(via Paul Fernhout)
Here is an abstract from a document about an alternative vision of agriculture related to Charles Fourier’s thinking, written by Joan Roelofs.
The illustrated pdf version is here.
“Charles Fourier has been disdained or ignored by political scientists, even by theorists. Some of his ideas were “mad,” but so many others were brilliant. Now we can see that even some “mad” ideas were simply premature, e.g., global warming. His works are a “whole earth catalog” of solutions to today’s most intractable problems, such as agricultural labor in a democracy, environmental degradation, consumerism, loneliness, the decline of the family, the gradual disappearance of nutritious meals (and shared mealtimes), eldercare, boredom at work, unemployment, and the fragmentation of communities by “identity” politics.
In 19th century United States, Fourierist and Owenite communitarian models for settling the country was taken very seriously by intellectuals, and more than 100 communities existed. Available data has barely been unearthed by political scientists; the whole movement is rarely mentioned in history books, even “radical” ones. Both capitalism and Marxian socialism eclipsed this fruitful policy option. The disappointing experiences of technological, gigantic socialism and capitalism make the decentralized, “small is beautiful,” scale of organization look very attractive.
In 1909, the U.S. Commission on Country Life found persistent problems, many the same as those which had prompted the 19th century communitarians: the “idiocy of rural life” and the environmental degradation resulting from the usual methods of food production. Yet despite Progressive reform efforts, the agricultural sector today seems to offer few options other than self-exploitation family farms, chemicalized agribusiness, brutalized migrant labor, or those questionable imports.
This paper will consider rural dysfunction, reform movements, and policy options. It will revisit the communitarian road that was taken, but then backtracked. It is now especially appropriate to reconsider Fourier, as a new translation of his Theory of Four Movements (material, organic, animal, and social) was published in 1996, after many years without a Fourier English translation in print.”
From her conclusion:
“A detailed communal plan for the United States requires considerable collective thought. Here are a few suggestions. A new communitarianism would be voluntary, and might recruit among farmers and would-be farmers, immigrants, homeless, single people, retirees, and 18-22 year olds (college courses both practical and impractical could be part of the community). A revived Citizen’s Extension Service could facilitate experimentation and electronic exchange of information.
Financing could be provided initially by redirection of agricultural subsidies to sustainable cooperative farming. Educational demonstration farms are now being subsidized by the private sector through donations and foundation grants (Views 1998). Another source of capital could be communards on social wages, social security, private pensions, or inherited wealth. All-age communities, with opportunities for both recreation and part-time convivial work (e.g., canning peaches, teaching children carpentry, composing opera scores, trouble-shooting email service) could restore the dignity and economic usefulness of elders, while usefully employing their vast economic resources.
Of course, huge sums could be liberated (and taxes become minuscule) by reducing military expenditures, now used as an economic stimulant and protection for vital supplies of bananas and oil. Healthy lifestyles and preventive health care would reverse a monumental drain on resources. Overconsumption that is pushed by advertising or pulled by loneliness would be eliminated, along with billions spent on most children’s toys, lawn care, wild bird feeding, and much other profitable stuff that contributes little to happiness. Many wastes could become productive, such as ghost towns, ghost farms, and ghost machinery; they could be adapted and repaired in a labor-intensive, decentralized economy.
Appropriate technology will reduce drudgery, yet reasonable expenditure of human labor is entirely rational, and currently an underutilized resource. Obesity is now endemic worldwide. As in Fourier’s Harmony, the ideal diet would be based on horticulture and intensive farming, and include fruits and vegetables, legumes as a major protein source, and either vegan, vegetarian, or carnivorous eating small animals, perhaps snails up to sheep. This more healthful regime changes radically the land, energy, labor, and chemical basis of agriculture. Likewise, textiles, building materials, fuel, paper, medicines, etc., could also be produced locally from cultivated, wild, or recycled resources. These projects would provide challenges to entice scientists and engineers to become communards, although all members would participate in both intellectual and manual work.
Total self-sufficiency is not likely. Most communities would not be able to produce all their machinery, or automobiles, TVs, computers, etc. Small communal industries could be developed for cash needs: food for the local non-farm population, exotic crops for the region, manufacturing, consulting, health care, education, entertainment, etc. This is not so different from what already exists, for “farms,” especially in the East, earn income as horseback riding and cross country ski facilities, petting zoos, children’s workshop venues, sustainable agriculture demonstration centers, sheltered workshops for developmentally disabled, summer stock theater barns, old book dealers, craft schools, meditation parlors, “Woodstock,” etc. A communal scheme is more viable as the purchased (or bartered) goods, like Fourier’s wine vats, would be shared among many people.
It would be reasonable, as Fourier did, to see the world as it is demographically: the shriveling of the family, and the elderly category poised for explosive growth. It makes sense to use resources that are plentiful: land (including abandoned farms), human labor (including that
of retirees and fitness bicyclists), and ingenuity. Such changes would support human and environmental health, e.g., local organic food, use of renewable resources for most needs, convivial and supportive communities, mental and physical work–in reasonable doses–for all, and short supply lines.
It would be reasonable, as Fourier did, to see the world as it is demographically: the shriveling of the family, and the elderly category poised for explosive growth. It makes sense to use resources that are plentiful: land (including abandoned farms), human labor (including that of retirees and fitness bicyclists), and ingenuity. Such changes would support human and environmental health, e.g., local organic food, use of renewable resources for most needs, convivial and supportive communities, mental and physical work–in reasonable doses–for all, and short supply lines.
What makes communitarianism a stronger option today is that the family farm experiment has been run, with negative results (in seven-eighths of the cases) despite incredible natural resources, hard work, and government subsidies. All indications are that agricultural problems are getting worse, and rural communities are dying. There is currently world overproduction of food (and textiles, and most stuff) while hunger persists. These very dysfunctions were what set Fourier on his utopian quest, which began when he saw wheat dumped in the sea to raise prices, and the urban price of apples 100 times the farm price. What he would think of the world-engulfing junk food diet cannot be imagined.”