THE BROOK FARM
The Brook Farm experiment (1841—1846) was one of the most famous experiments in Utopian Socialism in America, of the time. From a Transcendental experiment of literary intellects, who’s intellectual pursuits were the primary purpose of life, the Brook Farm evolved into a Fourierist experiment promoting the ideals of Fourier, the Association of a “just” society.
The Founders of the Brook Farm community were a group of New England intellectuals. Their literary circle, know as the “Transcendental Club” met regularly in Boston in the 1830’s to discuss religious, social and philosophical problems. Members included George Ripley, William Ellery Channing, John S. Dwight, Ralph Waldo Emerson, Margaret Fuller, Henry D. Thoreau, Nathaniel Hawthorne, and Elizabeth P. Peabody. They were humanists, believing “in an order of truth that transcends the sphere of the external senses.” 1) They blamed the social evils of the world on the “lust of accumulation of personal objects” and that the only way these “ills” could be cured is by “withdrawing from a competitive institutional society and setting up a new community, free of competition, commerce, and the desire for accumulation.” 2)
Urging the claims of other utopian socialists, and advancing the establishment of such colonies, the intellectuals, as Emerson wrote in a letter to a friend, were “all a little wild...with numberless projects of social reform; not a reading man but has a draft of a new community in his waistcoat pocket.”3)
In 1841, Unitarian minister, George Ripley, became anxious to put his views and the group to a test. He resigned from his post as minister, and chose a 200-acre milk farm in West Roxbury, Massachusetts, for his experiment. Although not all the “Transcendental Club” members joined him, he formed, with a group of twenty people (including Dwight and Hawthorne), the Brook Farm Institute for Agriculture and Education. Their aims were to substitute “a system of brotherly cooperation for one of selfish competition; to secure for our children and to those who may be trusted to our care, the benefits of the highest physical, intellectual, and moral education which, in the present state of human knowledge, the resources at our command will permit; to institute an attractive, efficient, and productive system of competent supply of our necessary wants; to diminish the desire for successive accumulation by making the acquisition of individual property subservient to upright and disinterested uses; to guarantee to each other the means of physical support and of spiritual progress, and thus to impart a greater freedom, simplicity, truthfulness, refinement and moral dignity to our mode of lifef. 4)
The following excerpts from their original constitution (printed on The Dial, Jan., l842) sum up what the Brook Farm Institute for Agriculture and Education was all about:
Their plan went as follows:
Thus, everybody was provided with employment according to their own tastes and ability.
Thus, with the twenty members, which expanded to about seventy, they set up four departments: General Direction; Agriculture; Education; and Finance. They cultivated the land and even set up several small industries. Their primary source of income, however, came form their school, where several scholars boarded and worked as well. Their school had an excellent reputation, especially for their freedom of discussion between student and teacher, and the wide range of sciences and arts taught. Not only was education and learning important to the members, but their social life was as well. This included dances, music, and literary and scientific discussions, and they often invited others, including Horace Creeley and Albert Brisbane to speak.
The Brook Farm, however, faced problems. With financial difficulties stemming from over borrowing, the mental strength of the members went hand-in-hand with their physical weakness. There was always a shortage of farm hands, but a surplus of teachers for the school. This went against the ideals of the founders that each member does his share of the manual labor, and thus set the stage for the transformation to Fourierism and the return of social distinctions.
Although originaly the Brook Farm members would not admit to being somewhat Fourierist they eventualy accepted conversion. It was through the frequent visits, of Greeley and Brisbane, who were advocats of Fourier (a movement which was quite popular at the time) which helped push the Brook Farm into its conversion. Through their Lectures and discussions on their interpretations of Fourier, these two men convinced them of Fourier’s principles.
