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176civil war history The Utopian Alternative: Fourierism in Nineteenth-Century America. By Carl J. Guarneri. (Ithaca, New York: Cornell University Press, 1991 . Pp. xiv, 525. $32.95) Only a few thousand Americans ever lived in the experimental communities inspired by the French social philosopher Charles Fourier that briefly dotted the American landscape before the Civil War. Yet historians interested in American radicalism and alternatives to capitalist culture have seen in these experiments endlessly fascinating patterns and elusive suggestions of what might have been. In this important work, Carl Guarneri of Saint Mary's College of California, himself a student activist of the Vietnam era, draws together recent research in radicalism, utopianism, and antebellum culture as well as his own extensive primary research on every aspect of the Fourierist experience to create a brilliant analysis of Fourierism in America that both clarifies its larger significance and contributes to a broader understanding of the cultural transformations taking place in America as the market revolution proceeded in the nineteenth century. Guarneri demonstrates the importance of Fourierism by placing it in the context of the cultural clashes engendered by the rise of industrialism. The competitive individualism released by the spread of a market economy was disconcerting. Fourierism promised a rational, social-scientific system for restoring harmony to class relations through its promotion of social equality and personal self-expression in a communal setting. It appealed to both the expansive hopes and corresponding fears that characterized antebellum America by spelling out in detail how society could be transformed in a comprehensive fashion while still retaining capitalism, the family, and private property. The ideology, as Guarneri elaborately shows, was flawed with inconsistencies . Yet these alone were not responsible for Fourierism's failure. Instead, improving economic conditions and the growing unwillingness of reformers to be linked with proslavery ideologues in the condemnation of free labor society fatally undermined the movement. Guarneri sees the larger significance of Fourierism not in the twenty-nine short-lived communities it inspired but in the ideas associated with it that were discussed in books, pamphlets, and newspapers as well as in clubs and churches organized by Fourier's American interpreters. Early labor leaders drew on Fourierism to plan producer and consumer cooperatives. Community planning, designs for apartment houses, mutual savings banks, and mutual insurance companies all owed something to the French philosopher. Indeed, almost all who wished to reform America in the nineteenth century—from feminists to socialists—reacted in some way to the Fourierist analysis of society , even if only to reject its principal components. It is this process of selective borrowing from Fourier that Guarneri labels "co-option"; it reflects, in his view, American society's gradual cultural adaptation to marketplace values by the end of the nineteenth century. Guarneri concludes his volume by comparing Edward Bellamy's Utopian vision in Looking Backward (1887) book reviews177 to Fourier's, noting that while Bellamy was inspired in part by Fourier's socialism he made important concessions to Victorian privatism and bureaucratic nationalism. The essential spirit of Fourierism had finally been lost. While largely writing an intellectual history, Guarneri also vigorously pursues the social underpinnings of Fourierist communes. He notes the tendency of artisans to prefer phalanxes and middle-class Fourierists to prefer urban Fourierist societies. Neither phalanxes nor clubs, however, attracted common laborers. Those who joined phalanxes were generally familiar with Fourierist ideology, not naive victims of fast-talking promoters, and were often sufficiently committed to the principles to circulate to other communes when their own folded. In contrasting social ideals and daily reality in the phalanx, Guarneri draws a subtle, complex portrait of gender and class (but not ethnic) relations. While Fourierism did not deliver the social harmony and totally new society it promised, it did not remain chained to the past. It is through this variegated pattern of radical hopes and pragmatic adaptations that Guarneri communicates the lingering impact of Fourierism. People who experienced the commune even briefly were never quite the same thereafter. While Guarneri's decision to study Fourierism in its broader cultural context is on balance a wise one, it does have the disadvantage of making Fourierism seem more central to the culture than it perhaps...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1533-6271
Print ISSN
0009-8078
Pages
pp. 176-177
Launched on MUSE
2012-01-04
Open Access
No
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