The Story of Utopias, by Lewis Mumford, , at sacred-texts.com
p. 110 p. 111
How something happened in the eighteenth century which made men "furiously to think," and how a whole group of utopias sprang out of the upturned soil of industrialism.
p. 112 p. 113
THERE is a gap in the Utopian tradition between the seventeenth century and the nineteenth. Utopia, the place that must be built, faded into no-man's land, the spot to which one might escape; and the utopias of Denis Vayrasse and Simon Berington and the other romancers of this in-between period are in the line of Robinson Crusoe rather than the Republic.
One finds the clue to this lapse in Tiphaigne de la Roche's Giphantia, a sketch of what was and what is and what will be, and in particular, an inquiry into the "Babylonian" mode of life. The author of Giphantia tells a parable about Sophia, the incarnation of Wisdom, who rejects the offers of the spendthrift, the merchant, the soldier, and the student, and accepts the suit of a diffident fellow who had retired in solitude to the country, to spend his days like a cultivated gentleman. One remembers the way in which Montaigne spent his declining years; one remembers Voltaire; and one sees how deeply the ideal of Robinson Crusoea cultivated Robinson Crusoe, surrounded with books and beyond the reach of any king and courtcolored the deepest aspirations of this period. Rousseau, writing about the corrupting influence of the arts and sciences, and Chateaubriand, seeking the noble savage in the American wilderness and finding him in his own bosomthese men struck the dominating note of the
eighteenth century. In a society that was already painfully artificial and "arranged" the institutes of Lycurgus and Utopus must have seemed as repressive as those of Louis XIV. So almost two centuries pass before we find any fresh regions to explore in Utopia.
The Utopia of Sir Thomas More, and those of the later men of the Renascence, arose, as I have pointed out, from the contrast between the possibilities that lay open beyond the sea and the dismal conditions that attended the breakdown of the town economy of the Middle Age. Like Plato's Republic, it attempted to face the difficult problem of transition.
In the course of the next three centuries the adventure of exploring and ransacking strange countries loses its hold upon men's imagination; and a new type of activity becomes the center of interest. The conquest of alien countries and the lure of gold do not indeed die out with this new interest; but they are subordinated to another type of conquestthat which man seeks to effect over nature. Here and there, particularly in Great Britain, untrained men "with a practical turn" begin to busy themselves with improving the mechanical apparatus by which the day's labor is done. In a country parsonage a clergyman named Arkwright invents a waterframe, a Scotchman named MacAdam discovers a new method of laying roads; and out of a hundred such inventions during the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries a new world comes into existencea world in which energy derived from coal and running water takes the place of human
energy; in which goods manipulated by machinery take the place of goods woven or sawed or hammered by hand. Within a hundred years the actual world and the idola were transformed.
In this new world of falling water, burning coal, and whirring machinery, utopia was born again. It is easy to see why this should have happened, and why about two-thirds of our utopias should have been written in the nineteenth century, The world was being visibly made over; and it was possible to conceive of a different order of things without escaping to the other side of the earth. There were political changes, and the monarchic state was tempered by republicanism; there were industrial changes, and two hungry mouths were born where one could feed before; and there were social changesthe strata of society shifted and "faulted," and men who in an earlier period would have been doomed to a dull and ignominious round, perhaps, took a place alongside those whom inheritance had given all the privileges of riches and breeding.
In contrast to all these fresh possibilities were the dismal realities which were easily enough perceived by people who stood outside this new order, or who by temperament revolted against the indignities and repressions and vilenesses that accompanied it. It is not my particular business here to deal with the facts of history; but unless one understands the facts of history, the utopias which I am about to present lose a good part of their meaning. Those machines whose output was so great that all men might be clothed; those new methods of agriculture and new agricultural implements, which promised crops so big that all men might be fedthe very instruments that were to give
the whole community the physical basis of a good life turned out, for the vast majority of people who possessed neither capital nor land, to be nothing short of instruments of torture.
