From Its Origins to the Twentieth Century


15. Robert Owen
16. Josiah Warren
17. Brook Farm
18. Fourierism




15. Robert Owen

Before the nineteenth century, communalism was practically confined to millenarian religious bodies. The first attempt of any significance to form a purely secular community was Robert Owen’s New Harmony. Owen was born in 1771, the son of a small saddler and ironmonger. He left school at the age of nine, and by nineteen had become the manager of a cotton mill in Manchester employing five hundred people, which he made one of the best in England, not only in the quality of his product, the first thread of long staple sea-island cotton spun in England, but also in the efficiency of his production and the welfare of his workers.

This was a period of tremendous expansion and great profits in the textile industry in Great Britain. Within a few years Owen’s business, run on strictly rationalist lines, had become so profitable that he was able to persuade his partners to buy the largest cotton mill in Britain, at New Lanark on the banks of the Clyde in Scotland. The total labor force was around fifteen hundred, about two-thirds of whom were women, and five hundred of whom were children, paupers, and orphans from the poorhouses and orphanages of Edinburgh and Glasgow, many of them only five or six years old.

Owen immediately improved the living conditions of the workers, raised the minimum age to ten, and progressively reduced the hours of labor from thirteen or fourteen to twelve, with ten-and-a-half hours of actual labor. He opened a general store which sold goods and food of the best quality at cost plus a part of the overhead expense, and he began gradually to inhibit the sale and consumption of liquor. Owen likewise established a school for the children which not only was the most progressive in Britain, but which originated a number of ideas that were not to be accepted elsewhere for almost a century.

New Lanark was in no sense a utopian venture. Its enlightened patriarchalism operated on the strictest business principles, and it showed remarkable profit even in years of depression. It was an industrial village of a type that would become common later in the century, especially in the businesses of Quaker industrialists. A good example in America is the town of Hershey, Pennsylvania, founded by the Mennonite chocolate-processing family. Contemporary with Owen, Jebediah Strutt in Derbyshire was operating a quite similar patriarchal mill town.

Owen looked upon New Lanark as something more than a model factory colony. He was a deist, an environmentalist, and a moderate necessitarian. He believed that human beings were morally the product of their environment, and especially of their early training, and could not be held responsible for their faulty behavior in later life. The school at New Lanark was far more important to Owen than anything else, for he hoped by his educational methods to produce an entirely new kind of working man.

The limited measures of community organization which Owen was able to introduce made a surprisingly rapid change in the character of his workers. When he took it over, New Lanark was ridden with poverty, disease, prostitution, promiscuity, and alcoholism. The strict discipline resulted in clean, vermin-free homes, cooperative enterprises, lectures and dances in the evening, social security, and eventual prohibition of drink; and of course the schools worked an amazing transformation in a comparatively short time. Soon large numbers of visitors, some even from the continent of America, were touring the works. Since Owen was able to show that his methods were eminently profitable, New Lanark began to exercise a definite effect on factory reform, long before the passing of the Factory Acts. “An idle, dirty, dissolute, and drunken population,” said Owen, “was transformed by the application of proper means into one of order, neatness, and regularity.”

From the point of view of Owen’s evolving theories of community, New Lanark had faults, or at least limitations. It was far from self-sufficient. There were various mechanics attached to the factory, and a few small craftsmen like shoemakers and tailors in the village, but the community did not provide itself with most of its goods and services. Furthermore, it lacked an agricultural base, although there were garden allotments for any of the workers who wanted them. There were also community dining rooms and laundries, but the women seemed to have resented them. The majority of the employees were women and children, so that many of the men had to find work outside the community. There were only about twenty managers, clerks, and teachers. All the rest were proletarians of the strictest definition, illiterate or semi-literate, with nothing to sell but their labor power.

The schools were a different matter. Here Owen had a free hand to do much as he wanted, limited only by the difficulty in the early years of the nineteenth century of finding teachers able or willing to carry out his ideas. Owen believed that children should not be annoyed with books, but taught by sensible signs and familiar conversation. The natural interest of childhood formed the basis of his educational method. Children learned through playing, dancing, singing, and participating in “military exercises” (what we would call calisthenics). Owen was a passionate believer in dancing, and visitors were fascinated by the children dancing in their kilts, and the neighboring Scottish Presbyterians were outraged that he permitted little boys to dance “without trousers” with little girls. The evening dances for adults were a very important part of Owen’s social discipline and therapy, and seem to have been enthusiastically welcomed by the workers, and no doubt more than were the lectures on rationalist, utilitarian, and radical subjects.

Although New Lanark made money, often when other mills were losing it, Owen twice found it necessary to reorganize the business and change his partners. They objected on moral (or more properly immoral) grounds to his methods, and especially to his deism, in those days verging on Gnosticism, and his disdain for all organized religion — attitudes which he insisted on inculcating in his workers and in the children in the schools. These principles were to cause him trouble throughout his career, although interestingly enough the objections grew, rather than declined, as the Enlightenment died out in England, to be replaced by what would come to be called Victorianism. In the final reorganization, he was able to secure the support of a number of English radicals, including Jeremy Bentham.

As the fame of New Lanark grew, Robert Owen became a very important person and in 1817 he was invited to submit a report to the House of Commons embodying his suggestions for reform and the “cure of pauperism.” By this time Owen had given much thought to the problem and had evolved a definite system. He shared with Ricardo and anticipated Marx in the elementary working-out of a labor theory of value. He rejected Malthus’s theory of the growing pressure of population and, consequently, impoverishment, and charged on the contrary that capitalist production resulted in under-consumption. He accepted the steady increase of the use of machinery but proposed to limit and diffuse industrialization and keep it secondary in agriculturally based small communities. He also proposed that about twelve hundred people should be settled on collective farms of about an acre per person. All would live in one large building in the form of a square with a public dining hail. Each family would have its own room and the care of children until the age of three, after which they should be brought up by the community, although their parents might have access to them. All work should be cooperative and its proceeds communally shared. There should be small shops with the best machinery available and enough craftsmen to make each community largely self-sufficient, although certain communities also would turn out specialized products for trade.

Coupled with this rational analysis and plan was a definite strain of millenarianism. Owen was already beginning to believe that society as then constituted was doomed to disaster and that the capitalist’s methods of what Marx would call “the period of primitive accumulation” were profoundly evil. He shared William Blake’s judgment of the dark Satanic mills and was coming to think of himself as a messiah called to lead man into a New Moral World.

