Albert Brisbane’s Phalanxes

"My only aim is to transmit the thought of Charles Fourier to my countrymen." ~ Albert Brisbane

Context

In the early to mid 1800's the growing economy provided both a motive and a means for reform. White, middle-class Northerners in particular were concerned over the unprecedented levels of urban disorder and immigration that accompanied early industrialization. Yet the discipline of producing market goods created a more clock-oriented and self-controlled society: rates of violence and alcohol consumption fell, and schools became more numerous and regimented. But growing numbers of reformers wanted more than a well- disciplined society. They saw no reason why the nation could not drive out all of its impurities: intemperance and sloth, certainly, but also all manner of unhealthy habits, greed, slavery, and even male dominance. Americans were far from united in their reform impulses, which grew more splintered and ambitious with time. But the combination of economic transformation and religious reformation produced a seedbed for bold expectations and experiments. Albert Brisbane's ideas (originating from those proposed by François Marie Charles Fourier) were publicized during a time of unusually profound social change due to extremely population growth and technical innovations. The 1840s were filled with rampant enthusiasm for utopian communities. This led to the establishment of 40 ventures, calling themselves phalanxes. Fourierism became most popular and dynamic secular movement of the entire 19th century in America.

François Marie Charles Fourier

Problems of Brisbane and Phalanxes Attempt to Correct

Fourier and Brisbane believed that it was their duty to save humanity and were fed up in particular with the frauds of commerce and believed that types of work should be assigned according to individuals' interests instead of by the cruel accidents of the marketplace and class structure.

"Man becomes so accustomed to the society, in which he has passed his life, that its institutions, laws, and customs grow upon him until they become second nature. His feelings, views and prejudices are so interwoven with its whole mechanism, that he looks upon it as natural, unchangeable and perfect. So great is the illusion that the evils he labours under, are attributed to every cause but the true one- the defective organization of society."~Albert Brisbane (from Social Destiny of Man)

Albert Brisbane

Goals

All work would be respected and paid for according to its usefulness, with the most disagreeable being the most highly paid. The reward for labor would be the gratification an individual found in doing it rather than in differences of prestige. This could be brought about only in new associations of men and women, called phalanxes: secular utopias.

Sketch of intended edifice of a phalanx (from Social Destiny of Man)

Tactics

Through an example of moral suasion, Brisbane began lecturing and Horace Greeley, an immediate and influential convert, helped Brisbane establish a newspaper, the Future, and when it failed, gave him a column in his own New York Tribune that gained a national audience for Fourierism.

Leaders: Brisbane

The American social theorist Albert Brisbane (1809-1890) was the leading advocate of the kind of socialism known in the United States as Fourierism. Brisbane was born on Aug. 22, 1809, in Batavia, N.Y. After many years of traveling through Europe, he read a treatise by François Marie Charles Fourier, and wrote that after finishing it he "commenced pacing the floor in a tumult of emotion … carried away into a world of new conceptions." Fourier was an influential European thinker born in 1772. He was fed up with the frauds of commerce and he thought that his mission was to bring order to humanity. He came up with ideas of model cities that were utopias. He hated social conflict and hoped for a society of guaranteeing class harmony through scientific organization.  He then studied under Fourier himself for 2 years. In 1834 Brisbane returned to the United States as a disciple of the French socialists. What had excited Brisbane were Fourier's ideas about the organization of labor. Brisbane simplified the theories, avoided the bizarre aspects, and emphasized the practical, seizing on the idea of "attractive industry."After attempting to establish his own community, but failing due to the bank panic of 1837, he decided to translate Fourier's works and create a utopian socialist journal in hope of promoting popular support for a phalanx experiment. In 1839 Brisbane began lecturing. His Social Destiny of Man (1840) and Association (1843) explained Fourier's theory in english. Horace Greeley, an immediate and influential convert, helped Brisbane establish a newspaper, the Future, and when it failed gave him a column in his own New York Tribune that gained a national audience for Fourierism. The 1840s were filled with rampant enthusiasm for utopian communities. Quickly, over 40 ventures calling themselves phalanxes were launched. Other communities, like George Ripley's Brook Farm, were converted to Fourierism. Brisbane, however, took no responsibility for them, for they met none of the requirements of careful preparation and financing. Most failed swiftly, and enthusiasm for the ideas disappeared.Though Brisbane could say truthfully that there had been no real trial of Fourierism, the times had moved on. He retired from his propagandizing; only in 1876, in a General Introduction to Social Sciences, did he try again to explain Fourierism to Americans.

The North American phalanx

Outcomes

According to Fourier, exactly 1,620 men, women, and children - twice the number of distinctive human personality types that Fourier had found - were to inhabit a sprawling, multi-story phalanstery whose wings enclosed landscaped inner courtyards and whose entrance faced a vast parade ground. Inside, a splendid variety of apartments, communal rooms, and circulation galleries would house residents and promote spontaneous association. Across from the main dwelling, workshops and storehouses would frame the public square.This central cluster of buildings would be situated on a beautiful tract of 6,000 acres with abundant gardens, carefully tended orchards, and inviting forests. Members would arrange themselves through the simple force of attraction into hundreds of specialized work groups gratifying every interest, and their contented labor would produce so much that consumption and leisure, not production, would be their main preoccupation.

The grand and all-too-specific vision of Fourier’s phalanx dazzled American reformers in search of a concrete community plan, but ultimately it hurt the Fourierist movement. With expectations for palatial living aroused so absurdly high, Fourierists were too easily disappointed with struggling little communities that looked nothing like Fourier’s phalanx. And Fourier’s “instant” rather than gradual approach to communalism steered movement leaders in the wrong direction when they were faced with scaled-down projects and real-world decisions. In the end, leaders such as Brisbane and the faithful rank and file found it hard to accept that the American phalanxes might never approach Fourier’s monumental plan.

Bill of fare from North American Phalanx (9/22/1855)

Assessment

Brisbane's ideas and the phalanxes values of true worker equality and the abomination of status are very liberal. However, the secular aspect of the Phalanxes and it's relatively unusual isolation from the rest of the world make the utopian societies appear to be based on very radical ideology. Not only that, but they can also be argued as being conservative. The phalanx society expects for its members to support and rely on one another and follow certain moral values of interdependence, which can be argued as a conservative in the sense of societal conservatism as opposed to political conservatism.

Bibliography

Primary

Brisbane, Albert. Social Destiny of Man. R. M. Dewitt: New York, 1857.

Secondary

“Albert Brisbane Facts.” In Encyclopedia of World Biography. N.p.: Gale Group, 2010. Accessed October 23, 2014. http://biography.yourdictionary.com/albert-brisbane.

“Fourierism.” In Encyclopaedia Britannica. Encyclopaedia Britannica. Accessed October 23, 2014. http://www.britannica.com/EBchecked/topic/215148/Fourierism.

Guarneri, Carl J. Brook Farms and the Fourierist Phalanxes. Edited by Donald E. Pitzer. N.p.: Middlebury Edu, n.d. Accessed October 23, 2014. http://sites.middlebury.edu/utopias/files/2013/02/cg-brook-farm.pdf.

Learner. “American History and the Antebellum Social Movements.” American History Unit 8. Accessed October 23, 2014. http://www.learner.org/courses/amerhistory/units/8/overview.

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