Utopia of the Day: Phalanstères, Communistic ‘Grand Hotels’

Utopian visions of how society should be best engineered run the gamut — from the classic moneyless, classless civilizations built around cooperation to societies run exclusively by women to egalitarian governments that put the pursuit of science above all, there’s been much speculation on what that magic formula is that would allow humanfolk to best get along. More often then not, these utopias are left rather vague; who’s supposed to do what in the society, how big it should be, and so on are often omitted from the utopianizing.

But not with Charles Fourier. The mostly-forgotten writer from the early 19th century is one the most interesting utopianists precisely because he wasn’t afraid to offer the details: Namely, that everybody should be living in Phalanstères, or ‘grand hotels’, comprised of 1,620 people who work together for mutual benefit. And it’s a weird vision for utopia indeed — classes would still be preserved, with the rich getting the prime real estate on the top floors, and much of the manual work would be done by children (and Jews, whom Fourier associated with trade and society’s ills).

The grand hotels would be open, however, and people would share communal living spaces and help one another with cooking and daily tasks. Fourier believed that the traditional home begot oppression, especially to women, who were left isolated within to carry out meaningless work. The Phalanstères would create a greater sense of community, liberate women from the housewife role (Fourier was an early feminist), allow food production to be organized on the grounds in farms and gardens, and lead to the pursuit of sexual freedom.

And he knew exactly how he wanted them built. They were to be based on military phalanxes; and appeared not unlike giant fortresses. Here’s Wikipedia’s description:

The structure of the phalanstère was composed by three parts: a central part and two lateral wings. The central part was designed for quiet activities. It included dining rooms, meeting rooms, libraries and studies. A lateral wing was designed for labour and noisy activities, such as carpentry, hammering and forging. It also hosted children because they were considered noisy while playing. The other wing contained a caravansary, with ballrooms and halls for meetings with outsiders. The outsiders had to pay a fee in order to visit and meet the people of the Phalanx community. This income was thought to sustain the autarchic economy of the phalanstère. The phalanstère also included private apartments and many social halls.

And yes, a number of phalanstères were actually constructed (minus the racist elements), right here in the US — this one was built in New Jersey, and other communities in LA, Ohio, and Louisiana used the phalansteres as a blueprint for mini-utopias.

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Images: Wikimedia, CC BY

About Brian Merchant

Brian Merchant is a founding editor of the Utopianist.. When he's not helming the Utopianist, he is TreeHugger's politics writer, contributes the Getting Samy Out of Burma column to, and freelances for the likes of Salon and Paste. He lives in Brooklyn, New York.

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