The New Palgrave Dictionary of Economics

2018 Edition
| Editors: Macmillan Publishers Ltd

Saint-Simon, Claude-Henri (1760–1825)

  • K. Tribe
Reference work entry


Born in 1760 into a noble family, Saint-Simon spent the first 40 years of his life as a soldier and speculator before devoting himself to the study of science and society. Commissioned in 1778, he served with the French forces in the Caribbean and in America, taking part in the Battle of Yorktown (1781). In 1787 he left the army and became associated with a Spanish project for a canal linking Madrid to the Atlantic, in which project he intended to direct the workforce of 6,000 men. The outbreak of the French Revolution prompted his return to France, where he became President of the Municipal Assembly in Falvy, near Péronne. His ambitions for social improvement led him into the purchase of aristocratic and church property from the government, and a financial partnership he formed to this end met with great success. A period of imprisonment in 1793–4 ended with the fall of Robespierre, and in the ensuing period his business interests expanded rapidly. On the proceeds of his financial successes he founded a salon and became a patron of the sciences. During the peace of 1801–2 he travelled to England, and then to Geneva to visit Madame de Stäel. While in Geneva he published his first text of any significance on the reform of society, Lettre d’un habitant de Genève à l’humanité (1802). Returning to Paris via Germany, he published further pieces on social reorganization, though his writing was interrupted by the collapse of his personal fortune in 1806. With the support of a former servant, Saint-Simon found time for full-time study and in 1807 was able to publish an introduction to the scientific tasks of the nineteenth century. In 1814 he was joined in his work by the historian Augustin Thierry, and with his aid assumed the role of a leading publicist for liberal interests. This found its most direct expression in the editing of a series of journals: L’Industrie (1816–18); Le Politique (1819); and L’Organisateur (1819–20). This last brought him some recognition in France and abroad, and led him to the publication of a series of pieces in 1821 under the title Du Système industriel, one of his most important works. Despite this success, he felt that his work failed to gain appropriate recognition, and he attempted suicide in 1823. Nursed back to health by a loyal band of followers, he continued writing and studying, his final years being marked increasingly by his interest in religious sentiment as a means of social change. He died in May 1825.


Industrial society Saint-Simon, C.-H. de Rouvroy Science of production 

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© Macmillan Publishers Ltd. 2018

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  • K. Tribe
    • 1
  1. 1.