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    • Published online: 01 June 2000

This article gives chronology, nuance, and context to an analysis of how early socialist attitudes to religion changed. It asks why socialists argued with increasing fervour between the early 1830s and 1848 that social reform had to be rooted in spiritual as well as moral values. Two of the largest groups, the Icarians and the Fourierists, moved from a rational deism to Christianity. Both were driven by the need to defend themselves from accusations of immorality levelled against Fourier and the Saint-Simonians because of their rejection of monogamous marriage. The Fourierists, strongly influenced by their dominant female members, transformed Fourier's diety into a Christian God. Cabet, under pressure of ‘moral outrage’ from his critics, did likewise and found that this corresponded to the experiences of the Icarians in their artisan organizations. The religion of the early socialists was a democratic and a pragmatic morality, derived from artisan corporations, and seen as a vital base for fraternal association which was their solution to the ills of society.

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I am grateful to the members of the seminar in Modern French History and Politics at the University of Oxford and its organizer, Robert Gildea, who invited me to give a version of this article as a paper in their seminars in 1998, ‘Elites, religion and the state in France, 1800–1945’. The research, generously supported by grants from the British Academy and the Central Research Fund, University of London, forms part of my forthcoming book on the early French socialists.
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The Historical Journal
  • ISSN: 0018-246X
  • EISSN: 1469-5103
  • URL: /core/journals/historical-journal
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