Considérant, Victor Prosper (1808-1893) "The region of Franche-Comte," remarked Georges Duveau, "breeds many revolutionaries." Both Pierre-Joseph Proudhon and Charles Fourier came from Besançon, and it was also there that Fourier's chief disciple and eventual successor, Victor Considérant, was educated and came under the spell of his master's creed. A vigorous propagandist and a prolific writer and journalist, Considérant became the leader of the Fourierist movement after Fourier's death in 1837, and was largely responsible for its integration into the socialist mainstream in the 1840s. During the 1848 revolution , he served as a deputy in the constituent assembly and as a member of the Luxembourg Commission.
Born at Salins (Jura), Considérant was the son of a veteran of the French Revolutionary army who later became a printer and high school teacher. He was educated in the same lycée in Besançon as Fourier, and in 1826 enrolled in the École Polytechnique in Paris, where he studied engineering. It is not true, as one source would have it, that it was at the école that Considérant became imbued with Fourierism. He was already more or less in the fold before he left Besançon, as a result of his exposure to the two leading Fourierist militants in the region, Just Muiron and Clarisse Vigoureux. He would later marry Vigoureux's daughter, whose sizable dowry financed his electorial campaigns and his ventures into phalansterianism.
Besides, it was the hierarchical Saint-Simonian creed, not the more egalitarian Fourierism, which proliferated at the école in the 1820s. In fact, Considerant's embrace of Fouri erism earned him the derision of his fellow students and the nickname "the phalansterian." It is true, however, that it was while he was at the école that he finally met Fourier. The rendezvous came after an article he had written on the utopian thinker appeared in the journal Mercure de France in March 1830. Shortly thereafter Considérant was asked to collaborate with Fourier on the newspapers Nouveau monde and La Réforme industrielle.
Upon graduating from the école in 1830, he was posted as a captain of engineers at Metz, where he continued to propagandize for the Fourierist cause until his departure in 1836. While still in service, he collaborated on newspapers with Fourier, as we have seen, and also began editing a Fourierist journal, La Phalanstère, in Paris. During this time, he also brought out the first of three volumes of Destinée sociale, acclaimed by contemporaries as "the best overall survey of the [Fourierist] doctrine ."
Already in the 1830s, Considérant's work had begun to take on a political cast that mainstream Fourierist, whose ideal was to retreat from the vicissitudes of modern civilization, found upsetting. His 1836 pamphlet, Necessité d'une dernière débâcle politique en France, in support of the 1834 workers' revolt in Lyon, for example, had praised the insurgents for posing the "social question." Considérant, however, was convinced that politics could not be shunned by activ e movements of ideals like Fourierism, and apparently was supported in this view by Fourier before his death in 1837.
The reorientation of Fourierism toward political engagement accelerated following the death of Fourier. According to Frank Manuel, "Victor Considérant, who took over control of the Fourierist school, was a man of a different stripe [from Fourier]. Under his direction Fourierism became a political and social movement involved in the subversion of the July Monarchy, and there was far greater emphasis on the structure of capitalism than on the anatomy of love for which Fourier has always been the central problem of man in civilization."
Gian Mario Bravo is wrong in asserting that "It was only with the coming of the Revolution of 1848 that he [Considérant] judged it opportune to participate in political struggles." Considérant first ran for the chamber of deputies in 1839, in Colmar and Montbeliard. He was unsuccessful. In November 1843, he succeeded in getting elected to the general council in 1846, this time at Montarges. Increasingly in the years before the 1848 revolution, Considérant talked about transforming the Fourierist movement into a "parti social" to participate in the campaign for democracy. To this end, he transformed La Phalange, a pedagogical review he had launched in 1836, into a daily newspaper called La Démocratie pacifique in 1843. The first number of the new journal contained a "manifesto of peaceful democracy," calling upon "modern democracy" to battle for recognition of the right to work, the organization of industry on the basis of the association of capital , labor, and talent, universal suffrage, and so on. The manifesto was reprinted as a pamphlet in 1847 with the title "Principles of Socialism: Manifesto of the Nineteenth Century Democracy." Marx presumably penned his Communist Manifesto as a riposte to Considérant's pamphlet.
We should not assume from all this, that Considérant had abandoned the utopian side of Fourierism. In the 1830s and 1840s, he was involved in two abortive attempts to establish phalansteries, one at Conde-sur-Vesgre in France and the other, apparently set up with state funding, near Sig in Algeria.
