Gill Cockram  |  mise en ligne : juillet 2009

The French Connection (en anglais)

The French Connection :
Fourier and the English Christian Socialists

A connection between Fourier and the English Christian Socialist Movement may seem an unlikely conjunction, yet it did exist through the influence of one of its founder members, John Malcolm Ludlow (1821-1911). Ludlow was born in Nimach, India on 8 March 1821, the second son of a British army officer. After the death of his father, when Ludlow was two, his mother moved the family to Paris where she had many friends. Ludlow’s education was wholly French, culminating in a highly successful period at the College Bourbon where he became very impressed with the methods and ideology of the Fourierists. He had the promise of a brilliant future in France, but, acknowledging his parents’ wishes, he chose to return to England in 1838 to read for the Bar. It was then that Ludlow determined to apply the socialist ideas he had learned in France, which were to influence him for the rest of his life.

In the 1840’s Paris was recognised as the centre for European democratic movements and although Ludlow was not initially sympathetic to socialist thinking, seeing it as a challenge to the church, he later realised the possibility of a Christian form of socialism which incorporated the co-operative ideals of Fourier. This view was reinforced by events surrounding the revolution of 1848, much of which Ludlow witnessed. In his autobiography he comments :

We may smile at Fourier’s ranking God as a primordial principle with nature, humanity and mathematics ; but he, of all contemporary French thinkers, the most untrammelled by tradition, could not construct his new world without a God...For myself, the sight of all I saw around me in France impressed on me the conviction, on the one hand, that this was an essentially socialistic revolution, the principles of which would spread from France throughout the world ; and on the other hand, that Socialism must be made Christian to be a blessing for France and for the world. I felt that what was needed was not so much professional teachers of Christianity as practical witnesses of it. [1]

These convictions prompted Ludlow to join with Charles Kingsley and F.D. Maurice in establishing the Christian Socialist Movement in London in 1848. The inception of this movement was a very dramatic event. The year of revolutions had seen thrones threatened and constitutions remade all over Europe. Countries were discarding their rulers and following the French example. In England, old wounds were opened as the workers who had held great hopes of the Reform Bill became disillusioned by its failure to protect them from their commercial oppressors. Chartism had proved ineffectual as a protest group, but in 1848, encouraged by news from the continent, Chartism reasserted itself. On 10 April a Monster Petition was signed with the intention of presenting it to Parliament even if it meant using force. London was in a state of panic and police and soldiers were held in readiness. Even Ludlow, the good democrat, was alarmed. In the event, the protest was a failure, but if it had a positive side it was the foundation of the Christian Socialist Movement. Together, Ludlow, Maurice and Kingsley produced a manifesto : ‘To the Working Men of England’ which confirmed their role as Christian Socialists. They were not socialists in the later political sense and were too moderate to satisfy the mood of growing unrest. They did however, share a belief in co-operation and provided a radical alternative to the prevalent Christian orthodox message of the unquestioning acceptance of social and economic injustice.
Certainly, Ludlow was very outspoken in his denigration of the inactivity of both church and state in addressing the problems of poverty. In Fraser’s Magazine in 1850, he responded to an article in the Morning Chronicle, which had exposed the awful poverty and distress of the working classes :

What has the church been doing with her clergy and district-visitors ; the local authorities, with their boards of guardians, relieving officers, and other appliances of secular help to the distressed ; the State, with its functionaries and commissioners ; private societies, with their numberless devices of machine-made charity ; statists with their figures, economists with their theories ; ay every one of us with our eyes, and ears, and hearts, what have we been doing that such things yet should be,- that a newspaper should be required to tell us of them ? [2]

Ludlow also attacked the political economists directly, finding their laissez-faire system devoid of humanitarian concerns. The remedy, he claimed, lay in opposing competition with ‘combination’ or co-operative enterprise. [3] In reaching this conclusion the influence of Fourier, was paramount. [4] In his autobiography Ludlow comments on the occasion of a return visit to Paris in 1849 : ‘at that time I was more of a Fourierist than anything else ; subscribed to the Démocratie Pacifique, the able Fourierist organ of the day, bought while I was in Paris, a hat of a zealous Fourierist hatter, who with every hat he sold gave a cheque for a proportionate amount to be expended in Fourierist publications.’ [5] He had some reservations about Fourier’s socialism however, commenting :

