Making sense of failure: from death to resurrection in nineteenth-century American communitarianism.
With these words, John Humphrey Noyes concluded his account of the demise of the Trumbull Phalanx. As the founder of the significantly more enduring Oneida Community, Noyes devoted most of his History of American Socialisms to the phalanxes and "Associations" that had sprung up from Massachusetts to Illinois during the 1840s. Like the 1960s, that decade marked a high point of communitarian experimentation in the United States. Most of the experimenters drew on Charles Fourier's communal blueprint, which sought to reconcile individual liberation with economic cooperation, and the resulting communities were as short-lived as the hippy communes of the sixties. Indeed, many observers dubbed their members "Four-year-ites" rather than Fourierists. As he traced each individual tragedy, Noyes's approach to each community failure was the same: he sought to identify the specific reasons for the collapse, then to discern more general patterns, and finally to draw conclusions that might apply to his own community-building efforts.
Noyes's account of Associationist failures was marked by the same eccentric genius that characterized his own work as a community founder, and his conclusions merit as much attention as those of more recent historians. Yet he was hardly the only interpreter who wished to "learn what such sufferings teach." Early critics of Associationism anticipated some of Noyes's points while several Associationist leaders themselves weighed in on the reasons for their communities' untimely demise. Not surprisingly, their explanations often differed dramatically from Noyes's. Noyes hoped to demonstrate the superiority of his own communal model, and thus he accentuated factors that set Associationism apart from Oneida. In particular, he argued that Associao tionist communities had collapsed because of a lack of spiritual "afftatus"--a word he used to describe the capacity of religious fervor to overcome the individual tendency to selfishness. This lack, in turn, stemmed from the absence of a common religious identity and from the Associationists' unwillingness to disrupt the family structures that, in his view, competed with the community for members' devotion. Oneida, of course, had neither problem: a common religious vision led its members to forsake the nuclear family in favor of the communal sex that Noyes dubbed "complex marriage." The Associationists, on the other hand, accentuated superficial and accidental factors in their accounts of community failure, often suggesting that their overall vision was still valid even if a specific incarnation of that vision had failed. And they continued to identify religious diversity and respect for family as strong points of their communities not fatal flaws.
Obviously, both of these explanations were self-serving and must be taken with more than one grain of salt. But much can be gleaned from a careful comparison of these diverse attempts to make sense of failure. Where Noyes and the Associationists agreed, they were often on to something important. Their disagreements, on the other hand, highlight some of the central issues at stake in nineteenth-century utopian thinking. Indeed, these accounts of failure must not be read merely as backward-looking attempts to make sense of what happened in the past. Both Noyes and the Associationists were also renewing the utopian project by asking what past failures meant for the future. In order to do so, they had to distinguish between core utopian ends and more incidental means to those ends. Their different explanations of utopian failure revealed different understandings of the ultimate end of utopian experimentation. While Noyes's utopianism aspired to realize a vision that ran counter to the values of the larger society, the Associationists' utopian goal was actually congruent with mainstream American values, particularly the values of religious freedom, social equality, and familial integrity.
This point can be clarified by considering two more recent--and perhaps more detached--accounts of Fourierist failure. Arthur Bestor, the founding father of American communal history, argued in his 1938 dissertation that the root cause of community failure was a loss of "faith." Even the most impecunious phalanxes did not fail for purely economic reasons, for in virtually every case the community's spirit--its will to go on--broke before "individual members [felt] the pinch of actual starvation." Thus, "the cause of failure ... is to be sought in the forces and events that affected men and women in such a way as to make them lose faith in community life" (212-213). This argument virtually repeats Noyes's thesis, since "afflatus" might well be defined as "the sort of faith that allows a community to weather hard times." But it also raises an important question: what exactly was it that the Associationists lost faith in? Virtually all lost faith in the viability of their particular communities, and many eventually lost faith in the specifics of Charles Fourier's communitarian blueprint. But the key leaders I will consider here retained a faith in the possibility of charting a path from American ideals to a utopian future. Ironically, this faith actually made it easier for them to reenter mainstream society.
My argument here builds on that of historian Carl Guarneri, who has described the Associationist movement as a "utopian alternative" in the sense that it was a variation on fundamental American values rather than a "radically alien presence in American life" (9). Unlike many utopians, including Noyes, the Associationists were not truly "countercultural." Instead, they were committed to a utopian vision that would work for a wide range of people, and so they insisted on a communal model that valued the same things that their neighbors valued--in particular, the religious freedom and strong family ties that Noyes found so problematic. The consequence of this insistence, according to Guarneri, was that "Fourierists staked out a position too close to the American mainstream to survive" (148). "The painful irony of Associationism," he added, "was that the very features that gave it broad appeal among antebellum Americans militated against lasting communal existence. Democractic, all-embracing, semicapitalistic communities proved popular but inherently unstable. While the Associationists' critique of American society and their vision of its distant future were indeed revolutionary, their immediate practices were not distinctive or radical enough to hold members once the expectation of instant success was disappointed" (177). Guarneri's theory helps show why Associationist leaders, given a choice between adopting a more extreme utopian vision and folding back into mainstream society, opted for the latter. They had enough faith in the values of that society to hope that new utopian impulses would emerge from it in the future.
To give flesh to these ideas, I will consider external and internal stories of failure, both at the Fourierist Associations and at three communities--Brook Farm, Hopedale, and Northampton--that were equally committed to forging a utopian model that would be congruent with core American values, and that accordingly affirmed the importance of both religious freedom and family integrity. (Brook Farm was founded by Transcendentalists but officially embraced Fourierism midway through its lifespan.) All of these communities were organized as joint-stock companies, in which members purchased individual shares rather than simply holding all goods in common; this approach was appealing as an elegant solution to the classic American dilemma of balancing freedom and equality. The most enduring of them was Hopedale, founded in 1841 by the ardent pacifist minister Adin Ballou; it lasted until 1856. The North American Phalanx in Red Bank, New Jersey, survived from 1843 to 1855, roughly twice the life span of Brook Farm, Northampton, and Ceresco (also known as the Wisconsin Phalanx). Most of the remaining phalanxes had lifespans of only two or three years, and in some cases were scarcely established before they began to unravel. My focus will be on the relatively enduring communities simply because their members had truly experienced community life and thus had a clearer sense of what they had lost when their communities folded. (1)
My analysis of insider and outsider accounts of community failures suggests two common themes and one important point of contention. First, both Noyes and the Associationists could agree that practical, economic factors played an important role in the failure of Associations--though Noyes rightly insisted that this role was not ultimately determinative. Second, most insiders eventually accepted the early argument of outside critics that Fourier's communal blueprint was too rigid and detailed to be fully applicable in the real world. In particular, leaders of the most enduring Associations rightly concluded that their own flexibility, more than Fourier's brilliance, helped them last as long as they did. This flexibility was an essential point for Noyes, who portrayed Oneida as an "inductive," experimental counterpoint to Fourier's "deductive" and abstract approach to community. But if Associationists were willing to concede that experimentation should trump fidelity to Fourier, they were not willing to contemplate Noyes's suggestion that the inductive approach might lead them beyond core American values. For them, reflection on failure was also an opportunity to reaffirm their peculiar brand of utopian idealism--their desire to preserve the best aspects of mainstream society even as they forged communitarian alternatives, q-hey were willing to accept the collapse of shared life rather than compromise this ideal.
Interestingly, this conclusion was typically couched in theological rather than patriotic language. Even for relatively freethinking Associationists, the ultimate lesson to be drawn from failure was that of resurrection. Because they had allowed their communities to die without compromising their essential values, they could hope that those values, which were deeply embedded in the larger society, would give rise to new utopian communities in the future. This hope was hard won, especially for individuals who had devoted the best years of their lives to achieving a utopian vision in the present. But its wisdom is, perhaps, validated by the persistent thread of communitarian experimentation through subsequent American history.
The first point of agreement between Noyes and the Associationists was that the Associations had made a lot of practical mistakes. Indeed, I am following the typical account of an Associationist failure both by beginning with these, and by insisting that economic factors can not provide the final explanation. Rather, such factors do more to explain the differences in longevity among Associations than to clarify why none lasted as long as a generation. More specifically, Associations generally bought too much land and took on too much debt, and those that borrowed the most and bought the most collapsed fastest.
