Communitarian Socialism and the
Radical Church Tradition: Building
the Community of Liberation
In 1826 Robert Owen, the pioneering leader of utopian socialism, bought out the Rappite Christian pietist community of Harmony, Indiana, in order to use it as the site for his own projected socialist community of New Harmony. This little event is symbolic of a point of contact between utopian socialism and the radical Church tradition. The United States has long been fertile ground for utopian experimentation of both a religious and a secular kind, and, when the utopian socialists of the nineteenth century looked for territory in which to test their social theories, it is not surprising that they turned to America, because it was here that utopian communities from the left wing of the Reformation still flourished. Indeed one of the ironies of this relationship was that the Christian utopias often proved more prosperous than the socialist ones, and socialist theoreticians toured the thriving communities of the Shakers and Rappites in the second quarter of the nineteenth century to find out how, on a practical level, socialist communities worked.
Robert Owen thought of himself as anti-religious, but there