I need hardly say that Fourier’s socialism was all-embracing ; that he contemplated a new industrial and social world... and that therefore the working associations of the day in Paris could not be the satisfaction of my social aspirations. I mention this because the formation of co-operative associations of producers in the various trades has been treated as if it had been the be-all and end-all of our socialism...In the same letter of 11-12 October 1849 in which I described my visits to the Paris associations, I used these words : Mind, I do not think these men have got hold of the right handle to Socialism, which our men have in the “Home Colonization” movement, but such handle as they have they are working with heartily. [6]

Despite these doubts about Fourier’s socialism, Ludlow certainly took from him the notion of co-operative associations. Indeed, it was Ludlow, who introduced the French co-operative method to Maurice and others of his circle, thus adding a new dimension to the radical socialist tradition, which in England had largely begun with Owen. [7]

In his work ‘The Victorian Christian Socialists’ E.R. Norman, who considers Ludlow as ‘arguably the most important of the Christian Socialist leaders of the whole century’, examines his contribution to the movement. Norman comments :

In two things in particular Ludlow’s quiet persistence, through so many years of difficulty, proved of enduring importance. It was he who introduced French ideas about co-operative enterprise, and it was also Ludlow who forged links between the co-operatives and the trade union movement. His legacy was emphatically practical. It was not really French socialist thinkers whose ideas Ludlow introduced to Maurice and his gathering circle : it was French co-operative method, and the ideals that went with it. Though indebted to radicalised France in the 1840s, Ludlow drew his inspiration from no single source. [8]

If Ludlow was not totally convinced by Fourier’s utopian ideals, neither did he wholly approve of Owen. [9] Moving to London in 1838 had certainly given Ludlow a knowledge of Owenism but he tended to dismiss it as simply a ‘sect’. Owenism, Ludlow considered, ‘entertained opinions and sought to carry out principles not shared in, nor indeed understood by the great majority of the working people.’ [10] But there were those among the early Christian Socialists who did profess to be Owenites despite an obvious conflict between secularism and religiosity. An attempt was made by philanthropists such as Minter Morgan to reconcile Owenism with Christianity, but it remained an uneasy relationship.

The meetings of the newly-formed Christian Socialists in 1848 were designed to establish some definitive policies among a group who were certainly not homogenous. One of the group, Lloyd Jones, was a well educated master tailor and self-professed Owenite Socialist. He was sceptical about Christianity, but still very enthusiastic about the plans of the group and able to add to their knowledge of socialism, which until then had been assimilated from the French by Ludlow. Through Ludlow, the Christian Socialists learned of the ideas, not only of Fourier, but also of Leroux, Proudhon and Louis Blanc, and they were only too ready to acknowledge the debt. Edward Norman observes that Ludlow contributed a ‘critical knowledge of the French Socialist thinkers, and, more importantly, actual first hand knowledge of French Socialist practice.’ [11] He had arrived in Paris in 1848 ‘on the first train to get through after the February Revolution in order to see that his sisters were safe ; he also made a close assessment of social as well as political issues.’ In 1849 he visited Paris again, this time to visit the Associations Ouvrièreswhere he learned about the rules and aims of their organization. Although he was sceptical of the utopian aspects of French Socialists’ thought, he was, writes Norman, ‘able to transmit important aspects of their social analyses to England’. The English Movement of 1848-53 was thus as Ludlow recorded in his Autobiography, ‘intimately connected with the contemporary French one.’ [12]

The significance of this connection is further highlighted by Ludlow’s recollections of several of the French refugees in England at this time. He speaks of Jules Lechevalier rather dismissively : ‘I call him a Republican, but in point of fact he never cared anything about political forms, but only about socialistic organisations, of which he himself should be the pivot- not necessarily the visible one.’ [13] Norman, however, considers this an underestimation of Lechevalier’s influence. He observes :

It is arguable that Ludlow received as much of his knowledge of the Associations through Jules Lechevalier as he did from first-hand experience ; it is also possible that English Christian Socialism owed as much of its French dimension to Lechevalier as it did to Ludlow. Lechevalier arrived as an exile in England, following Cavaignac’s curtailment of Socialist organisations, in 1849. He had been a follower first of St Simon, and then of Fourier, and had joined with Proudhon in the Banque du Peuple. He was also Paris correspondent of the New York Tribune, for which he continued to work after his arrival in London. He had taken a leading part in the Associations, and made the crucial link, also made by Ludlow, between Socialism and Christianity through the practical work of co-operative production. Ludlow had known him in Paris, and introduced him to the Maurician circle when he settled in London. He joined the Church of England, gravitating (as a former Roman Catholic) to the High Church in 1851. The effect of Lechevalier’s presence on Ludlow was decisive : it finally confirmed his social diagnosis, and, perhaps more importantly, finally made him abandon pietistic and philanthropic priorities for social activism. [14]

