“ ’Tis a very foolish piece of business; good for nothing but to promote idleness and the getting of bastards.” (Isaac Bickerstaff, Love in a Village: A Comic Opera (1767).)
Utopias fail for two reasons. Actually, they fail for the one reason of utopianism, but at the head of the utopian agenda, there are always these two fatal items:
If a utopian sets his ideas down in a manifesto, these two items will be described in terms of economic and sexual freedom, and likely trimmed out with any amount of high-falutin philosophy, poetry and science; but huddled beneath all of these euphemisms and rationalizations, there will be nothing but the scowling human id, and its smoldering hatred of work and monogamy.
The purpose of civilization is to daunt this scowling id with whips and chains; the purpose of utopianism is to throw it a treat, make it smile, and then wait for the millennium. Civilization is built on a stern regimen of economic compulsion and sexual repression, utopia on an easy dream of free eats and free love.
Christians who read the epistles of St. Paul know where these easy dreams take us, but that scowling id is a very backwards student. Ineducable, in fact.
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Economic compulsion can take the form of outright slavery, in which case those who fail to work are whipped, or it can take the form of free labor, in which case those who fail to work are starved. Yes, this is very cruel, and bleak, and sad, but it is the only way much of anything will ever get done in this world. Nothing but the fear of whips and starvation gets sluggard man out of bed in the morning, and so it will be ’til the end of the world.
Achille Murat was a nephew of Napoleon Bonaparte who emigrated to the United States in 1821, shortly after his father was shot by a reactionary firing squad. Murat became a naturalized citizen, travelled about the new country, and then settled in Florida, where he wrote a book describing what he had seen. Of especial interest is a remark he made about the utopian disciples of Robert Owen at New Harmony, Indiana. Murat tells us that the Owenites had been vexed to discover that,
“It was easier to find artists, doctors and naturalists, than laborers, cooks, and sentimental shoe-blacks.”
Imagine their dismay when they discovered that this world is not abundantly supplied with,
“Well educated young men who feel a natural taste for brushing clothes or mixing mortar during a part of the day, in order to pass the remainder in literary and philosophical conversations . . . [and the] pure and refined pleasures of sentimental love” (1)
What this world is abundantly supplied with is well-educated young men who would like to take on lofty conversation and sentimental love as their full-time job. Consequently, when the lash of economic necessity was lifted by free eats at New Harmony, a swarm of prattling philanderers came out of the woodwork. For wherever eats are free, there will be a pestilence of poets, philosophers and shiftless troubadours. As another visitor to New Harmony observed,
“Mr. Stephens, who at that period had charge of the cattle at Harmony, told me that he was the very person who was sent with the message to the young lady, who was then singing and playing in the presence of the Duke, to remind her that milking the cows was her duty” (2).
Everyone is familiar with Boxer, the workhorse who toiled until he dropped because he believed in the promise of Animal Farm. New Harmony had Boxers like Mr. Stephen, but it also had a large and growing population of parasites like this young lady, who proposed to do her share by flirting with visitors and strumming her guitar. What Boxers like Mr. Stephen learned was that socialism is defenseless against such human parasites (unless, of course, it resorts to slavery).
“The great error with which they all charge Mr. Owen, was his receiving into the society, persons of all descriptions and of all countries, without any inquiry into character, and the consequent mixture of many persons of dissolute lives, and of no principle, and who were possessed of no property, with those [the Boxers] who joined the society from a belief that a system of equality and community was practicable, and who were willing to make considerable sacrifices of fortune, with a view to give it a fair trial” (3).
The Boxers of New Harmony learned that St. Paul had been neither a skinflint nor a fool when he commanded the Thessalonians to “withdraw yourself from every brother that walketh disorderly”—these disorderly brothers being those men and women who worked “not at all,” but were instead mere “busybodies.” I daresay the busybodies of Thessaloniki greatly resembled the loafing poets of New Harmony, since both groups were composed of sluggards on temporary holiday from the chastening fear of whips and starvation.
St. Paul of course told the hard-working Thessalonians to cut the sluggards off.
“If any would not work, neither should he eat” (4).
It astonishes me how few Christians understand the meaning of these words. St. Paul “commands” Christians to ensure that all men live in constant fear of slavery or starvation, and that no man be suffered to fatten on free eats (5).
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When Achille Murat spoke of “sentimental love,” he meant sexual intercourse unconstrained by vows of monogamy. Explaining the “peculiar doctrines” of New Harmony to the visiting Duke of Saxe Weimar, Robert Owen said,
“that it was an absurdity to promise a never-ending love upon marriage, [and] that children would cause no impediment to a separation, as they would belong to the community from their second year” (6).
Owen’s doctrine is what utopian radicals in the nineteenth-century called “free-love.” Calvin Blanchard was one of these radicals, and a New York bookseller who trafficked in radical, infidel and pornographic literature. In his book Religion of Science, published on the eve of the Civil War, Blanchard told his readers that,
“The greatest want of the world is the conditions requisite to amorous freedom” (7).
And the conditions requisite to amorous freedom were, in the words of another nineteenth-century apostle of free love, replacement of the “ugly domestic knot” of marriage with “a free compact, dissolvable at will” (8). Along with all of the other radical social doctrine of that time, free love had a curious connection to spiritualism, so that a “free compact dissolvable at will” was also known as a “spiritual marriage.”