I do not speak too harshly of the early industrial age; it is impossible to speak too harshly. 'Take the trouble to read Robert Owen's "Essay on the Formation of Character" (Manchester: 1837) and learn what conditions were like in a model factory run by an enlightened employer: it is a picture of unmitigated brutality. One must go back to the blackest periods of ancient slavery for a parallel, if indeed one would find it, for the Pyramids that were built under the lash have a certain grandeur and permanence which justify their existence, whilst the goods which were produced in Yorkshire through the maimed bodies of pauper children proved to be as impermanent as the lives that were sacrificed in making them.
Those who were inside this new orderthe Gradgrinds and Bounderbys whom Dickens pictures in "Hard Times"sought to realize their utopia of the Iron Age on earth. When we are through with the genuine utopians we shall examine the idola by which all the "practical" men of the nineteenth century, Marx as well as Macaulay, patterned their behavior. Those who stood out against this new order were not so much opposed to the new methods as to the purposes for which they were being used: they felt that an orderly conquest of Nature had turned into a wild scramble for loot, and that all the goods industrialism promised were being lost, for the benefit of a few aggressive and unsocialized individuals. With the host of critics and interpreters and reformers that arose in the nineteenth
century we shall have a little reckoning to make presently: those who concern us here however belong to the stock of Plato, More, and Andreæ, in that they attempted to see society as a whole, and to protect a new order which would be basically sound as well as superficially improved. Yet with the exception of the utopias which revolted against industrialism these nineteenth century essays are partial and one-sided; for they tend to magnify the importance of the industrial order as much as Gradgrind and Bounderby did, and in doing this they lose sight of the whole life of man. These industrial utopias are no longer concerned with values but with means; they are all instrumentalist. I doubt whether an intelligent peasant in India or China would get out of the whole batch of these utopias a single idea which would have any bearing on the life that he has experiencedso little of human significance remains when the problems of mechanical and political organization have been disposed of!
One symptom of this lack of individuality, this lack of what, in the old-fashioned sense used to be called a philosophy, is the fact that we can treat all these industrial utopias in groups. The first of these group-utopias I shall call, perhaps somewhat arbitrarily, the Associationists.
Among the Associationists, the most influential utopian is Charles François Marie Fourier. He was a prolific and incoherent writer, and his Utopia, if the truth be told, exists as disjecta membra rather than as a single work; but in his case I make an exception to the criterion of selection; because in every other respect
he has a claim upon our attention. This Fourier was a dry little French commercial traveller, whose personal fortune was lost in the French revolution and whose hopes for founding a real eutopia were blasted by the July revolution of 1830. Again and again he transferred himself from one line of goods to another in order to increase the area of the territory he covered and learn more of the workings of society; and so in his writings a wealth of concrete detail goes hand in hand with personal crotchets and the opinionativeness which arises almost inevitably out of an undisciplined solitude. What follows is a distillation of Fourier's thought, with the lees and orts left in the bottom of the flask.
Fourier differs largely from the early utopians in that he is concerned first of all not with modifying human nature but with finding out what it actually is. His utopia is to be based upon an understanding of man's actual physical and mental makeup, and its institutions are to be such as will permit man's original nature to function freely. The motive which draws his community together is attraction; the power which sets his institutions going is "the passions." Under the head of passionsthe original biological equipmentFourier gives a list of tendencies which corresponds roughly with the modern psychologist's list of instincts.
Fourier takes these passions as "given"; his utopia is not designed to "effect any change in our passions . . . their direction will be changed without changing their nature." As Brisbane says in his Introduction to Fourier's philosophy, social institutions are to these passional forces what machinery, is to material forces. A good community, according to
[paragraph continues] Fourier, is one which will bring all these passions into play, in their complex actions and interactions.
As in the Republic, the ideal behind Fourier's utopia is harmony; for man has a threefold destiny; namely, "an industrial destiny, to harmonize the material world; a social destiny, to harmonize the passional or moral world; and an intellectual destiny, to discover the laws of universal order and harmony." What was at fault with modern civilized societies was that they were incomplete, and in their functioning they created a social dissonance. To overcome this, says Fourier, men must unite into harmonious associations which will give play to all their activities, and which, by erecting common institutions, will do away with the waste arising in the individual's attempts to do for himself all the things which would be done by a complete community.
For this perfect association Fourier provides minute plans and tables; but the general plan can be outlined with brevity.
