6 Carefully Planned 'Utopias' That Went Spectacularly Insane
Look, we've all seen the movies: Every utopia is one shocking reveal away from being a dystopian nightmare. A perfect society just cannot exist, and every attempt at creating one is going to result in monumental failure. We must learn from history to avoid repeating it, so let's take a look back at some of these so-called utopias and the stupid, crazy, or just downright obvious reasons they failed. Then we can collectively stop trying to better society altogether, grab some bats and some roller skates, and go play Armagedderby on the expressway.
Home, Washington, Is Torn Apart by Naked Dongs
Home, Washington, was a pseudo-anarchist commune established in 1895. The very idea of anarchists communing in an organized settlement is kind of at odds with itself, and as such it's difficult to determine whether Home's eventual collapse was a monumental failure or a shining example of anarchy at its finest.
According to writer Elbert Hubbard, Home was a place where "there is not a church, preacher, prostitute, saloon, doctor, constable, lawyer, or justice of the peace. There is entire freedom."
Including the freedom to make terrible headwear decisions.
We don't know: "No constables and lawyers" is pretty good, but you lose us at the "no hookers or bars" bit. But hey, you have to give to get. It was pretty ballsy that the closest thing Home had to a government was the Mutual Home Association, which only sold houses to members if they pledged to uphold the rules (which were, essentially, "Don't be makin' any rules up in here"). Home's tolerance of free love and nude swimming quickly made the commune a popular spawning location for numerous turn-of-the-century outcasts, among them communists, food faddists, intellectuals, radical feminists, and just general assholes sick of having to pick up after themselves.
In 1895, "feminism" meant believing that women shouldn't have to wear more than eight layers on hot summer days.
Why It Failed:
Well, the assassination of President McKinley by anarchist Leon Czolgosz in 1901 didn't help matters. Angry mobs of Civil War veterans threatened to burn down the commune, and the rest of the country's attitude toward "just doin' whatever feels good, man" took a negative turn. But that's not what did Home in. No, what tore the town apart was something much more serious and sinister than a presidential assassination:
Anarchy means never having to wear pants.
Home's population split in twain over what always seemed to be its biggest draw: nude swimming. With the town divided into two groups -- pro and con (identified as "nudes" and "prudes") -- Home's otherwise unified identity was shattered forever. In 1919, its anarchist government was brought to court on charges of being "wholly impotent" -- although to be fair, maybe that was due to all the nude swimming. There are only so many bare taints you can ram into during a game of Marco Polo before the li'l admiral just starts refusing to salute, you know?
The Republic of Minerva Starts a War
The Republic of Minerva, founded by Las Vegas millionaire Michael Oliver in 1972, is probably the closest anybody has ever come to establishing a libertarian paradise. Specifically, one without "taxation, welfare, subsidies, or any form of economic interventionism." It's basically what America would be like if Mitt Romney had drafted the Constitution.
Coffee would be illegal, but at least we'd have the beneficent rule of President Walmart.
The Republic of Minerva was located on an artificial island built upon a submerged atoll about 500 miles northeast of New Zealand. Despite being little more than a meeting place for a bunch of rich men on yachts, the Republic of Minerva had its own president and currency and was conceived with the hope of one day attracting around 30,000 full-time inhabitants who may or may not devolve into genetically spliced monsters and overthrow society. That part was still up for debate.
Why It Failed:
None of the multimillionaires who lived on Minerva actually owned the land they planned to found their nation on. Turns out the "land" part of "homeland" isn't just textual window dressing.
What could be more libertarian than stealing someone else's land?
Nonetheless, on January 19, 1972, the Republic of Minerva issued a declaration of independence, essentially trying to snatch the Minerva Reefs located south of Fiji and Tonga under the "you weren't even using it" law. Six months later, the Tongan government issued a proclamation saying they owned the reef and sent an expeditionary force to back up the claim. A Republic of Minerva flag was found and taken down by King Tupou of Tonga himself, but otherwise the island fell without a fight. Subsequent return attempts by deluded selfish boat-yuppies were thwarted by Tongan troops. However, after the fiasco, nearby Fiji challenged the Tonga government's claim to the Minerva Reefs, resulting in a conflict between their two navies. But hey, at least a bunch of Ayn Rand fans got to take a wacky picture:
Note the ghost of Ayn Rand standing (appropriately) in the far right.
Seems a small price to pay for an international war.
Arcosanti: A Hidden Oasis (With Emphasis on the Hidden)
This is Arcosanti, built by Italian architect Paolo Soleri, a former student of Frank Lloyd Wright. Arcosanti is a community built upon arcology, a principle that stresses the fusion of architecture with ecology to create structures perfectly suited for their environment.
OK, so "perfectly suited" would include air conditioning. But at least it's pretty.
Wow, that's gorgeous, isn't it? It looks like one of those peaceful alien planets on Star Trek, right before the Borg show up and assimilate a bunch of screaming aliens with forehead wrinkles. But it's not science fiction. Arcosanti is a real place -- it still stands today!
Why It Failed:
Did we mention that this lush, artsy paradise was located in central Arizona?
If there's a place less suited for human habitation, it's probably in Oklahoma.
It was a planned community estimated to sustain roughly 5,000 citizens at first -- but with room to grow! Now, after nearly 40 years of architectural perfection, Arcosanti is still going strong, a measly 4,900 citizens short of its initial projected goal. We're guessing it has something to do with building a fantastic city in the middle of nowhere in an area where the average salary is minimum wage.
If only they'd transition to a tumbleweed-based economy.
Seriously, it's impossible to underscore how far away from anything Arcosanti is located. Arizona is basically one giant set piece for the next Mad Max movie anyway, and Arcosanti is firmly wedged deep up its rural behind. The nearest town whose population exceeds its elevation is nearly 30 miles away. The only way into Arcosanti is down a tiny 3-mile dirt road split off of a rural highway. It's like a real-life Sudden Valley.
The Harmony Society Seriously Does Not Like Boning
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:
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 Tries to Attract Young People, Hates Young People
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 Really Digs the Worms
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.
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.