FRANÇOIS-MARIE-CHARLES Fourier (1772–1837) is the epitome of an individual whose life is much less interesting than his ideas or the movement he inspired—Fourierism—in the United States and Europe in the middle of the 19th century. In fact, it is probably a compensation for his mundane life that Fourier's writings are pregnant with romantic impulses and nonsensical flights of the imagination (including a theory on the copulation of planets) alongside a penetrating critique of the bourgeois institution of marriage and the social consequences of laissez-faire capitalism.

The son of a provincial clothing merchant, Fourier held many jobs in retail such as bookkeeper, clerk, and salesman. Thus, he was exposed to the “crimes of commerce” and felt compelled to pen a social philosophy to overcome the vices of ...

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