This problem was not unrelated to Associationist ideals. Community founders were agrarian idealists who believed that a rural life was healthier than that found in the cities, but relatively few had sufficient agricultural expertise to distinguish rich farmland from barren wilderness. Noyes's history is replete with stories of Associations that purchased their "domains" in the middle of winter, when snow cover prevented an analysis of the soil, or that realized after the fact that they had no access to water. The leaders of the Sylvania Association spoke for many when, in 1844, they declared that they had "determined on a dissolution" because of their "inability to contend successfully against an ungrateful soil and ungenial climate" and because their domain was "located in a thinly inhabited region, cut off almost entirely from a market for its surplus productions" ("The Sylvania Association"). Noyes was more sweeping and scathing, writing that "An illusion, like the mirages of the desert, seems to have prevailed among the Socialists ... that, if they could combine and obtain vast tracts of land, no matter where or how poor, their fortunes were made. Whereas it is well known to the wise that the more of worthless land a man has the poorer he is, if he pays taxes on it, or pays any attention to it; and that agriculture anyhow is a long and very uncertain road to wealth" (265-266).
Noyes was so harsh in part because he failed to grasp the non-economic elements in the Associationist lust for land. Brook Farm may have been cursed with a rocky soil and little access to water power, but it was also blessed with beautiful woods and islands that spoke to the Romantic sensibilities of both students and teachers at the Brook Farm school. The discipline of farming, even on poor soil, allowed Associationists to achieve the balance of mental and manual labor that was for many a primary attraction of life in community. Both Transcendentalist and Fourierist ideologies promoted an even loftier understanding of the agricultural vocation. Emerson had described farming as the "universal profession," to be recommended to anyone who did not feel a strong call to something else ("Man the Reformer"), while John Sullivan Dwight wrote in 1841 that "An intelligent farmer is certainly the happiest of men.... He may make himself in every sense a man. He need not be a mere hand.... He may cultivate a sympathy for all men, while everything around him may fill him with sweet gratitude to God" ("Ideals of Every-day Life"). Devout Fourierists believed that their agricultural practices would ultimately make the desert bloom and fill the seas with lemonade while even the ordinarily more sober Hopedalers could write (after the demise of most Associations) that in community they would "begin to gardenize the earth to restore land and man to their Eden-like condition" ("Address on Agriculture").
The Hopedalers, however, could make this claim even though they had not gone deeply into debt in order to purchase a vast domain, and even though their village had a mixed economy in which printing and manufacturing played as important a role as agriculture. These facts suggest that the root difficulty for other Associations was not agrarianism per se, but the lack of fiscal prudence that, as Noyes rightly noted, so often went hand in hand with agrarianism. The problem, from this perspective, was not so much land as debt. Fourierist propagandist Albert Brisbane tried to raise sufficient capital to finance a phalanx housing 1620 people, but most actual Associations failed to achieve even their own more modest investment goals. Many members purchased their shares not with cash but with land, household goods, and promises to pay later. Associations thus had very little money to buy food, clothing, and other necessities while they waited for their fields and workshops to realize a return. The history of most Associations, Arthur Bestor has suggested, was "the history of a vain attempt to feed living men and women with the Dead Sea fruit of anticipated profits" (114; see also 129-137).
Even at some of the more enduring Associations, excessive debt proved to be a ticking time bomb. Northampton, which was much more industrially inclined than any of the Fourierist phalanxes, shared their difficulties with debt. The economic heart of their community was the Northampton Silk Company, which they purchased with a mortgage after raising only half the cost, much of the collateral being in the form of tools and furniture pledged by cash-poor members. They never escaped the resulting burden of debt, which was exacerbated by the early departure of Joseph Conant (previously the manager of the Northampton Silk Company) and the other members who were most familiar with the silk industry. Vicissitudes in the market for raw silk created additional challenges that were ultimately unsurmountable (Clark 135-138, 155-162, 179-181).
Brook Farm was initially able to subsidize its unproductive (but intrinsically beneficial) farm with the proceeds of a highly successful school. But at the time of purchase, George Ripley had mortgaged Brook Farm for $500 more than the purchase price, and the Brook Farmers dealt with subsequent financial crises by taking out additional mortgages (Myerson xi). These mortgages spelled doom for the community when a fire at its new "phalanstery" building caused what might otherwise have been a short-term financial crisis. The North American Phalanx was never as indebted as Brook Farm, but it also carried a significant mortgage throughout its history. The phalanx's farm was profitable after the first few years, but its heavy investment in land left little capital to support more industrial activities. In addition, it was never profitable enough to pay its skilled male members wages equal to those they would have received in "civilization" while also maintaining its commitment to a social safety-net and relative parity between male and female wages. The resulting class tensions were exacerbated by an ongoing debate over whether the community's mill might be more profitable if it were relocated off the domain (Belz; Sears).
Financial Success and Loss of Faith
Unlike agrarianism, poor financial management and heavy indebtedness had no basis in Associationist ideals. Indeed, after the wave of failed Associations in 1844, the remaining Associationists made concerted efforts to clean up their financial affairs. Leaders at the North American Phalanx, for example, debated whether the other Associations had failed because of poor bookkeeping or a simple lack of funds--both explanations assuming an avoidable economic cause (Noyes 477). Ceresco, for its part, took pride in the fact that it had adhered to an initial "determination to avoid all debts... for we believed debts would disband more Associations than any other one cause" (Warren Chase, qtd. in Noyes 417-418). This comment referred only to external debt; by definition, any joint stock company is always in debt to its own members, and one consequence of this indebtedness is that a significant faction or even a few wealthy members can disrupt a joint-stock community by withdrawing their investments. To address this concern, the Cerescans sought to maintain sufficient reserves to purchase the shares of any departing members (Warren Chase, qtd. in Noyes 425-426).
These fiscally prudent policies helped Ceresco avoid the crises that doomed most other Associations. But they eventually discovered that their prudence had its costs. In admitting new members, they required a substantial initial investment with the result--according to one member--that they "often reject[ed] the better and admitt[ed] the worse, because the worse had the property qualifications" (Noyes 443). At least a few members seemed to have joined the phalanx because they believed it would be a good investment; when it proved less profitable than they had hoped, these individuals shifted their energies to accumulating personal wealth and association shares. By 1849, these individuals had accumulated four-fifths of the stock, and most of them believed they could do even better financially in the nearby town of Ripon (Noyes 445; Pedrick 22-24). When they called for the dissolution of the phalanx, the shocked minority sent an appeal to outside sympathizers to help them buy out the "capitalists." Though this appeal was not successful, it revealed that the situation had forced them to reconsider one fundamental Fourierist principle: that profits should be divided among capital, labor, and expertise. "Our charter," the appeal admitted, "contains a radical error. It is not just nor expedient to credit stock yearly with one-fourth of the net increase, in the annual appraisment of the property .... We are now firmly of opinion that no dividend whatever in the nature of interest, should be allowed to capital. Brotherhood and usury cannot co-exist" ("The Wisconsin Phalanx" 2).
Adin Ballou, reading this appeal at the height of Hopedale's prosperity, reached the easy conclusion that Ceresco had failed because "it had no adequate religious and moral basis," and indeed had "originated in extravagant expectations of making money" ("The Wisconsin Phalanx"). The Wisconsin experience simply confirmed his longstanding belief that community leaders must be willing to talk about sacrifice as well as about personal advantages. At the time of Hopedale's founding, he had insisted that its members should not be "wholly disappointed at malignant curses, and downright persecution," and just a few weeks before his report on Wisconsin he had written that Charles Fourier had not "recognize[d] Christ as a master in socialism" because "he repudiated the cardinal doctrine of self-denial--the efficacious philosophy of the Cross" (Ballou, "Exposition of the Constitution of the Fraternal Communion"; Ballou, "Jesus Christ and Charles Fourier"). Ironically, though, Hopedale's ultimate fate was not that different from Ceresco's.
