The people who built Utopia two centuries ago
Esther Inglis-Arkell - Jul 1, 2011
Communes once dotted the United States. Their occupants believed that if we just gave up sexual prudery and practice free love, the world would be better. Others abhorred the use of animals as servants and tried to live without animal products or labor. Others fell in love with the concept of socialism. Yes, it was a crazy time in our nation’s history known as . . . the nineteenth century.
Is there a more alluring concept than a perfect world? There are thousands of fictional stories of perfect worlds emerging from destruction, perfect worlds that come to destruction, perfect worlds that are not all they seem, and perfect worlds looking in on less perfect ones. Utopia is the ultimate futuristic concept, which is strange because it’s been around as long as there have been societies. Sometimes, when science, opportunity, and morality are just right, people don’t just tell stories about utopia, they try to build it. There are eras full of such attempts. The nearest one to us right now was the fabled sixties, when people roamed the cities and countryside trying to use peace, love, and Nehru jackets to make the world a perfect place. Turns out, that had all been done before. The greatest age of American utopianism was in the 1800s. Communities and colonies sprang up all over the land, trying to make a model society. If any of them had worked out, we’d be perfect by now.
Fourier: The Socialist Leader of His Day
Charles Fourier was a Socialist before it was cool. He was also socialist after it was cool. Born in 1772, in France, he lived through the French Revolution and its after-effects, and emerged as a socialist writer in the early 1800s. Some of his more radical social ideas have only caught on recently, key among them being a defense of homosexuality and women’s rights. His economic ones, however, spread like wildfire in America right away. He believed that people should split into primarily-agrarian, self-sufficient communities, or ‘phalanxes,’ in which work was voluntary and all productions were the property of the entire group.