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date: 04 March 2021

Anti-capitalist Thought and Utopian Alternatives in Americafree

  • Howard BrickHoward BrickDepartment of History, University of Michigan


Utopia—the term derived from Thomas More’s 1516 volume by that name—always suggested a place that was both non-existent, a product of the imagination usually depicted fictionally as far distant in time or space, and better than the real and familiar world. In modern times, it has served as a mode of anti-capitalist critique and also, despite its supposed “unreality,” as a disposition joined to actual social movements for dramatic reform. Utopian alternatives to American capitalism, both in the sense of literary works projecting visions of ideal social relations and in real efforts to establish viable communitarian settlements, have long been a significant part of the nation’s cultural and political history. In the 1840s, American followers of the French “utopian socialist” Charles Fourier established dozens of communities based at least in part on Fourier’s principles, and those principles filtered down to the world’s most influential modern utopian novel, Edward Bellamy’s Looking Backward of 1888. Utopian community-building and the writing of anti-capitalist utopian texts surged and declined in successive waves from the 19th to the 21st century, and while the recent surges have never equaled the impact borne by Fourierism or Bellamy, the appeal of the utopian imagination has again surfaced, since the Great Recession of 2008 provoked new doubts about the viability or justice of capitalist economic and social relations.

Contrary to “exceptionalist” arguments that American culture was by nature always inhospitable to socialist and radical labor movements, the United States actually hosted the most vigorous efforts to build utopian-socialist colonies in modern history, the most violent class struggle of any industrializing society, and the world’s most influential utopian novel ever written.1 That was Edward Bellamy’s Looking Backward, first published in 1888 and translated into dozens of foreign languages, reaching readers all over the world with an ardent anti-capitalist message and an image of a peaceful and prosperous order of collectivized economy sustained by a new religion of solidarity.2 To be sure, Bellamy called his ideal future order not “socialism” but “nationalism,” and the system that this future had succeeded was not named “capitalism” but described simply as the late 19th-century world of greed, wealth, poverty, and toil. (Before the word “capitalism” came into common usage, the industrializing American economy of the 19th century had been described as “commercial society,” “the wages system,” or other terms.) Thus, calling early socialist critiques “anti-capitalist” amounts, strictly speaking, to anachronism. Nonetheless, for all intents and purposes (and using current-day terminology), anti-capitalist thought figured at least as a potent minority opinion of dissent in the American 1840s. Proudly giving their journal the forward-looking title, The Harbinger, US followers of Charles Fourier’s collectivist vision maintained a sharp polemical assault on the norms of bourgeois boosterism advanced by patriots such as Daniel Webster in the years following the country’s “market revolution.”3

Utopia was the name Thomas More gave to the imaginary distant island described in his 1516 volume of the same name: a Greek-derived term of dual meaning, suggesting both “no place” and “good place.” Consequently, “utopia” came to mean a form of writing that was one part fantasy and one part political discourse, the latter sketching what More in his subtitle called “the best form of commonwealth.”4 From the start, utopia could be rendered an adjective, alluding thus to the “utopian republic,” or in noun form to denote an inhabitant of this imagined place, a utopian. Much later, Marx and Engels applied the term to a number of speculative predecessors, the “utopian socialists” Saint-Simon, Charles Fourier, and Robert Owen, of whose achievements the writers of the Communist Manifesto were rather less censorious (and more appreciative) than they were reputed to be. Marx and Engels denied that their own communist politics pretended to the status of a “universal doctrine” or a “new social science” good for all times and places, as the early system-builders claimed; but they also acknowledged the “critical element” in that work which “attack[ed] every principle of existing society.” Marx and Engels noted too the “practical measures proposed” in those critiques, which sketched possible forms of a future classless society and thus reflected, the Manifesto judged, “the first instinctive yearnings of [the modern proletariat] for a general reconstruction of society.”5 In any case, the followers of the early 19th-century utopians founded many actual “pilot communities,” as historian Carl Guarneri calls them, and thus the term applied not only to philosophical or literary texts but also to varied kinds of experimental settlements—connoting thereby a real social movement and not merely a figment of imagination. Communitarianism, understood as a program of multiplying such cooperative or collectivist settlements to prefigure a more general social transformation to come, faded after the late 19th century (without ever disappearing utterly) from the principal forms of labor-based socialist and communist politics in the United States.

Later, the idea of utopia resurfaced in European and American discourse with the publication of Karl Mannheim’s Ideology and Utopia (in English translation, 1936), the two terms of the title meant to define fundamentally distinct modes of thought or consciousness, the first indicating idealized views of existing social order intended for conservative purposes to defend it and the second indicating idealized visions of the future that served to criticize or undermine present social forms. While several mid-20th-century critics argued that modern totalitarianism stemmed from furious attempts to realize utopian dreams—thereby suggesting the great danger of such imaginaries—the best-known critic of “ideologies” in the United States, sociologist Daniel Bell, hewed more to Mannheim’s meaning when he argued there remained a place for utopia as a form of social criticism and anticipations of a better world that could still generate meaningful political visions. At the turn of the 21st century, he responded to Francis Fukuyama’s notion of an “end of history,” signaled by the advent of global neoliberalism, by publishing an afterword to a reissue of The End of Ideology, entitled “The Resumption of History in the New Century,” while he worked on an unfinished book manuscript he called The Rebirth of Utopia. In the years immediately following Bell’s death in 2011, a new literature by young writers shaken by the Great Recession of 2008 renewed anti-capitalist thought and the exploration of utopian alternatives.6

American Owenites and Fourierists

Starting with Ann Lee’s Shakers in the 1770s, various strains of Christian millennialism sponsored cooperative American settlements before the classic utopians inspired secular communitarian visions among bands of reformers in the United States. The Scottish cotton manufacturer and philanthropist Robert Owen (1771–1858) came to the United States to establish a base at New Harmony, Indiana, in 1825, following the exit of the Christian Harmonists (followers of George Rapp) from that Wabash River town. Essentially a voluntary community devoted to Enlightenment ideals of scientific reason, modern child-centered (Pestalozzian) education, and social welfare, New Harmony never reached the stage of a full-fledged order of communal property that Owen had envisioned, and it collapsed due to internal dissension in 1827. Owen’s disciple, Frances Wright (1795–1852), attempted to apply Owenite principles to an interracial community at Nashoba, Tennessee as a means of gradual emancipation for enslaved black workers, but that failed too due to mismanagement and much more public hostility than New Harmony encountered. Thereafter, Wright had a short-lived career as a lecturer advocating free thought, equality for women, and workers’ rights (in collaboration with the New York Workingmen’s Party) before she was driven out of public life.7

It was Owen’s and Wright’s anticlericalism that won them their most vehement assailants; a decade further on, Fourierism—linked more to romantic Transcendentalism than to Enlightenment rationalism—gained a substantial body of followers in the United States and constituted (under the name Associationism) the first clearly utopian-communitarian ideological current to enter American political discourse. Its leading historian, Carl Guarneri, estimates 100,000 “followers” of Associationism—including inhabitants of Fourierist “phalanxes” and, in much greater numbers, members of Associationist clubs and their sympathizers. The French doctrinaire Charles Fourier (1772–1837) had a genuine disciple in the American reformer Albert Brisbane (1809–1890), who in turn had the support of the New York crusader journalist Horace Greeley (1811–1872) and, by 1844, the committed volunteers of Brook Farm led by preacher and organizer George Ripley (1802–1880). For a brief time, as the Panic of 1837 and the ensuing economic depression spread disaffection from the business world’s norm of market individualism, hundreds of artisans, tradesmen, middle-class professionals, and enterprising pioneers flocked to communitarian settlements that offered hopes of prosperity, security, equality, and “society”—that is, cooperation and fellowship that promised an alternative to the cut-throat world of each-for-his-own. During the 1840s, cooperators formed some dozens of “phalanxes,” Fourier’s term for the collective organisms that would, in some federal fashion, create over time a worldwide network of self-sufficient groups.8

Fourier and his followers spoke less of capitalism than they did of “Civilization,” deemed in Rousseauan fashion a corrupt world of egoism, greed, luxury and penury, waste, inequality, and unfreedom—to be succeeded, ultimately, in the “New Order” of “Harmony.” If they didn’t know capitalism, Associationists certainly knew capitalists and the ravages of market competition, caustically analyzed and condemned in the penetrating but short-lived publication of the national Associationist movement, The Harbinger, which became in effect the first organ of left-wing anti-capitalist critique to appear in American society.