As at Ceresco, a few wealthy investors gained control of most of Hopedale's stock, concluded that joint stock association was not such a good investment after all, and then forced the majority to dissolve. In Hopedale's case, the investors were the Draper brothers, Ebenezer and George--the former a longstanding community member who had amassed considerable wealth as a result of his father's patent on a self-acting loom temple; the latter a more conventional capitalist whom Ballou described as "a man thoroughly honest in his opinions, upright in his dealings, and of undoubted integrity and honor," but also one of "inflexible will" who "never had more than a half-faith in Community life or in the fundamental principles which constituted the basis of our movement." Around the time Ebenezer Draper succeeded Ballou as community president, he persuaded his brother to become more involved in the community. Soon the persuasion moved in the opposite direction: through "unrelenting persistency" George convinced his brother that Hopedale lacked long-term viability. This judgment seemed to be confirmed by two financial reports issued at the beginning of 1856: the first, which assessed both individual and joint property, concluded that the community was prospering; the second, focusing only on shared finances, revealed that the community was unable to pay its annual dividend and was carrying a slight additional deficit. Though the immediate problem was easily solved by assessing a tax on all community members, the situation allowed the Drapers to argue that the "system" was fatally flawed. Since the Drapers controlled three-quarters of the shares, Ballou and the others could do no better than to persuade them to assume Hopedale's debts as well as its property (Ballou, History of the Hopedale Community 285-289).
Though the economic fate of Ceresco and Hopedale may seem very different from that of the other Associations, Bestor's argument about loss of faith reveals the common thread. At all the Associations, economic factors were significant not because they forced immediate closure but because they contributed to individual members' loss of faith. The precise character of that loss of faith differed from community to community. In some cases, members lost faith in the founders' overblown promises of instant prosperity; in others, they lost faith in their ability to keep creditors at bay. And at the economically successful communities of Hopedale and Ceresco, at least a few members gained a rival faith in their own ability to prosper without the support of the community.
The Value of Flexibility
At both Hopedale and Ceresco, the joint-stock structure allowed a few prosperous but skeptical individuals to impose dissolution on majorities that were still committed to community life. This apparently fatal flaw in Fourier's vision (and, as it happened, in Hopedale's constitution) eventually led many veteran Associationists to accept a more general principle that outsiders had articulated from the beginning: a community must be flexible enough to learn from its mistakes rather than assuming that any one theory can anticipate all eventualities. Around the time of Brook Farm's founding, for example, Charles Lane had worried that "our organic reforms are not organic enough" ("Social Tendencies" 188) while Ralph Waldo Emerson complained that "Fourier had skipped no fact but one, namely, Life" ("Fourierism and the Socialists" 88). Noyes would eventually make this point more systematically by distinguishing between "deductive socialisms" that start from abstract theories and "inductive socialisms" that develop gradually from experience. "There ought to be a prohibitory duty," he noted caustically, "on the importation of socialistic theories, that have not been worked out, as well as written out, by the inventors themselves. It is certainly cruel to set vast numbers of simple people agog with Utopian projects that will cost them their all, while the inventors and promulgators do nothing but write and talk" (Noyes 131).
The first wave of Associationist failures, in the mid-1840s, was not enough to bring Fourierist leaders over to this way of thinking. Indeed, the movement's national leaders initially drew the opposite conclusion. Propagandists like Albert Brisbane argued that the first phalanxes had failed not because of a lack of flexibility, but because none measured up to the precise and demanding standard set by Fourier. Fourier had taught that a true phalanx would require 1620 individuals in order to assure the proper balance of personality types, and he further assumed that such a phalanx would be so generously financed that a phalanstery capacious enough for everyone could be built at the outset. In his own writings, Brisbane had softened these expectations, but only slightly: in The Social Destiny of Man he called for a community of at least 400 carefully selected members (preferably 800 to 2000), with ideologically committed leaders, fertile land, and ready access to markets (346-347).
Brisbane was thus quite discouraging even before the first phalanxes began to fold. "There is every reason to believe," he wrote in the Phalanx of June 1, 1844, "that the great movement which we have commenced, may be conducted too rapidly and without sufficient regard to the ultimate consequences we have in view" ("Word of Caution"). The Phalanx also disavowed each individual Association as soon as it showed signs of folding. The Clarkson, for example, was "rather a desperate undertaking, and very naturally broke up in a short time" ("Clarkson Association"). A year later, the judgment was even more sweeping: "We wish to repeat most emphatically, what we have already said again and again, that we do not hold ourselves in the smallest degree responsible for the success of these feeble attempts at association. An association cannot be founded without certain conditions, and if foolish and shiftless people undertake to do without these conditions we can only regret it" ("Failure of Associations").
Such judgments contained two grains of truth mixed with much error. Brisbane and the others were right to suggest that the energies of the new movement were too widely dispersed: in particular, the simultaneous creation of four rival phalanxes in the Rochester area made it impossible for any one group to attract sufficient outside support to sustain itself. They were also right to insist that an initial lack of capital created obstacles that might never be overcome. But they erred greatly in assuming that only an Association on a grand scale could achieve the proper balance between capital and enthusiasm. When Charles Dana urged other Associationists to wait "till the vast amount of capital which, under Providence, civilization has been accumulating for this very purpose, is put at our command," he was essentially counseling endless delay ("Letter from Charles A. Dana"). (Indeed, Hopedale's Practical Christian lampooned this idea a few years later, writing that "it is probable that such waiting Associationists as yourself will have to wait several generations, before realizing these dreams. Such splendid results do not come by waiting, but by self-sacrifice, hard work, and painful endurance of incidental imperfections" ["I Am an Associationist"].) And had the Associationists enticed a few capitalists to invest a hundred thousand or a million dollars in a full-scale phalanx, the new community would have immediately faced the sort of conflicts between community members and outside investors that ultimately destroyed both Hopedale and Ceresco. The lesson to be learned from the chronic indebtedness of Associations is that they should have started smaller (as did Hopedale, most notably), rather than that they should have waited for investors to subsidize their most extravagant dreams.
It is possible, moreover, that some Associations folded in part because they were discouraged by the propagandists' constant barrage of criticism of "partial" Associations. Every Association depended greatly on its members' belief in its viability, and such belief was hard to maintain in the face of official disavowals of similar Associations. Discouragement of this sort was certainly a factor in the demise of Brook Farm. When Brook Farm converted to Fourierism, its leaders hoped that this would allow them to attract massive investments from the wealthy New Yorkers in Brisbane's circle. Indeed, that is probably why Charles Dana joined the chorus of disavowals, writing to the Phalanx that "Fifty partial associations may struggle on for fifty years and not produce the effect which a well organized Phalanx would accomplish in as many months" ("Letter"). When Brisbane spent a long visit at Brook Farm, the Brook Farmers naturally expected that capital would follow. They were thus both outraged and demoralized when Brisbane rebuffed their request for funds, writing to Ripley that "it seems to me a problem as perplexing to get fifteen thousand dollars for Brook Farm as it does to raise one hundred thousand dollars [for a new venture].... Fifteen thousand dollars might do a great deal at Brook Farm, but would it do the thing effectually--would it make a trial that would impress the public?" (qtd. in Codman 145-146). Marianne Dwight undoubtedly spoke for many rank-and-file Brook Farmers when she responded bravely: "We must be independent of the New York friends ... and let them know that we are determined to go on, if we can, and come to something (what Heaven wills), if we do not realize a perfect association" (Orris 137). But Ripley and the other leaders essentially accepted Brisbane's analysis, so they shifted their energies to propaganda on a national scale and acquiesced in their community's demise after the phalanstery fire of 1846.
Brook Farm's experience suggests that the propagandists' ambivalence may have played a key role in draining local Associations of the "faith in community life" that Arthur Bestor rightly saw as essential to community survival. The germ of doubt would quickly spread to Ceresco and the North American Phalanx, the two communities that would compete most fervently for national support in the wake of Brook Farm's collapse. As the new American Union of Associationists debated whether to accept the gradualist approach of the existing phalanxes or start something entirely new, Ceresco's Warren Chase berated the Eastern ideologues in terms that revealed his own insecurity. "Our feeble effort was commenced by too much poverty," Chase wrote, "and continued by too much hard work, to gain much notoriety or attract much attention from those who live upon the products of others' labor; but the suffering thousands who know us are watching with deep anxiety to see if we can work out our own salvation with industry and economy, instead of 'fear and trembling" (qtd. in Mattek 143). Significantly, Chase published these words not in the Associationist Harbinger, but in the Boston Investigator, a free-thinking paper to which he had subscribed even before his Associationist days (Mattek 101-102). (2)
Ultimately, the mutual loss of faith between Ceresco and the Fourierist establishment may have extended that community's lifespan because it freed the leaders to reconsider other aspects of the Fourierist blueprint. In particular, Warren Chase ultimately repudiated both the Fourierist approach to paying interest and the ideal of the phalanstery, which had pressured his community to attempt a more intimate level of cooperation than they were ready for. "Great changes," he wrote even before the community's dissolution, "require a slow movement. All pioneers should remember to be constructive, and not merely destructive; not to tear down faster than they can substitute something better" (qtd. in Noyes 431).
