In the nineteenth century, when the Saint-Simonians took to mysticism under the leadership of Bathelemy Prosper Enfantin, they began to talk up “the rehabilitation of the flesh” , a principle which inderlay the growing advocacy of free-love in the movement. It also gave rise to the broader traditions of the French left, its views on women, on the family,and on pleasure-especially sexual pleasure- as a measure of happiness, and on the relationship of sex to politics sometimes half dressed and sprinkled with spices from mysticism and the occult.
Politically and socially, it defined what would be adopted as the artistic aesthetic of the left: ” We, the artists, will serve as the avant-garde: for amongst all the arms at our disposal, the power of the arts is the swiftest and most expeditious. When we wish to spread new ideas amongst men, we use, in turn, the lyre, ode or song, story or novel; we inscribe those ideas on marble or canvas, and we popularise them in poetry and in song. We also make use of the stage, and it is there above all that our influence is most electric and triumphant…” ( Olinde Rodrigues )
“It is understandable to remain puzzled by how French can conjugate social collectivism and capitalism. But it will no longer remain that irrational as soon as you will get interested in a particular period of the French history beginning from, say, the last years of the era of Napoleon 1st and this of Napoleon III, and be interested in particular in names such as Claude Henri de Saint Simon (the founding father of French socialism who inspired Karl Marx) and his followers Barthélemy Prosper Enfantin, Armand Bazard, Ferdinand de Lesseps, and even Louis Napoléon Bonaparte.”
The incomparable Enfantin: A moral tale.How he sought the perfect woman to beget the future Saviour. How he lost faith and went into the desert. And how he came to a happy ending as General Manager of the P.-L.-M. railroad. Familiar enough in history are the mighty rulers who have attained godhead and commanded the worship of their subjects. Unique, however, is the case of Le Pere Enfantin, who, after a stage as deity, became General Manager of an important railroad.
Barthelemy Prosper Enfantin emerged from a humility suitable for the origin of divinity. He was born in Paris in 1796, the illegitimate son of an impoverished banker. A brilliant student, he gained entry to the Ecole Polytechnique, the government school of engineering. After only a year, in 1814 his course was interrupted by the fall of Napoleon. He became a wine merchant. His powers of persuasion proving remarkable, he explored sales possibilities in Germany, Switzerland and Holland. He spent two years in St. Petersburg as an employee of a French banker, thus learning the ways of finance. With a group of radical French expatriates he learned also to cogitate loftily on political economy and social theory, the making of a new world through the overturn of the old. He returned to France, worked as a bank teller, later becoming a director, and addressed proposals for fiscal reform to the government. And he became a convert to the theories of Saint-Simon.
Claude Henri de Rouvroy, Comte de Saint-Simon, was the founder of French socialism. A touching idealist who fought for liberty in the American Revolution, he demanded a total reorganization of society on a basis of economics. Production of goods should replace landholding, for “the social aim is to produce things useful to life.” Industrialists should take the place of nobles; scientists, artists, and philosophers, instead of churchmen, should direct society, with the well-being of the proletariat as their aim. His followers preached that the inheritance of wealth should be forbidden, the gold base of money abolished, women emancipated, and a kind of United Nations established. Saint-Simon proclaimed: “From each according to his capacities, to each according to his works.”
“It will allow you understanding that the tenets of the forerunner of socialism, that is to say “Saint-Simonianism”, said that capitalism is a mean for socialism to survive. For Claude Henri de Saint Simon – and later Barthélemy Prosper Enfantin – knew very well that socialism cannot reach its goals at home and worldwide without adapting to the driving force of progress: entrepreneurship.
Barthélemy Prosper Enfantin was all at the same time a Mason, a member of the Carbonari, a friend and follower of Claude Henri de Saint-Simon, and a former bank employee who worked for a couple of years in the biggest Russian bank in Saint Petersburg. He was pretty knowledgeable about capitalism, markets and entrepreneurship. Once in France, and after the death of Claude Henri de Saint Simon, Enfantin successfully created the sect of the Saint-Simonians, whose aims was to take control of the political power in France in an informal way, and to unite the “eastern world” and the “western world” so as to make the whole world a two-social classes (masters and apprentices) collectivism led by a “council of wise men” (one per country) selected among the best scientists. The “apprentices” were supposed to live in military-style quarters known as “phalansteres”, and one could become a “master” through apprenticeship or in being Mason already (this rules was created by the Ca
ari).The Saint-simonians challenged marriage and advocated free love (in the early XIXth century, already).”
In 1825 Saint-Simon died, along with a few chief disciples, inherited his prophetic robe. Enfantin devoted himself to spreading and improving his master’s doctrines. He helped found a newspaper, gave public lectures, and rented a dilapidated residence in the rue Monsigny, near the center of Paris. There a group of adepts lived; and there resorted the social minded, the forward-lookers, and the merely curious. “The family in the rue Monsigny was like a glowing hearth,” remembered Louis Blanc, famous in the history of social reform. “Many among the audience listened with a smile on their lips, and raillery in their eyes; but after the orator had spoken for a while there would be one feeling among his hearers of astonishment mixed with admiration.”