Most of the phalanxes collapsed within a few years, if not sooner, due to factional divisions over matters of religion or policy, woefully inadequate starting resources, adverse market trends that undercut the value of the goods they hoped to sell to nearby towns and cities, and the resumption of economic growth at large that made other opportunities more attractive to restless settlers. As Guarneri points out, early enthusiasts expected the benefits of Association in greater prosperity and security to come quickly and too easily, leading to early disillusionment. More importantly, the model of the phalanx—based on investments by shareholders, differential distribution of proceeds to shareholders and non-shareholding (laboring) residents, and the sale of cooperatively produced goods in nearby markets—made the communities less a fully socialist alternative than a variant of business practice. Indeed, a political Whig like Greeley could imagine these ventures as a kind of profit-sharing corporation that could have a future in the scheme of American economic growth. Nonetheless, the pages of the Harbinger, skewering the oppression of “wage slavery,” the exploitative power of increasingly concentrated wealth, the susceptibility of the market to crisis, and more, demonstrated that utopian doctrine was more influential for the criticism it offered of existing society than for the futurist modeling it provided. A few phalanxes lasted long enough to show a number of adherents that cooperative labor was feasible and that cooperative residences (featuring a routine and vibrant sociability) offered a preferable alternative to the normative “isolated household” of Civilization.

Other Mid-19th-Century Communities

Another response to disappointing phalanxes yielded an American brand of individualist anarchism that fostered a few libertarian colonies such as Josiah Warren’s Modern Times village, halfway across the span of Long Island, but they proved likewise ephemeral. In a very different vein, a few noted communal settlements founded on devout Christian principles enjoyed greater longevity. German pietists known as True Inspirationists settled in the Amana villages of central Iowa, maintaining communal property and production among several hundred believing families from the 1850s to 1932. In upstate New York, followers of the “Perfectionist” theologian and preacher John Humphrey Noyes (1811–1886) built the Oneida Community to recreate the ancient communism of the earliest Christians, from 1848 to 1881. Oneidans also notoriously initiated a system of “complex marriage” based on free sexual relations, birth control, and (for about a decade) planned procreation according to Noyes’s proto-eugenicist scheme of “stirpiculture.” Despite several attempts by conservative journalists and clergymen to quash Oneida, the community maintained generally good relations with its neighbors. Admired for its orderly, productive, and highly cultured demeanor, it had become a tourist destination by the 1860s and 1870s. Noyes, notwithstanding his personal identification with Paul the Apostle, remained a recognized intellectual conversant with secular socialist theories and Darwinism.

Yet another stream of frankly communist but largely secular settlers, followers of the French radical republican Étienne Cabet (1788–1856), sought to build versions of “New Icaria,” modeled in Cabet’s utopian novel, Travels in Icaria, first in Texas and later in Illinois, Missouri, and California. In France, Cabet’s long career in anti-monarchical politics drew to him a much larger following than Fourier, but in the United States that order was reversed. Associationism was a full-fledged movement with American-born participants, while the Icarians remained largely a corps of French emigrants and their offspring, stumbling through several schisms and splits from 1848 to the 1890s. Amana and Oneida had more definite afterlives: almost as Horace Greeley may have imagined, when their residents voted to end communal property, the town enterprises reorganized as successful joint-stock companies. Oneida’s manufacturing expertise shifted from fur-hunting traps to cutlery, and Amana’s from fine woolens to (by the 1930s) refrigerators.

Beyond Associationism

In the 1850s, the dissenting social movements of abolitionism and women’s rights eclipsed Associationism, though at least some of the proponents of those great mid-century campaigns briefly brushed shoulders with socialist ideas or practices. It was, after all, “free labor” (rather than common property and collective work) that stood as the principal antithesis of slavery. Nonetheless, a different kind of utopian alternative arose in scattered black homesteading communities that offered the promise of a refuge from white supremacy. Generally planned as concentrations of family-owned, subsistence farming plots (combined with common schools) for free blacks or refugees from slavery, many of these settlements depended on white benefactors and suffered from inadequate resources and poor management. The most successful, the Elgin settlement near Buxton, Ontario, welcomed fugitives, housed about a thousand people, and survived for nearly two decades; a significant number of Elgin settlers returned to the United States after the Union Army formed black regiments in 1863. Another example, more utopian in its aspirations for moral regeneration, was based on a large land gift by abolitionist Gerrit Smith near Lake Placid in New York State, at North Elba, or “Timbucto” as its residents called it. There, some twenty or thirty black families dwelled, joined by John Brown, who believed the settlement could secede from the American culture of whiteness, escape the cut-throat world of commercial business, and serve as a base both for funneling fugitives to Canada and preparing an armed anti-slavery force to invade the South. In one of the most curious conjunctions in the history of American utopianism, two of John Brown’s co-conspirators were buried at the Associationist community of Raritan Bay, New Jersey after the Harpers Ferry raid was crushed. If, as historian Steven Hahn has suggested, places like Timbucto may be considered “maroon” settlements comparable to those rebellious havens of fugitive slaves elsewhere in the Americas, it would be possible also to regard the futurist imagination of black insurrection in the tradition begun by Martin R. Delany’s Blake; or, The Huts of America, published serially from 1859 to 1861, as a distinctive black utopian literary genre.9

Full-scale capitalist industrialization in the United States, from the 1870s through the 1890s, led to a utopian revival toward the end of the 19th century. Although also, like Associationism, linked to concrete social movements, this utopian surge took a more decidedly literary form and a more insistently anti-capitalist tenor. In contrast to Fourierist phalanxes that—due to their implantation in a growing market society not yet fully industrialized—remained quasi-capitalist even as they pioneered cooperative labor practices, the very imaginative scope of fiction writing permitted the presentation of a more thoroughgoing alternative to the existing order. In other words, utopian literature rather than utopian communities assumed the vanguard of radical critique. The standout in this field, of course, was Edward Bellamy’s Looking Backward (1888), which evoked a sharp, transatlantic riposte in William Morris’s News from Nowhere (1890), which in turn would be cited in William Dean Howells’s A Traveler from Altruria (1894)—a trend that issued after another twenty years in the feminist utopia, Herland (1915), by Charlotte Perkins Gilman, whose socialist-feminist career began in her support for Bellamy’s Nationalism.

