The Icarian movement was inspired by an 1840 utopian novel by Étienne Cabet, Voyage en Icarie (Voyage to Icaria).

The Icarians z/ were a French-based utopian socialist movement, established by the followers of politician, journalist, and author Étienne Cabet. In an attempt to put his economic and social theories into practice, Cabet led his followers to the United States of America in 1848, where the Icarians established a series of egalitarian communes in the states of Texas, Illinois, Iowa, Missouri, and California. The movement split several times due to factional disagreements.

The last community of Icarians, located a few miles outside Corning, Iowa, disbanded voluntarily in 1898. The 46 years of tenure at this location made the Corning Icarian Colony one of the longest-lived non-religious communal living experiments in US history.[citation needed]


Cabet as radical French politician

Louis Philippe I, the moderate conservative Orléanist king who replaced the extreme conservative Charles X following the revolution of 1830.

Étienne Cabet was born in Dijon, France in 1788 to a middle-class family of artisans.[1] Cabet attended a Roman Catholic secondary school and continued his education, ultimately earning a Doctorate of Law degree in 1812.[1] Cabet was not inclined towards jurisprudence, however, preferring the rough and tumble of politics and journalism. Following the fall of Napoleon Bonaparte in 1815, Cabet became active in the struggle against conservative theocratic monarchism, participating in political groups which espoused a constitutional and republican form of government under monarchical leadership.[1]

In 1820 Cabet moved to Paris, the political center of the French nation.[1] There he continued to participate in secret revolutionary societies, at considerable personal risk.[2] It ultimately took a decade for this underground political effort to bear fruit when in July 1830 revolution erupted seeking the fundamental change of the conservative regime which had gained power in the Bourbon Restoration following the fall of Napoleon.

This Revolution of 1830 in a matter of a few frenzied days forced the abdication of the conservative monarch Charles X and returned constitutional government to France. Cabet played a leading role in the revolution as a leading member of the so-called "Insurrection Committee," activity for which he was recognized with appointment as Attorney-General for Corsica following the coronation of Louis Philippe as king.[2]

Historian Morris Hillquit has argued that the posting of Cabet to Corsica was a calculated "shrewd move on the part of the government" to remove a prominent radical critic from the political hothouse of Paris "under the guise of a reward for his services during the revolution."[2] Be that as it may, despite his employment as a government functionary in Corsica, Cabet moved into criticism of the new Orléanist regime for its conservatism and half-measures with respect to constitutional rule and the democratic rights of the people. This brought about Cabet's prompt removal from office by the new regime in Paris, at whose pleasure Cabet served.[2]

Following his dismissal as Corsican Attorney-General, Cabet turned his hand to writing, authoring a four volume history of the French Revolution. He also remained active in politics and was elected as a deputy to the lower chamber of the National Assembly in 1834.[3] Cabet emerged as a fierce opponent of the new conservative regime and a potential revolutionary leader, drawing the attention of the regime and its repressive mechanism.[3] In an effort to eliminate the dangerous democratic agitator, Cabet was given the choice of two years' imprisonment or five years in foreign exile.[4] He decided upon the latter punishment and immediately went into exile in England.[5]

During his five years of English exile, Cabet dedicated himself to philosophical and economic study, carefully considering the relationship between political structures and economic welfare throughout history.[6] Cabet's findings were later summarized thus by one of his acolytes:

Studying, pondering the history of all ages and countries, he at length arrived at the conclusion that mere political reforms are powerless to give to society the ... welfare which it obstinately seeks. ... He found at all epochs the same phenomena: society sundered in twain; on one side a minority, cruel, idle, arrogant, usurping exclusive enjoyment of the products of a majority, passive, toiling, ignorant, who remained wholly destitute. ... To change all this, to find the means of preventing one portion of humanity from being eternally the prey of the other — such was his desire, the goal of all his efforts.[7]

Cabet turned to the idea of reorganization of society on a communal basis — known as "Communism" in the terminology of the day. His ideas for the modification of society closely paralleled those of a man he met in English exile, Robert Owen.[8]

Voyage en Icarie

Title page of the 1848 Fifth Edition of Cabet's Voyage en Icarie. The symmetrical layout includes a group of slogans summing up Cabet's philosophy.[9]

