“Letters from an Inhabitant of Geneva to His Contemporaries” Claude-Henri Saint-Simon (1803) -------------------------------------------------------------------------------Source: Letters from an Inhabitant

of Geneva to His Contemporaries, (1803). The Political Thought of Saint-Simon, Oxford University Press, 1976. 'Letters', omiting hypothetical 'Reply'. -------------------------------------------------------------------------------I am no longer young, I have observed and reflected actively all my life and your happiness has been the end to which all my work has been directed; I have thought of a project which I think might be useful to you and I now propose to tell you about it. Open a subscription in honour of Newton's memory: allow everyone, no matter who he may be, to subscribe as much as he wishes. Let each subscriber nominate three mathematicians, three physicists, three chemists, three physiologists, three authors, three painters and three musicians. The subscriptions and nominations should be renewed annually, although everyone should be completely free to renominate the same people indefinitely. Divide the amount of the subscriptions between the three mathematicians, the three physicists, etc., who have obtained the most votes. Invite the President of the Royal Society in London to receive the subscriptions for the first year. In subsequent years, entrust this honourable duty to whomsoever has given the highest subscription. Make it a proviso that those who have been nominated should accept no posts, honours or money from any special group, but leave each man absolutely free to use his gifts as he wills. Men of genius will in this Way enjoy a reward which is worthy of themselves and of you; this reward is the only one which will supply them with the means to give you all the service of which they are capable; it will become the object of the ambition of the most active minds and will deflect them from anything which might disturb your peace of mind. Finally, by doing this you will be providing leaders for those who are working for the progress of your enlightenment; you will b endowing these leaders with great prestige and you will be placing considerable financial resources at their disposal. -------------------------------------------------------------------------------I have addressed this project directly to mankind, because it is in its collective interest; but I am not foolish enough to hope that mankind will immediately put it into execution. I have always thought that its success would depend on how much support the most influential would decide to


each of the member who compose it should contribute. it is clearly in your interest to include those without property in your party. those who have proved the superiority of their intelligence with important discoveries. grasp it with vigour! You can create happiness for yourselves and for your contemporaries. You are the most directly interested in the success of the subscription. The first. or at least most people. make a start! Scientists. scientists and artists and those of you who devote some of your energy and your means to the furtherance of enlightenment. you are the section of mankind with the greatest intellectual force. you will see that the sceptre of public opinion has fallen into your hand. you have the greatest talent for grasping new ideas. then. I would say to the first class: everyone to whom I have spoken of the project I am presenting to mankind. Let the mathematicians. of the same way of thinking. Compared with those who own no property. look with the eye of genius at the present state of the human mind. I have observed them closely and I can assure you that they will exert pressure on you until you decide to sacrifice your pride and the money needed to place their leaders in the most respected positions and to 2 . Once this principle has been accepted. but they have also all let me see that they feared it would not succeed. The third class. The best way to win their votes is to explain the matter as fully as possible. subscribe! To the members of the second class. finally approved it. the force of inertia will be the only obstacle to the adoption of my views. It is composed of scientists. to which you and I have the honour to belong. marches under the banner of the progress of the human mind. must always exist between you and them. This general conformity of opinion makes me think that I am likely to find everyone. which rallies round the slogan of 'Equality' is made up of the rest of the people. it is up to you to overcome the force of inertia. after a short discussion. Gentlemen. I have spent much of my time among scientists and artists. since they head the list. and it is equally clear that the interest being general for your class. This is what I intend to do by addressing myself to different sections of mankind. does it come about that they consent to obey you? It is because the superiority of your intellect enables you to combine your forces (as they cannot). you are not very many in number: how. all of you. artists and all those who hold liberal ideas. If this presentiment comes true. has. I would then address the following words: Gentlemen. which I have divided into three classes. All have wished it well. 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. artists. thus for the most part giving you an advantage over them in the struggle which. in the nature of things.give it. you can preserve posterity from the evils from which we have suffered and from those which we still endure. You.