It is extraordinary how well received his proposals were. Leading capitalists, politicians, nobility, even the Duke of Kent, the father of Queen Victoria, became enthusiastic supporters. Unfortunately, Owen’s belief that men were shaped almost entirely by environment and could be changed by changing their environment was closely linked to his rationalistic deism and his hostility to all forms of institutional religion. Thus at a great meeting in London he was carried away and launched into an anti-religious diatribe and immediately lost a large share of his support, although it is remarkable — considering the storm such a speech would raise in the next generation, at the height of Victorian reaction — how many people, even important figures in the establishment, continued to support him, and how much this support cut across class and political lines. His followers were by no manner of means all radical Whigs. In fact, Owen, with his profound sense of the responsibility of wealth, power, birth, and education, and his rejection of “free enterprise,” can actually be considered one of the founders of radical Toryism.

Although Owen found plenty of verbal support and sympathetic interest, he did not find the decisive action from the State or the establishment which naïvely he seems to have expected. Owenite clubs were formed. He gained articulate disciples who promulgated his ideas, and in the course of time a movement grew up which would last until the third quarter of the century. Eventually a number of communities embodying the principles of either his projected communal settlements or of New Lanark, or something of both, were established. Most of them failed within a year, but for over a generation Owenite communities continued to be formed in Great Britain. The longest lived were Queenwood and Blues Spring in England, Orbiston in Scotland, and Ralahine in Ireland. Essential to the life of all these communities were their schools, where the malleable young would be formed into citizens of the New Moral World.

The Owenite communities lead directly to the cooperative garden villages of a later generation, but their greatest influence was probably upon education. Owen’s special combination of his own ideas and those of the Swiss educational reformer Pestalozzi established the progressive model of British education. As we have seen, one amusing aspect was Owen’s enthusiasm for dancing. Here Owen seems to have instinctively discovered one of the most important forces for commitment and community — the orgy. Dancing was almost as important to him as it was to the Shakers, in whom he had early been interested, and from whom he learned more than he may have acknowledged.

However much of a following Owen may have obtained in Great Britain, he became increasingly aware of widespread resistance and of the iron crust of custom. There was freedom in America, unlimited land in the New World. It would be possible to build the New Moral World, and in an open, flexible society it would be quite possible to convert, by successful example, the entire country in a relatively short time. Owen decided to found his major colony on or near the American frontier. He began to withdraw from the government of New Lanark in 1828 after a long period of friction with his partners, resigned all connections, and in 1825 went shopping in America for a site.

In March he began the negotiation to buy Harmony for one hundred and twenty-five thousand dollars — the entire colony, village, shops, and land — from the Rappites; and in May they moved out to their new colony in Pennsylvania, which became even more successful than Harmony had been. Characteristically, Owen did not bother to investigate sufficiently to find whether rumors of malaria being endemic at the Harmony site on the banks of the lower Wabash were true.

Owen and his first colonists took possession in April — thirty thousand acres of land, a complete village with one hundred and sixty houses, churches, dormitories, flour mills, textile factory, distilleries, breweries, a tannery, various craftsmen’s shops, over two thousand acres under cultivation with eighteen acres of vineyards and orchards, as well as additional pastureland and woods.

From the beginning the man who had been so canny, businesslike, and careful at New Lanark seems to have proceeded with a truly exceptional lack of good sense. He began by touring the eastern United States, addressed Congress and met the President, and exhibited a large model of his future colony building, which greatly resembled the later planned, but never built, Fourierists’ phalansteries. He was listened to with the most serious attention because, of course, in the early years of the last century there was a widespread hope that it might be possible to make a radical turn in the development of society away from the industrial capitalism which so obviously was destroying both men and values and purposefully steer society into a new moral order of collective cooperative life. Capitalism, as a social system, had yet to develop an ideology and propaganda of its own, and least of all a “consensus.” Many of Owen’s ideas and special terminology derive, in fact, from radical Freemasonry.

In April 1825 Owen made an impassioned speech at New Harmony inaugurating a New Order of the Ages, and affirmed that in a very short time the example of New Harmony would convert the civilized world. In May a constitution was adopted and the Preliminary Society of New Harmony was formed, with Owen in charge of the community for three probationary years, during which time all property would remain in his possession. Meanwhile, he had advertised in the papers inviting all men of good will to come and take part in the founding of the new civilization! They came — in a few months more than nine hundred of them. Some were convinced Owenites. A few were skilled mechanics, very few were experienced farmers, most of the serious people were intellectuals and what we would call white-collar workers. There were no people to operate many of the enterprises left by the Rappites and no serious effort was later made to recruit such workers. Although colonists came in the hundreds, in fact, Owen unbelievably left to make more speeches.

During the succeeding year, over ten Owenite colonies were founded. Those in New York, Pennsylvania, Ohio, and Nashoba, Tennessee, were of historical importance, but within a year most had failed. The Mormon leaders may have learned from Owen. They systematically recruited by ordering their missionaries to speak out and convert exactly those trades and professions needed for a well-rounded, self-sustaining community, with a base of farmers and agricultural workers. They even sent orders to their missionaries for the conversion of specifically needed craftsmen. Owen did quite the opposite as a matter of policy. He welcomed anyone who came. New Harmony was what today would be called an “open-gate commune.” Soon there was an ever increasing proportion of crackpots, loafers, and rascals. From his travels he wrote back to his son in New Jersey to get to work on the immense communal building, for which there were neither workers nor stone, and gave instructions for other equally visionary and impractical schemes. His son replied with desperate requests for experienced mechanics and farmers.

Owen obliged by returning in January 1826 with the famous “Boatload of Knowledge,” a whole bevy of intellectuals, some of them of very considerable importance, who would have been a credit to any European university, though they were not the people needed to build utopia on the American frontier. The most important was William McClure, the president of the Philadelphia Academy of Natural Sciences, the “Father of American Geology,” and the most active American advocate of the Pestalozzian system of education. There were other scientists — Thomas Say, Gerard Troost, the famous explorer Lesueur, the educator D’Arusmont, Madame Fretageot, and Frances Wright, one of the leading feminists and radicals of her time. There was also Josiah Warren, who had organized an orchestra and was to become one of the founders of Mutualist Anarchism, and who had already anticipated many of the theories later to be identified with Proudhon.

McClure, D’Arusmont, and Madame Fretageot immediately organized a school. Within a short time some of the colonists split off to form a nearby settlement called McCluria, concerned almost exclusively with education, and ignoring economic problems, agriculture, and industry. On January 25 they adopted a new constitution. Owen withdrew as “dictator.” The colony was reorganized on the basis of complete communism, with the general assembly of all members as the authority embodied in an executive committee of six. Work was no longer to be rewarded for its worth to the community, but rather all goods were free to all members alike. Owen set up a sort of public cash box, not unlike that long ago set up at Münster, from which any member could draw at will, but this was soon abandoned as the unscrupulous emptied it daily. Within two weeks New Harmony obviously was breaking down, and the assembly by majority vote begged Owen to resume authority. The worst rascals and idlers withdrew under pressure and an effort was made at production in the fields and shops. Within a month another group split off. They were mostly farmers who came with Owen from Great Britain, who objected to his prohibition of alcoholic drink. They named their colony FeibaPeveli, in accord with a system invented by an English eccentric, Whitwell, in which a cipher represented the latitude and longitude of any given place. New York was OtkeNotive, and London LafaVovutu.