In his works, Fourier calls attention to the wastes in modern economic systems, the unnecessary hardship of labor, and the need to devise a system which would make work pleasanter. In the 1840’s, his ideas began to diffuse throughout America, and were supported by Brisbane and Greeley. “For the first time…[Brisbane] had come across an idea… of dignified manual labor of mankind, labor hitherto regarded as a divine punishment inflicted on man.” 6)
Brisbane claimed that society’s problems resulted from the organization of society and only a complete reorganization could alleviate the problems. It is the system itself, that is unjust, thus, Brisbane suggested increasing efficiency with justice.To restructure society, Brisbane advocated Furier’s Phalanxes under which worker (7/8 of all residents), capitalists, and scientists and artists, would cooperate. Agriculture would be primary, with three manufactures, and a council, “composed of stock holders, distinguished for the wealth or their industrial and scientific acquisitions”, would control the phalanx. Profits would be distributed as follows: Labor - 5/12 of all earnings; capital - 4/12, management, or “practical and theoretical knowledge - 3/l2. Class distinctions would remain, women being equal to men, and children would be organized into “Corporations of Little Hordes” which would do all the filthy jobs because, as Brisbane rationalized, “since children love filth, these jobs would offer them an opportunity to help maintain…social unity, while they entertain themselves.”7)
Greeley, on the other hand, interpreted Fourier as the following: The injustices of society result from the infringement of a large part of society’s rights to enjoy “the Earth and all its natural products” by a small portion of society and this has benefitted the common good. Many people would have become better off
In 1844, after the National Convention of Associates, the Brook Farm was renamed The Brook Farm Phalanx, thus transformed into a Fourierist experiment who’s main function as the center of Fourierism, was propagandism. Production of the official newspaper of the Fourierists, The Harbinger weekly, was transferred to the Brook Farm. It also became the headquarters of the new National Union of Socialists, whose purpose:
The early stage of this transformation brought about an inflow of membership and an outflow of the unique social atmosphere, which had characterized the Farm in its early years. The Farm was reorganized into three departments: Labor; Agriculture; and Domestic Industry and the Mechanic Arts. Thus, the cultivation of the mind began to lose its importance to the Farm. Dissention among new members disturbed the social unity, and old members became discontent. They spent two years building a Phalansstery -- a unitary dwelling to provide “convenient and comfortable habitations, at the smallest possible outlay.” 12) However, shortly before its completion, in the spring of 1846, the Phalanstery caught fire and was completely destroyed. Within a year, the community faced sever financial problems and together with increased discontentment and the waning Fourierist movement, the community was dissolved and the property was sold. All that remained was the memory of “noble ideals and self—sacrificing devotion”13)
Thus, the Community, beginning as the Transcendentalist Brook Farm Institute for Agriculture and Education, was transformed from a center based on equality and learning to a center based on the justice of work, in the Fourierist Brook Farm Phalanx. It changed from a center of socializing and cultivating the mind, to a center for propaganda and promoting the ideals of Fourierism and Association. Transformation of the Brook Farm was inevitable. It could not have remained the Brook Farm Institute for Agriculture and Education because as the reality of manual labor set into the minds of its members, they desired the work less and tried to escape it by teaching. But somebody had to do the dirty work. Obviously, the equality among members could not last, for those who were more educated and influential would take all the teaching and learning, while the others would have to work the field. However, the transformation into an actual Fourierist community is not accurate. Although some changes were made in the society - class distinctions returned and education was emphasized less than manual labor - The Brook Farm Phalanx was Fourierist in that the members worked had a promoting and spreading Fourierism across the country and the Community became the headquarters for this.
1) Mark Holloway, Heavens on Earth: Utopian Communities in America 1680—1880 (New York:Library Publishers, 1951), p.127
2) Bernard K. Johnpoll, The Inpossible Dream: The Rise and Demise of the American Left (Westport: Greenwood Press, 1981), p. 93.
3) Harry W. Laidler, Phd, History of Socialist Thought, (New York: Thomas Y Cromwell 1927), p.129
5) John Humphrey Noyes .Strange Cults and Utopias of 19th-Century America, (New York: Dover Publications, Inc., 1966) p. 114—116.
6)G.D.H. Cole, Socialist Thought: The Forerunners 1780—1850, (London: Macmillan & Co.ltd., 1955) p. 100.
Cole, G.D.H. Socialist Thoqght: The Forerunners 1780—1850. London: Macmillan & Co., Ltd., 1955.
Holloway, Mark. Heavens onE_aarth: Utopian Communities in America 1680—1880. New York: Library Publishers, 1951.
Johnpoll, Bernard K. The Impossible Dream: The Rise and Demise of the American Left. Westport: Greenwood Press, 1981.
Laidler, Harry 14. Hjstory_of Socialist Thought. New York: Thomas Y. Cromwell Co., 1927.
Noyes, John Humphrey. Strang~ Cults and Utopias of 19th—Century America. NewYork; Dover Publications, Inc., 1966.