Utopia Outlines the Horizon of Expectation

However “visionary” Edward Bellamy’s portrait of Boston in the year 2000 was, he intended it as a plausible alternative to the order of his own day. At the very start of the novel, Bellamy announced the crucial critical function of utopian writing—that is, the intent to challenge the hold of the present on the political imagination and thereby to awaken “daring anticipations of human development.” The book’s preamble introduced the “romantic narrative” of time-traveler Julian West as a mere pedagogical device adopted by a historian in 2000 aiming to survey a century’s progress since the time when Americans mistakenly held “the general belief that the ancient industrial system, with all its shocking social consequences, was destined to last, with possibly a little patching, to the end of time.”10 Indeed, in a Postscript included in most subsequent editions of the novel, Bellamy answered a critic who doubted a mere century’s progress could realize the harmonious order depicted therein: he had intended Looking Backward, Bellamy wrote, as “a work of realistic imagination,” a “forecast . . . of the next stage in the industrial and social development of humanity,” composed “in the belief that the Golden Age lies before us and not behind us, and is not far away.”11

In the novel, Julian West, having slept away a century in his self-designed sensory-deprivation chamber, recalled society of the 1880s in the image of “a prodigious coach which the masses of humanity were harnessed to and dragged [by rope] toilsomely along a very hilly and sandy road,” driven by hunger, while a small elite of passengers rode aloft, insecure in their perch but determined to save their seats for their offspring and possessed by the “singular hallucination . . . that they were not exactly like their brothers and sisters who pulled at the rope, but of finer clay.”12 This image of inequality and “incredible inhumanity” has endured as a classic trope of anti-capitalist polemic and established all the terms that the utopian future would negate.

Above all, the new economy of the year 2000—organized as one great enterprise under the authority of the people of the United States—offered all an equal share of the nation’s wealth in the form of an annual allotment, a single credit card in effect, on the basis of which each citizen was free to obtain desired goods from an efficient order-and-delivery system of public warehouses. “His title [to that share] is his humanity,” Julian’s Boston host Dr. Leete explains. Thus “equality of condition” was established, a great principle joined with the other watchwords of the French revolution, liberty and fraternity—or the “mutual benevolence and disinterestedness” among citizens secured by faith in the “solidarity of humanity.” Corresponding ethics of obligation and responsibility mustered all citizens into the nation’s “industrial army,” from the age of majority to midlife (age 45), based on the free choice of occupation and public training; service and excellence was motivated by “emulation,” advancement through ranks, and public honors, not by differential monetary rewards. Dr. Leete’s instruction includes, as a famous illustration, his note of the public awnings that extended over Boston’s streets as weather demanded: “The difference between the age of individualism and that of concert,” he explains, is “well characterized by the fact that, in the nineteenth century, when it rained, the people of Boston put up three hundred thousand umbrellas over as many heads, and in the twentieth century they put up one umbrella over all the heads.”13

Nurtured by his growing love of Dr. Leete’s daughter Edith, Julian—who was steadily drawn, like most utopian protagonists, from skepticism to conversion—concludes at one point:

If I were asked to name the most distinguishing felicity of this age . . . I should say that to me it seems to consist in the dignity you have given to labor by refusing to set a price upon it and abolishing the marketplace forever. By requiring of every man his best you have made God his task master, and by making honor the sole reward of achievement, you have imparted to all service the distinction peculiar in my day to the soldier’s.

Indeed, at one point Julian restates the triple standard of liberty, equality, and fraternity as the virtues “order, equity, and felicity” that Boston had attained.14

Rather little is said about the status of women aside from their service in a separate corps of the industrial army, the fact that marriage is governed by love not money, and that public, cooperative kitchens and laundries freed women from household drudgery. Otherwise, the masculine prerogative and genteel sexual norms of Bellamy’s day seem to prevail in his utopian future. Generally, both Edith and Dr. Leete repeatedly assert that individuals have greater, not lesser freedom of choice in the year 2000, though Bellamy’s emphasis on discipline and obligation—along with absence of democratic procedures (signaled by a suffrage restricted to retired members of the industrial army)—have long led critics to view his system as one of “authoritarian socialism.” To be sure, Bellamy saw most functions of government to be administrative, guided by appointed managers, but the real keynote is not authoritarian control but a trend (due to efficiency) toward reducing the scope of government and hence of the corrupt politics of his day. Importantly, Bellamy’s system is never, in the novel, described as “control” by the state but rather control by the nation, which he clearly understood as “the people” who, Dr. Leete says, “concluded [at the turn of the 20th century] to assume the conduct of their own business, just as one hundred-odd years before they had assumed the conduct of their own government.” Hence, Bellamy termed his system “Nationalism,” not socialism.15

William Morris’s critique targeted the element of order and control in Bellamy’s vision not on the basis of democratic governance (for matters of governance are as invisible in News from Nowhere as they are in Looking Backward) but on Morris’s resistance to centralized industry. In Morris’s reading of Marx, indebted also to John Ruskin’s esthetics, it is the degradation of work under industrial capitalism as well as poverty and bourgeois oppression that figure as the chief evils of the old order. In striking contrast to Looking Backward (for there, the “partisans of the red flag” played no role in what amounted to a moral awakening of all classes to the “national” cause), Morris details the turmoil of a revolutionary struggle that ushered in the post-capitalist way of life, one which is far more pastoral than Bellamy’s Boston. The division of city and country has been dismantled, and advanced technology, though not entirely absent, plays very little role compared to individual crafts and voluntary collective labor, primarily agrarian in character. Goods are for the taking in shops; services are provided as neighborly beneficence; abundance is assured largely due to the avoidance of the waste that was built into the manufactured needs of the capitalist marketplace and the superfluous labors of money-getting. While heterosexual romance plays a role too in Morris’s narrative, he offers some hints of greater sexual autonomy for women and more relaxed erotic lives than anything suggested in Bellamy. While the 19th-century time traveler in News from Nowhere disappears from England-of-the-future at the novel’s end—presumably awakening from his midsummer night’s dream—Morris derided Looking Backward as a “cockney dream,” the term referring not to the East End poor but rather the pampered nouveau riche of his time, probably meaning thereby to sneer at the leisured upper-middle-class aura of the Leete household.

Nonetheless, the Nationalist movement that organized after publication of Looking Backward had sympathy for, and a significant ideological impact on, the Populists of the 1890s, or at least on those Populists who imagined the cooperative commonwealth as a radically new system (as opposed to merely a rationale for producers’ cooperatives as a niche component within the capitalist market). Among Bellamy’s followers was Charlotte Perkins Gilman, for whom the collective kitchens and laundries of Looking Backward would play an important part of her argument, in Women and Economics (1898), for why socialism could liberate women. In Gilman’s novel, Herland (1915), she went further in imagining an entirely female parthenogenetic society that constituted a utopia of common care. Contrasting an ethos of “solidarity” and “social service” to ideas of competition, mastery, and conquest, Gilman’s portrait of Herland betrayed her origin in Bellamyite Nationalism, though here the “religion of solidarity” appeared as the “sacrament” of Motherhood in which childbirth was followed by collective child-rearing. If the unexamined masculinism of most utopias qualifies their claims to universalistic principles, the signs of Gilman’s eugenic racialism (presenting the denizens of Herland as a “pure stock”) do the same in this novel.16 (Herland was preceded by a more obscure newspaper serial in 1880–1881, Mizora, by Mary E. Bradley Lane, where an all-female society reproduces by parthenogenesis and the theme of racial—Aryan—purity also prevails.)17 The keynote of Herland, however, is Gilman’s mockery of androcentric views and assumptions. When the most macho of the male interlopers in Herland insists that without competition there would be no “stimulus to industry”—because “no man would work unless he has to”—his native interlocutor exclaims, “Oh, no man! You mean that is [another] one of your sex distinctions?”18 With less attention than Bellamy to the workings of production and distribution in a future order of life, Herland maximized that element of utopian writing devoted to the critique, by counterposition, of current norms—in this case, the very idea of sex-linked traits that depicted American women as by nature dependent, uncreative, “catty,” and sexually “available” to men.

The Nationalist Clubs that appeared right after publication of Looking Backward, starting with Boston’s chapter in December 1888, spread across the country; over 150 such clubs by 1892 drew a mostly middle-class membership rallying around a political platform calling for government ownership of mines, railroads, and telephone and telegraph—which jibed with the People’s Party platform of 1892.19 William Dean Howells belonged to the Boston club; his own utopia, A Traveler from Altruria, introduced a twist in the conventional form by setting the story in existing American society and making the protagonist a visitor from a distant egalitarian, collectivist society who is scandalized by the hierarchical, anti-democratic practices in the United States; the traveler finds his most sympathetic audience among plebeian farmers and craftsmen of the countryside who live a more or less impoverished life beyond the confines of the bourgeois resort hotel that hosts his visit.

