drawing of rather chinless young man

Claude-Henri Saint-Simon (1803)

Letters from an Inhabitant of Geneva to His Contemporaries

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 give it. The best way to win their votes is to explain the matter as fully as possible. This is what I intend to do by addressing myself to different sections of mankind, which I have divided into three classes. The first, to which you and I have the honour to belong, marches under the banner of the progress of the human mind. It is composed of scientists, artists and all those who hold liberal ideas. 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.

The third class, which rallies round the slogan of 'Equality' is made up of the rest of the people.

I would say to the first class: everyone to whom I have spoken of the project I am presenting to mankind, has, after a short discussion, finally approved it. All have wished it well, but they have also all let me see that they feared it would not succeed.

This general conformity of opinion makes me think that I am likely to find everyone, or at least most people, of the same way of thinking. If this presentiment comes true, the force of inertia will be the only obstacle to the adoption of my views.

You, 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 have the greatest talent for grasping new ideas. You are the most directly interested in the success of the subscription; it is up to you to overcome the force of inertia. Let the mathematicians, since they head the list, make a start!

Scientists, artists, look with the eye of genius at the present state of the human mind; you will see that the sceptre of public opinion has fallen into your hand; grasp it with vigour! You can create happiness for yourselves and for your contemporaries; you can preserve posterity from the evils from which we have suffered and from those which we still endure; all of you, subscribe!

To the members of the second class, I would then address the following words:


Compared with those who own no property, you are not very many in number: how, then, 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), thus for the most part giving you an advantage over them in the struggle which, in the nature of things, must always exist between you and them.

Once this principle has been accepted, 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; and it is equally clear that the interest being general for your class, each of the member who compose it should contribute.

Gentlemen, I have spent much of my time among scientists and artists; 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 provide them with the necessary financial means to exploit their ideas fully. I would be guilty of exaggeration, gentlemen, if I allowed you to believe that I have found this intention fully formulated in the minds of scientists and artists: No! Gentlemen, no! I can only say that such an intention exists in a vague form; but I am convinced, by a long series of observations, of the existence of such an intention and of the influence which it can exert on the ideas of scientists and artists.

Until you have adopted the measure which I propose to you, you will be exposed, each in your own country, to the sort of evils which some of your class have suffered in France. In order to convince yourselves of the truth of what I have said, you have only to think about the events that have occurred in that country since 1789. The first popular movement there was secretly fomented by scientists and artists. Once the success of the insurrection had lent it the appearance of legitimacy, they declared themselves its leaders. 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 - provoked them to inflame the passions of the ignorant and to burst all the bonds of subordination which, until then, had contained the rash passions of those without property. They succeeded in doing what they wanted. All the institutions which from the outset they had intended to overthrow were destroyed inevitably; in short, they won the battle and you lost it. This victory was to cost the victors dear; but you who were defeated have suffered even more. A few scientists and artists, victims of the insubordination of their army, were massacred by their own troops. From a moral point of view, they have all had to bear your apparently justified reproaches, 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.

Once the evil had reached its height, the cure appeared; you no longer resisted. The scientists and artists, having learnt from experience, and recognising that you were more enlightened than the propertyless,, desired to see sufficient power returned to you to restore the regular functioning of the social organisation. The propertyless bore almost the whole brunt of the famine brought about by their own improvident measures. They were brought to heel.

Although force of circumstances had led the people of France ardently to desire the restoration of order, they could only be reorganised as a society by a man of genius: Bonaparte undertook this task, and succeeded in it.

Among the ideas I have put before you is the suggestion that you have lost the battle. If you remain in any doubt on this subject, compare the amount of prestige and comfort which scientists and artists now enjoy in France with their position before 1789.

Gentlemen, do not take issue with them, for you will be beaten in every battle in which you allow them to embroil you. You will suffer more than they during hostilities and the peace will not be to your advantage. Give yourselves the credit of doing something with good grace which, sooner or later, the scientists, artists and men of liberal ideas, joined with the propertyless, will make you do by force: subscribe to a man - it is the only way open to you to avert the evils which threaten you.

Since this question has been raised, let us be brave enough not to leave it without glancing at the political situation in the most enlightened part of the world.

At this moment in Europe, the actions of governments are not troubled by any open opposition from the governed; but given the climate of opinion in England, Germany and Italy, it is easy to predict that this calm will not last long, unless the necessary precautions are taken in time; for, gentlemen, you cannot conceal from yourselves that the crisis which faces the human mind is common to all the enlightened peoples, and that the symptoms which appeared in France, during the terrible explosion which occurred there, can be detected at the present moment by an intelligent observer in England, and even in Germany.