The fragmentation of the settlement continued with a new constitution in April, and three more during the summer. Each schism was settled somewhere on the estate. Whenever the daily rhythm of crises reached a peak, Owen’s solution was to make a speech and adopt a new constitution. On the Fourth of July 1826 he persuaded the community to adopt a “Declaration of Mental Independence” which forthrightly denounced religion, marriage, and private property — all of which led to further and more serious schisms. By the end of the year Owen’s euphoria was beginning to wane, and early in 1827 a large part of the town was split up into houses and lots for sale, and into private small businesses and establishments including gin houses. In March eighty people left to start a community near Cincinnati. The communal life had broken down. The community kitchens and dining rooms, recreation centers, meeting house, warehouses, and granaries were abandoned. The school, however, continued and in one form or another would survive, and there the remnant of the colonists took their meals and carried on what community life they could. Leaving his son Robert Dale in charge, Owen went off on a speaking tour urging, with the greatest optimism, the development of more Owenite communities. But when he reached New York he took ship for England and never came back. The first secular communist community was dead and Owen had lost about a quarter of a million dollars, although most of the property was still administered by his sons. A few other colonies were formed, one as far away as Wisconsin, then a wilderness, but by 1830 all had ceased to exist. Owen went on to become a leader of British radicalism, a founding father of modern trade-unionism and the cooperative movement, and a strong influence on the development of British cooperative villages — “garden cities.” In his old age he became a Spiritualist.

This bare account of the brief life of New Harmony as a communist colony makes it difficult to understand its influence and historical importance. Owen did practically everything wrong. He bought a ready-made settlement, so that the colonists had no sense of having built something for themselves. He took in anyone who came, and most of those who came had little or no commitment to his ideas or to the purposes of the colony. There was nothing to bind the members together. Each person was a law unto himself, and everyone disagreed with everyone else on the most fundamental principles and the most ordinary practices. No attempt was made to keep out rascals, cranks, or even, to judge from the record, the seriously mentally ill. Not only did most of the colonists not share Owen’s ideas, but his attacks on religion and marriage antagonized many of the most valuable members, namely, the workers and farmers, and were shared by only a minority of the intellectuals. The employees at New Lanark, in Scotland, were just that, employees, and the ultimate discipline was the control of their job — they could be fired.

Owen’s dictatorship of New Harmony was devoid of power by his own wish. Questions of discipline were thrown into the general meeting, whose decisions were unenforceable. Many seceded from the colony or simply left, but few were expelled. There were lectures, concerts, dances, but there was nothing beyond these to bind the colonists together and to enforce commitment like the confessional meetings of the religious groups. Owen introduced a kind of dress-reform costume which was to be the uniform of the community, but only a minority of the people ever wore it, and there were no other techniques of enforcing group self-identification. By the time the Rappites had sold Harmony to Owen, they had become an almost self-sustaining closed economy with a surplus for the outside market which was making them rich. Owen had neither workers with the necessary skills to operate the Rappite plant nor a sure method for ensuring that people did the work they were supposed to do.

Yet New Harmony was not a total failure. It certainly provided an example, though seldom heeded, of what not to do in the organization of a secular communalistic community. But it also introduced America to educational methods which would profoundly influence all public education, in the north at least, and which would help to make the Indiana school system for three generations the most progressive in the United States. Robert Dale Owen entered the Indiana legislature and was responsible for giving married women control of their own property and liberalizing divorce and inheritance laws as they affected women. The Owen brothers also made New Harmony a focus for early scientific activity. In 1839 David Dale Owen was appointed U.S. Geologist and established the headquarters of the U.S. Geological Survey in New Harmony, and was a founder of the Smithsonian Institute. From the colony’s Workingmen’s Institute and Library similar institutions spread across the country — one still exists in San Francisco — and out of them grew the free public library.

Only two of the many daughter colonies of New Harmony were of historical importance: Nashoba, founded by Frances Wright, and a succession of experiments led by Josiah Warren. John Humphrey Noyes, the leader of the Oneida colony, said of Frances Wright, “She was indeed the pioneer of the strong-minded women.” Not only was she the leading woman in the beginnings of secular communism, but she was essentially the founder of the secular anti-slavery movement and women’s rights. Even today she would be considered a radical feminist. Her interest in the Rappites at Harmony preceded that of Owen’s. She visited various Shaker settlements and other communalist groups, lived in the communities, questioned the leaders, and studied their problems. She also traveled through the southern states discussing her great plan with planters and politicians. It was certainly an extraordinary one. She hoped to establish a communist colony led at first by white people and freed Negroes, but consisting mostly of slaves, whom she proposed to purchase, or who would be donated by slaveholders, and who would be paid half of what they produced — with which they would eventually purchase their freedom. She accompanied the Owens to New Harmony and took part in the formation of the community and left in 1826, before the disintegration. She purchased two thousand acres, mostly marshy woodland on the Wolf River, thirteen miles above Memphis, Tennessee, and settled it with several Negro families, including fifteen active workers, whom she also purchased. Accompanying them were a number of whites, amongst them D’Arusmont from New Harmony, the family of George Flower, her younger sister Camilla Wright, and a wandering communist, James Richardson.

At first there were only two cabins, one for slaves and one for whites with Frances and Flower the only white people, but in the course of the winter the others came down, bringing a former Shaker, Richesson Whitby. Frances spent the bad weather in Memphis and on good days went out and helped to clear land. As soon as it grew warm, it became apparent that the site was malarial. Frances, exhausted with manual labor, caught the disease and almost died. She went up to New Harmony for a rest and “the better air.” New Harmony, of course, was also malarial. At this time she began her long off-and-on love relationship with Robert Dale Owen. Meanwhile she wrote and lectured on free love, a new enthusiasm. It was not long before the newspapers discovered her and linked her advocacy of free love with the interracial colony at Nashoba, and she became the priestess of Beelzebub. She and Robert Dale Owen went down to Nashoba where he hoped to live “a life of lettered leisure” while she visited her friend Lafayette in France. Owen was horrified at the poverty and disorder at Nashoba and decided to go to Europe with her. They solved the problems of Nashoba, as those at New Harmony were solved, by drawing up a new constitution. Lafayette, Camilla Wright, the Owens, the white people of Nashoba, and William McClure were made trustees and Frances gave them title to the estate, all her personal property, and the ownership of the slaves, and the others were invited to “invest” in the venture by donating money, property, or labor. The slaves were supposed to have the same rights as everyone else, but in fact they were still slaves. Noyes compared them to the helots of ancient Sparta, with the difference that they were continuously lectured about communism, racial equality, and free love.

