Fourier Phalanxes

North American Utopian Communities, by Alex Hepburn


French philosopher Charles Fourier believed that poverty, unhappiness, unemployment, and isolation was the result of the structure of modern civilization. Fourier thought people would be better off living in organized communal societies rather than individual family units. Furthermore, Charles Fourier developed the idea of a " phalanstery", which is a collectively living and cooperatively working community organized around a joint stock company. The first real attempt at this society happened around 1843-1844 when Charles Sear, Albert Brisbane, and Horace Greeley gained popularity for the idea through the New York Tribune. Later resulting in the purchasing of land around Red Bank, New Jersey which became the first site of a phalanstery. In this phalanstery several families lived in the community until its destruction around 1854 after a fire destroyed a large part of the community, which accumulated thousands of dollars of debt, and internal schisms were too large to overcome.
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Example building of a phalanstery. Had several levels and was very large, making it able to hold an entire community.

Important Leaders

  • Charles Fourier- Philosopher with the original idea of creating a utopian society based on a joint stock company families worked together as a whole rather than individual units within a community. He believed this cooperation between families would solve many problems, such as poverty.

  • Albert Brisbane- Since Charles Fourier did not have the opportunity to implement his utopian society, in America, Brisbane translated Fourier's philosophy and adapted it to the American audience. To spread the word around Brisbane used the New York Tribune newspaper which allowed the philosophy to gain popularity and eventually turned it into the first phalanx or community.

  • Horace Greeley- Editor of the New York Tribune. Allowed for Albert Brisbane to spread his articles. With such a popular newspaper, word about the Fourier phalanxes quickly gain light and the first real attempt at the community came about in 1843-1844.

  • Charles Sears- Serving as director, president, or secretary of the first phalanx this Albany, NY, merchant made the first utopian society in Red Bank, New Jersey a reality. With his monetary influence he and several other associates were able to create a phalanx that lasted for several years after purchasing 673 acres for 14,000 dollars. His knowledge of Charles Fourier's original philosophy made him suitable to help direct the many families that joined the community in 1844 and the years to come.

Major Beliefs and Practices

  • Labor- Labor was divided into several different categories. These were known as "series" of which there were six agriculture, livestock, manufacturing, domestic work, education, and entertainment. In each series were a varying amount of "groups" that contained anywhere from 3-7 people. All of these people worked together and cooperatively to accomplish their task in an orderly manner. To represent the groups and series council members were picked and each day they meet to assess what needed to be done for the following day and also of any problems that needed to be addressed.
  • Life Between the Inhabitants- With a major part of the philosophy being rational division of responsibility and the ability to live together in harmony many different types of people entered the Fourier phalanxes. Along with that many different religions can be seen in the community. Even with religion being a large part of the debating and discussion within the community it did not divide the community into different sections until the later dissolution of the phalanx as a whole.
  • Government- A constitution made in 1843 called for administration through a central council, composed of a president, vice-president, treasurer, and 12 directors, with the executive officers serving one year terms and the council members serving staggered two year terms. Originally only stockholders voted for council members but in 1848 an amendment allowed for everyone to cast their vote. Voting was prevalent both industrially and politically, with any regular working member of a group entitled to vote within that group regardless of gender.