Essay on Claude Henri de Saint-Simon

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A self-taught philosopher, Claude Henri de Rouvroy, Comte de Saint-Simon, helped inspire sociology, socialism, technocratic approaches to social organization, and the idea of a united Europe. He called for the refounding of knowledge, including the study of society, on the basis of the sciences, which he believed held the key to intellectual order and thus social stability after the French Revolution and Napoleonic Wars. Based on his analysis of history, he predicted that society in the future would be scientific and industrial. It would be a workshop in which everyone would take up useful activities. A perceptive analyst of modernity, Saint-Simon left a significant legacy.

Taking a holistic approach to society, Saint-Simon was important for ascertaining that intellectual, moral, social, political, and economic developments were closely interrelated. He saw that society was undergoing a profound, all-encompassing transformation, going from a feudal, Christian system marked by the consumption needs of a privileged class to a scientific, industrial system characterized by production and the rise of new classes. He influenced Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels, who developed modern socialism from his ideas of tracing class conflict throughout history; organizing economic and social life for collective, non-militaristic ends; and reducing the role of government to meeting the needs of the poor. After Saint-Simon’s death, Auguste Comte developed positivism (the scientific philosophy encompassing all knowledge) as well as sociology, which he viewed as a kind of social engineering in the interest of social stability and harmony. Many businessmen during the Second Empire were attracted to Saint-Simon’s stress on industrial productivity, efficiency, utility, and technocracy. Others who were influenced by him and the Saint-Simonian movement include John Stuart Mill, Thomas Carlyle, Herbert Spencer, Heinrich Heine, Alexander Herzen, and Charles Lemonnier. The latter’s work inspired the idea of the League of Nations.

Bibliography:

  1. de Saint-Simon, C. H. (1975) Henri Saint-Simon, 17601825: Selected Writings on Science, Industry, and Social Organisation, ed. and trans. K. Taylor. Holmes & Meier, New York.
  2. de Saint-Simon, C. H. (1976) The Political Thought of Saint-Simon, ed. G. Ionescu, trans. V. Ionescu. Oxford University Press, London.

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