Owen and Frances departed from New Orleans. George Flower left, disgusted, and Whitby took his place. Before embarking, Frances gave lectures in which she advocated both free love and miscegenation, and envisaged a creamy-colored race more suitable to the climate of the south than either black or white. The press raved, and audiences booed, but some took her seriously and listened. The fact that she was not mobbed or lynched is an indication of the open-mindedness of the American public in the 1820s, so different from a generation later. In New Orleans they also recruited several new members, including a creole of color, Mam’selle Lolotte, with several children, including a grown daughter, Josephine. Mam’selle Lolotte took over the school, such as it was, and all children were taken from their parents and placed under her management. This led to bitter resentment on the part of the slaves, who grew increasingly antagonistic to the free Negroes and to those of lighter complexion. Whitby and Camilla Wright got married and Richardson and Josephine began to live together, and Richardson gave a lecture on free love and miscegenation.

The extracts from the daybook of the colony, filled with this sort of thing, were sent off by Richardson to the abolitionist paper, The Genius of Universal Emancipation. American, British, and continental papers picked up the story and Nashoba became an international scandal. Camilla responded by publicly attacking marriage and stating that Richardson’s conduct had the approval of all at Nashoba. Even Frances stated that Camilla and Richardson had been foolish. She returned from England bringing no converts, but accompanied by her friend Mrs. Trollope, who planned to tour the United States seeking a business opportunity for her husband, preferably in the west, possibly Cincinnati. Mrs. Trollope came to Nashoba for Christmas and was horrified at the tumble-down, improperly built cabins, the idleness, disorder, dirt, and disease. Camilla, moreover, was seriously ill with malaria. When Mrs. Trollope left, Whitby and Camilla went to New Harmony with her, and Richardson said farewell to Josephine and joined them. Frances drew up a new constitution, hired a white overseer, and likewise departed for New Harmony. This time she and D’Arusmont fell in love, and Frances lectured in Cincinnati to packed houses. She was becoming a sensational lecturer, her ideas growing ever more radical as both New Harmony and Nashoba disintegrated. She and Robert Jennings went on a lecture tour of the country; and activities at New Harmony narrowed to publishing The Gazette, with Jennings, D’Arusmont, Frances, and Robert Dale Owen writing the copy and doing the printing. They eventually moved the paper to New York, and renamed it The Free Inquirer. Nashoba was hopelessly demoralized. Frances and D’Arusmont took the slaves to Haiti and freed them. The freed Negroes, including Mam’selle Lolotte, vanished from history. Frances went on to other adventures. She became a power in the Workingman’s Party. Camilla’s baby died, and then Camilla. Frances and D’Arusmont went to France and were married and a daughter, Frances Sylvia, was born. They returned to America and Frances, against the objections of D’Arusmont, resumed her lecturing and became the leader of the women’s rights movement. They quarreled and D’Arusmont went back to France and eventually divorced her. In 1852 she slipped on the ice in Cincinnati and broke her hip and died, probably of pneumonia. She was only fifty-six and had led one of the most eventful lives of any woman in history.



16. Josiah Warren

Of all the remarkable people associated with New Harmony, the most remarkable by far was Josiah Warren. Had he been a general, a politician, or a capitalist, he would have been one of the most famous of all Americans. He was a genuinely universal man — a talented musician accomplished on several instruments, a craftsman skilled in several crafts, an important inventor, an economist, philosopher, and founder of American individual anarchism — as a movement at least, since Thoreau was too individualistic to be the founder of a movement.

Warren was born in Boston in 1798 of a well-known Pilgrim family. Not much is known of his early life, but in his teens he was making a living as a professional musician. At twenty he married and migrated to Cincinnati, the capital of the frontier, where he worked as an orchestra and band leader and teacher of music. Tallow and oil were in short supply, so he invented a lamp that burned lard and gave better light; soon he was running a lamp factory and became a moderately well-to-do man. In 1825 he sold the factory and accompanied Owen and his first settlers to New Harmony, where he became the leader of the band and taught music in the school — the community’s only two successful institutions. He also functioned as a general technical adviser and troubleshooter. Moreover, he was one of the few persons in the colony with any mechanical knowledge or skill. His philosophy had always been that the best way to understand a process was to learn to do it. At New Harmony he began his interest in printing. In 1827, as New Harmony disintegrated, he returned to Cincinnati. Of all the colonists, he was the only one, at least in a leading position, who seems to have learned anything. Most of them, like Frances Wright, were doomed to repeat the same mistakes and follies and end in the same disasters. Almost all critics of New Harmony have said that what it lacked was strong leadership, discipline, and commitment — strong government. Warren came to exactly the opposite conclusion. New Harmony had suffered from the disorderly exercise of freedom and the instability of Owen’s authority. On the principle of like cures like, he was convinced that the basis of all future reform must be complete individual liberty. “Man seeks freedom as the magnet seeks the pole or water its level,” he wrote, “and society can have no peace until every member is really free.” But such a condition was not realizable under the existing organization and ideas of society. New views had to replace those of the past. For the future society new principles were needed. The first of these was “individual individuality.” The sovereignty of every individual at all times had to be held inviolable. Everyone necessarily was free to dispose of his person, his time, his property, and his reputation as he pleased — but always at his own cost.

Warren had evolved a fairly comprehensive system of economics based on a labor theory of value, at first of the strictest interpretation, something like Marx’s, or rather Engels’s theory of labor power as distinguished from labor — all labor time was considered equivalent. Later, learning from what was in a sense a controlled scientific experiment, he came to believe in a limited scale of values based on skill. Warren’s was the mind of a scientist and inventor. He immediately put the ideas he had evolved from his New Harmony experience into practical application.

On May 18, 1827, an historic date, he opened a little general store at the corner of Fifth and Elm Streets in Cincinnati. He called it the Equity Store, but as soon as people found out about it, this became the most popular retail business in the city, and was known because of its method of computing price as the “time store.” Price was based on the principle of equal exchange of labor, measured by time occupied and exchange with other kinds of labor. All goods were marked with their cost plus overhead, usually about four percent. It was, incidentally, the first self-service business. The customer selected what he wished, brought it to the counter, the clerk computed the time spent in service, and the customer gave a labor note, “Due to Josiah Warren on demand, thirty minutes in carpenter work, John Smith” or, “Due to Josiah Warren on demand, ten minutes in needlework, Mary Brown.”

