Founder: Charles Fourier (1772-1837). Though he never left France, the writings and teaching of the eccentric Charles Fourier served as the inspiration for more than 40 communal experiments in the U.S. during the 1840s.
Disillusioned because his family had lost its fortune during the French Revolution, Fourier set out to create a society in which revolution would not exist. In his 6 volumes, Le Nouveau Monde industriel et societaire, Fourier suggested that the evils of mankind could be corrected only by reorganizing society into scientifically organized communities called phalanxes.
The phalanx was to be set up as a joint-stock company, with members sharing in the proceeds of their industry according to their investment, skills, and labor. Once the success of this venture had been demonstrated, Fourier believed the world would follow suit and become a universal joint-stock company, sharing the benefits of its labor.
Fourier suggested that it would take more than 30,000 years for the entire world to convert to his social philosophy. He predicted a number of stages, called periods, before Harmony, the period in which the whole world would live in 2,985,984 phalanxes, the number necessary to contain the earth's population. His collected works describe that world in great detail. Men would have tails with eyes, the sea would lose its salt content and turn to lemonade, and wild beasts would become docile. He even described a theory of immortality that contained details of transmigration.
Before a single one of his phalanxes was built Fourier died, in his simple room, in Paris.
Albert Brisbane (1809-1890) carried on. Brisbane, an American, had studied in Europe with Hegel, Goethe, and Fourier. He returned to America in 1840, convinced that Fourier's philosophy was the solution to the problems inherent in the coming industrial revolution. He wrote The Social Destiny of Man, in which he explained Fourier's principles to an American audience.
Horace Greeley, editor of the New York Tribune, quickly became a convert and offered Brisbane space in his paper to explain his ideas. The national depression of the 1830s made the country receptive, and response to Brisbane's series of articles was tremendous. In August of 1843 hundreds of delegates met in Rochester, N.Y., and a drive was begun to organize phalanxes. The following April a national convention was held in New York City; George Ripley, founder of Brook Farm, was elected president, and Brisbane and Greeley vice-presidents, of an association dedicated to putting Fourier's plan into operation.
Where and When: Without real consideration for the exactness Fourier suggested, phalanxes quickly sprang up in Massachusetts, New York, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Ohio, Illinois, Indiana, Wisconsin, Michigan, Iowa, and even Texas. Most of these experiments did not survive their 1st year, a few lasted for 3, and only one, the North American Phalanx, in Red Bank, N.J., lasted for more than a decade. By 1850 the movement was dead. However, no utopia begun in America after the introduction of Fourierism escaped the influence of its philosophy.