Ceresco's remote location may have limited the damage done by the propagandists' lack of faith: since the Cerescans never expected huge sums from the east, they were not too disappointed when these were not forthcoming. Conflict with Brisbane's circle proved far more devastating to the North American Phalanx. When the American Union of Associationists decided not to "become responsible for any Practical Movement at the present time," Horace Greeley and a cluster of investors formed the Phalansterian Realization Fund Society with the intent of building a phalanstery for the North American and otherwise transforming it into an ideal experiment ("Annual Meeting of the American Union of Associationists" 13). But they never gained the trust of the phalanx's membership. In 1848, the North American rejected the Society's proposal for an outright merger, but did accept a $7000 loan. The phalanx directors then suggested that the money be used for industrial investments rather than phalanstery building. A compromise split the money, but still left the phalanx largely agricultural in character. Ultimately, phalanx leaders were deeply embittered by what they saw as a series of broken promises. "We relied upon an organization that did not exist, upon cooperation that we never received," complained phalanx secretary Charles Sears (13). A few years later, one of the Society's leaders, Marcus Spring, drew away several phalanx members for a new (and short-lived) community project at nearby Raritan Bay. (See Guarneri 268-273; Belz 234-242; Rohler 169.)
The North American's ultimate demise was caused by a September 1854 fire that destroyed the community's grist mill, saw mill, and blacksmith and tin shops for a total loss of $10,000. This loss was enough to bankrupt the insurance company, and thus caused the community significant financial stress. But the community's failure to rebound undoubtedly reflected the previous conflicts. The community was still reeling from the Raritan Bay defections, and the debate over whether to rebuild the mills on or off site undoubtedly revived memories of the struggle with the Phalansterian Realization Fund Society. Unable to reach consensus on the mill, the members instead agreed to dissolve, returning one hundred percent of their investment to nonresident stockholders and sixty percent to themselves. (See Belz 244-245; Kirchmann 35; and Swan 64.)
It is significant that leaders at both Ceresco and the North American were disenchanted with Fourierist ideology (and Fourierist ideologues) well before their communities collapsed though not--in their own assessment--early enough to prevent Fourier's errors from contributing to those collapses. This disenchantment suggests that Fourierism per se was not the ultimate source of their utopian idealism. While Brisbane was happy to sacrifice concrete community to preserve the purity of his Fourierist vision, the Cerescans and North Americans chose to sacrifice Fourier in order to preserve their communities. And like Ceresco's Warren Chase, the North American's Charles Sears ascribed his community's relative longevity to its relatively high degree of flexibility. "New social institutions, new forms into which the life of a people shall flow," he concluded, "can not be determined by merely external conditions and the elaboration of a theory of life and organization, but are matters of growth.... The true Divine growth of the social, as of the individual man, is the progressive development of a germ" (qtd. in Noyes 458).
Such conclusions came more easily to the Hopedalers, for example, who had always distrusted the "specious and complex precision" of Fourierism. Eventually, Adin Ballou judged that even their less grandiose constitution had been "too rigid and inflexible" and, in particular, "should have provided for subordinate associations or communes to be instituted by different classes of persons--Individualists, Joint-Stock Proprietors, Communists proper, and Eclectics," each group free to manage its affairs in its own way (History 363). Such a retreat from rigidity should not, however, be read as a retreat from utopian idealism. What the Hopedalers, Cerescans and North Americans all realized was that their constitutions had never been perfect vehicles for the ideals that truly were beyond compromise. Thus, Adin Ballou's son-in-law William Haywood could declare a year after the dissolution that the "divine principles" that have been "the foundation stones of [our] great and beneficent work" were "immutable" even if "their applications vary from time to time." (3)
The real task of the Associationists' reflections on failure was thus to clarify the precise character of those "divine principles." Even at the Fourierist phalanxes, these could not simply be identified with the ideals of Charles Fourier--as I have suggested, Associationists were more than happy to jettison specific Fourierist tenets when their unintended consequences became visible. Still, some elements of Fourier's vision provide clues about the essential aspects of the Associationist vision. In particular, Fourier sought to create a society that would build on human "passions" rather than relying on the forceful repression of those passions. He had articulated a detailed (perhaps too detailed!) taxonomy of passions, and sought to devise community structures that would honor all of them. Fourierist phalanxes were organized as joint-stock companies because Fourier was unwilling to repress the passion of individual acquisition; they honored religious freedom because he saw diverse religious traditions as reflections of their adherents' diverse constellations of passions; they allowed people to preserve family ties because he affirmed the value of sexual and parental passions. (Unlike his American disciples, though, he assumed that eventually most phalansterians would choose to express these in radically new ways.) This "passional" vision of community, of course, dovetailed almost perfectly with the American ethos of freedom as well as with the optimistic account of human nature espoused by the liberal Christian denominations that provided most of Associationism's leaders. This fit helps explain why Associationism initially attracted far more adherents than Noyes's ultimately more enduring community: Fourier's system appealed because it drew out the utopian potential of widely shared American ideals. But when the going got tough, it was the American ideals and not the Fourierist details that were beyond compromise.
The insider and outsider accounts of Associationist failure thus diverge precisely when the outsiders counsel a decided break with Americanism. A series of critics, culminating with Noyes, argued that the real cause of Associationist failure was its refusal to abandon a set of values that were deeply rooted in mainstream culture. The Associationists' commitment to individual freedom doomed them to fragmentary, incoherent communities; their embrace of the traditional family meant that members would always have divided loyalties; and their commitment to religious diversity was a recipe for either sectarian feuding or passive indifference. This critique was first sounded by Charles Lane, who complained in the Dial that Brook Farm was "not a community ... [but] merely an aggregation of persons, and lacks that oneness of spirit, which is probably needful to make it of deep and lasting value to mankind" ("Brook Farm"). Lane, who spent time with the Shakers after the collapse of his own communal experiment (with Bronson Alcott) at Fruitlands, also singled out the traditional family as a particular obstacle to communal success. "A divided heart is an impossibility," he wrote in The Present. "We must either serve the universal (God), or the individual (Mammon). ... Now, marriage, as at present constituted, is most decidedly an individual, and not a universal act.... The spouse is an expansion and enlargement of one's self, and the children participate of the same nature" (qtd. in Noyes 520-521; see also "Social Tendencies" and "Millennial Church").
Orestes Brownson, an early Associationist sympathizer whose religious pilgrimage brought him to the Roman Catholic Church, shared Lane's concerns about the family. "We have some doubts," he wrote in 1844, "whether the associations which do not recognize celibacy, as one of the fundamental rules, will ever succeed. The experiment of a married order, which was tried in the thirteenth century, failed, became so corrupt that it was suppressed by the authority of the Church." Brownson also took aim at the religious heterogeneity of most Associations. This quality, he suggested, was a time bomb. In the early stages of a community, "zeal for association, the excitement of the labor itself" may substitute for "religious faith and worship." But eventually, diverse Associations will succumb to one of two fates: either "the association must fall to pieces for the want of organic principles ... [or] Sectarian controversies will arise, and the phalanx will be dissolved through the bitterness and alienation of the members" (qtd. in Godwin 213).
Noyes's brilliant contribution was to use the concept of "afflatus" to link the seemingly distinct concerns associated with individual freedom, preservation of family ties, and religious diversity. Given his own commitment to a full-scale communism, to "complex marriage," and to an idiosyncratic religious vision, he naturally cited Lane's analysis of the incompatibility of community and traditional family at length. But the truly fatal flaw, he suggested, was something more subtle. Drawing on the histories of dozens of communities, Noyes wrote that "the conclusion toward which our facts and reflections point is, first, that religion, not as a mere doctrine, but as an afflatus having in itself a tendency to make many into one, is the first essential of successful Communism; and, secondly, that the afflatus must be strong enough to decompose the old family unit and make Communism the home-center" (148). This principle of afflatus suggested that a community would last longest if it was composed of people who already knew one another (and thus shared something of a common spirit), were inspired by a common religious vision, shared all their economic assets, and were willing to sacrifice the more narrow afflatus of traditional family life.