Customers left orders for their needs, and these were posted each morning. Craftsmen and farmers brought their goods in accordance with the list of needs and exchanged them for other goods or for labor notes, in accordance with a list of the cost and labor time for all staple articles. Beyond these simple arrangements there were practically no other rules and regulations. The store functioned automatically as a cooperative market for both buyers and sellers and as a labor exchange and employment bureau. The first week it did only five dollars’ worth of business, but in a short time the store was thriving. And the remarkable thing was that highly skilled craftsmen and professional men were willing to exchange their labor with others on a simple time basis, although later Warren would modify this arrangement somewhat. The store soon came to function also as an interest-free credit union, and loans in labor and commodities and eventually money, if absolutely necessary, were made without interest and no other charge than the labor cost of handling. Warren was eventually able to embark upon a moderate cooperative real-estate venture, based on the funds in labor and money of the time cost. All this was done when Pierre Joseph Proudhon, the generally considered founder of individual anarchy, mutual credit, and cooperative labor exchange, was still a schoolboy. Warren not only anticipated Proudhon, but he was a far clearer thinker and writer, and a man who believed in testing all of his theories in practice. Marx was right about Proudhon. He was a confused thinker and a confusing writer and far from being a practical man.

After three years of most successful operation of the Time Store, Warren decided that he had proved his point, the scientific experiment had justified the hypothesis, and in 1830 he closed out the business and went to New York to work with Robert Dale Owen and Frances Wright on The Free Inquirer. In about six months he returned to Ohio. In the next few years he attempted to found communes, which never got started, due to factors beyond his control. He ran another “time store” at New Harmony, and on the side, as it were, made several profitable inventions in printing machinery, culminating in the first rotary press. In 1847 he took over the leadership of a Fourierist phalanstery on the Ohio, about thirty miles above Cincinnati, which he renamed Utopia. It operated for about four years until the settlers sold out at a profit and migrated to Minnesota, where they disappear from history.

In 1850 Warren moved to New York City and joined forces with Steven Pearl Andrews, who became the chief propagandist for Warren’s principles. These included the sovereignty of the individual, cost the limit of price, equitable commerce, and, eventually, mutual banking: in other words, the well-developed theory of individual anarchism or mutualism, which would survive as a small movement until well into the twentieth century, and which was certainly a much better worked-out general theory of free association than Proudhon’s similar system.

In the same year Warren, Andrews, and others began the community of Modern Times, now called Brentwood, on Long Island about forty miles from New York. Due to Warren’s principles, it is easy to confuse Modern Times with a cooperative real-estate development. Each family owned its own house and there was no regular form of government. Where New Harmony had failed, due to its open-door policy and the long struggle between Owen’s authority and the factionalism of cranks and the parasitism of loafers, Warren’s Modern Times solved these problems by ignoring them, by exercising no authority whatever. The cranks and loafers came, but in a short time eliminated themselves. Communism of consumption was ensured by a “time store,” but the colony was never able to achieve communism of production except in agriculture. There was never sufficient capital to start a successful manufacturing business. A paper-box factory was attempted and was quite successful for a few years but was wiped out in the financial panic of 1857. The colony never really died, but slowly withered away to become a model village suburban to New York. In his old age Warren moved to Boston and died there in 1874 at the age of seventy-six. For another generation the movement he founded was a small but significant factor in American radicalism. The principal voice of individual anarchism and mutualism was Benjamin R. Tucker (author of In Place of a Book, by a Man too Busy to Write One, the best exposition of individual anarchism), whose magazine Liberty lasted into the twentieth century; and Warren’s principles of community organization were adopted in modified form by various communalist villages in both Great Britain and America. Mutual banking associations survive to the present day.



17. Brook Farm

During the 1840s, the commune movement reached a height it would not attain again until after the Second World War. Ventures at least calling themselves communal were started at the rate of from five to ten a year. Most of them were extremely short-lived, and many, for instance Amos Bronson Alcott’s, were not really communes at all, but a kind of impoverished community boarding house occupied by a handful of eccentrics.

It was a decade of revolutionary ferment throughout the Western world, a time described by Marx and Engels in terrifying chapters on the primitive accumulation of capital. When the Satanic mills came into their full power, civilized human beings everywhere recoiled in wrath and horror at the consequences of primitive industrialization, and they were answered by economists and philosophers who said that unbridled individual freedom would guarantee that the misery of each would result in the good of all. In 1848 revolution swept Europe. It was suppressed, but the ruling classes were frightened; and movements of reform were permitted to gain a few of their objectives on a slow, piecemeal basis.

In the United States, it seemed for a while as though the American dream of a free cooperative society might win. That hope is most clearly embodied in the work of Walt Whitman. Amongst the New England Transcendentalists and on the fringes of the abolitionist movement the demands for widespread changes in society in clothing, sexual relations, government, economics, education, a total transvaluation of values, were universally the accepted commonplaces of America’s first radical intelligentsia. (The founding fathers were radical intellectual gentlemen.)

From the panic of 1837 on, a series of economic crises established a cycle of boom and collapse that lasted until the Civil War. The economic instability and the growing struggle over slavery intensified the sense of crisis and alienation, not only amongst the intellectuals, but spreading to the general population. Louis Napoleon’s Second Empire, with its primitive gestures toward a corporative State, aborted the revolutionary movement in France. In America the Civil War ended a time of revolutionary hope, but it is too often forgotten today that the intellectuals, the radicals, and the abolitionists not only went into the Civil War under the impression it was the revolution, but came out of it thinking they had won. Whitman was not the only person who had to learn slowly and painfully that the American dream was not going to be realized in his lifetime and possibly never at all. America has fought not two but three great wars, each the bloodiest in history, to make the world safe for democracy. It is important to understand that the radicalization of large sections of the educated population and the skilled working class was at least as intense and as widespread proportionately as the similar movement in the 1960s. Most of the ideas so popular in the latter period were part of the accepted ideology of the earlier.

Brook Farm owes its historical importance to the fact that it was not an experiment of obscure eccentrics, or what most people would call religious fanatics, but rather was a carefully considered attempt to secede from the dominant society by representative members of the intellectual elite.

