Utopian Socialism

Jelena, Molly

Utopian Socialism | Utopian Socialism Defined | Early Development | | Developments in Europe | Shakers | | | | Robert Owen | Charles Fourier | Concerns with Utopian Socialism | | Case Studies | Kibbutz | Connections to Liberalism | References

"Train any population rationally, and they will be rational."

-Robert Owen
Robert Owen; Welsh social reformer and one of the founders of utopian socialism.

Utopian Socialism Defined

An ideal "egalitarian society"

One of the three branches of socialism, utopian socialism is an economic system with a goal to create an ideal, “egalitarian society” [1] . This system occurred between the 1820s and the 1860s, where a large number of utopian groups were developed in Europe [2] . Although the objective of utopian socialism was highly beneficial to society, this system was flawed in that its developers did not have a detailed plan which would allow them to successfully achieve this desirable society, nor did they consider the possible implications which could arise from this pursuit, such as individuals with an opposing opinion .

Early Development

The development of utopian socialism began as early as 360 BCE, when philosopher Plato wrote a book called The Republic. This book discussed the possibility of a fair society where class structure would provide the civilization with stability . In 1515, the idea of a “perfect” society was further explored by a politician named Thomas More, who wrote a book titled Utopia[3] [4] .

Developments in Europe

Individuals, such as Robert Owen (1771-1858), were concerned with the negative outcomes of capitalism and the industrial revolution. They wanted to peacefully create changes to the system for the benefit of society.

Some members of the Shakers participating in their original dances
Some members of the Shakers participating in their original dances


A utopian society established in the 18th century by a nun named Ann Lee, the Shakers’
main focus was to maintain a simple lifestyle, one where plainness in attire and architecture were promoted. Additionally, the Shakers participated in unique dances and “ritual religious practices” in order to achieve a “pure” society. 2

Children at the New Lanark school
Robert Owen

Robert Owen believed "that society may be formed so as to exist without crime, without poverty, with health greatly improved, with little, if any misery, and with intelligence and happiness increased a hundredfold". [5] He supported the belief that human nature is negatively impacted due to the imperfections of capitalism. He also believed in achieving success through an individual’s efforts to pursue one’s self-interest, and further demonstrated this classical liberalism principle by becoming an entrepreneur at the young age of 19. Then, in 1800, a vast cotton-spinning company in New Lanark, Scotland (The Chorlton Twist Company), became under the management of Owen. His major belief was that in order to attain a flawless society, two aspects must be enhanced—education and working conditions. To pursue his goal of promoting better education, Owen created the Institution for the Foundation of Character. At this institution, the importance of education was promoted by allowing children to attend school for a longer period of time (ten years of age) before beginning work. When the children began working, Owen ensured that they were able to get as much education as they could by reducing the amount of work hours. Additionally, Owen demonstrated kindness towards his workers by ameliorating their standard of living through means such as the renovating of houses, polishing of streets, and enhancing the appearance of their villages. To further improve their lives, the workers saved money by buying less expensive goods from company shops. In order to establish a positive employer-employee relationship, Owen implemented a system where employees exhibiting outstanding conduct were recompensed. [6]

Charles Fourier

Charles Fourier, a developer of Utopian socialism
Charles Fourier, a developer of Utopian socialism
Born to a wealthy family, Charles Fourier (1772-1837) had the privilege of visiting many places. During his trips, he witnessed the devastating impact that poverty had on preventing the economy from thriving. He strived to promote cooperation between people of different social status, as he believed that this method would greatly benefit society as well as increasing the efficiency of the workers. Fourier desired to establish “phalanxes”, which were locations where members of all classes worked communally. As a result of this union, he hoped to significantly decrease poverty rates, as well as develop a positive relationship between all members of the society. Phalanxes were to be solely filled with individuals who made an effort to cooperate with others, and in turn, profit the society. [7]

Concerns with Utopian Socialism

The perception of a utopia

A utopia is an ideal community, or society, possessing a perfect social, economic, and political system. In this society, all individuals are equally treated in all aspects; for instance, equal wealth distribution assures that all individuals are living at the same level, and that no individual is more financially endowed than another. Although this concept is appealing to the masses, the vision of a utopia is difficult to create. In this socialistic ideology, utopian socialism does not usually concern itself with the question of how to accomplish the vision, but rather "choosing to believe that the power
In a utopia, all individuals are obliged to follow certain rules and obligations that are for the benefit of the collective.
of the vision itself is sufficient".[8]
Utopian socialism is an example of an ideology belonging to the left of the spectrum, and while all individuals are treated with equality, the problem of assimilation is evident, as individuals obliged to abide by certain rules and obligations. Lastly, the concept of a utopia is countered by a dystopia; a society characterized by human misery, squalor, oppression, disease, and overcrowding. [9]
A common characteristic of a dystopia is that it criticizes how it is absurd that in one nation, all individuals agree with what a utopia is; as a result, it is hard to be able to maintain a set ideology.

