Scenes from The New World of Love

By Simon Hartog and John Ellis

Simon Hartog’s treatment based on Charles Fourier’s book Le Nouveau Monde Amoureux


In black-and-white. Day. In the foreground, the base for a large statue, without the statue. In the background, the traffic and life of Paris, the Boulevard de Clichy. DISSOLVE back and forth to a still that matches the basic composition of the frame, except in the photograph there is a statue of a man on the base. The noise of traffic in the boulevard.

Commentary: (voice-over)

Charles Fourier (1772-1837), French, of provincial Catholic family, never married, a commercial traveller. With Owen and Saint-Simon, one of the first major socialist thinkers and the godfather of libertarian socialism.

His thought was at once a critique of the existing social order, which he called Civilisation, and a vision of a new social order, called Harmony. The transformation that destroys Civilisation and creates Harmony has two pivots or axes, the economic and the domestic. His analysis of Civilisation’s economic structure is activated by a critique of commerce, and the speculation which is its essence, of classical economics, and the free market economy it advocates, of the industrial revolution, and of the slavery and tedium of work. His analysis of the existing domestic structure is an assault on the family, marriage and the enslavement of women.

In Harmony, domestic and economic life are organised on a communal basis. The misery of Civilisation is replaced by the happiness of Harmony, and, according to Fourier, happiness ‘consists in having many passions and many means of satisfying them’.

In the 19th century, when Fourier’s ideas spread and were put into practice, his detailed descriptions of life in Harmony were readily available in published form, but the manuscripts in which he describes the domestic or, more specifically, the love life of Harmony, were never published. They were, in fact, considered to be too scandalous and were suppressed. Those who suspected their existence considered these manuscripts to be irretrievably lost.

The manuscripts were, however, found, and in spite of the damage caused by hungry mice, were published as a book in France in 1967 under the title The New World Of Love.


The subterranean tradition

by John Ellis

These times are characterised by depression and lack of direction. We have already left the concerns of the 20th century behind us, and have set out across the uncharted rough terrain of a new millennium. But the prospect is terrifying rather than exhilarating. This is a period of doubt and anxiety. Our joys and satisfactions are for the most part private and small.

For me, one such satisfaction lies in the 10th anniversary of the founding by Simon Hartog, Keith Griffiths and me of the independent production company Large Door Ltd. The company has a future. Three years from now it will have completed a long documentary series on cinema, The History Of World Cinema, for the centenary year of 1995. This will be the company’s first major series devoted to cinema since 1985, when the last of the 32 editions of Visions were shown on Channel 4. Visions was the Channel’s first – and, until now, only – regular documentary series devoted to world cinema. So the 10th anniversary of the company’s foundation this August should have been the cause for celebration.

Instead it was marked by Simon’s funeral.

Our long working partnership (which most predicted would last six months) grew out of the independent film movement of the 70s. It was here that I first encountered Simon’s singular approach to politics and to the problems of the modern world.

At that time, 15 years ago, the Independent Film-makers’ Association lobbied a Labour Trade Minister to set up a foundation to foster experimental and workshop-style film production; three years later, the IFA lobbied a Conservative government for television to do the same. Simon Hartog was crucial in this long campaign. He was one of the IFA’s most active lobbyists, meeting with Michael Meacher at the Department of Trade and Industry, breakfasting with Sir Leo Pliatsky at the Treasury, discussing the idea with Channel 4 board members before they had an office or even Jeremy Isaacs.

Simon undertook all of this orthodox power politics in the pursuit of a glorious ideal: a different way of making different films and television. Nowadays it seems an unrealisable dream: the idea that £6m could be devoted to exciting, uncompromising films, and to co-operative means of realising them. Then, it seemed just remotely possible.

Or, at least, it did when Simon was pushing on in the campaign.

An anarchist fallen amongst socialists, his vision was different from most of the movement. He distrusted the idea of the workshop, preferring a more co-operative form of mutual support which he later tried to put into practice with Spectre Productions. His pragmatic political attitude, unaffected by the theatre of dogma that often passed for debate in the IFA, allowed him to realise what he would when he could. Hence the perfectly orthodox company form adopted for Large Door Ltd. Its primary aim was the making of (unorthodox) TV documentaries, and Simon rightly took the view that, in the circumstances, an attempt to change the mode of production as well would have been self-defeating.

But Simon’s guiding vision was that of a more co-operative way of working. This would involve more than mutual support when times were hard. It would mean a genuine sharing of ideas in an industry where mistrust and isolation are endemic. It would mean the elaboration together of projects which only a few might eventually work upon. It would mean the re-evaluation of private aims, the reorganisation of working patterns, and the re-allocation of resources. But this would be undertaken on a basis of mutual respect, recognising the unequal distribution of skills and a division of labour, rather than in the form of a collective.

Now that Simon is no more, it is becoming clearer day by day that his kind of ideas have become the only basis we have for articulating an alternative to our current dismal system. We live in a peculiar period, in which the apparent victory of capitalism has proved entirely hollow. The current crisis of Western civilisation is one in which nothing works any more, nothing fits together any longer.

We are living in a society which, perhaps for the first time in history, has no alternative to itself. Our society has lost its utopias, its sense of aim and of project, its sense of what it is against, and thus what it is for. All that is left are terrors, and the convenient Others of the Third World, whom we can present as negative so that we appear positive, or as a threat so that we can better define who we are.

In the 70s, if anyone had predicted the collapse of the Eastern European version of socialism, most of the Left would, privately at least, have welcomed the idea, since it would have cleared away an embarrassment to their socialist ideals. But now it has happened, those same socialist ideals have also lost their power to convince anyone.