In the summer of 1841, the Reverend George Ripley, who was an editor of The Dial, a member of the Transcendental Club, and a recent apostate from the Unitarian Church because he found even its vestigial dogmatism too confining, proposed in the circle of Boston Transcendentalists to found a communal society. The project would be financed by the sale of stock at a hundred dollars a share. Each shareholder would become a member. Ripley had been visiting the Shaker and other religious communities and had questioned closely former members of New Harmony and other secular communes. He hoped to avoid the mistakes that had led to failure and to incorporate on a secular basis those methods that had produced success. The colonists would combine in each member mental and physical work. Initially everyone would work on the farm and in the craft shop and at small manufacture, which it was hoped would be developed, and all would share in the domestic labor of cooking, housekeeping, and child care. One of Ripley’s proudest boasts was to be that they had “abolished domestic servitude . . . we do freely from the love of it those duties that are usually discharged by domestics,” a statement whose naïveté would indicate the class composition of its membership. All work was to be paid for at a rate of a dollar a day to men and women alike, whether physical or mental. Housing, fuel, clothing, and food produced on the farm or cooperatively purchased was rationed at cost.

As in most secular communes, there was a strong emphasis upon the radical reform of education, with “perfect freedom of intercourse between students and teaching body.” There were no rigid study hours and the children’s time was divided between school and work in the fields or about the house. In the course of events, the colony attracted experienced farmers, carpenters, shoemakers, and printers, as well as several teachers, but initially the directors of agriculture were Charles A. Dana and Nathaniel Hawthorne, neither of whom knew anything about farming and who found the physical work so exhausting that it made intellectual effort impossible.

At first there were only twenty members. Most of the leading Transcendentalists, except for John S. Dwight, Minot Pratt, George Partridge, and Bradford and Warren Burton who were amongst the original shareholders, were skeptical; and Ralph Waldo Emerson remained antagonistic to the end, referring to Brook Farm as “a perpetual picnic, a French Revolution in small, an Age of Reason in a patty pan,” a completely unjust statement. Most of the people had known one another before coming to the farm, and although the gospel of Transcendentalism — a combination of radical secession from Unitarianism and Universalism mixed with evolutionism, monism, pragmatism, humanism, and an interest in the just discovered mysticism of India — might seem to us to have been too amorphous a faith to inspire binding commitment, it did not seem so to them.

To the strait-laced puritan farmer in the neighborhood, Brook Farm was a secret iniquity, a Babylon set down in his midst. To colonists who came from strait-laced Congregationalist backgrounds, their fellow members seemed totally irreligious. They played croquet or went on picnics on the Sabbath, and the more abandoned female members even knitted and sewed. Ripley himself was an intensely religious man with a good deal of wisdom gained from his pastoral experience. He was imperturbably good-humored in the face of contentions and frustrations amongst his followers. In his quiet way he seems to have emanated a powerful charisma strong enough to hold the colony together and keep it on an even keel.

At first there were only twenty members and there were never more than eighty, but those who stayed worked together with enthusiasm and a surprising minimum of contentiousness. It could be said of Brook Farm that it was not a communist, but a cooperative enterprise; but the cooperative aspects were largely administrative, and the smallness, cohesion, and enthusiasm made it in fact a commune. Economically Brook Farm never became self-sustaining — even in agriculture — much less profitable; but the difference was made up by the school, which took in students from the outside, and which became not only successful and profitable but produced a number of moderately famous people, amongst them George William Curtis, Father Isaac Hecker, the founder of the Paulist Fathers and one of the first Catholic Modernists, General Francis C. Barlow, and a large number of well-balanced adults, who looked back on their school days at Brook Farm as amongst the happiest of their lives.

Although Brook Farm was on the border between a religious and a secular colony, and although its sophisticated members were far from being superstitious or “primitive” or dogmatic in their beliefs, the governing philosophy was certainly millenarian. In his early conversations with Channing, Ripley spoke of his failure as a minister because his congregation lived one life on Sundays and another, manifestly in defiance of Christian principles, on weekdays. He wanted, as it says of heaven in the ancient hymn, a society of perpetual Sabbaths. As plans for the colony matured, Ripley, Elizabeth P. Peabody, and Margaret Fuller began to speak in The Dial of Brook Farm in typical millenarian terms as an apostolic community modeled on the life of Jesus and his disciples. Further, it would come out of the doomed cities and establish a community of love to set an example to the world — in short, a saving remnant.

Hawthorne found the work too hard and left. He had come there hoping to find ample leisure to write. Others were offended by what they considered the irreligion or paganism. The colonists who stayed really seemed to have found a perpetual Sabbath. They worked hard part of the day and the rest of the time was spent in games and self-improvement. In the evening there was musical entertainment, discussions, and dancing, or people walked the nine miles from Brook Farm to Boston to attend concerts and lectures. Partly perhaps it was because of the abiding sweetness of temper, so uncharacteristic of most charismatic leaders, which emanated from George Ripley, that the Brook Farmers seemed to have had a continuous good time.

The colony was family-based and most of the personal relationships had been established beforehand. There seems to have been a certain amount of free love, as it would later be called, but very far from as much as its hostile critics imagined. Sexual problems never seem to have played much of a role. The members were also modified vegetarians. True Bostonians, they refused to give up a piece of pork in their baked beans, and they killed and ate the rabbits who invaded their crops. The men wore a little cap, a sort of blouse, and trousers, and the women short skirts and pantaloons.

In comparison with Owen’s New Harmony, Brook Farm seems to have been free of the more outrageous cranks and eccentrics. Hawthorne’s Blithedale Romance gives a false impression. It is obvious on the face of it that he was outraged by the feminism of the leading women members, most especially of Margaret Fuller, his character “Zenobia.” Sexual equality probably antagonized more male intellectuals, visitors, and novices or postulants than sewing on the Sabbath antagonized females.

Even with the school, however, the colony always operated at a slight loss, made up by contributions and the purchase of additional shares by members and their friends. There was a marketable surplus of farm products, but it was not enough, and the projected “manufacturies” never really got off the ground.

In 1844 Ripley became converted to Fourierism; and after prolonged discussion, the colony turned itself into a Fourierist phalanstery with a rigid, bureaucratized departmentalism envisaged by Fourier for a colony of some two thousand people, but totally unsuited to the seventy-odd Brook Farmers. Membership was thrown open to anyone who considered himself a Fourierist. The original membership slowly declined, to be replaced by the cranks and loafers who, fortunately, seldom stayed for very long. But for two years most surplus time and labor was devoted to the construction of the central building of a planned phalanstery with dormitories and apartments, class meeting-rooms and classrooms, an auditorium, and community recreation and dining rooms. On March 2, 1846, it was completed, and the colony and all its friends joined in a celebration. That night the building burned down.