Ludlow speaks also of Louis Blanc :

Another far better known Frenchman who took refuge in England about the same time, though I did not know him till afterwards, was Louis Blanc. I was rather prepossessed against him personally by what I had heard of his vanity and pushing himself forward from Charles Lesseps, and his reputation was that of a wild revolutionist. Carlyle’s description of him as a ‘harmless little man’ was much nearer to the truth. My first letter from him is of December 1850, thanking me for having sent him the numbers of the Christian Socialist.He spoke at one at least of our meetings or conferences, and I met him a few times besides, once at dinner I think at Lechevalier’s. He lived in this country a quiet honourable life, maintaining himself by his pen, took pains (as Ledru-Rollin did not) to understand England, learnt English thoroughly, so as to speak it in public with facility, and always kept himself from the schemes of wilder revolutionist refugees. I never read his Lettres d’Angleterre, though I believe they speak somewhere of me in friendly terms. [15]

Again, Norman has a more positive view of Blanc’s influence commenting that he showed Ludlow that the two concepts of ‘liberty ‘ and ‘power’ could co-exist. Ludlow however, did not ‘actually envisage Socialism as attainable in England through state power’. The transformation was to come through ‘education, moralising, and transformation of working men through co-operative enterprise and religious practice’. [16]

Etienne Cabet was another of Ludlow’s acquaintances. He describes him as ‘a working-class leader--- of second rate abilities, taking rank far below the Saint-Simons and Fouriers, or even the Buchez’s and Louis Blancs, but thoroughly sincere and well-meaning’ :

He had sacrificed his position in the French magistrature to his principles, and whatever fortune he had to carrying out those principles. He had taken up Communism, probably because the limitations of his mind prevented him from understanding any less simple method of carrying out social views. He had seen its connections with religious faith, as shown by his Vrai Christianisme however limited might be his comprehension of Christianity. Beloved by his family, by all working men who came across him, he was anything but a vulgar demogogue. [17]

In contrast to Cabet, Ludlow writes also of Pierre Leroux who, he says, ‘was essentially a thinker’. He was a ‘journeyman printer’ who produced, among other works, Du Christianisme et de son origine Démocratique. Of all the leading French socialists, Ludlow writes, Leroux was ‘the one with by far the most cultivated mind’. He was at one time ‘a Saint-Simonian, and to the last was a religious- I do not say really a Christian- Socialist. [18]

The largest influx of French refugees came on 10 Dec 1851. Among this group was Martin Nadaud who was to become a lifelong friend of Ludlow. Nadaud was a well-educated plasterer considered by Ludlow to be ‘the most prominent working man of those days’. [19] He went on to become a successful teacher in England until it was safe for him to return to France.

The French influence on the Christian Socialist Movement is thus diffuse and difficult to quantify. One of the achievements of the movement was the establishment of the Working Men’s College in London in 1854. Among those who taught at the College were John Ruskin and Frederic Harrison, both of whom demonstrated an interest in the co-operative method of continental socialism, although they interpreted it in different ways. Harrison adopted the Positivism of Auguste Comte and Ruskin’s utopian ideal was to be strictly hierarchical. Other prominent individuals who claimed to be Christian Socialists, such as Maurice and Kingsley, were more ‘enlightened Tories’ than socialists. E.R. Norman warns against attributing too much importance to any one particular source among such a disparate group. He comments that it would clearly be ‘unhelpful to define Christian Socialism by exclusive reference to one only of the very incoherent collection of socialist doctrines, attitudes, and practices available in the middle and later years of the nineteenth century’. He writes also, that this is ‘true even of associationism- the co-operative ideal to which all the Christian Socialists attached themselves in some degree’. Maurice and his colleagues were, claims Norman, ‘more indebted to English pragmatic experiments in association than--- to French theory’. [20] Ludlow’s position, however, remains significant.