While Nationalism faded as an organized movement rather quickly, the years that followed, into the early decades of the 20th century, witnessed the founding of communitarian settlements, either socialist or anarchist by conviction, around the country. Advocates of colonization included Julius Wayland, editor of the socialist Appeal to Reason in Girard, Kansas, and some members of Eugene Debs’s Social Democracy of America (SDA), organized in 1897 following the suppression of Debs’s American Railway Union and disappointment over the decline of Populism. Colonizers launched a few dozen ventures, mainly in the Midwest and the Pacific Northwest. Founders of the Equality colony in Edison, Washington, and Brotherhood in Burley, Washington, believed their efforts would make the entire state a socialist stronghold. Established as cooperatively run industrial settlements engaged in logging, sawmills, shingle making, and cigar making, Equality and the Burley community each engaged about a hundred residents and lasted about ten years. In southern California, a group led by Los Angeles socialist Job Harriman established a self-sufficient agricultural community named Llano del Rio in 1914, with over 1,000 residents; moving to Louisiana in 1917 and building there a sawmill, broom factory, and other enterprises, Llano lasted until 1937.20

Among anarchist settlements, the colony at Stelton, New Jersey grew out of the Francisco Ferrer Association (named for the radical Spanish freethinker executed under martial law in 1909) in 1914 and survived as a community of small landowners supporting the libertarian Ferrer Modern School in their midst until 1953. Aside from a measure of mutual aid, Stelton never organized any sort of collective industry; besides the School, it became mainly a residential haven for assorted leftists (including communists by the 1930s) engaged in radical cultural institutions.21

Anti-Utopian Hiatus

In various ways, the trauma of World War I and the revolutionary and reactionary movements that emerged from it dampened the speculative, progress-oriented spirit of the utopian impulse. The young social and cultural critic Lewis Mumford (1895–1990) published The Story of Utopias in 1922, suggesting that the “classic” tradition from Plato’s Republic and Thomas More to his own time had now run its course. He recognized contrary strains in the moment, citing “the atmosphere of disillusion which we breathe today” even as he claimed as justification for his survey that “it is only after the storm that we dare to look for the rainbow.” Disappointed by the doctrinaire or mechanistic notions he saw in Cabet or Bellamy, yet honoring attempts to envision the good life, Mumford concluded: “This is the first step out of the present impasse: we must return to the real world, and face it, and survey it in its complicated totality. Our castles-in-the air must have their foundations in solid ground.”22

Although Mumford was not an admirer, the Russian Revolution, the creation of the Soviet Union, and the founding of the Communist International played some role in converting erstwhile utopian energies into what appeared to socialist militants as “real politics”; not a few Americans journeyed to Russia starting in the early 1920s to join communal settlements featuring collective housekeeping and even, for a time, ideas of sexual liberation. The degeneration of the Soviet revolution, combined with the ferocity of Europe’s fascist movements and more general fears of modern mass society, fostered a new dystopian genre, from Evgeny Zamyatin’s We (1924) to Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World (1932) and George Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four (1949). The Great Depression and the approach of World War II failed to produce many hopeful visions beyond the fighting spirit of anti-fascism; one exception was the pallid utopian novel, The First to Awaken, (1940), published by the critic Granville Hicks about a cryogenically suspended New Englander revived a hundred years later in a modernistic, collectivist America of 2040. Immediately following World War II, the most widespread aspirational vision of the future involved hopes for some kind of world government (to restrain future wars) rather than explicitly anti-capitalist visions.

Nonetheless, an attempted rebirth of utopian communalism emerged very tentatively in the late 1940s precisely among circles of the disenchanted left that recoiled from the centralized, 20th-century warfare state. When the journalist Dwight Macdonald, editor of the little magazine politics, sought to break from ideas of technological progress he associated with both Marxism and liberalism, he argued that the true “Radical” spirit could best thrive in small-scale, decentralized communities. Politics featured a number of attempts to re-invoke the classic utopians (Owen, Fourier, and others) against the “scientific socialism” that was marred by association with the Soviet Union and an untrustworthy Communist Party. In practical terms, Macdonald’s neo-utopianism was associated with moves by anarcho-pacifists such as David Dellinger to set up communal settlements—part retreat from the warfare state and part training ground for what would later emerge in the mid-1950s as the exemplary peacemaker tactics of the Committee for Non-Violent Action. The literary exemplars of this period were few—most notably Paul and Percival Goodman’s underappreciated Communitas (1947) and B. F. Skinner’s controversial Walden Two (1948). In Communitas, something like a manual for radical urban planners, the Goodmans eschewed the utopian dreamer’s great fault—a single, fixed model of perfection. Instead, they offered three distinct possible models of community planning, the first clearly based on contemporary consumer capitalism and disfavored by the authors—a hyper-centralized system demonstrating “how men can be as efficiently wasteful as possible”—and two others motivated by anti-capitalist values of pleasurable (craft-like) work, workers’ control, small-scale cooperation, the integration of country and city, and the proximity of home life and the public square, all to be achieved (so as not to be confused with the medievalism of William Morris) with “modern technology, a national economy, and a democratic society.”23

In contrast, Skinner’s Walden Two hewed to the one best way, a definite scheme for organizing social life by a sort of “behavioral engineering” that seemingly transposed F. W. Taylor’s principles of scientific management to the sphere of social interaction. The novel’s traveler, psychologist Professor Burris, visits his former student, T. E. Frazier, who has applied principles of operant conditioning by positive reinforcement to create a productive community based on common property, labor averaging four hours a day per member to fulfill most subsistence needs, collective child-rearing, and virtually unrestricted personal choice in leisure and creative, artistic pursuits—all operating according to norms and rules designed experimentally (and hence revisable) by Frazier to inculcate non-competitive, cooperative behavior. The two key figures, Burris and Frazier, represent different sides of Skinner himself (whose initials stood for Burrhus Frederick), and like other modern utopians, he quite seriously intended his imagined settlement as a prototype of real communities. Although Skinner believed his behaviorist idyll followed Thoreau’s ideas of an alternative mode of simple living, Life magazine—evoking the postwar sense that grand visions veiled totalitarian impulses—derided the comparison: “Thoreau’s book is profoundly antiutopian; it does not belong in the long line of antiseptic literature that began with Plato’s Republic. Far from trying to escape into a ‘brave new world,’ Thoreau, the cosmic bum, set out resolutely to make the best of what he could right around home.”24 The critic’s praise of the “antiutopian” disposition more accurately captured the spirit of the time than Skinner had.

Utopian Rebirth 1.0

A genuine rebirth of utopianism awaited the recharging of militant political opposition in the 1960s, which revived a vigorous critique of capitalism by the middle and late years of the decade, spurred (like the 1840s) by a spirit of “come-outerism” that yielded a wide variety of “intentional communities.” Many of these arose from a countercultural drive “back to the land,” where rural resettlement could model simplicity outside the modern consumer market, as promoted by long-time socialists Scott Nearing (1883–1983) and Helen Nearing (1904–1995) in Living the Good Life: How to Live Sanely and Simply in a Troubled World (1970)—or create do-it-yourself futuristic dwellings like the solar homes of Drop City, Colorado.25 A new surge of imaginative writing about alternative futures also ran roughly from 1968 to 1975.

