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Conflicts In Utopia Essay

2294 words - 10 pages

Armed with starry-eyed, pacifist idealism and a thirst for finding the truth, the Transcendentalists of the Era of Reform sought to reject the token values of society and to fulfill their potentials as reasonable, worthy individuals. They were an idealistic and refreshingly egalitarian group of intellectuals in a world of slavery and budding industrialism, embodying an odd mixture of praise for the individual and desire to unite. The concept of the individual was the supreme ideology as far as the Transcendentalists were concerned; they thought that in order to rise above the base and unenlightened society, individuals should seek their own truths, resisting the urge to conform to common ...view middle of the document...

The goals of each type of commune frequently overlapped; the Transcendentalist drive to go beyond traditional society, to search within the individual for truth, and to reject conformity was quite present in the formations of both Owen's and Fourier's theories. Not only did the Owenites and Fourierists wish to improve upon society within their own lives, but they also "embraced communalism as the form by which--and to which--they hoped to convert all of society" (Pitzer 161). The structure of society, from the basic family unit--husband, wife, children--to class structure to the economy, was the focus of the Transcendentalists' reforms and rebellion.An emphasis on reform of the basic family unit was common to both Owenism and Fourierism, though their approaches were slightly different. As John Humphrey Noyes wrote about Owenism and Fourierism, "the main idea of both was the enlargement of home--the extension of family union beyond the little man-and-wife circle to large corporations" (23). Owen envisioned a community in which adults would share the responsibility of childcare and in which adults in unhappy marriages could much more easily divorce and remarry (Pitzer 94, 119). The more radical Fourier almost entirely rejected the idea of monogamy and instead embraced the concept of sexual freedom. When their communal blueprints were actually brought to life, however, the experiments yielded the very nuclear family the theorists rejected. Owen's liberal views towards marriage simply led to the spreading of rumors of lewdness among the unchanged members of society, and Despite Fourier's dictates to the contrary, all the phalanxes were conservative in sexual and family relations: within a somewhat freer social atmosphere than Victorian households, the traditional nuclear family still predominated, sex roles were governed by nineteenth-century stereotypes, and children were raised by their parents. (Pitzer 169) Because of the fundamental belief in freedom that prevailed in these communities, society's views concerning marriage could and did color the individuals' own practices, thereby contradicting the fundamental belief in rejecting society.Reform of traditional economics was another unifying factor for the two major theories. Rejection of the dominant capitalist and industrial economy led Owen and Fourier both to more socialist techniques of distributing money. In Owen's proposed villages, all dwellings would be assimilated, food for all of the community would be purchased and prepared by five or six members, and care for all the children would rest on the shoulders of a few members only (Fogarty 41-42). Owen bought a large tract of land for the community he had envisioned and turned over to the members the responsibility of working as compensation for the food they ate and the land they inhabited. Plans did not always run so smoothly, however; as Macdonald points out, "it is certain that there was a proportion of needy and idle persons, who...

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