First of all, Fourier, too, goes back to the valley section. The initial nucleus of his utopia is to consist of a company of 1,500 or 1,600 persons, owning a good stretch of land comprising at least a square league. Since this experimental phalanx, as Fourier called it, would have to stand alone, and without the support of neighboring phalanxes, there will in consequence of this isolation be many gaps in "attraction," and "many passional calms to dread in its workings." To overcome this, Fourier insists that it is necessary to locate the phalanx on soil fit for a variety of functions. "A flat country, such as Antwerp, Leipsic, Orleans, would be totally unsuitable . . . owing to the uniformity of land surface. It will therefore be necessary to select
a diversified region, like the surroundings of Lausanne, or at the very least, a fine valley, provided with a stream of water and a forest, like the valley of Brussel or of Halle."
This domain would be laid out in fields, orchards, vineyards, and so forth, according to the nature of the soil and industrial requirements. By devotion to horticulture and arboriculture, Fourier figures, an intensive development would supply abundantly the needs of the colony. The main economic occupation of the phalanx would be agriculturalthis is perhaps the great distinction between Fourier and later Utopiansbut all the arts would be practiced within the phalanstery, since otherwise the association would be incomplete.
The principle of the association is concretely embodied in a vast edifice in the center of the domain: "a palace complete in all its appointments serving as the residence of the associates. In this palace there are three wings, corresponding to the Material, the Social, and the Intellectual domains. In one wing are the workshops and halls of industry. In another are the library, the scientific collections, museums, artists' studios, and the like. In the center, devoted to the social element, are banquet halls, a hall of reception, and grand salons. At one end of the palace is a Temple of the Material Harmonies, devoted to singing, music, poetry, dancing, gymnastics, painting, and so forth. At the other end is the Temple of Unityism, to celebrate with appropriate rites man's unity with the universe. On the summit there is an observatory with telegraph and signal tower, for communication with other phalanxes.
The phalanx men are associationists; but it follows
from Fourier's theory of the passions that they have private interests as well as public ones; and these private interests are permitted to flourish as long as they do not interfere with social solidarity. Thus they avoid the waste inherent in private housekeeping by having public kitchens, where, incidentally, the children are trained from an early age at cooking, as they are today in one or two experimental schools: nevertheless it is possible to dine in solitude as well as in company. By the same token, every member of the phalanx is guaranteed a minimum of food, clothing, lodging, and even amusements without respect to work; at the same time, private property is sanctioned, and each member extracts from the common store a dividend in proportion to the amount of stock he holds in the association. This dividend, it must be qualified, is considerably reduced by the fact that a system of profit sharing replaces the pure wage system. There is thus a sort of balance between private self-seeking and the maintenance of the public good.
In order to manufacture goods economically, large scale production is introduced wherever possible, and the division of labor is forced to its ultimate limits. Fourier takes account of the resulting monotony, however, and suggests that the monotony be corrected by having recourse to changing tasks and occupations from time to time. In commercial exchange, the phalanx acts as a unit; it constitutes a great self-governing body which traffics in surplus goods with similar associations, without any middleman, in something of the manner, perhaps, that the Co-operative Wholesale Societies do today.
By abolishing the individual household, the phalanx
gives a new freedom to women; and Fourier does not see how it is possible to maintain the system of monogamic proprietorship once women have a free choice of mates. So the women of the phalanx are not intellectual nonentities; and since they no longer preside over the individual home, they help run the whole community. Is it necessary to add the common nurseries, the common schools, the informal education of the children, and the number of other things which follow from this emancipation?
Perhaps one of the most remarkable characteristics of this utopia is its utilization of a moral equivalent for war, long before Professor William James invented the phrase. One of the great functions of the phalanx is the assemblage of productive armies even as "civilization" assembles destructive ones. There is a fine passage in which Fourier pictures an industrial army of golden youths and maidens, "instead of devastating thirty provinces in a campaign, these armies will have spanned thirty rivers with bridges, re-wooded thirty barren mountains, dug thirty trenches for irrigation, and drained thirty marshes." It is for lack of such industrial armies, says Fourier, that civilization is unable to produce anything great.
