Critics & Crusaders: A Century of American Protest

By Charles A. Madison | Go to book overview

ALBERT BRISBANE


SOCIAL DREAMER

MOST ENCYCLOPEDIAS, the Britannica included, make no mention of Albert Brisbane, although they pay homage to his son Arthur's journalistic attainments. The only published study of his life and work remains his wife's "mental biography," which appeared shortly after his death in 1890. Yet throughout the 1840's he was widely acclaimed as an eminent social philosopher. As the interpreter and promoter of Fourier's grand scheme of Association he became the leader of a reform movement that swept across the United States. Horace Greeley was one of his first converts and opened to him the columns of the influential Tribune; Parke Godwin, of the New York Evening Post, became one of his ardent admirers; the Transcendentalists of Brook Farm swallowed Brisbane's doctrine whole. About 8000 Americans in all invested their goods and their future in Fourieristic phalanxes. These enthusiasts believed that the success of their experimental communities would speedily bring the millennium, and united in national conventions to hasten the coming of the glorious day. Their dreams were of short duration; one after another the phalanxes collapsed like pricked balloons.

Yet although Fourier's utopia went the way of all panaceas, it stirred the enthusiasm of many Americans for more than a decade and made a definite impress upon the nineteenth-century movement for social reform. Brisbane's reputation rests squarely on the importance of Association in the history of American culture.

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