The revival of protest in the late 1950s around the causes of the black freedom struggle and the anti-nuclear peace movement was complemented by a new “scientific-technological revolution,” which many observers thought implied the potential for massive gains in productivity. In 1964, the so-called Triple Revolution Manifesto, signed by liberals, radicals, and socialists, forecast a rush of “automation” or “cybernation” that promised material abundance—but at the cost of mass unemployment, unless social reform dramatically reduced the standard work week and provided a basic income to all as a citizenship right. The very possibility of cornucopia led the Marxist philosopher Herbert Marcuse to declare “the end of utopia”; that is, he wrote, “the refutation of those ideas and theories that use the concept of utopia [i.e., as an unrealizable dream] to denounce certain socio-historical possibilities.’” Now, Marcuse claimed, complete automation made possible “the abolition of poverty and misery . . . of alienation and the abolition of what I have called ‘surplus repression,’” even as “the genesis and development of a vital need for freedom” had already appeared, inchoate, in countercultural dissent. In this argument, Marcuse’s declaration of “the end of utopia” made him, in Fredric Jameson’s words, “surely the most influential Utopian of the 1960s.”26

Marcuse was far from alone. The flourishing of radical feminism, environmentalism, and other “new social movements” provided new resources of imagination to utopian literature after 1968. Much as Paul and Percival Goodman had sketched the terms of wedding “means of livelihood and [communal] ways of life,” the young radical feminist Shulamith Firestone concluded her manifesto of feminist revolution, The Dialectic of Sex (1970), by suggesting new means of constituting “households” in a future genderless society that would liberate women and children from age-old male domination. She built on Marcusean themes of “cybernated socialism” combined with the emancipation of eros. She foresaw the reduction of necessary labor to an absolute minimum and the common provision of subsistence; the practice of large groups (twelve to fifteen individuals) sharing housework or availing themselves of public kitchens and laundries; and adequate provisions for privacy and freedom so individuals could engage in “healthily selfish” creative pursuits in arts and sciences. She offered “some ‘dangerously utopian’ concrete proposals” intended to free women from the sole life-defining purpose of child-bearing, to free children in turn from possessive adults who see them as “extension[s] of ego,” and to diffuse child-rearing (or “intimate interaction with children”) through all of social life. Calling above all for “flexibility” in forms of individual or group living, she envisioned voluntarily formed “reproductive households” licensed as a group to tend young children “only for a given period . . . [socially] decided on as the minimal time in which children needed a stable structure in which to grow up—but probably a much shorter period than we now imagine.” Thereafter, the nurturing associations of young and old “might become lifelong attachments in which the individuals concerned mutually agreed to stay together . . . based on love alone, uncorrupted by dependencies and resulting class [including “sex-class”] inequalities.”27

Despite Firestone’s insistence on pushing technological development to the maximum (in fully artificial reproduction), she claimed “the best new currents in ecology and social planning agree with feminist aims”; in a world beyond sex dualism, she foresaw “a new equilibrium” between humans and their (already modified) environment. In fiction writing, new utopias indeed combined feminism and ecology in varying ways. The motif of utopian distance would now be represented by space travel (in works of Ursula Le Guin and Samuel R. Delany), time travel (in Marge Piercy’s Woman on the Edge of Time), or by political rupture, as in Ernest Callenbach’s depiction in Ecotopia (1975) of the Pacific Northwest as a secessionist state quarantined from (and thus unknown by) the rest of the United States for 20 years—until the novel’s traveler and protagonist, William Weston, ventures to document his pioneering tour of this terra incognita for American newspaper readers.

Le Guin’s utopianism was always self-consciously “ambiguous” in that her imagined worlds do not represent any sort of perfection but instead play upon certain “thought experiments.” In The Left Hand of Darkness (1969), that experiment entails a vision of “ambisexual” humans who possess neither male nor female sexual identities—becoming temporarily one or another during a monthly period of heat—and who have no inclination to war. In an alternative vision of genderlessness, Piercy’s Woman on the Edge of Time (1976) depicted a future agrarian, communal society in which (as in Firestone) artificial reproduction produces children who are nurtured for a limited period of time by groups of adults of either sex. Le Guin’s The Dispossessed (1974) returned to older anti-capitalist themes, depicting the contrast between a property-less anarchism on the planet Anarres, populated by self-exiled dissenters from the dominant capitalist order of the planet Urras. The novel’s traveler and protagonist, the Anarresti scientist named Shevek, travels to Urras because the collective labor on Anarres prevents him from pursuing his scientific work—only to find the possessive individualism, sexual repression, and masculine hierarchy of Urras intolerable, prompting his return home. The science fiction, Triton (1976), by the gay African American writer Samuel R. Delany, takes Le Guin’s ambiguity further in describing a money-less society in which skin color means little, living quarters are available to all according to various permutations of sexual preference, bodily sexual reassignment is easily done (and reversible), men can arrange to suckle infants, and in what appears to be a satire of 1960s counterculture, Triton’s constitution makes “the subjective reality of each of its citizens as politically inviolable as possible.”28 Alas, Triton also engages in interplanetary cyberwar which destroys 5 million lives on another moon, an atrocity that makes little impact on the subjective reality of many Triton inhabitants.

Callenbach’s Ecotopia is a more typical utopian novel in describing a desirable order of life founded on environmental sustainability (and drastically ratcheting down consumerist desires), one that overcomes, in time, the initial doubts and suspicions of the traveler and protagonist William Weston. Possessing something like a socialist mixed economy in which goods and services, beyond the universal provision assured by government, can be produced (mostly by cooperatives) and exchanged for money, Ecotopia has reduced the division of city and country, eliminated fossil fuels and worked the great trick of developing a moldable plastic entirely from vegetable sources, conquered to a large extent sexual jealousy in a regime of free love, and made government both accessible and reasonably transparent—all under the great pressures of an initial secessionist war and the persistence of counterrevolutionary conspirators keen to restore competitive capital accumulation.

The surge of utopian revival after 1968, however, rather quickly dried up as the world economy entered its “long downturn” in the middle of the 1970s, yielding by the 1980s a resurrection of free-market dogmas, and by the 1990s a widespread conviction that, in the words of Margaret Thatcher, “there is no alternative” to the capitalist market—in other words, the seeming end of utopia in precisely the opposite of Marcuse’s sense. It would take another historical shock, the Great Recession of 2007–2008, to jump-start the rebirth of utopia, version 2.0.

Rebirth of Utopia 2.0

It was Karl Mannheim’s contribution to suggest that “ideology” and “utopia” were complementary terms, both posing ideal visions of social reality—the first for the purpose of celebrating and fixing the status quo, the second for the purpose of stimulating efforts to go beyond it. Talk of “globalization” in the 1990s by and large fit the former mold, hailing a one-world marketplace promising to end poverty by making trade more fluid, liberating information and knowledge through digital communications, and building peace by the spread of cosmopolitan values the world over. It was not until after the Great Recession that empirical evidence of financial disarray, crushing austerity policies in many countries, mounting inequality, and acute strains within the “Western” bloc—all taken together—soundly refuted the global ideology of growth and prosperity, leading to a striking revival, primarily in intellectual rather than policy terms, of anti-capitalist critique. Starting around 2012 in the wake of the Occupy Wall Street movement in the United States and the anti-austerity popular mobilization stretching from Greece to Spain, a stream of new books appeared with titles such as Does Capitalism Have a Future?, How Will Capitalism End?, Inventing the Future: Postcapitalism and a World Without Work, and Four Futures: Visions of the World After Capitalism. The liberal Nation magazine devoted a special issue to the theme of getting “out from under capitalism.”29 An influential and representative volume of this stripe, Paul Mason’s Postcapitalism: A Guide to Our Future (2015), argued that the realm of “info-tech,” the range of digital technologies based on the widespread sharing of information resources, spelled the death knell of the profit motive and capitalist growth. Echoing the cybernation visions of the 1960s, and like the authors of Inventing the Future, Mason also forecast massive, productivity-induced job displacement that made the drastic reduction in the general workweek (and the severing of income distribution from labor) urgent and imminent. Thus, the standard utopian feature of minimizing necessary labor was now virtually upon us, no longer utopian in the sense of far off and unrealistic. At the same time, however, Mason’s easy confidence that the egalitarian sharing economy of info-savvy individuals was already immanent in the lifeways of Occupy demonstrators signaled a utopian disposition to put a dream (i.e., wish fulfillment) in place of politics. How to get from “here” to “there,” from crisis-ridden capitalism to post-capitalism, drew no serious attention.