Considérant's newspaper greeted the February 1848 revolution with an editorial declaring that "The Republic of 1848 destroyed the old order. The Republic of 1848 must create a new social order. Social reform is the aim; the republic is the means. All socialists are republicans; all republicans are socialists." Like many other utopian socialists of the day, Considérant's message at this juncture was one of cooperation and brotherhood between the social classes. He exhorted the rich to aid the poor, so as to avoid the risk that the starving masses would be driven to cruel excesses.
Fourierism never enjoyed a large following in the working classes. Thus, Considérant, while popular with middle class intellectua ls, was not a big vote-getter in the April 1848 elections to the constituent assembly. He did poorly in Paris, but managed to get elected in the Loiret (eighth of eight deputies elected in the department). He sat on the assembly's labor committee and its important subcommittee on the National Workshops. Comments one source: "Since he was also a member of the Luxembourg Commission, he was the only direct link between the antagonistic worker-backed commission and the monarchist-dominated assembly." This w riter argues that Considérant did not effectively use this strategic position. Hie evolutionary approach to the realization of socialism and his aversion to violence presumably alienated him from the increasing restive Parisian working class. Whether or not this was true , it is difficult to see what Considérant could have done at the other end of this supposed bridge between the commission and the assembly. He had all he could do to convince his overwhelmingly conservative parliamentary co lleagues that he was not another Blanqui, much less win them over to a more benign view of the National Workshops. His arch foe in the assembly turned out to be Alexis de Tocqueville, who, in paranoid flight from his usual perspicacity, chose to see Considérant as the chief conspirator in a projected revival of the Jacobin Terror. Considérant went to considerable lengths to appease the conservatives of the assembly, at one point declaring "I believe that the transition to socialism can be made without cau sing the least difficulty to society." It is statements like this that have led both his contemporaries and modern writers to brand Considérant as the quintessential utopian naive socialist. And there is much in his insistence on "harmony" and "cooperation" between the classes as all about him were gearing up for class war that seems to confirm this conclusion. There is no doubt that Considérant found it impossible to accept the kind of class politics being preached by his communist colleag ues. In 1848 he entered into polemics with the communists, who had criticized his class collaborationism. Considérant riposted that "Communism is before all else a negative idea. Not knowing how to unravel the Gordian knot, it cuts it."
The election to the presidency of Louis Napoleon Bonaparte in 1849 seems, however, to have divested Considérant of some of his pacifist sentiments. He appears to have been particularly incensed by the new president's cynical patronage of the conservative chamber's call for a French expedition to overthrow the Roman Republic and restore Rome to the Pope. He condemned what he called "This impious war of the mother republic against the noble Roman Republic," adding that "it is the democratic cause betrayed, the revolution surrendered to the kings; it is a sacrilegious coalition, cemented with the blood of our brave soldiers, with the Austrians and the Cossacks, with the aristocrats, and the kings, against the peoples." Re-elected to the chamber in May 1849, th is time by the electors of the Seine department, Considérant called the leaders of the parliamentary left, Ledru-Rollin and Felix Pyat among others to the offices of his newspaper, Démocratie pacifique, where, on June 11, plans were laid for an insurrection. The uprising two days later fizzled, however, and Considérant was obligated to flee to Brussels. In 1852, he emigrated to Texas, to launch his third and last phalansterian experiment, called La Réunion," on the banks of the Red River. Never thriving, La Réunion was finished off by the U.S. Civil War. In 1869, his wife's fortune was exhausted by the collapse of the Texas community.
Back in France, Considérant joined the International Workingmen's Association and played a part in the socialist opposition to the coming of war in 1870 and in the Paris Commune of 1871. His last years were spent among the students of the Latin Quarter, where he would be remembered less for his role as the disciple of Fourier than for his colorful habi t of attending lectures at the Sorbonne in Mexican peasant garb.
Armand, Felix. Les Fourieristes at les luttes révolutionnaires de 1848 à 1851. Paris, 1948.
Beecher, Jonathan. Victor Considérant and the Rise and Fall of French Romantic Socialism. (forthcoming)
Bravo, Gian Mario, ed. Les socialistes avant Marx, Paris, 1970.
Dommanget, Maurice. Victor Considérant, sa vie, son oeuvre. Paris, 1929.
Vernus, M. Victor Considérant 1808-1893. Paris, 1993.
jgc revised this file (http://www.cats.ohiou.edu/~chastain/ac/consider.htm) on 26 October 2000.
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© 2000 James Chastain.