“To constitute true spiritual marriage, two congenial souls must be irresistibly attracted and perfectly conjoined, not merely by the function of a priest, magistrate, or legislator, but by the spiritual, natural law of affinity”(9).
The irresistible attraction of the “natural law of affinity” is what less enlightened ages knew to call lust. In 1849, for instance, a Massachusetts spiritualist named Thomas Haskins abandoned his wife of many years, and took as his “spiritual wife” a young woman with the fitting name of Love Easton. The hopelessly unspiritual magistrate promptly arrested Haskins and Easton for “lewd and lascivious relations” (10).
More than a decade earlier, a man named Theophilus Ransom Gates had organized the free-love “Battle Axe” sect in Philadelphia. Their name came from the line where Jeremiah (51: 20) says of Israel:
“Thou art my battle axe and weapon of war:
For with thee I will break in pieces the nations,
And with thee I will destroy kingdoms . . .”
Gates taught his followers that Christ had returned, the millennium had begun, and the “binding rules respecting relationships between the sexes no longer existed.” As one historian of the Battle Axe sect described it,
“A number of men unhappy in their present state unceremoniously approached women of their choice announcing they had been directed by God to present themselves as soul-mates. Some women approached men in like manner with like results. Sometimes one or both parties were already married, but this was immaterial to the ‘Battle-Axer’” (11).
In 1837, Philadelphia was not ready for the spiritual marriages of the Battle Axers, so Gates and his followers were forced to move about thirty miles out of town, where they started a rural commune at the foot of Chestnut Hill, just above the Schuylkill River. For the next twenty years, their encampment was known as “Free Love Valley.” Here the Battle Axers practiced nudism, made a rite of mixed skinny-dipping in Sixpenny Creek, and exchanged partners when the Holy Spirt moved them to do so.
Free love is indeed like a battle axe that can break up nations and destroy kingdoms. Like free eats, it lays a blade to the very roots of civilized life.
As Robert Owen admitted in his conversation with the Duke of Saxe Weimar, amorous freedom naturally results in a proliferation of bastards. Owen proposed to raise these bastards at public expense, but this equalization of the cost of amorous freedom was not accompanied by an equalization of its enjoyment. Men in particular signed on to free-love communes with an expectation that, freed from monogamy, their scowling id would be treated to a banquet of sex; but many of these men were sorely disappointed when they discovered that sexually liberated females limited the banquet to a few top dogs.
In some cases, sexual revolutionaries institutionalize female hypergamy as formal polygamy. Mormons are not nowadays thought of as sexual revolutionaries, but they certainly began as a utopian sect undertaking one of the many sexual experiments of the 1830s and 40s. Here is how that turned out.
“The most desirable women are appropriated by a few prominent men and hence so many single men in Utah” (12).
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So, we see that utopianism is indeed “a very foolish business,” and that it is “good for nothing but to promote idleness and the getting of bastards.” If we supply men with free eats, we will make them into loafing poets, and in time there may be no eats to supply. If we supply men with free love, many will be consigned to celibacy, cuckoldry, and paying the bills of other men’s bastards. And if we supply them with neither, they will howl like beaten dogs, for the scowling id has a smoldering hatred for both work and monogamy.
(1) Achille Murat, A Moral and Political Sketch of the United States of North America (London: E. Wilson, 1833), pp. 140-141
(2) James Stuart, Three Years in North America, two volumes (Edinburgh: R. Cadell, 1833), vol. 2, p. 411.
(4) Thessalonians 3: 6-12.
(5) “In order that he may eat to-day and be clothed to-morrow, [the Jamaican Negro] will work a little; as for anything beyond that, he is content to lie in the sun. Emancipation and the last change in the sugar duties have made land only too plentiful in Jamaica . . . . And it is only too fertile. The negro, consequently, has had unbounded facility of squatting, and has availed himself of it freely. To recede from civilization and become again savage—as savage as the laws of the community can permit—has been to his taste. I believe that he would be altogether retrograde if left to himself . . . . “It would be very well if we could so contrive that he should not live without work . . . . We would not have our friend a slave; but we would fain force him to give the world a fair day’s work for his fair day’s provender if we knew how to do so without making him a slave.” Anthony Trollope, The West Indies and the Spanish Main (London: Chapman and Hall, 1860), pp. 64, 67.
(6) Stuart,Three Years, vol. 2, p. 409-410.
(7) Calvin Blanchard, The Religion of Science (New York: Calvin Blanchard, 1860), p. 131.
(8) H. Heywood, Cupid’s Yoke (Princeton, Mass.: Cooperative Publishing, n.d.).
(9) B. Brittan, “Marriage and Free Love,” The Spiritual Telegraph, vol. 3 (New York: Partridge and Brittan, 1854), pp. 239-246.
(10) “More of the Millerite Spiritual Wife Affair,” Boston Herald (March 29, 1849): 4.
(11) T. A. Ferm, An Encyclopedia of Religion (Pattrson, N. J.: Littlefield Adams, 1959), p. 59.
(12) Catherine Van Valkenburg Waite, Adventures in the Far West and Life Among the Mormons (Chicago: C. V. Waite and Co., 1882), p. 303.