The Amana Colonies were one of many utopian colonies established onAmerican soil during the 18th and 19th centuries. There were hundreds of communal utopian experiments in the early United States, and the Shakersalone founded around 20 settlements. While great differences existed between the various utopian communities or colonies, each society shared acommon bond in a vision of communal living in a utopian society. Thedefinition of a utopian colony, according to Robert V. Hine, author of
California's Utopian Colonies
, "consists of a group of people who areattempting to establish a new social pattern based upon a vision of the idealsociety and who have withdrawn themselves from the community at large toembody that vision in experimental form." These colonies can, bydefinition, be composed of either religious or secular members, the former stressing (in the western tradition) acommunity life inspired by religion while the latter may express the idealism of a utilitarian creed expedient toestablishing human happiness, with a belief in the cooperative way of life. The more familiar non-monasticreligious communal movements typical in Western society have generally originated from a deliberate attemptamong various Christian sects to revivethe structure of the primitive Christiancommunity of first-century Jerusalem,which "held all things in common"(Acts 2.44; 4.32). This essay exploresthe origins and development of theUtopian idea and its arrival in theUnited States before giving examplesof nineteenth century utopian coloniesand some organizations on their ultimate demise. The Shaker, Rappiteand Amana experiments, as well as theOneida community and Brook Farm,find their origins in the EuropeanProtestant Reformation and the later Enlightenment.
Origins of the Utopian Idea:
Thewestern idea of utopia originates in theancient world, where legends of anearthly paradise lost to history (e.g.Eden in the Old Testament, themythical Golden Age of Greek mythology), combined with the humandesire to create, or recreate, an idealsociety, helped form the utopian idea.The Greek philosopher Plato (427?-347BC) postulated a human utopian societyin his
, where he imagined theideal Greek city-state, with communalliving among the ruling class, perhaps based on the model of the ancientGreek city-state of Sparta. Certainly the
The Hancock Shaker Village, inMassachusetts, is one example of America'smany Utopian communities.
Photograph by Polly M. Rettig, Landmark Review Project, 1974
The Greek philosopher Plato (427?-347BC) wrote the dialogue
which involved the search for justice inconstruction of an ideal state.
Plato (resembling Leonardo da Vinci) isa detail from Raffaello Sanzio's painting,"The School of Athens" painted in 1510-11. Vatican Collection.