What strikes us when we put together the fragments of Fourier's utopiaas one might put together a jigsaw puzzleis the fact that he faces the variety and inequality of human nature. Instead of erecting a standard for men to live up to, and rejecting mankind as unfit for utopia because the standard is far beyond
its height, the standard itself is founded upon the utmost capacity which a community might be able to exhibit. Fourier meets human nature half-way: he endeavors to project a society which will give regular channels to all its divergent impulses, and prevent them from spilling unsocially all over the landscape. In his statement of this aim there are plenty of weaknesses and absurdities; and I confess that it is hard to take this pathetic little man seriously; but when one has grappled with Fourier's thought one discovers that there is something to take.
Fourier died without persuading anyone to give a trial to his scheme of association; and yet his work was not without its practical influence. The Brook Farm experiment in America was a fumbling attempt to plant a phalanstery without paying any attention to the conditions which Fourier would have rigorously imposed; and the "familistere" of the great steel works of Godin at Guise, in France, is another direct result of Fourier's inspiration. He remains, I believe, the first man who had a plan for colonizing the wilderness of industrial barbarism that existed at the beginning of the nineteenth century, and redeeming that wilderness to civilization.
The name of Robert Owen is usually associated with utopianism; but his work belongs more to the "real" world than to the idola of utopia; and I pass over him with the briefest mention, for his projects for a model industrial town have more of the flavor of a poor colony than that of a productive human society. Let us grant him good intentions, organizing ability, and moral
fervor: without doubt he is a noble figure, even when his attitude is strained and his tone strident. The series of essays he wrote on love and marriage are marked by fine sympathy and common sense; and it is to be regretted that they are not as widely known as his plans for a new moral world. If this little note can repair the neglect, I have done Owen ample justice: as an active figure in English and American public life he is properly a subject for the social historian. With Owen I must also dismiss John Ruskin, who began in the last quarter of the nineteenth century to develop plans for a "Guild of St. George." This guild was to form a little island of honest labor and sound education in the midst of the turbid sea of industrialism; but it did not embrace the whole of society, and it was utopian only in the sense that the Oneida Community, let us say, was utopian. While they are full of pregnant suggestions, the plans for the Guild are as fragmentary as the New Atlantis.
One of the neglected utopias of the mid-nineteenth century is that of James Buckingham.
James Buckingham was one of those erratic men of affairs which the fertile soil of British individualism produces, and which hard British common sense persistently ignores. Like Owen, Buckingham was acquainted with industrial and commercial affairs from the inside: he travelled widely and wrote upon various matters with that copious, amateurish dogmatism and spirit which marks him, perhaps, as the philistine counterpart of John Ruskin. If the utopias of the past express the ideals of the soldier, the farmer, and
the artisan, the community which Buckingham projected represents the ideal of the bourgeoisie. Buckingham's Victoria is the ideal aspect of that Coketown which in a later chapter we shall attempt to describe.
We talk loosely of the individualism of the nineteenth century; but in reality it was a period that was thriving with associations. The scope of joint stock companies and philanthropic societies had immeasurably widened. Along with the Mudfog Association, "for the advancement of everything," which Dickens satirized, there sprang up a hundred different societies for performing some special function in the industrial system or realizing some particular purpose in society. Buckingham gives us a picture of his contemporaries which is also a criticism:
"We have the government of the country itself, passing acts of parliament for the better drainage of towns, and a more ample supply of water and air for ventilation. . . . Hence, too, arise associations of noblemen and others for building model lodging houses for the labouring classes; associations for improving the dwellings of the poor; societies for providing baths and bath houses for families unable to procure such conveniences for themselves; associations for establishing suburban villages for the working classes, and to get them at night at least out of the crowded haunts and vicious atmosphere of the towns. And hence we have Temperance Societies, Tract Societies, Home Missions, Asylums for Repentant Magdalens, Homes for Seaman out of Employ, and Houses of Refuge for the Destitute, with soup kitchens and other modes of temporary relief. . . ."