Contemporary sociologists and historians have largely echoed Noyes's analysis. Rosabeth Moss Kanter's well-known study, in which she identified the "mechanisms of commitment" found in communities that lasted for a generation or more, can be read as a more disciplined confirmation of Noyes's thesis. Her "mechanisms of commitment," such as a common dress and the renunciation of private property, are scarcely distinguishable from Noyes's "afflatus." Writing on the Sodus Bay Phalanx, Arthur Bestor observed that its members came from many different places with only a minority having participated in the original planning-group. These folks were thus surprised to discover that they had very different religious views particularly with respect to Sabbath observance. When the directors refused to discipline several members for Sabbath-breaking, the conservatives began to leave while the liberals were left with an unbearable burden of debt (Bestor 216-263). Others have pointed to a similar incident at the Northampton Association though historian Christopher Clark does not identify it as the primary cause of that community's dissolution (128-132). (4) Kathryn Tomasek, for her part, argues that at both Ceresco and the North American Phalanx, "the family triumphed" over the community because of compromises over the unitary table (at Ceresco) and the economic independence of children (at the North American) (227; also 238-241).
Such analyses are hard to refute. Even the differences among the Associations can be made to fit the theory: Brook Farm had previously acquainted members and an afflatus of a sort (albeit an oddly individualistic sort), and thus lasted longer than most phalanxes; Hopedale had still more of both qualities, but ultimately could not overcome the disadvantages of joint-stock organization and traditional marriage. Yet relatively few Associationists were willing to draw conclusions that ran parallel to Noyes's. Instead, their reflections on their failures often end with a reaffirmation of the importance of individual freedom, religious diversity, and family preservation. All of these features were aspects of the larger society that Associationists found intrinsically valuable; moreover, they believed that only a community movement that embraced these values could hope to transform American society as a whole.
Thus, while community survival trumped Fourierist theory at the most enduring Associations, the characteristically American style of utopianism that first drew Associationists to Fourier would ultimately trump community survival. Adin Ballou said as much when he explained why had he had not done more to prevent the dissolution of Hopedale:
As the movement rested wholly on the basis of the inherent and indefeasible individual rights of its members--rights of conscience, of private judgment, of personal possession of property, and of voluntary action in the management of our common affairs, I always held these sacred, and never attempted or desired to dictate, coerce, overrule, or over-persuade any one, even to save the Community from dissolution.... Perish all plans of social reform ... that destroy or dwarf the human personality. (History 351-352)
In short, had the Associationists taken Noyes's advice they might have lasted longer, but they would not have been Associationist communities.
Changing the Question
Associationist communities folded, I have suggested, when their leaders realized they could not move forward without compromising their vision of creating a truly American utopia--a utopia marked by individual freedom, religious diversity, and respect for family. Such realizations could hardly be dispassionate, however, for individuals who had devoted the best years of their lives to the hope that this American utopia was immediately achievable. In addition to asking why Associationist communities died, it is thus important to consider the spirit in which they faced their deaths. Did they accept their fate with sad dignity and trust in the larger culture to create better structures for achieving their utopian vision? Or did they cling desperately to the
current forms and deny the inevitability of death? The available sources do not allow for definitive answers to these questions, but they suggest a picture that is very mixed indeed.
Even at the time of their communities' founding, Associationists staked out different positions about the possibility of death. The Social Reform Unity, which lasted about ten months, approached the heights of either hubris or denial when it approved a constitutional provision that "the question or subject of the dissolution of this Unity shall never be entertained, admitted or discussed in any of the meetings of the same" (qtd. in Noyes 257). Though Margaret Fuller had early warned George Ripley that he should not begin unless he was "willing to fail," the Brook Farmers were prone to a similar grandiosity. "No Adventist ever believed more absolutely in the second coming of Christ," recalled Georgiana Kirby, "than we in the reorganization of society on a fraternal basis. For the full accomplishment of this we allowed, not to be guilty of impatience, twenty-five years. By that time the entire civilized world would be drawn into the movement and become a part of it" (98-99). At their best, though, they drew a careful distinction between their hopes for the principles of Association and their hopes for Brook Farm itself. At the time of the conversion to Fourierism, for example, they affirmed that "whatever may be the result of any special efforts, we can never doubt that the object we have in view will finally be attained; that human life shall yet be developed, not in discord and misery, but in harmony and joy, and that the perfected earth shall at last bear on her bosom a race of men worthy of the name" ("Constitution of the Brook Farm Association"). The obvious echoes of traditional Christian millennialism make a subtle point: in building a community, the Brook Farmers hoped to participate in God's world-transforming work, but they did not imagine that they could control or even fully comprehend the scope of that work. Ralph Waldo Emerson, even as he distanced himself from his friends' newfound enthusiasm for Fourierism, echoed the point: "This is the value of the Communities; not what they have done, but the revolution which they indicate as on the way" ("The Young American").
The Brook Farmers had somewhat more trouble maintaining their equilibrium when, on 3 March 1846, their half-finished phalanstery was totally destroyed by fire. The building, a large communal dormitory, was part of the community's plan for rapid growth and transformation into a model phalanx. Because it was not insured, its destruction cost the community a $7000 investment, and Brook Farm never recovered from this financial shock. "We cannot now calculate its ultimate effect," wrote George Ripley at the time, but "it may prove more than we are able to bear" ("Fire at Brook Farm"). Amelia Russell wrote even more evocatively about Ripley's initial reaction to the fire: "The pale stern face of our chief I can never forget. He deeply realized that all was lost, and his feelings could well be understood by all who looked upon him. Some wept, and others stood in mute despair" (126-127).
The Brook Farmers' grief was, however, mixed with more positive sentiments. Marianne Dwight, writing just a day after the fire, described it romantically as "glorious beyond description ... spangled with fiery sparks, and tinged with glowing colors, ever rolling and wreathing, solemnly and gracefully up--up." She then added, more religiously, that "I was calm, felt that it was the work of Heaven and was good; and not for one instant did I feel otherwise. Then I threw on my cloak and rushed out to mingle with the people. All were still, calm, resolute, undaunted. The expression on every face seemed to me sublime. There was a solemn, serious, reverential feeling, such as must come when we are forced to feel that human aid is of no avail, and that a higher power than man's is at work" (Orvis 146). The Ripleys, similarly, were quick to view the fire as a Providential intervention designed to draw the community closer together. "How true," wrote Sophia Ripley to John Sullivan Dwight, "that we can see a Providential guidance in our all being led back to our primitive occupations, and having somewhat collected our scattered forces and brought them to bear on definite objects of real value, before we were thrown into dismay by our calamity!" (qtd. in Sams 180). George Ripley, perhaps overstating the case for public consumption, declared in the Harbinger that "we have every reason to rejoice in the internal condition of our Association. For the few last months, it has more nearly than ever approached the idea of a true social order" ("Fire"). And William Henry Channing made the theology of resurrection even more explicit when he mused that the fire had "pained me much, yet scarcely as much as I should have expected. For as experience multiplies we see so clearly that life is an endless series of birth and death, of ebb and flow, of seeming failure and eventual triumphs.... Should this blow be the coup de grace to this band of friends, who for years have been on the rack of anxiety and effort, I shall wait by the tomb for the resurrection" (qtd. in Frothingham 245).
Marianne Dwight's aesthetic response to the tragic fire has sometimes been taken as evidence that the Brook Farmers were starry-eyed idealists who were out of touch with the hard realities of life, and even the other responses might be dismissed as the special pleading of desperate people. (5) It is hard to ignore, moreover, the echoes of Brisbane's smug belief that the glorious cause of Association would only be aided by the collapse of "partial" Associations. Still, the Brook Farmers' reactions also carried a profound wisdom. Even prior to the fire, they had begun to have serious doubts about the phalanstery project. Its "providential" destruction forced them to back to the essential Transcendentalist insight that the soul of a human being is more powerful than any external institution. Since Brook Farm's most precious resource, its people, had escaped the fire unscathed, it was perhaps natural for Marianne Dwight and others to feel a bit of exultation as well as sadness.