Amid this flurry of renewed, future-oriented anti-capitalist thought, the literary theorist and long-time analyst of the utopian form, Fredric Jameson, presented his own contribution to the tradition, An American Utopia: Dual Power and the Universal Army (2016). Jameson had long bemoaned the absence of viable, action-oriented socialist visions in his time; “even the remarkable revival and new efflorescence of Marxian analysis of capitalism and its contradictions,” he wrote, “remains oddly fixated on an impossible present without any visible historical future, save catastrophe.” In that context, what was needed above all was the “stimulation of speculative images of the future and of perspectives of social change and alternate societies, something which now and for the moment only takes place under the banner of utopianism.”30

Jameson conceived of “dual power” as the more practical, “political” program wedded to a speculative “utopian proposal”—but even his “program” required a vast leap of imagination. Under the rubric of dual power, Jameson sought to identify a vehicle for organizing civil society into a collective institution that could coexist with and ultimately sap the power of the capitalist state, and this was to be what he called “the universal army.” Jameson defined the universal army as the conscription of all adult citizens into something like National Guard reserve units set to work, averaging a daily three or four hours, in performing all the necessary labor for social reproduction, wedded to the general provision of subsistence via a “guaranteed annual wage” and permitting unbounded free individual choice of activity (or leisure) in all other hours.

Jameson’s proposal was, he made clear, a “thought experiment,” as Ursula Le Guin may have put it: on his “practical” side, he wished to locate an institution of current society that could serve as the incubus of collectivity in a way that the old union movement, the ethics of the learned professions, or religious community no longer could. He harked back to one of the old claims by radicals, ranging from the Fabians to Lenin, that the postal service stood as a model of socialist society—not, in Jameson’s view, an indication of their dry, administrative lack of imagination but rather as a meaningful allusion to some kind of social form that drew individuals and groups into fluent communication and interaction across differences. Thus the US Army or National Guard reserves came to mind, he suggested, not as military force as such but rather as the sole American institution that provided, in effect, “socialized medicine” (albeit in poor condition due to underfunding); that is, a public guarantee of free health care to all veterans. Think, Jameson said, of drafting all citizens and discharging them within a day, thereby granting them all health security! More than that, military service in the United States had served as a vehicle for rather rapid decision and social reform (i.e., desegregation after 1948) and (as for the millions of service members in World War II) the means of association across all sorts of social, cultural, and geographical distinctions, an “experience of social promiscuity” that provided a “first glimpse of a classless society.”31 The use of army units and reserves in disaster relief or the nation-building role of the Corps of Engineers illustrated the capacity of this collectivity to fulfill broad social functions that presumptively transcended special regional or vested interests. As suggested by other critics of the existing all-volunteer army and of endless war in our time, the flip side of the discipline required by service was the social check that the citizenry (the “nation in arms,” so to speak) could exercise on arbitrary actions of the state. Moreover, as a universal army, this institution would become the organ of civil society itself, by definition a “non-state” actor. In Jameson’s mind, the universal army was “a kind of network or exoskeleton of the social needs and functions”—though he invited his critics to propose other extant models of social interaction and collectivity that could play the same role.32

In some ways, Jameson returned to the origins of American anti-capitalist utopias, for his universal army clearly evoked Bellamy’s “industrial army” that organized all production and distribution in Dr. Leete’s Boston—and Jameson explicitly sought (in his more utopian mode) to recall Fourier, whose “calculus of passions” could be deployed to put individuals’ varying temperaments to work in ways satisfying both collective needs and individual desires. In the furthest reaches of his utopian fancy, Jameson speculated about how such a money-free society of collectivity, coordination, and a growing “realm of freedom” beyond the “realm of necessity” (in army service) would cope with resentments, by groups and individuals, of others—something he regarded as an ineradicable psychological fact of human behavior. Relying on notions of art as a “negative” critical force (borrowed from Marcuse and Theodor Adorno), he imagined that cultural creativity would be the vehicle of dissatisfaction, of the inevitable “grumbling” that was indeed necessary to check and harry the efficiency of bureaucracy, itself an unavoidable feature of social coordination. Like earlier utopians as well, Jameson thought the universal army—that “network or exoskeleton” of social needs and satisfaction—would overtake and finally eliminate the “state” as that center of coordination that was tied to a special monopoly of armed force.

To be sure, Jameson held that his speculative utopia (as “nowhere”) was nonetheless realistic for refusing to imagine the disappearance of the “realm of necessity” or the psychic sources of unhappiness: this post-capitalist order would not be paradise. In any case, in Jameson’s work, the real dilemma of utopia remained: how would the salutary work of utopian imagination—opening a vista to alternative futures, awakening aspiration, and thus stirring the impulse to action—touch on the crucial mediation between here and there, the realm of strategy and tactics that could render transformational social visions practical? Jameson’s purpose in writing An American Utopia was, he said, to “rekindle the possibility of imagining future praxis.” Perhaps “rekindling the possibility” is enough, and the actual determination of future praxis is where utopia leaves off.33

Discussion of the Literature

Literature regarding the history of modern capitalism, critiques of it, and utopian alternatives to it consists of many strands and continues to grow. The very term “capitalism” came into widespread use only in the late 19th century, usually among socialist opponents, and in the first quarter of the 20th century among European and American historians and sociologists—while economic “capital” and the persons holding or disposing of it, “capitalists,” have a much older etymology. Fernand Braudel provided a neat historical etymology of these terms in the second volume of his Civilization and Capitalism, 15th–18th Century. For a discussion of debates among American observers regarding whether, or to what degree, capitalism adequately defined the social and economic life of the United States during the mid-20th century, see Howard Brick, Transcending Capitalism. Since the 1970s, the reality of capitalism has been taken for granted (though debates persist regarding what its definitive features are); in fact, a burgeoning subfield of study known as “the history of capitalism” has flourished. Historians have also tracked attitudes toward capitalism; Jerry Z. Muller’s The Mind and the Market is an excellent survey of modern European intellectual history in this regard. Innumerable studies have described various modes of anti-capitalist critique, but the essential place to start in understanding the significance of critique in the history of capitalism is Luc Boltanski and Eve Chiapello, The New Spirit of Capitalism.34

A vast literature also treats utopia, particularly modern anti-capitalist utopianism, and the role of utopian ideas and social movements in the United States. In Ideology and Utopia (English translation, 1936), Karl Mannheim considered utopian thought a salutary feature of modern societies, yielding aspirations to remedy social ills. Also in the 1930s, a survey of leading American thinkers ranked Edward Bellamy’s Looking Backward as among the most influential books published in the prior fifty year. Yet, in the wake of World War II, a great deal of literature adopted an anti-utopian perspective, seeing utopia as by nature impractical, illusory, and in fact politically dangerous as a potential fount of totalitarian movements willing to use violent and destructive means to “change the world.” Indeed, works such as Daniel Boorstin’s The Genius of American Politics suggested that utopianism had little appeal in American life due to the national tradition of political realism that sidelined grand visions of reinventing society. Boorstin’s view, generally associated with “American exceptionalism,” also rested on the old question posed in 1906 by German sociologist Werner Sombart: Why Is There No Socialism in the United States? Even work that studied American socialism tended either to deny that utopian communitarianism played a significant role in socialist movements or indeed to explain the failure of American socialism to its regrettable utopian traits. These kinds of anti-utopian views tended to wane with the revival of left-leaning protest in the 1960s and 1970s, which stirred new visions of social change. Hence studies of utopianism in its two guises—utopian thought and literature, on the one hand, and actual efforts to establish utopian communitarian settlements, on the other—have burgeoned since that time.35 Most studies published since the late 20th century suggest that utopian ideas, rather than being dreamy and impractical, have usually been tied fairly closely to real communitarian efforts—or at least come to play at particular moments when movements aspiring to induce dramatic social change gain momentum.