What does this all come to? Let Buckingham answer:
"They are, after all, mere palliatives, and do not reach the seat of the disease. . . . This can only be done by uniting the disjointed efforts of all these well-meaning but partially curative bodies into one, in order to achieve, by their union of means, influence, and example, the erection of a "Model Society," with its model farms, model pastures, model mines, model manufactures, model town, model schools, model workshops, model kitchens, model libraries, and places of recreation, enjoyment, and instruction; all of which could be united in one new Association."
Without inquiring too closely into what a model pasture may be, we may admit that the notion behind Buckingham's proposal was not unsound. The industrial society of his day was in an inchoate, indeed in a chaotic state. In order to sift out the necessary institutions and put them on a firm basis, it was the better part of wisdom to start anew on a fresh area of land and attempt to plan the development of the community as a whole. It is true that in this proposal of Buckingham's there is none of Fourier's brilliant intuitions of a true social order, and none of Buskin's critical inquiry into what composed a good life: Buckingham took contemporary values for granted. What he sought to do was to realize these values completely, and in orderly fashion. Here are the elements of his proposal.
There is to be formed a model town association, with a limited liability, for the purpose of building a new town called Victoria. The town is to contain every improvement in "position, plan, drainage, ventilation,
architecture, supply of water, light, arid every other elegance and convenience." Its size is to be about a mile square and the number of inhabitants is not to exceed 10,000. A suitable variety of manufactures and handicraft trades is to be established near the edge of the town; and the town itself is to be surrounded by farm land 10,000 acres broad. All of the lands, houses, factories, and materials are to be the property of the company, and not of any individual; and this property is to be held for the benefit of all in proportion as their shares entitle them. No person is to be a member of the company or an inhabitant of the town except one who is a bona fide shareholder to the extent of at least twenty pounds, and who is ready to subscribe to a drastic series of blue laws which, while permitting freedom in religious worship and preventing child labor, do away with liquor, drugs, and even tobacco.
In addition to these provisions there are to be common laundries, kitchens, refectories, and nurseries; and medical advice is to be given free, at home or in the hospital, as in the army and navy. Education is to be undertaken by the community. Justice, it should be noted by those who are acquainted with an experiment which has recently been started in New York, is to be administered by competent arbitrators under a written code of laws, without the expense, delay, and uncertainty of ordinary legal proceedings. All members are to sign declarations accepting arbitration and waiving other legal proceedings against members of the company.
All these affairs, especially the manner in which the town is to be built, are worked out in considerable detail; thus the size and character of the houses are set
forth on the plan, and it is provided that each workingman is to occupy at least one entire and separate room for himself; whilst each married couple without children gets two rooms, and each family in which there are children is to occupy at least three rooms for domestic purposes. I have set down all these details baldly because the plan itself is a bald one; and no amount of fine writing will embellish it. Buckingham's society is not based upon a thoroughgoing criticism of human institutions: the ends for which this society exists are doubtless those which were held good and proper by the Macaulays and the Martineaus. What is interesting in Buckingham's utopia is the definite plans and specifications, accompanied by drawings; for this is surely one of the first attempts to put a problem in social engineering on a basis from which an engineer or an architect could work.
Buckingham thought that, given a successful model town, the rest of England might in time be colonized by the surplus population, and thus the old centers of black industry would he wiped out. Nor was Buckingham altogether deceived. His utopia was a limited one, but out of his limitations has come success. In 1848 this utopia was a chimera; in 1898, Mr. Ebenezer Howard reconstructed it and set it forth in a persuasive little book called Tomorrow, and as a direct result of the plans advocated by Mr. Howard, a flourishing Garden City called Letchworth has come into existence; which in turn has propagated another garden city, called Wellwyn; and at the same time has, by example, paved the way for numerous other garden cities and garden suburbs in various parts of Europe and in America.
With this mid-Victorian theorist, we pass over from a pre-scientific method of thinking to one which sacrifices the artistic imagination to a realistic grasp of the facts; and in this passage something is gained and something is lost. Buckingham gains by confining his proposals to what is immediately practicable. He loses by not having the imaginative energy to criticize the ways, means, and ends that are sanctioned by current practise. If utopia begins with Plato's glorious dream of an organic community, the image of the just man made perfect, it cannot end with Buckingham's invention of a shell. Nevertheless, through the nineteenth century the superficial utopians, the shell-builders, are dominant; and we must continue to examine them.