In his Progress of the Working Class (1867) Ludlow urged men to follow the French example of association through co-operative workshops. In Paris, he wrote, associations had revealed a ‘sense of conscious freedom’, a process of personal regeneration which Ludlow considered the most positive aspect of co-operatives. [21] He was however, disappointed with the outcome of the parallel experiment, in which he played a major part, in London. This relative failure of the Christian Socialist co-operatives Ludlow attributed in part to financial causes - too much money, he felt, had gone into the Working Men’s College. But another cause, Ludlow identified, was the fact that the working men of London lacked the enthusiasm and commitment of their French counterparts. As he commented in his Autobiography :

Let it be observed that the raw material of our association was not a promising one. The London working men, I consider, do not possess the energy, the enthusiasm, the spirit of self-sacrifice which in 1848-9 at all events distinguished those of Paris. Co-operative Associations had not been preached among them by popular and eloquent voices, as it had been in France. Moreover, the special working-class organisation, the trade unions, as a rule looked askance upon co-operation- the only noteworthy exception being the Amalgamated Engineers. The consequence was that our associations, instead of containing the pick of the trades, as they should have done, tended often at least to be made up of what the French call the declasses. And I, for one, instead of wondering at their failure, am rather surprised that several of them should have continued so long, and have turned out such good and solid work as many of them did. [22]

Whatever the outcome or extent of Ludlow’s influence, there is little doubt that he was instrumental in successfully introducing the French co-operative method to the English Christian Socialists in the mid- nineteenth century. There is also little doubt that it was Ludlow who brought from Paris the ideas of Fourier. These ideas became at least a part of the complex, indeterminate ideology of the movement. It is, after all, quite possible to be influenced by that which we choose, ultimately, to reject. As A.D. Murray comments in the introduction to Ludlow’s autobiography :

In Ludlow’s socialism we find clear evidence of his debt to (among others) Fourier, Proudhon and Louis Blanc. We also find the assumption, common to almost every French socialist of the period, that social regeneration must go hand in hand with some form of religious regeneration. The introduction of French socialist ideas and, what is more important, their application in an English context were among Ludlow’s major contributions to English socialism. [23]

In 1854 the Christian Socialists ceased to function as an organised unit, but their influence lived on through the work of a few scattered individuals, some of whom proved to be very influential in the socialist renaissance in the last quarter of the nineteenth century.

Gill Cockram


[1A.D. Murray, ed., John Ludlow, The Autobiography of a Christian Socialist (1981), p.112.

[2Fraser’s Magazine, Vol. 41 (Jan 1850), p. 1

[3In this, Ludlow had the support of Maurice and Kingsley, who, while accepting the central structure of political economy, rejected the principle of competition and Malthusian ideas on population.

[4See K. Taylor, The Political Ideas of the Utopian Socialists (1982).

[5John Ludlow, The Autobiography of a Christian Socialist (1981), p. 153.

[6Ibid., pp. 153-4.

[7Charles Raven observes that Ludlow’s Fourierist influence on Maurice’s circle was tempered by the introduction of Lloyd Jones into the group. Jones, despite his religious scepticism, ‘threw himself wholeheartedly into the plans of the Christian Socialists’ and reinforced the English socialist tradition. See Raven, Christian Socialism (1920), p. 140.

[8Edward Norman, The Victorian Christian Socialists (Cambridge, 1987), p. 62.

[9There was, of course, a degree of reciprocity in the thinking of Owen and Fourier. See Michele Madonna Desbazeille, "Collision and Collusion", paper given at New Lanark, Jun. 2005.

[10J.M. Ludlow and Lloyd Jones, Progress of the Working Class, 1832-1867 (London, 1867), p. 281.

[11Norman, Victorian Christian Socialists, p. 74.

[12Ludlow, Autobiography, p. 172.


[14Norman, Victorian Christian Socialists, p. 75.

[15Ludlow, Autobiography, p. 172.

[16Norman, Victorian Christian Socialists, p. 75.

[17Ludlow, Autobiography, p. 173.

[18Ibid., p. 174.


[20Norman, Victorian Christian Socialists, p. 5.

[21J.M. Ludlow and Lloyd Jones, Progress of the Working Class, 1832-1867 ( London, 1867) p. 144.

[22Ludlow, Autobiography, pp. 297-8.

[23Ibid., pp. xvi-ii.

Gill Cockram

Gill Cockram (université de Londres) est l’auteur de Ruskin and Social Reform : Ethics and Economics in the Victorian Age (Londres, Tauris, 2007).

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