Gentlemen, by adopting the project which I am proposing, you will limit the crises which these peoples are fated to suffer, and which n power on earth can prevent, to simple changes in their governments and finances, 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; and anarchy, the greatest of all scourges, rages unchecked until it plunges the entire nation it afflicts into a depth of misery which finally gives birth, even among the most ignorant of its members, to the desire for the restoration of order.

I would appear to be underestimating your intelligence, gentlemen, if I were to add further proofs to those which I have just submitted, to prove to you that it is in your own interest to adopt the measure which I propose, in the light of the evils from which it can save you.

It is with pleasure that I now present the project to you in a light flattering to your self-esteem. Think of yourselves as the regulators of the progress of the human mind; you can play this part; for if, through the subscription, you give prestige and comfort to men of genius, one of the conditions in the subscription is that those who are elected are debarred from holding any position in the government, you will thus safeguard yourselves and the rest of humanity from the drawbacks of placing effective power in their hands.

Experience has shown that at the moment of their conception an admixture of harmful elements is generally found in new, powerful, just ideas, on which discoveries are based. Despite this, if their inventor had the power he would often demand that they should be put into practice. This is an example of one particular disadvantage. But I would draw your attention to another of a general nature. Always, if a discovery is to be put into practice which requires a change in existing customs and habits, the generation which has witnessed its birth can only enjoy it through its feeling for future generations who are destined to profit from it.

I conclude this little discourse which I have ventured to address to you by saying:

Gentlemen, if you remain in the second class, it is because you want to do so, for it lies in your power to climb into the first class. Now let us turn to the third class:

My friends,

There are many scientists in England. Educated Englishmen have more respect for scientists than they have for kings. Everyone can read, write and count in England. Well, my friends, in that country the workers in the cities) and even those in the countryside eat meat every day.

In Russia, if a scientist displeases the emperor his nose and cars are cut off and he is sent to Siberia. In Russia the peasants are as ignorant as their horses. Well, my friends, the Russian peasants are badly fed, badly clothed and are frequently beaten.

Until now, the only occupation of the rich has been to order you about; force them to enlighten themselves and to teach you; they make you work for them with your hands-make their hands work for you; do them the good turn of relieving them of the burden of boredom; they pa . y you with money; pay them with respect: it is a far more precious currency; happily, even the poorest owns some of it; spend what you have wisely and your lot will soon improve.

To enable you to judge the advice which I am giving you, and to appreciate the advantages which can follow from the execution of my project for mankind, I must go into some detail, but I will confine myself to what is essential.

A scientist, my friends, is a man who foresees; it is because science provides the means to predict that it is useful, and that scientists are superior to all other men.

All the phenomena we know of have been divided into different categories: astronomical, physical, chemical and physiological. Every scientist devotes himself more especially to one of these categories above the rest.

You know some of the predictions made by the astronomers: you know they foretell eclipses; but they also make a host of other predictions to which you pay no heed and with which I shall not trouble you. I shall confine myself to saying a few words about the use to which they are put, the value of which is well known to you.

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; their predictions also make it possible to navigate the farthest oceans. You are familiar with some of the predictions of the chemists. A chemist tells you that with this stone you can make lime and with this one you cannot; 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; he tells you that one substance mixed with another will yield a product with such and such an appearance, displaying certain properties.

The physiologist devotes himself to the phenomena of organic bodies; for instance, if you are ill, he tells you "You feel this symptom today; well, tomorrow you will be in such a condition."

Do not run away with the idea that I want you to believe that scientists can predict everything; of course they cannot. And I am even sure that they can predict accurately only a very small number of things. But you have convinced yourselves, just as I have, that scientists are men who can predict the most in their own field; and this is, of course, because they only acquire the reputation of being scientists by the verifications which are made of their predictions; at least this is so today, although it has not always been so. This means that we must look at the progress made by the human mind; despite my efforts to express myself clearly, I am not absolutely sure that you will understand me at first reading, but if you think about it a little, you will do so in the end.

The first phenomena which man observed systematically were astronomical. There were good reasons for this, since they were the simplest. In the beginning of astronomical research, men confused the facts which they observed with those which they Imagines, and in this primitive hotch-potch they made the best combinations they could in order to satisfy all the demands of prediction. They gradually disentangled themselves from the facts created by their imagination and, after much work, they finally adopted a sure method of perfecting this science. The astronomers accepted only those facts which were verified by observation; they chose the system which linked them best, and since that time, they have never led science astray. If a new system is produced, they check before they accept it whether it links the facts better than the one which they had adopted. If a new fact is produced, they check by observation, that it exists.

The period of which I am speaking, the most memorable in the history of human progress, is that in which the astronomers drove out the astrologers. Another observation which I must make is that since then, the astronomers have become modest harmless people, who do not pretend to know things about which they are ignorant. You, for your part, have stopped asking them presumptuously to read your future in the stars.