Brook Farm never recovered. The disaster seems to have destroyed the morale of the colonists as well as ruined them financially. Brook Farm struggled for awhile, but “the enterprise faded, flickered, died down, and expired,” and the land and buildings were sold at auction on April 13, 1849, contemporaneously with the consolidation of the power of Louis Napoleon in France and the dying out of the last embers of the Revolution of 1848 in Europe.

Emerson had been supercilious and Hawthorne embittered, but records indicate that almost all the Brook Farmers who stayed with the colony took a different view. They formed an association for ex-members and purchased a camp in the foothills of Mount Hurricane in the Adirondacks, which they called Summer Brook Farm, and every year they gathered to live again the Brook Farm life. Sixty years later the aged surviving members were still coming to the camp.



18. Fourierism

François Marie Charles Fourier was born in 1772 and died in 1837. His family had lost its modest wealth in the French Revolution and François’s life as a result was conditioned by his sense of the injustice of the maldistribution of wealth. Behind him lay feudalism which in its best days had been functional, ordering society, but his life was to be spent in the demoralization and disorganization of the beginnings of the industrial age, Marx’s period of the primitive accumulation of capital.

Fourier, more than any other utopian socialist, tried to solve all the problems of society by the construction of an elaborately detailed system in which every person, activity, and thing had its place, and every contingency was anticipated. He believed that the completely free development of man and the unrestrained indulgence of all desires and appetites would necessarily produce the good man in the good society, and that vice and evil were results of restraints upon freedom for complete self-gratification — the most extreme form of social optimism. Man was naturally good because he bore within himself a fundamental moral harmony, the reflection of harmony in the universe. His “natural man” was considerably more natural than Jean Jacques Rousseau’s, but he proposed to liberate him by means of a most rigidly organized society. Of course, the assumption was that once a sample community of this society, which only Fourier knew how to construct, was set up, it would prove so immensely attractive that it would be adopted universally within a very short time.

Society was to be divided into phalanges, or as they were usually called in America, phalansteries or phalanxes, each with a common building, housing from sixteen hundred to eighteen hundred individuals on about three square miles of agricultural land, divided into fields, orchards, and gardens — Fourier was very fond of fruits and flowers. The population would be divided into groups of at least seven persons, with two in each wing, representing both the ascending and descending streams of taste and ability, and three in the center for balance. At least five groups would form a series, again with a center and wings. There would be a series for every conceivable occupation, and the members could move freely from one to another. Each person might work no more than an hour or two in any one series, so that all would find complete fulfillment. Unpleasant work like garbage removal would be performed by junior battalions of children, who would be encouraged to find tasks like cleaning privies great fun. Each family would have a separate apartment in the phalanstery, which would also have a center and two wings, and there would be theatres, concert halls, libraries, community dining rooms, counsel chambers, schools, nurseries, and all public amenities. The fourth side of the square would be closed by the barns, warehouses, and workshops, and on the center plaza the groups would be mustered each morning and marched to their work with music playing and banners flying. The phalanx would be financed by the sale of shares of stock, but every member need not be a stockholder, nor every stockholder a member. Work would be paid for and the worker would be charged rent and other expenses. At the end of the year the profits of the phalanx would be divided, five-twelfths to labor, four-twelfths to capital and three-twelfths to skill. Seven-eighths of the members would be farmers and mechanics, and the rest professionals, artists, scientists, and capitalists. There would be no discontent or discrimination, since all roles would be interchangeable. There would be a Chancellery of the Court of Love, and Corporations of Love, and an extraordinary system of organized polygamy. Not only sex, but food and all other sensual pleasures, would be organized to give maximum pleasure.

Fourier did not limit himself to reorganizing society. His utopia found its place in a fantastic cosmology. The stars and planets are animals like ourselves, he thought. They are born, mate, grow old, and die as we. The average life of a planet is eighty thousand years, half spent in ascending vibrations and half in descending; there are thirty-two periods of the earth, of which we are now in the fifth. When we reach the eighth, the Great Harmony will be consummated, and men will grow tails, with eyes on the tip. Dead bodies will be turned into interstellar perfume. Six new moons will appear. The sea will change into lemonade, and all fierce and noxious animals and insects will be transformed into sweet and gentle anti-lions, anti-rats, and anti-bugs. Then the phalanxes, numbering exactly 2,985,984, will spread over the earth, which will become one great Community of Love, ruled over by an Omniarch, three Augusts, twelve Caesarinas, forty-eight empresses, one hundred and forty-four Caliphs and five hundred and seventy-six sultans.

In his later years Fourier ran advertisements in the newspapers, saying that he would be home at a certain hour every day to meet with any capitalist who wished to invest in the future, found a phalanx, and possibly become a sultan or a caliph. No one ever came, but as time went by he gathered around himself a small group led by Victor Considerant, who in 1832 launched a Fourierist movement with a newspaper, Le Phalanster, which ran under various names until it was suppressed by Louis Napoleon in 1850. A community was established in 1832 near Paris, but failed almost immediately. There were no attempts of any importance after that in France. Fourier was patently mad, but Considerant was not. The Fourierists were careful not to emphasize the seas of lemonade and the men with seeing-eye tails. Instead they contrasted the combination of detailed planning and lives of joy, wonder, and sensual pleasure promised by Fourier’s phalanxes with the frigid, hard-working, puritanical utopias of his competitors.

Associated with Considerant was the American journalist Arthur Brisbane, who returned to the States and began active propaganda of lectures and articles. In 1848 he published The Social Destiny of Man, a simple and logical exposition of the conceivably practicable ideas of Fourier, purging anything that might hint at Fourier’s madness. The book attracted the attention of Horace Greeley, editor of The New Yorker; and in 1842, when Greeley became editor of The New York Tribune, he gave Brisbane a regular column in the paper and, in addition, considerable publicity for what Brisbane had christened Associationism in news and editorials. Greeley took to the lecture platform himself and finally pledged his property to the Association. Brisbane started a magazine, The Phalanx, which was absorbed in The Harbinger when Brook Farm was converted to Fourierism.

The conversion of the Brook Farmers and their associates gave the movement prestige and intellectual respectability, which it had never enjoyed in France, where any expurgated version of its doctrines could be compared with the original works of the master. George Ripley, Charles A. Dana, John S. Dwight, William Henry Channing, T.W. Higginson, James Russell Lowell, John Greenleaf Whittier, Margaret Fuller, William Cullen Bryant, in fact, almost all the New England intellectuals and Transcendentalists except Emerson and Thoreau, wrote for The Harbinger and the other Fourierist papers that blossomed in the next few years.

The movement also gathered up many abolitionists and, at least for a while, almost all primitive socialists. Its cooperative industry was an answer to both chattel slavery and the increasing debasement of the working class by the industrial system. The advent of Fourierism in America happened to coincide with a long period of economic depression and with the increasing social tensions which would culminate in the Civil War. Fourierism became a craze which the leaders found difficult to control. Somewhere between at least forty and fifty phalanxes were started in the next few years. Of these only six survived more than a year, and only three for more than two years.