for they were responsible for the atrocities committed against you and for the disorders of every kind which their troops were led to commit under the barbarous impulse of ignorance.provoked them to inflame the passions of the ignorant and to burst all the bonds of subordination which. From a moral point of view. This victory was to cost the victors dear. you no longer resisted. Gentlemen. having learnt from experience. desired to see sufficient power returned to you to restore the regular functioning of the social organisation. Once the success of the insurrection had lent it the appearance of legitimacy. but I am convinced. will make you do by force: subscribe to a man . they have all had to bear your apparently justified reproaches. 3 . they could only be reorganised as a society by a man of genius: Bonaparte undertook this task. The scientists and artists. to the sort of evils which some of your class have suffered in France. until then. The propertyless bore almost the whole brunt of the famine brought about by their own improvident measures. artists and men of liberal ideas. if I allowed you to believe that I have found this intention fully formulated in the minds of scientists and artists: No! Gentlemen. in short. A few scientists and artists. do not take issue with them. The first popular movement there was secretly fomented by scientists and artists. they declared themselves its leaders. the scientists. had contained the rash passions of those without property.it is the only way open to you to avert the evils which threaten you. You will suffer more than they during hostilities and the peace will not be to your advantage. were massacred by their own troops.. sooner or later. they won the battle and you lost it. gentlemen. and succeeded in it. of the existence of such an intention and of the influence which it can exert on the ideas of scientists and artists. I would be guilty of exaggeration. but you who were defeated have suffered even more. the cure appeared. no! I can only say that such an intention exists in a vague form. They succeeded in doing what they wanted. joined with the propertyless. and recognising that you were more enlightened than the propertyless. All the institutions which from the outset they had intended to overthrow were destroyed inevitably. Until you have adopted the measure which I propose to you. In order to convince yourselves of the truth of what I have said. Among the ideas I have put before you is the suggestion that you have lost the battle. you have only to think about the events that have occurred in that country since 1789. Although force of circumstances had led the people of France ardently to desire the restoration of order. If you remain in any doubt on this subject. for you will be beaten in every battle in which you allow them to embroil you. each in your own country. Give yourselves the credit of doing something with good grace which. by a long series of observations. The resistance they encountered to the direction they gave to that insurrections direction aimed at the destruction of all the institutions which had wounded their self-esteem .provide them with the necessary financial means to exploit their ideas fully. Once the evil had reached its height. compare the amount of prestige and comfort which scientists and artists now enjoy in France with their position before 1789. victims of the insubordination of their army. They were brought to heel. you will be exposed.

through the subscription. if a discovery is to be put into practice which requires a change in existing customs and habits. one of the conditions in the subscription is that those who are elected are debarred from holding any position in the government. for if. the actions of governments are not troubled by any open opposition from the governed. you will thus safeguard yourselves and the rest of humanity from the drawbacks of placing effective power in their hands. and even in Germany. I conclude this little discourse which I have ventured to address to you by saying: Gentlemen. the generation which has witnessed its birth can only enjoy it through its feeling for future generations who are destined to profit from it. for it lies in your power to climb into the first class. during the terrible explosion which occurred there. the greatest of all scourges. At this moment in Europe. Think of yourselves as the regulators of the progress of the human mind. Experience has shown that at the moment of their conception an admixture of harmful elements is generally found in new. This is an example of one particular disadvantage. on which discoveries are based. let us be brave enough not to leave it without glancing at the political situation in the most enlightened part of the world. unless the necessary precautions are taken in time. to simple changes in their governments and finances. you can play this part. it is easy to predict that this calm will not last long. gentlemen. to prove to you that it is in your own interest to adopt the measure which I propose. But I would draw your attention to another of a general nature. if you remain in the second class. if I were to add further proofs to those which I have just submitted. powerful. and anarchy. can be detected at the present moment by an intelligent observer in England. even among the most ignorant of its members. it is because you want to do so. Despite this. but given the climate of opinion in England. to the desire for the restoration of order. for. you give prestige and comfort to men of genius. and you will spare them the general upheaval undergone by the French people-an upheaval in which all existing relations between the members of a nation become precarious. 4 .Since this question has been raised. you cannot conceal from yourselves that the crisis which faces the human mind is common to all the enlightened peoples. you will limit the crises which these peoples are fated to suffer. Germany and Italy. gentlemen. It is with pleasure that I now present the project to you in a light flattering to your self-esteem. Always. by adopting the project which I am proposing. I would appear to be underestimating your intelligence. just ideas. Gentlemen. Now let us turn to the third class: My friends. and that the symptoms which appeared in France. in the light of the evils from which it can save you. rages unchecked until it plunges the entire nation it afflicts into a depth of misery which finally gives birth. if their inventor had the power he would often demand that they should be put into practice. and which n power on earth can prevent.