Enfantin’s heady doctrine held that women, who are clearly the equals or superiors of men, should be freed from their vows of obedience and fidelity, which lead only to oppression, adultery, and prostitution. Each sex should have absolute liberty to determine its own fate; temporary marriages should be as legitimate and holy as permanent ones. The doctrine was also a metaphysic and religious faith: Men are in communion with one another, with the universe. Matter as well as spirit is divine; the flesh is holy. We shall transmigrate into better bodies and share a future life. God, He-She is an androgyne. The Couple, merging itself with nonself, is the sacred unit. Thus Enfantin, “le Pere”, must find “la Mere”, to form the priest-couple. Their mating, a symbol of social union, would bring a new revelation.
Much of the history of Enfantin’s movement consisted in the hunt for the Mother, the Female Messiah. She was sought afar, not only in France, but in Turkey, Egypt and America. Many candidates appeared , but the father was always obliged to announce , after testing, that this again was not his destined bride. While awaiting her he could not accept the bonds of human marriage. This announcement brought grief particularly to Adele Morlane, mother of his son. Enfantin treated both mother and son very badly, according to the standards of Christian society, which were deemed outworn. But he seemed to get away with it. His personal beauty, and gift of oratory could send an audience into ecstatic rapture; convulsive messianic revelations and frenzy was the order of the day.
Many distinguished visitors sat in the hall to hear his poetic but cloudy imagination in full flower: the critic Sainte-Beuve, the father of Rosa Bonheur, the poet Heine, Berlioz. Liszt played the piano for waltzing. The composer Felicien David was a total convert. John Stuart Mill and Thomas Carlyle wrote their approval from England. Interestingly, after eventually lapsing into obscurity he became the General Manager of the Paris-Lyon-Medieranée Railway, working hand in hand with the Rothchild’s, Lafittes and Hottingers.
John Stuart Mill: You will have learnt from an article of mine in the Examiner, the only one I have written for the last two months, that our friends the St Simonians have been tried. Enfantin, Chevalier & Duveyrier have been sentenced to a year’s imprisonment & a fine: Barrault & Rodrigues only to a trifling fine. They were convicted on the charge of forming a society for the discussion of political & religious subjects without leave of the government, & also on a charge of preaching immoral doctrines, a charge founded on the theory of la femme libre. There were other charges on which they were acquitted. Duveyrier is said to have made a very striking defence: Enfantin’s seems to have made little impression except that of the ludicrous. There was much in the conduct of them all, which really one cannot help suspecting of quackery. In the witness-box, none of them would take the oath without Enfantin’s permission: this he refused, on the ground that the name of God is not mentioned in the form of the oath. In defending himself, he several times made a long pause pour attendre des inspirations, & he gave strange looks at various people, to shew as he said the power of a look. The St Simonians all wear beards, and a peculiar costume, & marched to the place of trial in a body, singing if I recollect right, a succession of hymns, written and set to music by themselves. Enfantin claimed to have two women as his counsel, one of whom was Cecile Fournel,who you may remember protested so vehemently against the immorality of his doctrines, but who has since, with her husband, returned into the bosom of his church. When one remembers Irving, one believes that all this may be sincere. Yet surely there is an admixture of charlatanerie in it, I mean on the part of the Supreme Father.
Claire Goldberg Moses: Saint Simonian men debated the meaning of feminism and the societal changes required to make men and women equal: they agreed that women were excluded from public life and that women were subordinated to men – and that’s about all. Debate followed debate with each debate leading to an exodus of the defeated party. In each case, Enfantin accepted the Romantic vision of women, but instead of denigrating women because of the perceived characteristic in question, Enfantin wanted to elevate the characteristic to a virtue. His opponents, on the other hand, challenged the conventional wisdom and desired changes in deeply entrenched patriarchal attitudes. Enfantin eventually advocated a system of “free love.” By 1832, he was in trouble with the police on charges of “corruption of public morals” and even the faithful had to deny his teachings.
Only now did the women begin to debate the meaning of sexual equality, the causes of women’s subjugation, the conditions required for women’s emancipation, and a course of action that would bring about an equality of the sexes – and the conclusions they came to departed significantly from Enfantin’s teachings. As with so many other reform movements, most women did not join the Saint Simonian movement because the movement was a feminist movement. Rather, the women came to feminism through their experiences in the Saint Simonian movement.
Enfantin, a master of psychological manipulation, stoked the fires of competitiveness and jealousy among his female followers, keeping them disunited. Mesmerized, perhaps, by seeing women on the dais during the religious services and encouraged to believe in the inherent equality of the sexes, in time the women came to see that no women were permitted to attain to the highest ranks of the new religion. Women were still unequal, despite the claims to the contrary. Responding to the women’s complaints of de facto sexual inequality, Enfantin promoted several women into the highest levels of the hierarchy, giving women reason to hope that if they were loyal enough, hard enough workers, good enough recruiters, etc. they too would be promoted into positions of power and responsibility, and, at the same time, sowing competition and distrust between the women in the hierarchy and the other women. Almost all of the women in the hierarchy were related to powerful males in the organization, and the hierarchy remained overwhelmingly male. When Enfantin was imprisoned, removing his ability to psychologically manipulate his followers, the women who had been excluded from the hierarchy began to draw together to fight for the emancipation of women. After leaving prison, Enfantin withdrew into a rural, religious retreat with only his male followers, once again leaving the women without male leadership.