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Industrial Revolution And The Rise Of Socialism, Utopian Socialists: Owen, Saint-simon, Fourier

The difficulty of defining socialism is apparent to anyone who attempts to study this protean doctrine, not least because what socialism is or is not is usually a matter of contentious debate. However, there is a general consensus that the various schools of socialism share some common features that can be summarized as follows. Socialism is above all concerned with the relationship between the individual, state, and society. For the socialist, the individual is never alone and thus must always define himself or herself in relation to others. Socialists believe that a well-ordered society cannot exist without a state apparatus, not least because the state is seen as the most effective vehicle for coordinating and administering to the needs of all.

Socialists' views on human nature distinguish them from their principal political rivals, the liberals and conservatives. While the latter two groups tend to hold that all humans are inherently self-interested and materialistic, socialists contend that these traits are products of social conditioning under capitalism. On this view, individuals act selfishly and competitively, not because it is in their nature do so, but rather because they are encouraged and rewarded for such behavior. Socialists hold that the values and beliefs promoted in a socialist society would enhance our capacity for acting cooperatively and collectively in pursuit of mutually reinforcing material and spiritual goals.

Because they see material circumstances as being key to the well-being of individuals, socialists stress the importance of the economic system that operates in every society. It was their observations of the deleterious effects of industrial capitalism that caused socialist reformers to call for the development of new economic structures based on a completely different set of moral principles. The question of how the transition from capitalism to socialism would occur has been answered in different ways by different socialist theorists. Robert Owen (1771–1858), Charles Fourier (1772–1837), and other early socialist thinkers saw the need to reform rather than destroy capitalism, while followers of Karl Marx (1818–1883) and Friedrich Engels (1820–1895) insisted that capitalism had to be completely overturned in order for society to advance to a state of socialism. Contemporary socialists do not envisage the transition from capitalism to socialism as a sharp break, but as a process of economic reforms that takes into account the role of market forces.

So far as is known the terms socialist and socialism first appeared in print in Italian in 1803, but in a sense were entirely unconnected with any of their later meanings. No trace of the word socialist appears again until 1827, when it was used in the Owenite Co-operative Magazine to designate the followers of Robert Owen's cooperative doctrines. Across the English Channel, socialisme was adopted by the Saint-Simonians—followers of the French philosopher and social scientist Claude-Henri de Rouvroy (1760–1825), comte de Saint-Simon—during the 1830s to describe their theory, and thereafter it was increasingly used to refer to those groups aiming at some kind of new social order resting on an economic and social conception of human rights.

In these senses, socialism was used to distinguish the attitudes of those who laid stress on the social elements in human relations from those who emphasized the claims of the individual. In fact, to be a socialist was to be someone who promoted a social system in direct opposition to the highly individualistic order being advocated by the proponents of laissez faire economics.

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