In 1839, his five years' exile in England completed, Cabet returned to his native France. Upon his return he began writing a book to expound his economic and social ideas, following the example of Thomas More and using the form of an allegorical novel which allowed not only the exposition of the ideal form of administration but an opportunity for cloaked criticism of the existing regime.[8]

The result of Cabet's writing was published in 1840 as Voyage en Icarie (Voyage to Icaria). A rough translation by Cabet was serialized in Icarian periodicals of the 1850s; an additional translation by academic specialist Robert Sutton has been deposited with the Library of Congress, although it remains unpublished.[10] a basic plot outline was published by Morris Hillquit in 1903:

Lord Carisdall, a young English nobleman, has by chance learned of the existence of a remote and isolated country known as Icaria. The unusual mode of life, habits, and form of government of the Icarians excite his lordship's curiosity, and he decides to visit their country. Voyage en Icarie purports to be a journal in which our traveler records his remarkable experiences and discoveries in the strange country.

The first part of the book contains a glowing account of the blessings of the cooperative system of industry of the Icarians, their varied occupations and accomplishments, comfortable mode of life, admirable system of education, high morality, political freedom, equality of sexes, and general happiness. The second part contains a history of Icaria. It appears that the social order of the country had been similar to that prevailing in the rest of the world, until 1782, when the great national hero, Icar, after a successful revolution, established the system of communism.

This recital gives Cabet the opportunity for a scathing criticism of the faults of the present social structure, and also to outline his favorite measures for the transition from that system to the new regime.

... The last part of the book is devoted to the history of development of the idea of communism, and contains a summary of the views of almost all known writers on the subject, from Plato down to the famous utopians of the early part of the 19th Century.[11]

Although regarded today as a "plodding melodrama"[12] in which the reader was inundated with "tedious details of incidental aspects of Icarian life,"[13] Cabet's book was well received by readers of his day, with the principles it outlined viewed by many as a blueprint for advancement from a disappointing present to a glorious future.[14] Multiple editions of the book followed in quick succession and with public interest awakened Cabet quickly made the transition from author to builder of a practical movement to advance the communal ideas which he had expounded.[14] In March 1841 Cabet launched a monthly magazine, Le Populaire, as well as an annual Icarian Almanac to help propagandize and organize the new political movement's supporters.[14]

So-called "Icarianism" attracted numerous supporters in such French cities as Reims, Leon, Nantes, Toulouse, and Toulon, with Cabet claiming the existence of 50,000 adherents of his ideas by the end of 1843.[15] These supporters began to see Cabet as a political messiah and sought to implement the leader's ideas in a practical setting.[15] It was gradually decided in this period that France did not present a favorable economic, political, or social environment for the implementation of the Icarian ideas; instead, the United States of America was chosen as a more fitting site for colonization – a nation with vast expanses of relatively inexpensive land and a democratic political tradition.[15]

In May 1847, Cabet's organ Le Populaire carried a lengthy article entitled "Allons en Icarie" (Let Us Go to Icaria), detailing the proposal to establish an American colony based upon the Icarian political and economic ideals and calling for those committed to building an artisanal and agrarian community to volunteer.[15] The wheels were thus set in motion for the formation of what was intended to be a prosperous and enviable collective entity.

Colonization begins

Cabet believed that at least 10,000 or 20,000 working men would immediately enlist in the American colonization scheme, with the number soon swelling to a million skilled workers and artisans.[16] Towns and huge cities bursting with industry would shortly follow, with accompanying schools and cultural facilities assuring the good life for a happy and fulfilled community.[16] Announcement of the plan was met with enthusiasm, and offers of participation along with gifts of money, seeds, farm implements, clothing, books, and other valuable and useful items began to flow in.[16]

Cabet gave himself the task of choosing a precise location for colonization. Cabet turned to his friend Robert Owen for advice, traveling to London in September 1847 to consult with his British co-thinker.[16] Owen recommended colonization in the new American state of Texas, a location reckoned to possess vast tracts of unoccupied land which would be as inexpensive as it was plentiful.[15] Cabet made contact with a Texas land agent, The Peters Company, which agreed to present to Owen title for 1 million acres of land so long as it was colonized by July 1, 1848.[17]

Other Languages
català: Icarians
čeština: Ikarské hnutí
Deutsch: Ikarien
español: Icarianos
français: Icarie