Founded by a self-proclaimed prophet named George Rapp, the Harmony Society was a Christian commune formed in Pennsylvania in 1805. Its followers believed the Second Coming of Christ would happen in their lifetimes, and thus tried to live a clean life of religious abstinence and blind devotion to their unerring lord and master. Oh, not Jesus Christ. This guy:
University of Southern Indiana
In all fairness, he did make bitchin' cookies.
Why It Failed:
One of the Harmony Society's core tenets was celibacy, remember? Assuming that Christ doesn't come back to exterminate our entire species with his love, "just not fuckin' much" is a pretty good way to doom a culture. The celibacy of the Harmony Society was so radically encouraged that eventually there were almost no new births in their communities at all. By 1851, the last two surviving leaders of the Harmony Society had died. Almost certainly as virgins.
We're actually kind of thankful for that.
Brook Farm, Massachusetts, was established in 1841 on the principle of self-reliance as preached by Ralph Waldo Emerson and Henry David Thoreau. They offered free tuition at their community school and a year's worth of room and board in return for a mere 300 days of labor for the public good. Seems like a fair shake, right?
Why It Failed:
Well, 300 days of work per year translates into roughly six days of work per week. Sure, free tuition and room and board seem great -- that takes care of most of your dire needs -- but you still require money to exist. Money for health care, travel, or just good old-fashioned hooch -- what is life without hooch? And for that matter, why is everybody's idea of a utopia "no boning or liquor"?
If this is your idea of a utopia, we're sure there's a Mormon nearby who can help you find it.
So, OK, six days of labor a week for what was essentially sub-minimum wage seems like less of a killer deal to the young folk wanting some schoolin', but it gets worse. Brook Farm's founder, George Ripley, joined the Fourierism movement. Fourierism was basically socialism by way of seniority, and as such called on the town's young people to do all the dirtiest, nastiest, shittiest jobs in the community. This new practice caused a lot of young folks to avoid Brook Farm like it was infected with smallpox.
Which it eventually was.
Fruitlands was founded in Harvard, Massachusetts (what's the deal with all these failed alternate societies, Bay State? Is Boston really so unlivable that the only other option is to start all of society over from scratch?), by Amos Bronson Alcott and Charles Lane in 1843, shortly after the duo paid a visit to Brook Farm. Not seeing any problems at all with FuckTheYoungunsBurg, Alcott and Lane invested some money in a farm of their own, envisioning it as the ultimate animal lover's paradise. The commune was strictly vegetarian, and its residents were not allowed to use animal products, employ animals for labor, or even till the soil or plant root vegetables because it might upset the freaking worms.
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And angry worms lead to sour dirt.
Why It Failed:
Oh, you know, a lot of complicated political and social maneuvering combined with an economic downturn of- NOPE! It was the worm thing!
The community collapsed that very winter after an abominable harvest. By January 1844, with a starving population, no sustainable future in sight, and a bunch of really comfy dirt-snakes, Fruitlands was no more. Its founders parted ways, heading out across the country to sow their seeds upon any willing woman who shared their worm fetish.
And that, friends, is how we got the modern vegan.
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Related Reading: For one horrifying example of a fictional utopia, check out our take on the dark side of the Star Trek universe. And if you're up for a truly horrifying glimpse at Utopia- read about Universe 25. When you give mice everything they want- food, water, and perfect comfort- they turn into psychotic murderers or apathetic wrecks. Even utopian cartoons aren't as happy as they seem. The Jetsons can't exist without a world utterly wrecked by industrial pollution.