Chemical phenomena are far more complicated than astronomical ones, so men only came to study them much later. In the study of chemistry, the same errors were made as in the study of astronomy, but eventually the chemists rid themselves of the alchemists.

Physiology, too, is still in the bad state through which the astrological and chemical sciences have already passed; the physiologists must expel the philosophers, moralists and metaphysicians from their midst, just as the astronomers expelled the astrologers and the chemists the alchemists.

My friends, we are organic bodies; by viewing our social relations as physiological phenomena I conceived the plan which I am putting forward, 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.

It is a fact, confirmed by a long series of observations, that every man feels, to some degree, the desire to dominate others. What is clear, according to reasoned argument, is that every man who is not isolated is both actively and passiveo dominant in his relations with others, and I urge you to use that little portion of domination which you exercise upon the rich.... But before going further, I must discuss with you something which angers you deeply. You say: we are ten, twenty, 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. I can understand, my friends, that you are aggrieved. But notice that the proprietors, although fewer in number are more enlightened than you are and for the general good power should be distributed according to the degree of enlightenment. Consider what took place in France during the period when your comrades were in power. They brought about famine.

Let us now return to my plan. By adopting and putting it into practice, you will permanently entrust to mankind's twenty-one most enlightened men, the two great instruments of power: prestige and wealth. The result will be that, for many reasons, the sciences will make rapid strides. It is well known that the study of the sciences becomes easier with every advance made, so that those who, like yourselves, can only devote a short time to their education can learn more, and as they learn more, they lessen the extent of the power exercised over them by the rich. It will not be long, my friends, before you see the resultant benefits. 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. Let us rather speak about what you can see before your eyes at this very moment.

You give your respect, that is to say you voluntarily give a measure of power to men who, in your view do things you consider to be of use to you. Your mistake, which you share with all mankind, is that you do not make a clear enough distinction between temporary and lasting benefits; between benefits of local interest and those of universal interest; between things which benefit a part of mankind at the expense of the rest, and those which increase the happiness of the whole of mankind. In short, you have not yet noticed that there is only one interest common to all mankind: that of the progress of the sciences.

If the mayor of your village obtains a concession for you over the neighbouring villages, you are pleased with him, you respect him; city-dwellers exhibit the same desire to exercise superiority over other towns in the vicinity. The provinces compete with each other, and there are struggles of personal interest between nations which are called wars., Among the efforts made by all these factions of mankind, 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. I do not think that a better method can be found than the one which I propose, for uniting as far as possible all those forces acting in so many, often contrary, directions; for leading them as far as possible in the only direction which points to the betterment of mankind. Now, for the time being, enough about the scientists. Let us speak of the artists.

On Sundays, you find delight in eloquence, you take pleasure in reading a well-written book, in looking at beautiful pictures or statues or in listening to music which holds you entranced. Hard work is necessary before a man can speak or write in a way which will amuse you, or can paint a picture or carve a statue which pleases you or can compose music which affects you. Is it not fair, my friends, 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, there are so many of you that the total sum will be considerable; besides, the prestige bestowed on those whom you nominate will give them untold strength. You will see how the rich will hasten to distinguish themselves in the sciences and the arts, once they realise that this road leads to the highest honours. Even if you only succeed in diverting them from the quarrels born of their idleness, over how many of you should be under their command, quarrels in which you are always embroiled and of which you are always the dupes, you will have gained much.

If you accept my plan, you will encounter one difficulty that of choice. I will tell you how I should set about making my own. I should ask all the mathematicians I know, who are, in their opinion, the three best mathematicians, and I should nominate the three who have gathered the most votes from those whom I had consulted. I should do the same for the physicists, etc.

Having divided mankind into three parts, and having presented each with what I thought were the reasons why they should adopt the plan, I shall now address my contemporaries collectively and lay before them my reflections on the French Revolution.

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. But the appeal which was made to all the members of society to carry out their duties of deliberation regularly had no success. Apart from the terrible atrocities which resulted from the application of this principle of equality, as the natural result of putting power into the hands of the ignorant, it also ended in the creation of an utterly impractical form of government, because the rulers, who were all paid so that the propertyless could be included, were so numerous that the labours of the governed were barely sufficient to support them. This led to a situation absolutely the contrary of what the propertyless had always wanted, which was to pay less taxes.

Here is an idea which seems to me to be fair. The basic needs of life are the most pressing. The propertyless can only partly satisfy them. A physiologist can see clearly that their most constant desire must be the reduction of taxes, or an increase in wages, which comes to the same thing.

I think that all classes of society would be happy in the following situation: spiritual power in the hands of the scientists; temporal power in those of the proprietors; power to nominate those called upon to carry out the functions of the great leaders of mankind in the hands of everyone; the reward for those who govern to be — esteem.