Case Studies


Members of the kibbutz emphasized collective values over individualistic beliefs.
One of the largest communal movements in history is kibbutzim. Young Israelis were inspired by socialistic ideologies, Zionism, agrarian ideals, and necessity to create unique collective communities that emphasized equality and the communal ownership of all wealth. In these communities, individuals lived and worked cooperatively in terms of decision-making, production, consumption, welfare, and education. Today, Israel has 270 kibbutzim, with populations of 130,000 people. However, in modern kibbutzim, food and laundry services are now privatized, and houses can be transferred to individual members, and newcomers are able to purchase land. The major assets of the kibbutzim continue to be collectively owned, but the communities are now mostly run by professional managers as opposed to popular vote. In addition, not all members are equally paid. [10]
Although they are less utopian and agricultural than originally, the kibbutz still try to uphold the idealism of their founders, favouring collective aspects rather than individual. [11]

New Lanark

Under the management of social reformer Robert Owen, the cotton mills and village of New Lanark became a model community from
The socialistic aspects of New Lanark paved the way for modern management policies, placing an emphasis on ethics and principles.
1800 to 1825. The main goal of New Lanark was the drive towards progress and prosperity through the new technology of the Industrial Revolution paired with a caring and humane regime. This goal gave New Lanark an international reputation for the social and educational reforms Owen implemented. For instance, there was free medical care and a comprehensive educational system for children and adults. The co-operative atmosphere was intended to benefit society as a collective. Robert Owen believed that the progressive and enlightened system of New Lanark would be an example for a happier society, and universal harmony. Today, New Lanark is considered a model for humane and ethical business practices, and the benefits of co-operation. New Lanark is now a historical site. [12]

Connections to Liberalism

Liberalism, a product of Enlightenment thinking, held the belief that human progress was inevitable. Liberalists believe that all individuals should be equal before the law, that they were basically good, but still capable of improvement. Liberalism placed an emphasis on representative government, and individual rights and freedoms.[13]
It seems as though socialism was a reaction to classical liberalism, which, according to socialists, placed too much confidence in the individual. In particular, the Industrial Revolution confirmed the fact that competition was the cause of the country’s downfall. Socialist individuals fundamentally believe that man’s natural state is not competitive; instead, human nature is the happiest amidst cooperation. In particular, Utopian socialism questioned the philosophes of the Enlightenment, and its devotion to a “highly mechanized, rational, and efficient human”. [14] In addition, utopian socialist’s opposed private property, as society, not individuals should own the property. Also, central economic planning is favoured over a free market economy, resulting in all citizens roughly having the same level of prosperity. Lastly, utopian socialists embodied the concept of collectivism, believing that human beings are social by nature, and that individualism is venomous.


1. Walker, A. (1999 , February). Utopian socialism. Retrieved from
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3. Utopian socialism. (n.d.). Retrieved from http://www.marxists.org/subject/utopian/index.htm
4. Mo. (n.d.). Retrieved from http://www.marxists.org/glossary/people/m/o.htm#more-thomas
5. Robert owen's quest for universal harmony - extracts from his published works. (n.d.). Retrieved from http://www.robertowen.com/quotes.htm

6. Fielding, J., Christison, M., Harding, C., Meston, J., Smith, T., Zook, D. (2009). Persepectives on Ideology. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
7. Charles fourier: Utopian socialist. (2008, November). Retrieved from
8. Andy , B. (n.d.). Retrieved from http://www.marxists.org/subject/utopian/index.htm
9. The American Heritage® Stedman's Medical Dictionary. (2002). Dictionary.com. Retrieved from http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/dystopia
10. Kershner, I. (2007, August 26). New york times. Retrieved from http://www.nytimes.com/2007/08/27/world/africa/27iht-27kibbutz.7265276.html?_r=1&pagewanted=all
11. The kibbutz—utopian socialist community. (2009). Retrieved from http://www.askisrael.org/facts/qpt.asp?fid=21
12. EPUP. (n.d.). Epup. Retrieved from
13. Liberalism, nationalism, and socialism. (n.d.). Retrieved from http://www.historydoctor.net/AdvancedPlacementEuropeanHistory/Notes/LiberalismNationalismandSocialism.htm
14. The Commentator. (2009 , August 13 ). What is utopian socialism? . Retrieved from http://friendlymisanthropist.blogspot.com/2009/08/what-is-utopian-socialism.html
  1. ^ http://www.worldsocialism.org/spgb/socialist-standard/1990s/1999/no-1134-february-1999/utopian-socialism
  2. ^ http://www.digitalhistory.uh.edu/database/article_display.cfm?HHID=631
  3. ^ http://www.marxists.org/subject/utopian/index.htm
  4. ^ http://www.marxists.org/glossary/people/m/o.htm#more-thomas
  5. ^ http://www.robert-owen.com/quotes.htm
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    Fielding, J., Christison, M., Harding, C., Meston, J., Smith, T., Zook, D. (2009). Persepectives on Ideology. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
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