But if the Brook Farmers could agree that the death of the phalanstery opened up the possibility of resurrection, they soon came to disagree very sharply about the precise shape that resurrection might take. For leaders such as George Ripley, Charles Dana, and John Sullivan Dwight, all of whom had already shifted their efforts to the publication of the Harbinger, the fire was an opportunity to commit themselves even more fully to Associationist propaganda on a national scale. Within weeks of the fire, Charles Dana urged the council to dismiss most of the residents, drop both agricultural and industrial activities, and focus exclusively on the school and the Harbinger (Orvis 152). By July, he had persuaded both Ripley and (perhaps with more reservations) Dwight, to whom fell the task of declaring the new vision to the world. Citing Brook Farm's previous contributions to the movement, Dwight wrote in the November 1846 Harbinger that "We think that the peculiar providential mission of Brook Farm has been, to be the intellectual and moral centre of the movement.... The outward husk, the incidental part has failed; but the essential fact survives: the inspiring and uniting influence which may still proceed from this little school or centre, will be greater and better than ever, provided only that its true character and worth be generally recognized by all friends of the cause." Dwight drew on both the theology of the cross and the Gospel metaphor of seeds to defend this vision: "Association is like Christianity itself, it triumphs in its failures; where it is trampled upon, there it most effectually plants itself, and its seeds are now silently taking root even in the hearts of those who outwardly reject it" ("How Stands the Cause?").
Dwight's sister Marianne, on the other hand, claimed to speak for the majority of Brook Farmers when she suggested that Brook Farm's resurrection would involve simply the preservation of relationships among its members, even without the glorious dream of a full-scale phalanx. "One thing seems sure," she wrote to another brother at the time of the fire, "that we will not and cannot disband; the union is too firmly cemented together for that,--we stay or go,--live or die together" (Orvis 149). She thus responded to Dana's "miserable" proposal for a partial dismantling with "a feeling of horror, as some criminal act" (Orvis 153) and was even more dismayed when both Ripley and her brother John rallied to this position. These "promulgators," she complained, were "amateur associationists" who "have taken the doctrine into their heads more than into their hearts, else it must manifest itself in actual life, in daily deeds" (Orvis 171). A better plan was that proposed by her future husband, John Orvis: those who wished only to run the school and magazine could stay on as boarders, while others would maintain the principles of associated industry on a smaller scale. Still, Dwight could not conceal her own doubts about the viability of a plan that accepted a division within the community. "My hope all along has been in the people," she wrote plaintively, "[and] if the wise, the good and true think it their duty to quit, how or what shall I hope for Brook Farm?" (Orvis 170).
The sad consequence of this division was that the Brook Farmers were not able to attend together to the death itself. While the two factions laid out rival visions for what would come next, other Brook Farmers slipped away one by one. Amelia Russell left for a brief visit home, and was persuaded by her old friends to abandon the community (133). John Codman felt the beginning of the end coming when "the general," a beloved older community member who had been "a living sermon--nay, a hundred sermons to me," decided to leave. "As long as all clung together there seemed to be hope," recalled Codman, "but the first break was dangerous to our well-being, dangerous to our existence" (223). When Brook Farm was finally sold at auction in March 1847, the ever-loyal Codman family shared the domain with just one other person. William Henry Channing and Anna Q. T. Parsons joined them for a makeshift funeral service, but even this remnant could not bring themselves to attend the actual sale (Orvis xv). At the same time, Ripley published an elegiac poem that expressed the hope of resurrection in startlingly individual terms. "My buried days!," he wrote, "In bitter tears / I sit beside your tomb, / And ghostly forms of vanished years / Flit through my spirit's gloom." After several stanzas, he concludes, "And I rise to life and duty, / From nights of fear and death, / With a deeper sense of duty / And fuller strength of faith" ("The Angels of the Past").
Ultimately, all of these individuals experienced a resurrection of the Brook Farm spirit in one form or another. But it is hard to dismiss the notion that they might have been more open to surprising forms of resurrection if they had not spent so many of Brook Farm's final days planning for its resurrection. The same might well be said for Hopedale, which passed through its own Good Friday experience about a decade later. Whereas Brook Farm's death began with the fire, Hopedale's began with the Draper brothers' surprising demand that the community either buy out their shares or dissolve the joint-stock corporation. The effect on Adin Ballou, and presumably many others, was that "a deathlike chill settled upon and almost froze my heart." The resulting "disappointment, mortification, and grief" lasted for months (History 289). Still, the Hopedalers spent much less time than the Brook Farmers trying to avoid their fate. Instead, Ballou focused on ensuring that the Drapers would assume the community's debts and thus ensure the financial security of the other Hopedalers. On April 1, 1856, Hopedale's fourteenth anniversary and less than two months from the beginning of the crisis, the joint-stock company was dissolved, and the community lost control not only of its agricultural and industrial enterprises but also of its post office, savings bank, and fire-insurance company. (The reorganized "Hopedale Community" continued to sponsor a church, school, library and lyceum as well as to provide mutual aid and charitable relief, and relatively few Hopedalers relocated immediately.) "The Hopedale Community," Ballou recalled, "as the type of a regenerated form of human society, as the attempt to realize the Kingdom of God on earth ... had been transformed into a mere religious, moral reform, and mutual guaranty association. Its glory had departed; its sun had set forever" (History 291; see also 298).
Though the Hopedalers acted quickly, they took their time in sharing their decision with the larger public that read the Practical Christian and looked to Hopedale as a beacon of socialist hope. The first public notice of the change appeared in the November 15 issue of the Practical Christian, just after Ballou had emerged from a months-long depression. Drawing on the typology of communities he had laid out in Practical Christian Socialism, Ballou admitted that "the Hopedale Community, by reason of the changes made last spring, has become a Rural Community.... When I published my Work on Socialism I considered and announced it to be a well established Community of the Joint Stock Class. I was therefore much humiliated and crushed in spirit when the transformation took place." But now, he affirmed bravely, "divine intuitions, inspirations and convictions within me forbid me to despond, or to halt. They impel me to go forward." The lesson to be learned from Hopedale's transformation was that full economic cooperation was not possible until individuals and families had attained a higher moral standard. Indeed, Ballou hinted, Hopedale had avoided the much greater danger of excessive authority that threatens any community whose members are incapable of self-government. Thus, his new task was "to promote individual excellence, and family excellence," primarily through Rural and Parochial communities. "We have divine Principles; let us apply them faithfully and thoroughly to individuals." This task, he concluded hopefully, would be easier now that "our energies are no longer used up on secular Community arrangements, and because we no longer assume the responsibility of changing and managing people's property and business relations" ("Social Position of Hopedale").
This account suggests that Ballou had truly experienced the death of Hopedale before he began thinking about what resurrection might mean. It is surprising, therefore, that the next notice of the change in the Practical Christian strikes a tone that is much more laced with denial. It is the president's report from the 1857 annual meeting, significantly delivered by Vice President William Haywood (Ballou's son-in-law) rather than by Ebenezer Draper, who incongruously still held the office of President. Haywood began by sounding the theme of divine forgiveness in almost orthodox terms: "He has guarded and kept us, and has, notwithstanding our unworthiness, our wrong, our sorrow and trial, filled the cup of our experience with manifold blessings. Whatever may have been amiss on our part ... we may rest assured that with Him who governs the universe, all has been right--holy, just, and good." He then alluded to the "somewhat important change in our external industrial arrangements," acknowledging that "different persons--members and others ... have looked upon this change with widely different opinions and feelings concerning its precise nature and tendency" ("Address"). (6)
Haywood then began the process of reinterpretation by suggesting that the change was not really that significant after all. "What was the change?" he asked rhetorically. "It was a modification of our industrial arrangements, affecting, mainly, if not wholly, our pecuniary affairs.... Scarcely a particular relating to morals and social order, to educational facilities, to religious duty, formerly existed there but remains in full and binding force. The Preamble, setting forth our general fundamental purposes, remains as before; the Declaration, embodying all that we have at any time deemed essential to our own and the world's salvation, is not modified one jot or tittle." He admitted that the community would no longer guarantee employment to all its members, but claimed that the purpose of that guarantee had merely been to protect the Hopedalers from "want and the evils thereof" That purpose, he suggested, could be fulfilled by the charitable activities of the reorganized community. This argument, of course, brushed over any sort of distinction between charity and justice: what the Hopedalers could once expect as a right was now no more than a gift. Haywood's rhetoric turned sharper as he questioned the motives of Hopedale's critics, suggesting that only "those who have valued the Community simply for its peculiar industrial arrangements ... and not for its great principles and great objects and ideas" could regard it as a failure. The speech then concluded with a lengthy exhortation for the members to remain loyal to the reorganized community. "Are those of us, who profess to believe in the paramount importance of principles, to forsake our enterprise here, because, not principles but a certain form is given up? ... Fellow-laborers in a common Cause, my counsel to you to-day is, that you co-operate with each other and with me in maintaining the foothold which we have here.... Will you, lovers of those principles, also go away? And to whom will ye go?" ("Address").
