Common section

Chapter 17. Intriguing New Ideologies

In This Chapter

Utopia—not quite what More had in mind

Workers of the world, Marx is your man

• The foundations of socialism

Not exactly your father’s family unit

Women and children from a new perspective

The years leading up to 1800 were years of intellectual and ideological change as well as radical political upheaval. The years following 1800 were also years of intellectual and ideological change; the political upheaval would come mostly in the mid-1800s. Political ideas like nationalism and liberalism challenged conservatism. Intellectual and artistic ideas of Romanticism challenged rationalism. As the revolutionary fever moved across the continent in the intellectual and political arenas, many Europeans began to dream of socioeconomic change. For these Europeans, socialism appeared to be the only logical choice.


The early socialists believed that socioeconomic progress, improvement, and reform should go hand-in-hand with political reform. Unfortunately for these socialists, neither the French Revolution nor the Age of Napoleon produced the kinds of long- lasting changes they desired.

Socialism is a broad term and has come to mean a variety of things. Initially, socialism referred to a classless, competition-free society in which everyone worked together to create a better, if not ideal, society. Characteristics of such a society included cooperation among all members with the means of production controlled by the collective and not by profit-seeking individuals. Socialists believed that decisions affecting society should be made with concern for the greatest good for the greatest number of people. Though that exact idea and wording is attributed to the Englishman John Stuart Mill (1806-1873), a nineteenth-century philosopher who advocated utilitarianism, the idea predated Mill by a few generations.

Socialism grew and developed and took on many forms. Some socialists were violent and some were not. Some branches of socialism advocated a classless society that would follow capitalist society. Some branches advocated a workers’ revolution to overthrow those capitalists who had, for generations, been exploiting the workers. Later in the nineteenth century, many socialist groups became concerned primarily with the relationship between labor and management.

However fragmented socialism may have become, though, it proved to be a force to be reckoned with in the nineteenth century. Furthermore, its appeal to the working man has given it staying power that makes it significant even into the twenty-first century.

French Utopian Socialism

Some of the first socialists were Frenchmen who sought a utopia similar to that written about hundreds of years before by Sir Thomas More (see Chapter 2). These socialists were products of their environment who owed most of their ideas to what they experienced and witnessed. The earliest socialists experienced the turmoil of the French Revolution and the decline of conditions for workers during the Industrial Revolution.

The French utopian socialism began with Count Henri de Saint-Simon (1760-1825). Saint-Simon believed the secret to creating a socialist society lay in its planning and organization. Saint-Simon believed that men of science should help organize a society that would exist to better the world. He believed that those who were best suited to make decisions should receive the power to do so. He also believed that each member of society should contribute according to his ability and receive according to his need. Saint-Simon argued that the number-one priority of society ought to be the betterment of the poor. Therefore, society should be organized so that the goal of improving life for the poor, and ultimately eliminating poverty altogether, could be reached. To help reach these goals, Saint-Simon and his followers advocated the abolishment of rules of inheritance and the transfer of control of all wealth to social groups for redistribution.

Would You Believe?

Some followers of Saint-Simon attempted to live communally, but disagreements, and perhaps jealousies, prevented the community's success.

Though some of Saint-Simon’s followers lingered for some time in France, they never successfully grew into a major force.

Another French utopian socialist who proved more influential than Saint-Simon was Charles Fourier (1772-1837). Fourier outlined very specifically the details of his ideal society. The communities were to include about 1,600 residents on 5,000 acres of land. His view included apartment buildings where the rich lived at the top and the poor on the ground floor. In his society, which centered on caring and cooperation among all citizens, people earned income according to the job they did. The people working pleasant jobs received very little pay while those who did unpleasant jobs were paid more. To encourage everyone to work, he hoped to find a way to make work more like play.

In his society, there would be no marriage but rather freedom to form sexual unions whenever people wanted. He and many other socialists believed that marriage was a form of prostitution and exploitation of women; women in his society were to be emancipated.

From there, Fourier departed into his own world, one not based on the reality that most other Europeans experienced. Like many socialists, he viewed history in epochs, or stages. For Fourier, the Industrial Revolution marked only a passing phase that would be replaced in time by an epoch in which industrialization would be a thing of the past. Therefore, in his writings, he basically ignored the problems of industrialization that other socialists attacked. Fourier had some thoughts about the future, too. He predicted that eventually multiple moons would orbit the earth, that the extreme weather of the poles would become tropical and that the earth would one day be populated by millions of poets, scientists, and writers who would equal or surpass Homer, Newton, and Molière.

Other French Utopians who struck a chord with the workers of France were Louis Blanc (1811-1865) and Pierre Joseph Proudhon (1809-1865). Blanc said the root of all evils in society was competition. The plight of the poor of the industrial world could be traced directly to the capitalists who owned the industries. He advocated equalization of wages and universal voting rights. He also called on the government to guarantee employment for all who desired work. In his mind, the right to work held as much as importance in the world as the right to life and liberty. He outlined his political beliefs in an 1839 essay called The Organization of Work.

Would You Believe?

Fourier's wildest idea might have been that the world's oceans would one day become lemonade.

Proudhon went even further than Blanc regarding the plight of the poor workers. He argued that the profit from manufacturing belonged to the workers and not to the capitalists. He opposed capitalism and advocated a system in which the workers and artisans controlled the means of production and then traded their manufactured goods. He also opposed communism, though, because he believed in individual property as long as that property was not stolen; he believed the profits made by capitalists were stolen.

Early Attempts at Utopia

A number of utopian socialists attempted to establish their ideal societies, but none of the attempts amounted to much. Robert Owen tried to create an ideal society in New Harmony, Indiana. Followers of a socialist named Etienne Cabet (1788-1856) also tried to build their ideal society in the United States. The Icarians, as they were known, tried in Iowa, Texas, and then Missouri. None of the settlements lasted. Fourier’s followers established the community of La Reunion outside of Dallas, Texas. The population of 350 lasted only five years because of harsh weather and grasshoppers. Dozens more like La Reunion sprung up around the United States only to meet the same fate. France, too, witnessed the rise and fall of utopian societies. One of the most famous communes grew in Paris in the late 1800s.

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