For it is not only the socialist ideal that has collapsed, but the governing ideal of Western thought, which itself gave birth to socialism. The Western post-Enlightenment ideal of the inexorable march of humanity towards a distant goal of perfectibility underlies the socialist project every bit as much as it underpins the confident dynamic of Western expansion across the civilisations of the world. But it is an ideal that has lost its power. Everywhere we can see the fallacy at the heart of it. It instrumentalised nature as raw material, and so devastated the environment. It destroyed and enslaved whole cultures to no eventual purpose. It has massively failed to deliver what it promised.

So, it might seem, socialism and capitalism really amounted to the same thing: an untenable belief in humanity and its progress towards perfectibility. Thus whilst we can certainly see change all around, what we most emphatically do not have is progress, or even the notion of it. This is not, as some have imagined, the ‘end of history’. Indeed, there is too much history going on at the moment. There are too many momentous events which reach out to affect us without our being able to understand their motives or logic. What we are witnessing is the end of that governing ideal of progress which has held Western societies together for almost three centuries, and which has managed to keep the rest of the world in its thrall for much of that time.

Now we are seeing the erosion of another central aspect of Western liberal humanism: the belief in the universality of humanity. This was the essentially secular ideal that enabled civil society to be constructed without the necessity of religion and allowed Western society to see the world as its universal, across the inconveniences of creed. This secularism undoubtedly had its strengths. But the various genocidal activities now taking place across the world, and the general lack of any sustained revulsion at them, show us how far this idea, too, has crumbled. Yet some version of it has to be the way forward.

This century has seen the wholesale abolition of the physical and psychical distances that kept contending beliefs and contending social forms apart. This abolition of distances, indeed, has been one of the contributing factors in the collapse of the Western notion of progress.

We have become too aware of the harm it has caused, and too aware of the social systems, ideals and religions it has tried to suppress. We live in a smaller world, and one in which strongly held beliefs contend. And we, in Western societies, have no way of coming to terms with this. Indeed, our tradition of secularism has deprived us of the ability to understand and appreciate the desire and need for belief that characterise societies other than our own. All we have is a sterile notion of tolerance which relies on the tolerated parties keeping their distance from us, which is no longer possible.

So where do we start? All that is left now is the subterranean tradition that Simon represented, stubbornly insisting that there must be a better way of proceeding. Simon’s views found their roots in a personal politics rather than in a global theory of the world. Since the global theories currently in circulation are largely discredited, this long-repressed alternative route offers the best way out of our current impasse.

Simon wanted to build a social system upon a vision of a better way of relating one to another. That is, he took the best of the current ways of caring and self-preservation, sharing and private accumulation, competition and altruism, as a basis for a view of how society should develop. This is probably the essence of Kropotkin, and (with the addition of a sensual abandon) of Fourier as well. In opposition to theories of human society which begin from an idea of a liberatory system that, hopefully, will yield a better form of interpersonal relations, this tradition begins from a vision of better interpersonal relations and asks what form of society they might engender. The answer has always been framed in terms of ‘co-operation’, a kind of enlightened self-interest which is as appallingly difficult to put into practice as it is easy to promote as a series of simple ideals.

Its relations to socialism have always been uneasy. There are major meeting points between the two traditions, but they are like encounters between the two traditions, but they are like encounters between old sparring partners going in opposite directions down the same street. The ruthless suppression of this anarchist or co-operative tradition by socialists at certain times has been well documented. Less so is the underdevelopment of this tradition by a combination of benign neglect and belittlement.

Simon was well aware of the problems bound up with this tradition. His healthy pragmatism meant that he distrusted idealism in all its manifestations, no matter how much he was emotionally drawn to it at another level. His attitude was based upon a genuine empathy for others rather than a simple tolerance of their strange (and incorrect) ways. Perhaps he needed to feel an empathy which had been denied him at certain points in his childhood. Nevertheless, he became a careful and distinguished exponent of ideas that few others even knew existed.

Simon gave an internationalist edge to this tradition, totally at odds with the inward-looking thought that has so often bedevilled non-socialist radicalism. He was perpetually trying to construct links rather than divisions. In Mozambique, where he worked from 1976 to 1978, he was to go further than anywhere in Britain in trying to put his ideals into practice. He worked out a strategy for Mozambican cinema that was appropriate to its beleaguered circumstances: a weekly newsreel and the distribution of imported entertainment that would appeal to local audiences, rather than simply reflect what the Soviet Union thought it appropriate to dump there. He developed a viable production organisation that was able to subsume the individual ambitions of Mozambican film-makers wanting to breathe the air of revolution whilst developing their own personal projects at the partial or total expense of the Mozambican state.

Simon was also a film-maker, or more accurately ‘un homme du cinéma’ (a term with no real English equivalent), interested in all aspects of production and exhibition of moving pictures. He saw films as a particularly effective means of closing the gap between cultures. He was especially interested in fiction, as it gives a privileged access to otherwise unknowable subjectivities. But as time went on, and the British film exhibition scene became more sclerotic, Simon realised that even these fictional moments of access needed a certain amount of explanation and introduction. Hence his work over the last ten years, with Visions and other such programmes.

Simon’s particular approach to the problems of internationalism demonstrate rare qualities which might well see us through the horrendous problems of imagining a new world order, or, what would be better, an acceptable world disorder. Simon may no longer be here to show us how, but he leaves a clear example, developed against the grain of his times, which provides a genuine inspiration for ours.