The community at work: The promise of Icaria

Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Social Sciences


Michael Barkun


Etienne Cabet, France, nineteenth century, Nauvoo, Illinois

Subject Categories

Social and Behavioral Sciences


During the first half of the nineteenth century, a small number of visionaries in France proclaimed their dreams of a new way of life. They offered worlds of community and cooperation, of harmony and happiness, of freedom from all the disparities of wealth and privilege, as solutions to the problems of contemporary society. They renewed the unfulfilled promises of the Revolution--Liberte, Egalite, Fraternite--now forgotten in the political and social climate of the Bourbon Restoration and emerging capitalism. Etienne Cabet (1788-1856) was the most energetic and ambitious of these utopians, moving towards the realization of his dreams in his own lifetime. His vision of Icaria, a "Community of Goods and People," called for the transformation of the structure of work and of the economic system. He imagined a society of participatory governance, where both the burdens of labor and the benefits of its results would be shared by all people.

This study examines Cabet's vision of an ideal society, and his efforts to put his ideas into practice in the real world. After placing his life and ideas in the context of their social and historical setting, I examine the conceptual model of work and the economy he posits as ideal. It is a society without private property, without private wealth. The goal of life is the well-being of all human beings, not individual profit or gain. I identify how the business activities regulated in the world of market capitalism by financial profit--planning, production, distribution, management, motivation, and reward--are carried out in his ideal Community.

I then turn my attention to the outcomes of his proposal when theory became practice at Nauvoo, Illinois. The difficulties encountered as the real-life Icarians struggled to establish their Community in mid-nineteenth century America are explored. The ultimate dissolution of Cabet's Icarian Community at Nauvoo is described.

In conclusion, I compare and contrast Cabet's success as a utopian theorist with his inability to establish an enduring community at Nauvoo. I suggest that this failure does not diminish the importance of the social problems he identified or negate the powerful attraction of the Icarian Community.


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