Utopian Communal Societies and Their Influence on Leadership in the 19th Century Term Paper

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utopian communal societies and their influence on leadership in the nineteenth century. Utopian societies sprang up around the United States during the nineteenth century, partly in response to some of the ills their members saw in society at the time. The word "utopia" describes a "perfect" society existing far from the political and social upheaval of the big city. These societies follow the model of the Middle Ages, where religious groups lived apart from society in monasteries and nunneries, living a spiritual and utopian life. While there were numerous utopian societies available for study, this paper will examine the Shakers, the Oneida settlement, and George Ripley's Brook Farm, an experiment in American Fourierism. Each of these societies flourished for a while, and had specific ideas about work, education, social structure, and more.

The Shakers and Female Equality

The official name of the Shaker sect was the United Society of Believers in Christ's Second Appearing. They were popularly known as the "Shaking Quakers" because of their shaking and dancing during their religious services, which led to their popular name of Shakers. The initial group emigrated from England before the American Revolution, and they gained a wide following by the 1830s. Even though they believed in celibacy, they are one of the longest surviving utopian societies, although there are only a handful of practicing Shakers living in a small community in Maine today. They are known for their craftsmanship and their longevity in the utopian community. One author notes, "No other community created and sustained its own modes in music, the crafts, and even in architecture as did the Shakers'" (Foster, 1991, p. 17). The sect was founded by Ann Lee, later called Mother Ann, and was often led by female leaders. They practiced celibacy, so women were free of childbirth and could focus on other aspects of society and religion (Foster, 1999, p. 18). The Shakers lived a remarkably structured and restrictive life, where they ate together, worked together, worshipped together, and lived together in same-sex housing. While they did promote female equality in their religion, their society was so restrictive that true equality did not exist. Author Foster continues, "In short, the degree of equality that existed between men and women in religious leadership occurred in the context of a tightly controlled, celibate structure that sharply restricted individual freedom" (Foster, 1991, p. 19). Therefore, Shakers gave up individual freedom for the good of the group, and the group survived because of this lack of individual freedom.

As the Shakers grew in numbers, their leadership understood they must create ground rules that would apply to the many communities springing up throughout New England. Leadership centered in New Lebanon, New York, the main colony, and consisted of four co-leaders, two male and two female (Foster, 1991, p. 30). The society was broken up into smaller groups called "families," who also had two male and female leaders. The leadership qualities of the Shakers were strong and well founded, because in their 200-year history, they never experienced a division or an overthrow of their leaders, and they continued to survive even as their numbers dwindled. The leadership also recognized that communal living required a distinct schedule of operations to survive and thrive, and this may be one reason they were so controlling in every aspect of life. They developed a variety of products, including furniture, to sustain the communities, and many people believe they were the forerunners of modern inventions like the idea of mass production. Author Foster states, "In these early group activities of the Shakers one recognizes a formative chapter in large scale or 'mass production' enterprise, an anticipation of the corporate businesses which rose later in the machine age in this country" (Foster, 1991, p. 32). Their leadership was forward thinking and motivational, two key ingredients of successful leaders in any time or era. It is interesting to note that although the Shakers practiced equality in their religious and moral leadership, they broke down jobs within the community in traditional American male-female roles, with women cooking, cleaning, weaving, and taking care of the homes, while the men worked on the farms and in the businesses of the communities (Foster, 1991, p. 33). They influenced American society because they endured for so long, they showed a communal lifestyle could be successful, and they empowered women as leaders. They served as an example of what society could aspire to and attain, such as the vote for women.

The Oneida Community and "Complex Marriage"

John Humphreys Noyes, who began preaching his ideas about perfectionism in 1833, founded the Oneida Community. His followers, known as "Perfectionists," helped form the foundation of the Oneida Community when they settled in the New York town in 1848. No/yes was a controversial leader, because he believed in perfectionism in relations between the sexes, too. Author Foster notes, "He concluded that if one had the right attitude, sexual relations, like other activities in life, would be expressed in an outward manner that would be pleasing to God. The sexual impulse was basically a good one, but it needed to be expressed through proper channels" (Foster, 1991, p. 79). The goal of the society was to reach perfection and create a heaven here on Earth that worshipped and pleased God. Author Foster continues, "The goal, most briefly stated, was to move beyond the 'egotism for two' implicit in monogamous family life to create 'an enlarged family' in which all loyalties, including sexual loyalties, would eventually be raised to the level of the entire community" (Foster, 1991, p. 81). No/yes wanted to create a new, freer society that was totally devoted to the group's good will and success. The enlarged family group lived together, ate together, and worked together, and romantic relationships between two people were discouraged.

No/yes as a leader was quite meticulous about who joined his group, which may have led to its success for thirty years before it finally disbanded. Members had to be entirely loyal to No/yes and his ideals, and like the Shakers, their daily activities were highly regimented and detailed, all meant to drive the entire community forward successfully. No/yes was a dynamic leader who commanded attention and respect, but his ideas about perfection and communal living began to evaporate as his leadership faltered and his followers began to lose their affection for his ideas. His community is a classic example of a leader who does not pass on his leadership role to another qualified individual, and who gradually loses touch with his followers and their needs. No/yes fled to Canada in 1879 after local authorities threatened the community about its complex marriage theories, and the community dissolved in 1881. The Oneida Community illustrates that strong leadership can be extremely motivational, but it must be countered with an understanding of the changing needs and wants of the organization as a whole. They influenced society because they forced society to look at the complex roles between men and women, and show that alternatives could sometimes be effective, and they promoted freethinking and community prosperity.

Brook Farm and American Fourierism

Brook Farm was located west of Boston, Massachusetts in a rural area. George Ripley and his wife, who called it a "Practical Institute of Agriculture and Education" at the Ellis "Brook" Farm, established the farm. This utopian society was populated by intellectuals and highly educated individuals like Ralph Waldo Emerson, Nathaniel Hawthorne, and Horace Greely, and much of their initial thrust was toward education. They built several buildings on the farm, and one was a building used for instruction for the farm's children and outsiders, and it was quite successful financially (Hayes, 2002). The farm was based on the principles of American Fourierism, an ideal created by a French writer, Charles Fourier, who advocated communal living…[continue]

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