourier does not dispute the imperative of the division of labour; on the contrary, he celebrates it, but in a form which encourages and enables everyone to do what they want to do, thus abolishing at a stroke the opposition of pleasure and work. ‘The ordered society,’ writes Fourier in The Theory of the Four Movements, ‘requires pure, ardent passions’. The passions are God-given, the elementary fluid of the cosmos, and the purpose of ‘science’ is to discover their mechanism and the manner in which they can be deployed to ensure the maximum of human well-being. One key to this science is in fact literary, rhetorical. Fourier, like many others in the nineteenth century, founds a philosophical programme on a figure of speech, analogy. The solution to all our problems, argues Fourier, lies in recognizing our essentially metaphoric relation with Nature. The Theory of the Four Movements works entirely from this poetic conception of the structure of things. It postulates life, the whole cosmos, as consisting of four ‘movements’: material, organic, animal and social, all of which are governed by what Fourier calls the Law of Passionate Attraction and between which there exists an intricate network of analogies. One of the aspects of Passionate Attraction is that everything in some way reflects everything else. Metaphor, a principle of sameness within difference, is everywhere at work, and provided one can transcend the rationalist epistemologies of the Enlightenment, one might then arrive at a completely different notion of human socialization, and with that a whole new conception of economy, the division of labour, the social distribution of goods and gratifications, and so on—in short, the lineaments of Utopia.
The analogically ordered universe bypasses not only the distinction of work and pleasure but also the conflict of desire and repression—Fourier’s view of society is also, so to speak, resolutely anti-Freudian. But this does not mean that the expression of the passions is an anarchic affair. The passions have to be regulated, not in a disciplinary fashion but in a mathematical one. They have to be ‘combined’ according to the law of ‘attraction’ and ordered according to the principle of the ‘series’. Attraction and seriality group individuals relative to the activities and benefits associated with a particular passion. If I have a passion for shoe-making, I can make shoes—subject to the two-hour rule—with others sharing the same passion. But if I also want to grow crops or be a poet, the intrinsically productive nature of desire, allied to the two-hour rule, is such that all I have to do is go join the groups dedicated to farming and writing. I can do this sort of thing indefinitely, according to how the passions speak in me; the permutations of the series are theoretically vast. To the rationalist objection that such a variegated and mobile system of the division of labour must be incorrigibly inefficient, Fourier plays his trump card: I seek an increase in wealth as much as you, wealth-creation is in fact the raison d’être of human life, but under my system, far from wealth diminishing, it will augment three-fold—sometimes the claim is that it will be four-fold.
The Fourierist cornucopia of course resembles the dream of a fruit cake, and it will come as no surprise that fruits and fruitiness, the sucré, are important items in the cornucopia—the greatest deficiency of Athenian society, according to Fourier, was the absence of sugar. Fourier himself never once entertained the thought that he might be mad—though his unbreakable self-confidence could be interpreted as symptomatic of just that condition. Engels referred to his writing persona as ‘imperturbably serene’, but was quite wrong in seeing this as the attribute of ‘assuredly one the greatest satirists of all time’. Nothing could be further from the spirit of Fourier’s writings than the satirical. He was deadly serious, in an almost ponderously matter-of-fact way, and it is one of the more seductive effects of prolonged contact with his world that we can end, rather like Valère with Urgèle, by yielding to the prima facie improbable as if it were the most natural thing in the world. If there is madness here, it is a peculiarly self-normalizing one. Roland Barthes rightly said that Fourier’s universe is one in which ‘il n y a pas de normalité’, but its way of expelling the normal is by making the eccentric appear ordinary. This is partly a matter of the earnestness with which Fourier displaces the hierarchy of what we hold to be important—the question of sugar and cakes is at least as important as the question of war. It is also partly a matter of Fourier’s manic attention to detail. Everything in the Fourierist cornucopia comes labelled and classified. In the spheres of both taxonomy and prediction, Fourier is indefatigably precise. The passions, though multiple, can be reduced to a set of ‘radical’ passions. There are twelve of these, plus the passion of ‘unityism, a kind of meta-passion gathering up all the others—Fourier does not bother himself with the logical paradoxes of the class of all classes. Five of the twelve are the ‘luxurious’ passions, four the ‘affective passions’, three the ‘distributive’ passions, further sub-divided into the ‘cabalistic’, the ‘butterfly’ and the ‘composite’. All are necessary to the economy of the Phalanstery, but the sub-divided distributives are a special Fourierist preoccupation. The ‘cabalistic’ governs rivalry and intrigue—its productive energies quite different from the destructive force of competitive individualism; the ‘composite’ joins the spiritual and the sensual and is another way of naming what we conventionally call ‘love’; the ‘butterfly’ is something of a favourite, ensuring the principle of a variegated division of labour. The play of the passions yields 810 ‘characters’; thus, allowing for the two sexes, the population of the Phalanstery should consist of no more and no less than 1,620 persons.
Or, take Fourier’s exactly charted account of human history, schematized in the Table of the Progress of Social Movement: History unfolds in four main phases: the first (sub-divided into seven periods) is the phase of Ascending Chaos, the second (sub-divided into nine periods) the phase of Ascending Harmony, the third (sub-divided into nine periods) the phase of Descending Harmony, the fourth (sub-divided into seven periods) the phase of Descending Chaos. The last phase terminates with bad news: ‘End of the animal and vegetable world after an approximation of 80,000 years’—‘approximation’ is an unusual concession, although he does say that as a rule of thumb the ‘calculi’ are ‘subject to the exception of an eighth or ninth’. But there is also much good news. Armed with