Academic journal article Nineteenth-Century French Studies

The Ecole Saint-Simonienne's Outrage to Public Morals

Academic journal article Nineteenth-Century French Studies

The Ecole Saint-Simonienne's Outrage to Public Morals

Article excerpt

The trial of the Saint-Simonian leader Prosper ("Pere") Enfantin and his apostles (August 27 and 28, 1832) offered Paris an impressive display of pomp and circumstance. Lined up in hierarchical order and singing Saint-Simonian hymns, the members of the Ecole paraded to the trial in their brightly-colored ceremonial dress. The Saint-Simonians were accused on the following charges: infraction of Article 291 of the Penal Code (prohibiting assemblies of over twenty people), embezzlement, "excitation a la haine et au mepris d'une classe de citoyens" during the Lyon and Paris uprisings, and "outrage a la morale publique et aux bonnes moeurs" following the Globe's publication of various articles outlining Saint-Simonian beliefs (47: 26-27). (1) After six months of scrutiny, the authorities deemed that the Saint-Simonians' influence "etait contraire aux bonnes moeurs, qu'elle tendait a jeter le trouble, a detruire les principes sur lesquels la societe etait fondee" (47: 86-87). The Ecole's theories of "classement par capacite," of universal association and of "l'affranchissement de la femme" developed in the disputed articles (Enfantin's "Parole du Pere" and "Cinquieme enseignement sur les relations de l'homme et de la femme," and Charles Duveyrier's "De la femme"), were viewed as a threat to the Bourgeois Monarchy's cornerstones of property and propriety. In his opening remarks, the prosecutor Delapalme charged that "Ils [les Saint-Simoniens] attaquent la propriete; ils attaquent la position de la femme dans les lois; ils se proclament le parti politique des travailleurs" (47: 96). Yet as Olinde Rodrigues remarked at trial, under the repressive Martignac and Polignac regimes Saint-Simonian meetings had continued without incident (47: 189). What was so outrageous about the Saint-Simonians?

After all, the Saint-Simonians were generally well-educated fils de bourgeois: they appealed to workers, but never called for a revolt of the proletariat. Saint-Simonian theories on free love--according to which both men and women could openly choose their sexual partner(s)--may have been scandalous; but as Leon Simon, a doctor and Saint-Simonian who acted as the Ecole's legal counsel, pointed out during the trial, so were the adultery and intrigue that formed the backdrop of salon life after the Restoration (47: 195). Moreover, although the articles on morality formed the trial's centerpiece, the articles were probably added as an afterthought, in order to portray the sect as disreputable--a point the Saint-Simonians did not fail to make at trial (47: 20). (2)

It was easy for the Saint-Simonians to demonstrate that they had called for peace and not revolt during the Paris and Lyon uprisings; the charges of "escroquerie," which the Saint-Simonians bitterly resented, were only hinted at during the first trial; and Article 291 was, after all, a relic of the Restoration. But there remained the charge of outrage-outrage in both its larger sense of violation or opposition, and its legal meaning of an attack against the social order. (3) In this essay, I propose that the Saint-Simonians' "outrage a la morale publique et aux bonnes moeurs" stems from their re-tooling of the social contract (or, the pact binding individuals together under the rule of law), and more notably of what Carole Pateman terms the "sexual contract": that is, the part of the social contract, generally neglected by classic contract theorists, which shores up patriarchal authority by establishing men's rights over women. As Pateman argues, the story of social contract is not just a myth of political origin, it is the story of male political right, "sex-right" (the conjugal right of husbands over wives) being the original political right (93). Pateman contends that the construction of sexual difference undergirds the social contract: "To tell the story of the sexual contract is to show how sexual difference, what it is to be a 'man' or 'woman,' and the construction of sexual difference as political difference, is central to civil society" (16). …

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