Fourier was born in Besanon on April 7, 1772. Born a son of a small businessman, Fourier was more interested in architecture than he was in his father's trade. In fact, he wanted to become an engineer, but since the local Military Engineering School only accepted sons of noblemen, he was automatically ineligible for it. Fourier later was grateful that he did not pursue engineering, for he stated that it would have consumed too much of his time and taken away from his true desire to help humanity. In July 1781 after his father–s death, Fourier received two-fifths of his father–s estate, valued at more than 200,000 francs. This sudden wealth enabled Fourier the freedom to travel throughout Europe at his leisure. In 1791 he moved from Besanon to Lyon, where he was employed by the merchant M. Bousqnet. Fourier's travels also brought him to Paris where he worked as the head of the Office of Statistics for a few months.. Fourier was not satisfied with making journeys on behalf of others for their commercial benefit. Having a desire to seek knowledge in everything he could, Fourier often would change business firms as well as residences in order to explore and experience new things. From 1791 to 1816 Fourier was employed in the cities of Paris, Rouen, Lyon, Marseille, and Bordeaux. 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". A modest legacy set him up as a writer. He had three main sources for his thought: people he had met as a traveling salesman, newspapers, and introspection. His first book was published in 1808.
On October 11, 1837 at three o–clock in the afternoon, Fourier–s funeral procession began from his home to the church of the Petits-Peres. The ceremony was attended by over four hundred people from all trades and backgrounds.
Fourier declared that concern and cooperation were the secrets of social success. He believed that a society that cooperated would see an immense improvement in their productivity levels. Workers would be recompensed for their labors according to their contribution. Fourier saw such cooperation occurring in communities he called "phalanxes," based around structures called Phalanstres or "grand hotels." These buildings were four level apartment complexes where the richest had the uppermost apartments and the poorest enjoyed a ground floor residence. Wealth was determined by one's job; jobs were assigned based on the interests and desires of the individual. There were incentives: jobs people might not enjoy doing would receive higher pay. Fourier considered trade, which he associated with Jews, to be the "source of all evil" and advocated that Jews be forced to perform farm work in the phalansteries.
Fourier characterized poverty (not inequality) as the principal cause of disorder in society, and he proposed to eradicate it by sufficiently high wages and by a "decent minimum" for those who were not able to work.
He believed that there were twelve common passions which resulted in 810 types of character, so the ideal phalanx would have exactly 1620 people. 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 touching 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.
Fourier was also a supporter of women's rights in a time period where influences like Jean-Jacques Rousseau were prevalent. Fourier 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.
Fourier's concern was to liberate every human individual, man, woman, and child, in two senses: Education and the liberation of human passion.
On Education, Fourier felt that "civilized" parents and teachers saw children as little idlers. Fourier felt that this way of thinking was wrong. He felt that children as early as age two and three were very industrious. He listed the dominant tastes in all children to include, but not limited to:
Fourier was deeply disturbed by the disorder of his time and wanted to stabilize the course of events which surrounded him. Fourier saw his fellow human beings living in a world full of strife, chaos, and disorder.
Fourier is best remembered for his writings on a new world order based on unity of action and harmonious collaboration. He is also known for certain Utopian pronouncements, such as that the seas would lose their salinity and turn to lemonade, and in a prescient view of climate change, that the North Pole would be milder than the Mediterranean in a future phase of Perfect Harmony.
Numerous references to Fourierism appear in Dostoevsky's political novel The Possessed first published in 1872. In it Fourierism is used by the revolutionary faithful as something of an insult to their brethren and those within the circle are quick to defend themselves from being labeled a Fourierist. Whether this is because it is a foreign ideology or because they believe it to be archaic is never made entirely clear.
Fourier's ideas also took root in America, with his followers starting phalanxes throughout the country, including one of the most famous, Utopia, Ohio.
Kent Bromley, in his preface to Peter Kropotkin's book The Conquest of Bread, considered Fourier to be the founder of the libertarian branch of socialist thought, as opposed to the authoritarian socialist ideas of Babeuf and Buonarroti.
In the mid-20th century, Fourier's influence began to rise again among writers reappraising socialist ideas outside the Marxist mainstream. After the Surrealists had broken with the French Communist Party, Andr Breton returned to Fourier, writing Ode 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."
In 1969, the Situationists quoted and adapted Fourier's Avis aux civiliss relativement la prochaine mtamorphose sociale in their text Avis aux civiliss relativement l'autogestion gnralise.
David Harvey, in the appendix to his book Spaces of Hope, offers a personal utopian vision of the future much like Fourier's ideas.
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