It is hard to know for certain how Haywood's audience responded to this plea. It may be that those Hopedalers who even bothered to attend the 1857 annual meeting shared Haywood's desire to keep going, even under the new organizational structure, and such individuals might have experienced the address as a much needed pep talk. It is likely that those who disagreed felt more resignation than outrage, for no one chose to express his or disagreement in the pages of the Practical Christian--despite the fact that the paper had published dissenting views during previous community crises, and was still a lively forum for debates on nonresistance, national disunion, and spiritualism. (7) Still, Haywood's insinuation that to leave Hopedale was to betray its principles is troubling. Surely, many people had joined Hopedale because they believed that joint-stock association was an especially good way to put practical Christian principles into practice. The dissolution of the joint-stock structure might have been an occasion for community leaders to reaffirm their long-standing belief that it was possible to practice those principles both at Hopedale and elsewhere. Haywood's understandable desire to preserve his beloved community caused him to miss that opportunity.
Ultimately, Ballou at least came to believe that Haywood's hopes for Hopedale had been overly sanguine. Decades later, he wrote in his history of Hopedale that the moral character of the community had changed dramatically with the change in economic arrangements: "From that time forward our beloved Hopedale village became gradually secularized and conformed to the habits, customs, and usages of similar boroughs elsewhere, losing that distinctive character and the well-earned reputation which its founders and responsible guardians always felt was 'rather to be chosen than great riches'" (History 291-292). Perhaps alluding to Haywood, he noted that many Hopedalers "did not see that such would be the ultimate result of what had transpired, and were disposed to hold on to our organization, to struggle on, and labor on, and pray on, in the hope that we should be able after a few years to regain what we had lost" (History 292). But he himself had quickly realized that "if The Hopedale Community was ever to be resuscitated ... it must be in some new locality; not on the ruins of our former venture, not where all our purposes, and plans, and expectations had gone down in disastrous overthrow" (History 293). This assessment may have been slightly pessimistic, since many Hopedalers continued to live satisfactory lives on the community domain, but it made the essential theological point that neither individuals nor communities can control the process of resurrection. "God in his great mercy," Ballou concluded, "grant that in his own good time that place may be found and that work be done. So shall The Hopedale Community have a glorious resurrection,--an apotheosis, of which its earlier manifestation was but the harbinger and prototype" (History 293).
Perhaps the most poetic community epitaph was that penned by Ceresco's Warren Chase, in his autobiography entitled The Life-Line of the Lone One. Blending defensiveness with self-deprecating humor, Chase highlighted the economic successes and failures of the community and its paradoxical commitment to both freethinking religion and traditional morality. Ceresco was, he wrote, named "in honor of Ceres, a corn-goddess, of which it was a worshipper." After several flourishing years, the community had "'took sick,' first of chills and fever, and finally of severe fever," and yet it had left its "children" with a large farm, "greatly improving their estates, and leaving all but the Lone One better than it found them." The community had "had little sickness and no religious revivals"; it had "lived a strictly moral, honest, upright, and virtuous life, and yet was hated, despised, abused, slandered, lied about, and misrepresented, in all the country round about,--mostly by preachers." "They danced without rum," Chase concluded, "had meetings without prayers, and babies without doctors.--But it was prematurely born, and tried to live before its proper time, and, of course, must die and be born again. So it did, and here it lies" (126-127).
It is interesting that Chase, a freethinker inclined to half-serious comparisons between himself and Jesus, turned as naturally as Ballou and Ripley to the language of resurrection. For all three community founders, and doubtless for many of the rank and file whose hopes were raised and dashed by the nineteenth-century Associations, the final meaning of failure was the possibility of rebirth. All had sought to balance socialist idealism with the mainstream values of family and individual freedom, and as a result they had created communities that were, however unstable, satisfying for themselves and attractive to a broad cross-section of their neighbors. Ultimately, they preferred to see their communities die rather than compromise their balanced ideals, q-hey did so in the hope that future generations would see the same truths they had seen, and find more practical ways of bringing those truths to fruition.
In a subtle way, the emphasis on resurrection underscored the non-countercultural character of the Associationist vision. Chase, Ballou, and Ripley could hope for a resurrection of the communal spirit in part because they had never claimed a monopoly on that spirit in the first place. They had simply tried to channel widely shared values in a utopian direction, and it was thus reasonable to hope that future generations, possessing the same American values, would again push them toward a utopian consummation.
It may, however, seem surprising that this hope was couched in religious rather than patriotic terms. After all, the Fourierist Associations (though not Hopedale) are usually classified as "secular" communities, and from Noyes's perspective they were decidedly lacking in religious afflatus. In part, the use of the resurrection image reflects the personal histories of the individuals involved: Ripley was a Unitarian minister before founding Brook Farm, Chase was a spiritualist minister after Ceresco's demise, and Ballou worked as a minister for his entire adult life. But, like most Associationists, all three were committed to a liberal religiosity that blurred the distinction between Christian and American values. The distinction between "religious" and "secular," as we now understand it, would have made little sense to them. They certainly affirmed the American principle of separation of church and state, but they put their energies into creating Associations that were neither little states nor little churches but a fruitful meeting ground for both "religious" and "political" values. When they dreamed of resurrection, they were in part expressing a hope that such meeting grounds would continue to exist in the United States.
It is not at all clear to me that such a hope has been realized. Yet from my perspective at the beginning of a new millennium, other aspects of the Associationists' resurrection faith do seem well founded. The communitarian movement is as strong now as it has ever been, though it does not often make newspaper headlines. More significantly, some of the most vital models of contemporary community life share the Associationist commitment to religious diversity, individual freedom, and family life. Cohousing communities offer families private living-space alongside invited shared-facilities. Communities rooted in specific faith traditions, such as Catholic Worker houses and even some monasteries, welcome members of other faiths. Student cooperatives and service-oriented communities offer individuals the freedom to spend a few years in community and then move on to a different calling. Ironically, few members of these communities are aware of the Associationist legacy though many know about the more enduring communities such as the Shakers and the Hutterites. Yet in their thoroughly American style of utopianism, they can be seen as sprouts from the seeds planted long ago at Brook Farm, Ceresco, the North American Phalanx, Northampton, and Hopedale.
"Address on Agriculture." Practical Christian 11.1 (May 11, 1850): 2.
"Annual Meeting." Practical Christian 17.21 (February 7, 1857): 3.
"Annual Meeting of the American Union of Associationists." Harbinger 7 (May 13, 1848): 12-14.
Babcock, G. W. "Essay on Common-Stock Communities." Practical Christian 17.26 (April 18, 1857): 1.
Ballou, Adin. "Exposition of the Constitution of the Fraternal Communion." Practical Christian 1.20 (February 15, 1841): 78.
--. History of the Hopedale Community: From Its Inception to Its Virtual Submergence in the Hopedale Parish. Ed. William S. Heywood. Lowell, MA: Thompson & Hill--The Vox Populi P, 1897.
--. "Jesus Christ and Charles Fourier." Practical Christian 10.16 (December 8, 1849): 2.
--. "Social Position of Hopedale." Practical Christian 17.15 (November 15, 1856): 2.
Belz, Herman. "The North American Phalanx: An Experiment in Socialism." Proceedings of the New Jersey Historical Society 81 (October 1963): 215-247.