The historian Arthur Bestor is generally credited with initiating, in Backwoods Utopias (1950), the historiography of communitarian ventures in the United States, though the foundation of several organizations in the 1970s and 1980s—the Communal Studies Association, the Society for Utopian Studies, and the International Communal Studies Association—really fueled the growth of scholarship in this field.36 The prolific work of Lyman Tower Sargent, founding editor of the journal Utopian Studies (1990–), is particularly important.37 Among monographic historical studies, a landmark achievement is Carl Guarneri’s The Utopian Alternative, which meticulously traced the growth of Associationism (driven by disciples of the French utopian socialist Charles Fourier) in the 1840s and its enduring legacy down to the publication and reception of Looking Backward. Writers on the left, such as Arthur Lipow and Paul Buhle, continued to divide on the value or appeal of Bellamy’s quasi-socialist vision; in any case, new work, such as John L. Thomas’s Alternative America, brought new insight to Bellamy’s intellectual biography.38 Additional works have recorded the history of anarchist communal settlements in the United States as well as the revival of “intentional communities” after the mid-20th century.39

Scholarship on utopian literature has also surged in recent years. The Cambridge Companion to Utopian Literature surveys the field, including learned essays on distinctive currents such as feminist utopias, utopianism as a factor in “non-Western” cultures, and the relation of utopias to dystopian writing (most clearly identified with George Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four). Fredric Jameson in particular has helped to provoke explorations in the literary theory of utopian texts.40

Primary Sources

The study of anti-capitalist thought and utopian alternatives involves both intellectual history and the history of social movements. The principal archives documenting the history of socialist and anarchist movements are the International Institute of Social History in Amsterdam, which houses the manuscript of Marx’s Capital; the papers of the Socialist International, personal papers of leading anarchists such as Emma Goldman, Alexander Berkman, and Rudolf Rocker, as well as scores of other agitators and radical intellectuals; the Labadie Collection at the University of Michigan, featuring a wide range of materials from anarchist, socialist, New Left, black liberation, and feminist and environmentalist movements; and the Tamiment Library at New York University, housing the official archives of the Communist Party USA, the Socialist Party of America papers, Eugene Debs papers, and documents of utopian experiments. The role of Jewish socialists and anarchists in American communal settlements can be studied through the Bund Archives at the YIVO Institute for Jewish Research in New York City. Material regarding the long-lived Stelton settlement in New Jersey can be found in the Modern School Collection, Rutgers University.

The papers of Albert Brisbane, the chief American follower of Charles Fourier and proponent of Associationism, are held at Syracuse University. Some papers regarding the Boston Associationists as well as a modest collection of Edward Bellamy papers can be found at Harvard University’s Houghton Library. A disciple of Bellamy, Arthur E. Morgan (1878–1975), who was president of Antioch College and first chairman of the Tennessee Valley Authority, founded the Inter-Community Exchange in 1940, which survives as the Fellowship for Intentional Community, a clearinghouse for communitarian ventures today.

The principal works of utopian fiction, from Bellamy and Gilman to Ursula Le Guin and Ernest Callenbach, are widely available. In 1971, Arno Press issued a 41-volume collection of lesser known American utopian novels, most originally published from 1890 to 1910, under the editorship of Arthur Orcutt Lewis Jr., professor of English at Pennsylvania State University and founder of the Society for Utopian Studies in 1975. The Society publishes the journal Utopian Studies and maintains online checklists and bibliographies of utopian writing, including feminist utopias. The library at Pennsylvania State University in State College, Pennsylvania, maintains the Arthur O. Lewis Utopia Collection. The historical Communal Studies Association publishes the journal Communal Societies.

Further Reading

  • Bellamy, Edward. Looking Backward, 2000–1887, edited with an introduction by Daniel H. Borus. Boston: Bedford Books, 1995.
  • Boltanski, Luc, and Eve Chiapello. The New Spirit of Capitalism. London, UK: Verso, 2007.
  • Brick, Howard. Transcending Capitalism: Visions of a New Society in Modern American Thought. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 2006.
  • Cándida Smith, Richard. Utopia and Dissent: Art, Poetry, and Politics in California. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1995.
  • Claeys, Gregory. The Cambridge Companion to Utopian Literature. New York, NY: Cambridge University Press, 2010.
  • Frase, Peter. Four Futures: Visions of the World after Capitalism. New York, NY: Verso, 2016.
  • Guarneri, Carl. The Utopian Alternative: Fourierism in Nineteenth-Century America. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1991.
  • Harvey, David. A Companion to Marx’s Capital. New York, NY: Verso, 2010.
  • Jameson, Fredric. Archaeologies of the Future: The Desire Called Utopia and Other Science Fictions. London: Verso, 2007.
  • Jameson, Fredric, and Slavoj Žižek. An American Utopia: Dual Power and the Universal Army. London, UK: Verso, 2016.
  • Jennings, Chris. Paradise Now: The Story of American Utopianism. New York, NY: Random House, 2016.
  • Mason, Paul. PostCapitalism: A Guide to Our Future. London: Allen Lane, 2015.
  • Pitzer, Donald E., ed. America’s Communal Utopias. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1997.
  • Rogan, Tim. The Moral Economists: R. H. Tawney, Karl Polanyi, E. P. Thompson, and the Critique of Capitalism. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2017.
  • Sargent, Lyman Tower. Utopianism: A Very Short Introduction. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2010.
  • Thomas, John L. Alternative America: Henry George, Edward Bellamy, Henry Demarest Lloyd, and the Adversary Tradition. Cambridge, MA: Belknap Press, 1983.
  • Veysey, Laurence R. The Communal Experience: Anarchist and Mystical Counter-Cultures in America. New York, NY: Harper & Row, 1973.


  • 1. Carl Guarneri, The Utopian Alternative: Fourierism in Nineteenth-Century America (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1991), 2; and Fredric Jameson, Archaeologies of the Future: The Desire Called Utopia and Other Science Fictions (London, UK: Verso, 2007), 227.

  • 2. Daniel H. Borus, “Introduction: Edward Bellamy’s Utopia in His Time and Ours,” in Edward Bellamy, Looking Backward, 2000–1887, ed. Daniel H. Borus (Boston: Bedford Books, 1995); and Jameson, Archaeologies of the Future.

  • 3. Leo Marx, The Machine in the Garden; Technology and the Pastoral Ideal in America (New York, NY: Oxford University Press, 1964), 209–218.

  • 4. Thomas More, Utopia, trans. Clarence H. Miller (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2014).

  • 5. Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels, The Marx-Engels Reader, ed. Robert C. Tucker (New York, NY: Norton, 1978), 497–499. See also Friedrich Engels, Socialism: Utopian and Scientific (New York: Pathfinder Press, 1972).

