Henri de Saint-Simon

Henri de Saint-Simon
Claude Henri de Saint-Simon.jpg
Born(1760-10-17)17 October 1760
Died19 May 1825(1825-05-19) (aged 64)
Paris, France
Era19th-century philosophy
RegionWestern philosophy
SchoolUtopian socialism
Main interests
Political philosophy
Notable ideas
The industrial class/idling class distinction

Claude Henri de Rouvroy, comte de Saint-Simon, often referred to as Henri de Saint-Simon (French: [ɑ̃ʁi də sɛ̃ simɔ̃]; 17 October 1760 – 19 May 1825), was a French political and economic theorist and businessman whose thought played a substantial role in influencing politics, economics, sociology, and the philosophy of science.

He created a political and economic ideology known as Saint-Simonianism that claimed that the needs of an industrial class, which he also referred to as the working class, needed to be recognized and fulfilled to have an effective society and an efficient economy.[10] Unlike later conceptions by others of a working class being manual labourers alone, Saint-Simon's conception of this class included all people engaged in productive work that contributed to society, that included businesspeople, managers, scientists, bankers, along with manual labourers amongst others.[11] He said the primary threat to the needs of the industrial class was another class he referred to as the idling class, that included able people who preferred to be parasitic and benefit from the work of others while seeking to avoid doing work.[10] Saint-Simon stressed the need for recognition of the merit of the individual and the need for hierarchy of merit in society and in the economy, such as society having hierarchical merit-based organizations of managers and scientists to be the decision-makers in government.[11] He strongly criticized any expansion of government intervention into the economy beyond ensuring no hindrances to productive work and reducing idleness in society, regarding intervention beyond these as too intrusive.[10]

This ideology soon inspired and influenced utopian socialism,[11] liberal political theorist John Stuart Mill,[6] anarchism through its founder Pierre-Joseph Proudhon who was inspired by Saint-Simon's thought[7] and Marxism with Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels identifying Saint-Simon as an inspiration to their ideas and identifying him among the utopian socialists.[11] However historian Alan Ryan regards certain followers of Saint-Simon, rather than Saint-Simon himself, as being responsible for the rise of utopian socialism that based itself upon Saint-Simon's ideas.[11] He also regards strong differences as existing between Saint-Simon's conceptions and Marxism's as Saint-Simon did not promote class conflict as a solution to societal problems nor did he adhere to the narrower definition of the working class as manual labourers as defined by Marxists.[11] Saint-Simon unlike Marx did not regard the prevalent form of ownership as being paramount issue in the economy but rather the form of management.[11] Furthermore, Saint-Simon held no opposition to capitalists as a whole unlike Marx and he regarded them as an important component of the industrial class.[12] Later Saint-Simon's views influenced sociologist and economist Thorstein Veblen, including Veblen's creation of institutional economics that has included prominent economists as adherents.[13] Historian Alan Ryan states that by the 1950s it was clear that Saint-Simon had invented the modern understanding of industrial society and its organization.[11]

Saint-Simon and his secretary Auguste Comte developed what Comte would complete as sociology.


Early years

Henri de Saint-Simon was born in Paris as a French aristocrat. His grandfather's cousin had been the Duke de Saint-Simon.[14] "When he was a young man, being of a restless disposition...he went to America where he entered into American service and took part in the siege of Yorktown under General Washington."[15]

From his youth, Saint-Simon was highly ambitious. He ordered his valet to wake him every morning with, "Remember, monsieur le comte, that you have great things to do."[16] Among his early schemes was one to connect the Atlantic and the Pacific oceans by a canal, and another to construct a canal from Madrid to the sea.[17]

During the American Revolution, Saint-Simon fought for a period for the Americans, and believed that their revolution signaled the beginning of a new era.[18] At the beginning of the French Revolution in 1789, Saint-Simon quickly endorsed the revolutionary ideals of liberty, equality and fraternity. In the early years of the revolution, Saint-Simon devoted himself to organizing a large industrial structure in order to found a scientific school of improvement. He needed to raise some funds to achieve his objectives, which he did by land speculation. This was only possible in the first few years of the revolution because of the growing instability of the political situation in France, which prevented him from continuing his financial activities and indeed put his life at risk. Saint-Simon and Talleyrand planned to profiteer during the The Terror by buying the Cathedral of Notre-Dame, stripping its roof of metal, and selling the metal for scrap. Saint-Simon was imprisoned on suspicion of engaging in counter-revolution activities. He was released in 1794 at the end of the Reign of Terror.[19] After he recovered his freedom, Saint-Simon found himself immensely rich due to currency depreciation, but his fortune was subsequently stolen by his business partner. Thenceforth he decided to devote himself to political studies and research. After the establishment of the Ecole Polytechnique in 1794, a school established to train young men in the arts of sciences and industry and funded by the state, Saint-Simon became involved with the new school.[20]

Life as a working adult

Henri de Saint-Simon, portrait from the first quarter of the 19th century

When he was nearly 40 he went through a varied course of study and experiment to enlarge and clarify his view of things. One of these experiments was an unhappy marriage in 1801 to Alexandrine-Sophie Goury de Champgrand, undertaken so that he might have a literary salon. After a year's duration the marriage was dissolved by mutual consent. The result of his experiments was that he found himself completely impoverished, and lived in penury for the remainder of his life. The first of his numerous writings, mostly scientific and political, was Lettres d'un habitant de Genève, which appeared in 1802. In this first work, he called for the creation of a religion of science with Isaac Newton as a saint.[21] In 1817 he began in a treatise entitled L'Industrie to propound his socialist views, which he further developed in L'Organisateur (1819), a periodical on which Augustin Thierry and Auguste Comte collaborated. One of Saint-Simon's major beliefs was that the world should be linked with canals.[22]

The first publication caused a sensation, though one that brought few converts. A couple of years later in his writing career, Saint-Simon found himself ruined, and was forced to work for a living. After a few attempts to recover his money from his partner, he received financial support from Diard, a former employee, and was able to publish his second book in 1807: Introduction aux travaux scientifiques du XIX siècle. Diard died in 1810 and Saint-Simon found himself poor again, and this time also in poor health. He was sent to a sanatorium in 1813, but with financial help from relatives he had time to recover his health and gain some intellectual recognition in Europe. In 1821 Du système industriel appeared, and in 1823–1824 Catéchisme des industriels.

Death and legacy

Saint-Simon's grave in Père Lachaise Cemetery, Paris

In 1823, disappointed by the lack of results of his writing (he had hoped they would guide society towards social improvement), he attempted suicide in despair. Remarkably, he shot himself in the head six times without succeeding, losing his sight in one eye. Finally, very late in his career, he did link up with a few ardent disciples. The last and most important expression of his views is Nouveau Christianisme (1825), which he left unfinished.

He was buried in Le Père Lachaise Cemetery in Paris, France.

Other Languages
azərbaycanca: Henri Sen-Simon
қазақша: Сен-Симон
ਪੰਜਾਬੀ: ਸੇਂਟ ਸਾਈਮਨ
کوردی: سان سیمۆن
српски / srpski: Сен Симон
srpskohrvatski / српскохрватски: Saint-Simon
Tiếng Việt: Henri de Saint Simon