Often crowds of a hundred or more colonists trouped off with flags flying and music playing to the wilderness, or to abandoned farms for which they had paid high prices. The first day began with a picnic, and ended with dancing, drinking, and the fulfillment of Fourier’s parcours, the concurrence of all sensual pleasures in perfect bliss. Within a few days, provisions began to run short, necessary skills were found to be in even shorter supply, and tempers were shorter yet. Soon competition for what little was available seemed worse than in the world they had left, and they began to quarrel and accuse each other of stealing. Some colonies lasted only a few weeks, and left the leading members seriously indebted. The tendency to buy as much land as possible and as heavily mortgaged was almost universal, and the purchasers were seldom able to distinguish malarial swamps and barren sand flats from agricultural land. Commitment to Owen’s New Harmony had been weak enough. It was practically nonexistent in the abortive phalanxes. Anyone was admitted who had become excited by reading the Fourierist press.

Almost all colonies began with a completely open-door policy. Not only was there no attempt to secure the balance of occupations, mechanics, and farmers necessary for any functioning community, but the phalanxes, like New Harmony, attracted a specific class, a caste of déclassés which had come into existence with capitalism itself — bohemians. Bohemians have been called people who would enjoy the luxuries of the rich without securing the necessities of the poor. The breakup of the old functions of society had produced large numbers of over-educated and under- or unemployed technical and professional people who were unable to find positions in society to which they fancied they had been called, and who had become increasingly alienated. They could not function with any satisfaction in the dominant society, and hoped to find a life aim and a significant role in an alternative community. But the demands of such a community were even greater than those of the dominant society, so they were, with few exceptions, foredoomed to still greater disappointment and demoralization.

The most successful Fourierist colony was the North American Phalanx, founded in 1843 near Red Bank, New Jersey. The founders were a group of Fourierists from Albany, New York, who had been discussing the possibility of organizing the community for some time and had thus become well acquainted. After considerable exploration, they selected a site of about seven hundred acres with pasture and woodland, but mostly under cultivation, and with two farmhouses. In August 1843 they called a convention, adopted a constitution, and raised an initial eight thousand dollars on shares. Although the constitution was largely an ideological manifesto, it also included a considerable amount of practical organization.

During the fall of the year, the first families occupied the farmhouses to capacity and began to build a large dormitory building for the main body which would come in the spring; in addition they went about doing all the necessary fall plowing and sowing. During 1844 about ninety people had settled in, planted and eventually harvested crops, built shops and mills, and worked out the details of practical organization. Membership was limited to what the project could support, and applicants were carefully screened and then underwent a probationary period of a year, preceded by a thirty to sixty-day visit. North American was anything but an open-door commune.

As time went on, the original joint-stock type of organization and the complicated system of paying wages and profits gave way to a more communal economy than even that of pure Fourierism. It took a while to work out the details of organization. One member said that the meetings of the first five years “were largely taken up with legislation.” Unlike any other phalanx, they could afford the time. The members were far more united. They had money. They were not threatened by bankruptcy. At the beginning, the property was worth twenty-eight thousand dollars, with about ten thousand dollars in outside debt. In November 1852 the property was estimated at eighty thousand dollars, with an outside debt of about eighteen thousand dollars and about one hundred and seven dollars credited to each person, man, woman, and child, or some one hundred and twelve members. To reach this point they had worked hard. There was never time for the constant picnics, concerts, and lectures characteristic of Brook Farm. Life at North American remained spartan to the end. Partly this was due to the influence of Shakerism on some of the leaders.

In September 1854 fire broke out in the flour mill and eventually destroyed the warehouses and shops. There was only two thousand dollars in insurance and the members estimated the total loss at more than twenty thousand dollars. A meeting of the stockholders was called to raise new funds. Instead they voted to dissolve the colony. Most of the stockholders by this time had become absentee members. A few people lingered on into the next year, when the property was finally sold off.

Had it not been for the fire, North American could have gone on indefinitely. The attrition of the years had left a community of people who were content with a very low-level utopia of hard work, plain living, and almost no intellectual or aesthetic satisfaction. Members had not been admitted unless they were prepared to do unskilled or agricultural labor. Professional people were discouraged. The colony even turned down a skilled printer who wanted to establish a press, and they were never able to attract highly skilled mechanics, but forced to hire them as needed. In spite of this, most of the colonists, but especially the children, remembered their years at North American with pleasure. Many of the members migrated to Victor Considerant’s colony in Texas, which never really got started, and others distributed themselves over a variety of communes, all of them short-lived.

The Wisconsin phalanx was almost as successful as North American. The original members, mostly residents of Racine County, Wisconsin, were exceptionally stable and practical men under the strong leadership of Warren Chase, who seems to have been — as were many other Fourierists, including many at Brook Farm — a Swedenborgian, and later a Spiritualist. The community started out free of debt, on ten sections of land near Green Bay. The first twenty pioneers spent the summer planting twenty acres of spring crops and one hundred acres of winter wheat, erecting three buildings, which housed eighty people, and putting up a saw mill, barns, and outbuildings. Within a year, they had joined the three buildings into a two-hundred-foot-long phalanstery, built a stone schoolhouse, a grist mill, dam and millrace, a large shop, a washhouse, a hen house, and a blacksmith shop, and they estimated their property as worth almost twenty-eight thousand dollars. Next year they had eight hundred acres in crops, but only admitted one new member.

The Wisconsin phalanx went from one success to another, very probably due to the solidarity and commitment of the members and the exclusion of eccentrics, cranks, and loafers — one new member out of hundreds of applicants. Everything was done systematically. The colony as a whole was incorporated and the phalanstery was incorporated as a town. Although they seem to have had far less bickering and factionalism, in December 1849, at the height of their success, the members voted to dissolve, and the property was sold off, mostly to members, in small farms and village lots, and the profits of the sale, which were considerable, were distributed. John Humphrey Noyes, summing up the brief history of the Wisconsin phalanx, said: “On the whole, the coroner’s verdict in this case must be — ‘Died, not by any of the common diseases of Associations, such as poverty, dissension, lack of wisdom, morality or religion, but by deliberate suicide, for reasons not fully disclosed’.” Communalism and the ideas of Fourier seem to have been only a technique, for once eminently workable, by which a group of practical men and their families opened almost four square miles of good agricultural land on the frontier, developed it, and sold out at a profit.


Copyright 1974. Reproduced  by permission of the Kenneth Rexroth Trust.

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