The word utopia, in its simplest form, means a “perfect world.” In other words, it is a society in which man has reached such perfection that he is able to build a social system based on justice, reason, and unity. Since the beginning of history, people have dreamed of creating utopian societies and many are still trying. In the history of Utopian Communities, three of the most known utopian communities are the Shakers, Brook Farm, and New Harmony. One of the most well-known utopian communities is the Shakers (The United Society of Believers). The community was organized by Ann Lee and founded in 1772. Ann Lee and others founded this community because they were so unhappy with the beliefs and values of those around them. The ever-growing complexity of society was not close to perfection for Ann Lee and others, provoking them to begin this community.
The best-known Shaker beliefs are an emphasis on celibacy, and simplicity in their daily lives. These beliefs were key to the Shaker theology and lifestyle in the sense that they were seen as vital to the building of a truly selfless and spiritual community (Horgan 1982; Humez 1993; Robinson 1975). The Shakers practiced a religion that was also a lifestyle. The members lived in gender-segregated, dormitory-like housing, but came together to work, and pray. The Shakers are America’s oldest and most successful experiment in communal living.? A century ago, nearly 6,000 Shaker brothers and sisters lived together in nineteen communities scattered from Maine to Kentucky. Soon thereafter, with the decline in attraction and society’s inability to be celibate, it became difficult to create a new generation of believers. The communities steadily declined and disbanded.
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Another community was known as Brook Farm also desired a better way of life than the complex government and growing diversity around them. Brook Farm was designed to be a place where those with similar beliefs could succeed. Some say Brook Farm was, the best-known utopian experimental community in America, was founded by George and Sophia Ripley in the spring of 1841. The master plan was to create a place where thought would preside over the operations of labor, and labor would contribute to the expansion of thought. “to ensure a more natural union between intellectual and manual labor than now exists, to combine the thinker and the worker as far as possible in the same individual . . . (George Ripley)”. Membership in the community was granted by the vote of established members after the purchase of shares. In return, individuals received free tuition in the community’s school or five percent annual interest and one year’s board in return for 300 days of labor.
The work of members was centered around the six major activities of teaching, farming, working in the manufacturing shops, domestic endeavors, work on the buildings and grounds, and the planning of cooperative recreation projects. Social activities included picnics, lectures, boating parties, music, and dancing. Throughout 1842 and 1843, the community prospered and in one year was visited by as many as 4,000 guests, many simply curious Boston residents. Due to financial struggles, the community broke apart in 1847. New Harmony in Indiana is a community that began almost two hundred years ahead of its time. New Harmony was first a sanctuary for a spiritual utopia, yet later became a haven for international scientists, scholars, and educators who desired equality in communal living. It was originally created for a place to have social justice, a spiritual union of believers, which the founder Owens could not achieve in society. He desired to spread their beliefs and way of life to other believers and, eventually, non-believers in order to establish a peaceful world.
The beliefs were strong and the community desired as many members as possible to make people with similar beliefs have their own perfect place. They believed that the established church was corrupt and that man should communicate directly with God. They believed that the “Harmony”, which they were affected in all worldly and spiritual affairs would help usher in the millennium. The Harmonists gradually adopted celibacy. Many of the Harmonists were married but lived a chaste life. The community also believed in imitating the lifestyle of the first Christians as related in Acts 2:44-45 and 4:32. Harmonists also embraced the policy of the complete absence of violence and maintaining universal peace which they hoped would spread from their community. Although the community started with a different purpose than what became, the community had a relative amount of success. Do they provide some reasons? Reasons for the success of the Society:
- Excellent and inspired spiritual and economic leaders.
- A faithful, obedient, well-trained, and hard-working group of followers.
- A homogeneous group consisting mostly of families which had undergone the same religious experience.
- A common goal and incentive were kept fresh by moving the group and building a new town three times.
Hopefully, one day society will be so beneficial to everyone that people will not feel the desire to go off and create their own communities. Do these communities even work? Between Shakers, Brook Farm, and New Harmony, two failed due to lack of interest and financial strain, and one succeeded, but with results different from the original ideas. It is apparent that the success of a utopian community is extremely difficult to accomplish.