Brisbane and beyond: Revising social capitalism in mid-nineteenth-century America

Michael Charles Mattek, Marquette University


During the early stages of the industrialization of American business in the mid-nineteenth-century, political-economists, social theorists, and literary authors contemplated the roles that the individual and society should play in this new socio-economic paradigm. A key figure in these considerations was Albert Brisbane, who transported the social reform theories of Frenchman Charles Fourier to an American audience in the 1840s, and single-handedly launched a movement, "Associationism," that eventually produced approximately thirty utopian communities throughout the country. As part of his proselytizing, Brisbane wrote several books, including Social Destiny of Man: or, Association and Reorganization of Industry , as well as hundreds of articles on the ideology and practical implementation of Fourier's system of social reform. Through his roles as writer, lecturer, and member of New York City's cultural elite, Brisbane influenced other writers and reformers during this period. Despite this influence, however, Brisbane, his writings, and his legacy have not received adequate documentation and analysis by scholars. The purpose of my dissertation is to help fill some of the scholarly gaps that remain regarding such a pivotal figure in American literary, social, and economic history. In my Introduction, I explain that most of the influential nineteenth-century political-economists neglected a cornerstone of Adam Smith's theories on modern capitalism--social "benevolence" and its essential quality as the glue that holds a system of bartering, trading, and selling by individuals for their own benefit socially intact--and how Brisbane's economic ideology is more a return to Smith's basic assertions than a turning away from them. In subsequent chapters I trace how Brisbane's personal contact, writings, and proteges impacted the ideas of such writers as Ralph Waldo Emerson, Margaret Fuller, Nathaniel Hawthorne, and the members of the operational Associationist community located at Ceresco, Wisconsin on such diverse issues as capitalist theory, women's rights, literary theory, and western land development.

Recommended Citation

Mattek, Michael Charles, "Brisbane and beyond: Revising social capitalism in mid-nineteenth-century America" (2002). Dissertations (1962 - 2010) Access via Proquest Digital Dissertations. AAI3059379.