  • 6. Karl Mannheim, Louis Wirth, and Edward Albert Shils, Ideology and Utopia: An Introduction to the Sociology of Knowledge (New York: Harcourt, Brace, 1936); Melvin J. Lasky, Utopia and Revolution: On the Origins of a Metaphor: Or, Some Illustrations of the Problem of Political Temperament and Intellectual Climate and How Ideas, Ideals, and Ideologies Have Been Historically Related (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1976); Daniel Bell, The End of Ideology: On the Exhaustion of Political Ideas in the Fifties: With a New Afterword (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2000); and Peter Beilharz, “Ends and Rebirths: An Interview with Daniel Bell,” Thesis Eleven, no. 85 (May 2006): 93–103.

  • 7. Donald E. Pitzer and Josephine M. Elliott, “New Harmony’s First Utopians, 1814–1824,” Indiana Magazine of History 75, no. 3 (1979): 225–300. Celia Morris, Fanny Wright: Rebel in America (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1984); and Gail Bederman, “Revisiting Nashoba: Slavery, Utopia, and Frances Wright in America, 1818–1826,” American Literary History 17, no. 3 (2005): 438–459.

  • 8. Guarneri, The Utopian Alternative.

  • 9. William H. Pease and Jane H. Pease, Black Utopia; Negro Communal Experiments in America (Madison: State Historical Society of Wisconsin, 1963); John Stauffer, The Black Hearts of Men: Radical Abolitionists and the Transformation of Race (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2002); Steven Hahn, The Political Worlds of Slavery and Freedom (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2009); and Martin R. Delany, Blake; or, The Huts of America: A Corrected Edition, ed. Jerome McGann (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2017).

  • 10. Edward Bellamy, Looking Backward, 2000–1887, with a Foreword by Erich Fromm (NY: New American Library, 1960), xxi–xxii.

  • 11. Bellamy, Looking Backward, 220–222.

  • 12. Bellamy, Looking Backward, 27–28.

  • 13. Bellamy, Looking Backward, 75, 72, 113, 110–111.

  • 14. Bellamy, Looking Backward, 115, 154.

  • 15. Arthur Lipow, Authoritarian Socialism in America: Edward Bellamy and the Nationalist Movement (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1982); and Bellamy, Looking Backward, 53–54.

  • 16. Charlotte Perkins Gilman, Herland (New York, NY: Pantheon Books, 1979), 122; Gail Bederman, Manliness & Civilization: A Cultural History of Gender and Race in the United States, 1880–1917 (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1995), 121–169; and Lindy West, “Herland: The Forgotten Feminist Classic about a Civilisation without Men,” Guardian, March 30, 2015.

  • 17. Mary E. Bradley Lane, Mizora: A World of Women, Bison Frontiers of Imagination (Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1999).

  • 18. Gilman, Herland, 60.

  • 19. Borus, “Introduction: Edward Bellamy’s Utopia in His Time and Ours,” 18–19.

  • 20. Charles Pierce LeWarne, Utopias on Puget Sound, 1885–1915 (Seattle: University of Washington Press, 1975).

  • 21. Laurence R. Veysey, The Communal Experience; Anarchist and Mystical Counter-Cultures in America (New York: Harper & Row, 1973); and Paul Avrich, The Modern School Movement: Anarchism and Education in the United States (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1980.

  • 22. Lewis Mumford, The Story of Utopias (New York: Boni & Liveright, 1922), 12, 263, 281.

  • 23. Percival Goodman and Paul Goodman, Communitas: Means of Livelihood and Ways of Life, 2nd rev. ed. (New York, NY: Vintage, 1960), 124, 154.

  • 24. John K. Jessup, quoted in Daniel W. Bjork, B. F. Skinner: A Life (New York: Basic Books, 1993), 155.

  • 25. Helen and Scott Nearing, Living the Good Life; How to Live Sanely and Simply in a Troubled World (New York, NY: Schocken Books, 1970); Mark Matthews, Droppers: America’s First Hippie Commune, Drop City (Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 2010).

  • 26. “The Triple Revolution,” in Priscilla Long, The New Left: A Collection of Essays (Boston: P. Sargent, 1969); “The End of Utopia,” in Herbert Marcuse, Five Lectures; Psychoanalysis, Politics, and Utopia (Boston: Beacon Press, 1970); and Jameson, Archaeologies of the Future, xv.

  • 27. Shulamith Firestone, The Dialectic of Sex: The Case for Feminist Revolution (New York, NY: Morrow, 1970), 211–217.

  • 28. Samuel R. Delany, Trouble on Triton: An Ambiguous Heterotopia (Middletown, CT: Wesleyan, 1996), 225–226.

  • 29. Immanuel Wallerstein et al., Does Capitalism Have a Future? (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2013); Wolfgang Streeck, How Will Capitalism End? Essays on a Failing System (London: Verso, 2016); Nick Srnicek and Alex Williams, Inventing the Future: Postcapitalism and a World Without Work (London: Verso, 2015); Peter Frase, Four Futures: Visions of the World after Capitalism (London: Verso, 2016); special issue, Out from under Capitalism, The Nation 304, no. 16 (May 22–29, 2017).

  • 30. Fredric Jameson and Slavoj Žižek, An American Utopia: Dual Power and the Universal Army (London: Verso, 2016), 71–72.

  • 31. Jameson and Žižek, An American Utopia, 61.

  • 32. Jameson and Žižek, An American Utopia, 61, 82.

  • 33. Jameson and Žižek, An American Utopia, 8.

  • 34. Fernand Braudel, Civilization and Capitalism, 15th–18th Century, vol. II: The Wheels of Commerce, trans. Siân Reynolds (New York: Harper & Row, 1981), 232–239; Howard Brick, Transcending Capitalism: Visions of a New Society in Modern American Thought (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 2006); Sven Beckert and Christine Desan, American Capitalism: New Histories (New York: Columbia University Press, 2018); Jerry Z. Muller, The Mind and the Market: Capitalism in Modern European Thought, (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2002); and Luc Boltanski and Eve Chiapello, The New Spirit of Capitalism (London: Verso, 2007).

  • 35. Karl Mannheim, Ideology and Utopia: An Introduction to the Sociology of Knowledge, trans. Louis Wirth and Edward Shils (New York: Harcourt, Brace, 1936); Lasky, Utopia and Revolution; Frank E. Manuel and Fritzie Manuel, Utopian Thought in the Western World (Cambridge, MA: Belknap Press, 1979); Daniel J. Boorstin, The Genius of American Politics (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1953); Werner Sombart, Why Is There No Socialism in the United States? (White Plains, NY: M.E. Sharpe, 1976); Seymour Martin Lipset and Gary Wolfe Marks, It Didn’t Happen Here: Why Socialism Failed in the United States (New York: Norton, 2000); and Daniel Bell, Marxian Socialism in the United States (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1967).

  • 36. Arthur Eugene Bestor, Backwoods Utopias: The Sectarian and Owenite Phases of Communitarian Socialism in America, 1663–1829 (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1950); and Donald E. Pitzer, America’s Communal Utopias, xxi (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1997).

  • 37. Gregory. Claeys and Lyman Tower Sargent, The Utopia Reader, xiii (New York: New York University Press, 1999); and Lyman Tower Sargent, Utopianism: A Very Short Introduction, xiv (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2010).

  • 38. Guarneri, The Utopian Alternative; Lipow, Authoritarian Socialism in America; Paul Buhle, Marxism in the United States: Remapping the History of the American Left (London: Verso, 1987); John L. Thomas, Alternative America: Henry George, Edward Bellamy, Henry Demarest Lloyd, and the Adversary Tradition (Cambridge, MA: Belknap Press, 1983).

  • 39. Veysey, The Communal Experience; Avrich, The Modern School Movement; and Terry H. Anderson, The Movement and the Sixties (New York, NY: Oxford University Press, 1995).

  • 40. Claeys and Sargent, The Utopia Reader; Gregory Claeys, The Cambridge Companion to Utopian Literature (Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2010); and Jameson, Archaeologies of the Future.