the value of which is well known to you. happily. chemical and physiological. but they also make a host of other predictions to which you pay no heed and with which I shall not trouble you. even the poorest owns some of it. Every scientist devotes himself more especially to one of these categories above the rest. do them the good turn of relieving them of the burden of boredom. You know some of the predictions made by the astronomers: you know they foretell eclipses. and this is. Well. It is by means of the predictions of astronomers that it has been possible to determine exactly the relative position of different points of the earth. if you are ill. The physiologist devotes himself to the phenomena of organic bodies. Educated Englishmen have more respect for scientists than they have for kings. the only occupation of the rich has been to order you about. for instance. pay them with respect: it is a far more precious currency. You are familiar with some of the predictions of the chemists. he tells you that one substance mixed with another will yield a product with such and such an appearance. All the phenomena we know of have been divided into different categories: astronomical. my friends. A chemist tells you that with this stone you can make lime and with this one you cannot. that scientists are men who can predict the most in their own field. he tells you "You feel this symptom today. I must go into some detail. In Russia the peasants are as ignorant as their horses. spend what you have wisely and your lot will soon improve. of course. of course they cannot. force them to enlighten themselves and to teach you. y you with money. Everyone can read. And I am even sure that they can predict accurately only a very small number of things. write and count in England. they pa . and to appreciate the advantages which can follow from the execution of my project for mankind. it is because science provides the means to predict that it is useful. just as I have. their predictions also make it possible to navigate the farthest oceans. displaying certain properties. because they only acquire the 5 . Well. physical. is a man who foresees. the Russian peasants are badly fed. I shall confine myself to saying a few words about the use to which they are put. badly clothed and are frequently beaten." Do not run away with the idea that I want you to believe that scientists can predict everything.There are many scientists in England. tomorrow you will be in such a condition. A scientist. but I will confine myself to what is essential. In Russia. To enable you to judge the advice which I am giving you. they make you work for them with your hands-make their hands work for you. and that scientists are superior to all other men. my friends. he tells you that with such a quantity of ashes from a particular tree you can bleach your linen just as well as with a far larger quantity from another kind of tree. in that country the workers in the cities) and even those in the countryside eat meat every day. well. Until now. But you have convinced yourselves. my friends. if a scientist displeases the emperor his nose and cars are cut off and he is sent to Siberia.

to some degree. since they were the simplest. too. so men only came to study them much later. There were good reasons for this. In the study of chemistry. Chemical phenomena are far more complicated than astronomical ones. although fewer in number are more enlightened than you are and for the general good power should be distributed according to the degree of 6 . is still in the bad state through which the astrological and chemical sciences have already passed. twenty. the physiologists must expel the philosophers. the desire to dominate others. the same errors were made as in the study of astronomy. What is clear. they check by observation. My friends. that it exists. You say: we are ten. the most memorable in the history of human progress. If a new system is produced. But before going further. you will do so in the end. they have never led science astray. by viewing our social relations as physiological phenomena I conceived the plan which I am putting forward. and I urge you to use that little portion of domination which you exercise upon the rich. It is a fact. and it is with arguments drawn from the system which I used to co-ordinate physiological facts that I shall demonstrate to you the value of this plan. In the beginning of astronomical research. despite my efforts to express myself clearly. just as the astronomers expelled the astrologers and the chemists the alchemists. This means that we must look at the progress made by the human mind. they finally adopted a sure method of perfecting this science. for your part. my friends. the astronomers have become modest harmless people. The period of which I am speaking. who do not pretend to know things about which they are ignorant. and in this primitive hotch-potch they made the best combinations they could in order to satisfy all the demands of prediction. moralists and metaphysicians from their midst. They gradually disentangled themselves from the facts created by their imagination and. after much work. Another observation which I must make is that since then. Physiology. and since that time. at least this is so today. I can understand. have stopped asking them presumptuously to read your future in the stars. men confused the facts which they observed with those which they Imagines. is that in which the astronomers drove out the astrologers. The astronomers accepted only those facts which were verified by observation.. they chose the system which linked them best. I must discuss with you something which angers you deeply. confirmed by a long series of observations. we are organic bodies.. but eventually the chemists rid themselves of the alchemists. If a new fact is produced. But notice that the proprietors.. is that every man who is not isolated is both actively and passiveo dominant in his relations with others. according to reasoned argument. that every man feels. but if you think about it a little. they check before they accept it whether it links the facts better than the one which they had adopted. although it has not always been so. a hundred times more numerous than the proprietors and yet they exercise a power over us veg much greater than that which we wield over them.reputation of being scientists by the verifications which are made of their predictions. You. that you are aggrieved. The first phenomena which man observed systematically were astronomical. I am not absolutely sure that you will understand me at first reading.