Bestor, Arthur. "American Phalanxes: A Study of Fourierist Socialism in the United States (with Special Reference to the Movement in Western New York)." Diss. Yale U, 1938.
Brisbane, Albert. Social Destiny of Man: or, Association and Reorganization of Industry. Philadelphia: C. F. Stollmeyer, 1840.
--. "A Word of Caution." Phalanx 1.11 (June 1, 1844): 161.
Chase, Warren. The Life-Line of the Lone One; or, Autobiography of the World's Child. Boston: Bela Marsh, 1857.
Clark, Christopher. The Communitarian Moment: The Radical Challenge of the Northampton Association. Ithaca, NY: Cornell UP, 1995.
"Clarkson Association." Phalanx 1.13 (June 29, 1844): 187.
Codman, John Thomas. Brook Farm: Historic and Personal Memoirs. Boston: Arena, 1894. Rpt. New York: AMS P, 1971.
"Constitution of the Brook Farm Association." Phalanx 1.6 (March 1, 1844): 81.
Dana, Charles. "Letter from Charles A. Dana." Phalanx 1.17 (August 24, 1844): 256.
Delano, Sterling E Brook Farm: The Dark Side of Utopia. Cambridge, MA: Harvard UP, 2004.
Dwight, John Sullivan. "How Stands the Cause?" Harbinger 3.22 (November 7, 1846): 348-351.
--. "Ideals of Every-day Life." The Dial 1.3 (January 1841): 307-311.
Emerson, Ralph Waldo. "Fourierism and the Socialists." The Dial 3.1 (July 1842): 86-90.
--. "Man the Reformer." The Dial 1.4 (April 1841): 523-538.
--. "The Young American." The Dial 4.4 (April 1844): 484-507.
"Failure of Associations." Phalanx 1.23 (May 28, 1845): 348.
Frothingham, Octavius Brooks. Memoir of William Henry Channing. Boston: Houghton, Mifflin, 1886.
Godwin, Parke. "Mr. Brownson's Notions of Fourier's Doctrine." Phalanx 1.15 (July 27, 1844): 213.
Guarneri, Carl J. The Utopian Alternative: Fourierism in Nineteenth-Century America. Ithaca, NY: Cornell UP, 1991.
[Haywood, William.] "Address." Practical Christian 17.20 (January 24, 1857): 2.
"I Am an Associationist." Practical Christian 11.4 (June 22, 1850): 14.
Kanter, Rosabeth Moss. Commitment and Community: Communes and Utopias in Sociological Perspective. Cambridge, MA: Harvard UP, 1972.
Kesten, Seymour. Utopian Episodes: Daily Life in Experimental Colonies Dedicated to Changing the World. Syracuse, NY: Syracuse UP, 1993.
Kirby, Georgiana. Years of Experience. New York: AMS P, n.d.
Kirchmann, George. "Unsettled Utopias: The North American Phalanx and the Raritan Bay Union." New Jersey History 97 (Spring 1979): 25-36.
Lane, Charles. "Brook Farm." The Dial 4.3 (January 1844): 351-357.
--. "Millennial Church." The Dial 4.4 (April 1844): 537-540.
--. "Social Tendencies." The Dial 4.2 (October 1843): 188-204. Mattek, Michael Charles. "Brisbane and beyond: Revising Social Capitalism in Mid-Nineteenth-Century America." Diss. Marquette U, 2002.
Myerson, Joel, ed. The Brook Farm Book: A Collection of First-Hand Accounts of the Community. New York: Garland, 1987.
Noyes, John Humphrey. History of American Socialisms. Philadelphia: J. B. Lippincott, 1870.
Orvis, Marianne Dwight. Letters from Brook Farm 1844-1847. Ed. Amy L. Reed. Poughkeepsie, NY: Vassar College, 1928. Rpt. Philadelphia: Porcupine P, 1972.
Pedrick, S. M. "The Wisconsin Phlanax at Ceresco." Proceedings of the State Historical Society of Wisconsin (1902): 190-226.
Ripley, George. "The Angels of the Past." Christian Examiner and Religious Miscellany 42.3 (May 1847): 343-344.
--. "Fire at Brook Farm." Harbinger 2.14 (March 14, 1846): 220-222.
Rohler, Lloyd Earl, Jr. "The Utopian Persuasion of Albert Brisbane, First Apostle of Fourierism." Diss. Indiana U, 1977.
Russell, Amelia. Home Life of the Brook Farm Association. Boston: Little, Brown, 1900.
Sams, Henry W., ed. Autobiography of Brook Farm. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall, 1958.
Sears, Charles. Expose of the Condition and Progress of the North American Phalanx. New York: DeWitt and Davenport, 1853.
Spann, Edward K. Hopedale: From Commune to Company Town, 1840-1920. Columbus: Ohio State UP, 1992.
Swan, Norma Lippincott. "The North American Phalanx." Monmouth County Historical Association Bulletin 1 (May 1935): 35-63.
"The Sylvania Association." Phalanx 1.16 (August 10, 1844): 244.
Tomasek, Kathryn Manson. "The Pivot of the Mechanism: Women, Gender, and Discourse in Fourierism and the Antebellum United States." Diss. U of Wisconsin-Madison, 1995.
"Wisconsin Phalanx." Harbinger 7.10 (July 8, 1848): 76.
"The Wisconsin Phalanx." Practical Christian 10.17 (December 22, 1849): 2-3.
(1) Carl J. Guarneri's The Utopian Alternative is the indispensable starting point for all study of Fourierist Associations in the United States. Arthur Bestor's pioneering work on Fourierism was never published in book form, but his dissertation, "American Phalanxes," remains helpful. Of the New England communities, Brook Farm has inspired a long series of popular and academic studies, the most recent of which is Sterling E Delano, Brook Farm: The Dark Side of Utopia. Northampton and Hopedale have been much less thoroughly studied, but solid recent monographs, by Christopher Clark and Edward K. Spann respectively, are available.
(2) The editors of the Harbinger responded to Chase's complaint that Ceresco was being neglected by noting that they had published four pieces on the community in the past volume, "and we should gladly have published four times the number, if we had been able to come into possession of them." One article, they suggested, had simply been misplaced. See "Wisconsin Phalanx."
(3) The quotation comes from an "Address" which Haywood, as vice president, delivered in the place of president Ebenezer Draper. See "Annual Meeting" for an account of the meeting itself.
(4) Noyes does see religious discord specifically as the primary challenge for both Northampton and Sodus Bay (154-160, 286-295).
(5) One historian, for example, has written that "For Dwight, as for most Brook Farmers, subjective interpretation had greater force than reality. And in this way, one of the great catastrophes in the history of social reorganization comes down to us as a bit of romantic fantasy" (Kesten 257).
(6) The actual meeting at which this address was given is described in "Annual Meeting," where it is not entirely clear whether Haywood had prepared his own speech or simply read a report written by Draper. I have assumed the former for two reasons. First, the account of the meeting makes clear that Draper was physically present to give a business report immediately following Haywood's address. Second, the tone of Haywood's address is strikingly different from that of the annual report given by Draper the year before, which was a financial summary with no theological reflections or moral exhortations. Most likely Draper was uncomfortable as a public speaker, and reluctant to reflect on the changes that he had forced on the community. He, thus, may well have designated Haywood as a substitute.
(7) The closest thing to a dissenting view was an article by G. W. Babcock, a Unitarian pastor in nearby Harvard, Massachusetts, who had been forced from his pulpit because of his Practical Christian views. Babcock lifted up common-stock communities as the ultimate Christian ideal. He proposed that these should hold "endowments of Intellect, Volition, and Affection in common," as well as property. But he also acknowledged that for the present both common- and joint-stock communities are "likely to be short-lived," and struck a conciliatory note by suggesting that "the delightful parts of life spent in Associations that have failed" could help "create a hope of final success under more favorable circumstances." Unless the article included a misprint, this address was given at Hopedale just before the decision to abandon the joint-stock structure, but was not published until more than a year later.
|Printer friendly Cite/link Email Feedback|
|Date:||Mar 22, 2007|
|Previous Article:||Tom Paine: Utopian?|
|Next Article:||Looking Backward's utopian sequels: "fictional dialogues" in Gilded-Age America.|