Barthélemy Prosper Enfantin (February 8, 1796 – September 1, 1864), sometimes called Père Enfantin was a French economist and political theorist, and one of the founders of the Saint-Simonian movement. His ideas of a socialist society with a religious foundation were quite influential in nineteenth-century Europe. His work in the railroad industry was supportive of French industrialization. He also was an early believer in the emancipation of women. However, his religious fervor which became strangely unorthodox, particularly with regard to his search for a "female messiah," and his advocation of "free love" instead of marriage, led his movement to be discredited.
Barthélemy Prosper Enfantin was born in Paris, France, on February 8, 1796, the son of a banker from Dauphiné. After receiving his early education at a lyceum, he was sent in 1813 to the École Polytechnique.
In March 1814 he was one of the band of students who, on the heights of Montmartre and Saint-Chaumont, attempted to resist the armies of the Sixth Coalition, which had engaged in the invasion of Paris. In consequence of this outbreak of patriotic enthusiasm, the school was soon closed by the king, Louis XVIII, and the young student was compelled to seek another career.
Initially, he began working for a country wine-merchant, traveling to Germany, Imperial Russia, and the Netherlands. In 1821, he entered a banking-house newly established at Saint Petersburg, but returned two years later to Paris, where he was appointed cashier to the Caisse Hypothécaire. At the same time, he became a member of the secret society of the Carbonari.
In 1825, a new turn was given to his thoughts and his life by the friendship which he formed with Olinde Rodrigues. Rodrigues introduced him to Henri de Saint-Simon. Enfantin quickly affiliated to Saint-Simon's version of utopian socialism, and, by 1829, he had become one of the acknowledged heads of the society.
After the July revolution of 1830, Enfantin resigned his office of cashier, and devoted all his energy to the cause. Besides contributing to Le Globe, he made appeals to the people by systematic preaching, and organized centers of action in some of the main cities of France.
The headquarters in Paris were moved from the modest rooms in the rue Taranne to the large halls near the boulevard des Italiens. Enfantin and Amand Bazard were proclaimed Pères Suprêmes ("Supreme Fathers"), a union which was, however, only nominal, as a divergence had already manifested. Bazard, who concentrated on organizing the group, had devoted himself to political reform, while Enfantin, who favored teaching and preaching, dedicated his time to social and moral change. The antagonism between the two was widened by Enfantin's announcement of his theory of the relationship of man and woman, in which he proposed to substitute a system of "free love" for the "tyranny of marriage."
Bazard and his disciples broke with Enfantin's group. Enfantin became sole "father," leading a chiefly religiously-oriented movement, joined by new converts (according to Enfantin's estimate, the total number of followers reached 40,000). He wore on his breast a badge with his title of Père, was referred to by his preachers as "the living law," declaring himself to be the Messiah. He sent out emissaries in a quest for a woman predestined to be the "female Messiah," and the mother of a new Savior (the latter quest was very costly and altogether fruitless).
Meanwhile, the new religion gathered believers in all parts of Europe. His extravagances and success at length brought him to the attention of authorities, who argued that he was endangering public morality. In May 1832, the halls of the new sect were closed by the government, and the Père, with some of his followers, appeared before the tribunals. He then retired to his estate at Menilmontant, near Paris, where with forty disciples, all of them men, he continued to carry out his socialist views. In August of the same year he was again arrested, and on his appearance in court he desired his defense to be undertaken by two women who were with him, alleging that the matter was of special concern to women. The request was promptly refused. The trial occupied two days and resulted in a verdict of guilty, and a sentence of imprisonment for a year with a small fine.
This prosecution discredited the new society. Enfantin was released in a few months, and then, accompanied by some of his followers, he went to Egypt. He stayed there for two years, and might have entered Muhammad Ali's service if he would have professed himself, as several of his followers did, a Muslim.
On his return to France, he occupied several minor offices. He became a postmaster near Lyon, and in 1841 was appointed to a scientific commission on Algeria, which led him to engage in research concerning North Africa and colonization. In 1845, he became director of the new Lyon Railroad Company, and continued working in the railroad industry as well as publishing his writings for the rest of his life.
Enfantin died on September 1, 1864, in Paris.
After Saint-Simon died in 1825, his vision was carried on by a group of his closest associates, including Enfantin, together with Olinde Rodrigues, Saint-Armand Bazard, and Pierre Leroux. Saint Simon’s advocacy for a "New Christianity" (Nouveau Christianisme)—a secular, humanistic religion with the goal of replacing the existing traditional Christianity—resonated most in the work of Enfantin. Enfantin was interested in moral and social change in society, and invested all his energy to bring such change, starting with his followers. He organized clergy, rituals, and devotional services, and under his leadership the group grew in the manner of a typical sect. Under his guidance, the Saint-Simonian school turned more toward religious and moral regeneration and less to political reform.
The cardinal dogma of Saint-Simonians was the “principle of association.” This was a social equivalent to Newton’s law of gravitation, stating that society progresses toward a unified entity: from family to community, community to state, and finally from state to socialistic society. It also claimed that society has been moving from isolation to union, from war to peace, from antagonism to association.
Enfantin believed that history is based on never-ending, progressive development, in a harmonious existence of flesh and spirit, industry and science, east and west, and woman and man. He saw women as equal to men, due to his mystical concept of an androgynous "Mother/Father" God. He thus advocated the complete emancipation of woman and entire equality with man. In line with this idea, he promoted several women into the highest ranks of the hierarchy in the movement.
Enfantin refused the traditional Christian form of marriage, seeing it as a "prison" for women. He proposed instead some kind of a mystical system of free love, with man and woman living in a relationship that is not regulated by law. His teachings on “free love” brought him in conflict with the authorities, and eventually even the most devoted of his followers denied his teachings.
Enfantin was a visionary who continued the teaching of Saint-Simon, broadening it into the spheres of religion and spirituality. Enfantin was an early believer in the emancipation of women, giving them an equal role to men in his movement.
Under his guidance the movement spread throughout much of Europe, influencing such significant people as the philosopher Jean Reynaud, as well as several economists. His work in the railroad industry directly affected the growth of industrialization in France in the nineteenth century.
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