It will not be long. In short. The provinces compete with each other. you take pleasure in reading a well-written book. Consider what took place in France during the period when your comrades were in power. the sciences will make rapid strides. which you share with all mankind. and there are struggles of personal interest between nations which are called wars. for uniting as far as possible all those forces acting in so many. Among the efforts made by all these factions of mankind. you have not yet noticed that there is only one interest common to all mankind: that of the progress of the sciences. the two great instruments of power: prestige and wealth. the prestige bestowed on those whom you nominate will give them untold strength. On Sundays. You give your respect. It is well known that the study of the sciences becomes easier with every advance made. Let us rather speak about what you can see before your eyes at this very moment. for leading them as far as possible in the only direction which points to the betterment of mankind. directions. is that you do not make a clear enough distinction between temporary and lasting benefits.enlightenment. like yourselves. and as they learn more. you respect him. or can paint a picture or carve a statue which pleases you or can compose music which affects you. before you see the resultant benefits. Even if you only succeed in diverting them from the quarrels born of their idleness. in your view do things you consider to be of use to you. You will see how the rich will hasten to distinguish themselves in the sciences and the arts. between benefits of local interest and those of universal interest. But I do not want to waste time in speaking to you of the remote consequences of a course of action which you have still not decided to take. often contrary. I do not think that a better method can be found than the one which I propose. besides. and those which increase the happiness of the whole of mankind. can only devote a short time to their education can learn more. over how many of you 7 . you are pleased with him. there are so many of you that the total sum will be considerable. that is to say you voluntarily give a measure of power to men who. you find delight in eloquence. you will permanently entrust to mankind's twenty-one most enlightened men. they lessen the extent of the power exercised over them by the rich. once they realise that this road leads to the highest honours. They brought about famine. Now. between things which benefit a part of mankind at the expense of the rest. can we see any which aims directly at the common good? It is a very small effort indeed-which is not surprising. considering that mankind has not yet taken any steps to agree collectively on the subject of rewards for those who succeed in doing something for the common good. Your mistake.. Let us now return to my plan. Let us speak of the artists. city-dwellers exhibit the same desire to exercise superiority over other towns in the vicinity. The result will be that. for many reasons. so that those who. for the time being. Hard work is necessary before a man can speak or write in a way which will amuse you. enough about the scientists. Is it not fair. By adopting and putting it into practice. that you should reward the artists who fill the pauses in your work with pleasures which enlarge your minds by playing on the most delicate nuances of your feelings? Subscribe my friends! No matter how little money you subscribe. my friends. in looking at beautiful pictures or statues or in listening to music which holds you entranced. If the mayor of your village obtains a concession for you over the neighbouring villages. my friends.

The abolition of the privilege of birth required an effort which burst the bonds of the old social system and did not present an obstacle to the reorganisation of society. Apart from the terrible atrocities which resulted from the application of this principle of equality. and having presented each with what I thought were the reasons why they should adopt the plan.should be under their command. I think that all classes of society would be happy in the following situation: spiritual power in the hands of the scientists. I will tell you how I should set about making my own. 8 . This led to a situation absolutely the contrary of what the propertyless had always wanted. I should do the same for the physicists. who were all paid so that the propertyless could be included. or an increase in wages. as the natural result of putting power into the hands of the ignorant. But the appeal which was made to all the members of society to carry out their duties of deliberation regularly had no success. the reward for those who govern to be — esteem. because the rulers. in their opinion. power to nominate those called upon to carry out the functions of the great leaders of mankind in the hands of everyone. it also ended in the creation of an utterly impractical form of government. who are. the three best mathematicians. and I should nominate the three who have gathered the most votes from those whom I had consulted. The propertyless can only partly satisfy them. were so numerous that the labours of the governed were barely sufficient to support them. If you accept my plan. you will have gained much. Here is an idea which seems to me to be fair. Having divided mankind into three parts. which comes to the same thing. I should ask all the mathematicians I know. temporal power in those of the proprietors. A physiologist can see clearly that their most constant desire must be the reduction of taxes. The basic needs of life are the most pressing. you will encounter one difficulty that of choice. which was to pay less taxes. etc. quarrels in which you are always embroiled and of which you are always the dupes. I shall now address my contemporaries collectively and lay before them my reflections on the French Revolution.

Sign up to vote on this title
UsefulNot useful