Étienne Cabet

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Étienne Cabet
Étienne Cabet
Born (1788-01-01)January 1, 1788
Dijon, Côte-d'Or
Died November 9, 1856(1856-11-09) (aged 68)
St. Louis, Missouri, United States
Occupation philosopher
Known for founder of the Icarian movement
Notable work "Travel and Adventures of Lord William Carisdall in Icaria" (1840)

Étienne Cabet (French: [kabɛ]; January 1, 1788 – November 9, 1856) was a French philosopher and utopian socialist. He was the founder of the Icarian movement His goal was to replace capitalist production with workers cooperatives. He became the most popular socialist advocate of his day, with a special appeal to artisans who were being undercut by factories. Cabet led groups of emigrants to found utopian communities in Texas and Illinois. However his work was undercut by his many feuds with his own followers.


Cabet was born in Dijon, Côte-d'Or. He was educated as a lawyer, and became a government official, procureur-général, in Corsica, representing the government of Louis Philippe, after having headed an insurrectionary committee and participated actively in the July Revolution of 1830. However he was dismissed from this position for his attack upon the conservatism of the government in his Histoire de la révolution de 1830.[1] In 1831, he was elected to the Chamber of Deputies in France as the representative of Côte d'Or. He sat with the extreme radicals.[2]

Due to his bitter attacks on the government he was accused of treason in 1834 and fled to England, seeking political asylum. Influenced by Robert Owen, he wrote Voyage et aventures de lord William Carisdall en Icarie ("Travel and Adventures of Lord William Carisdall in Icaria") (1840), which depicted a utopia in which a democratically elected governing body controlled all economic activity and closely supervised social life. The nuclear family remained the only other independent unit. Icaria is the name of the fictional country and ideal society he describes. The success of this book prompted him to take steps to realize his Utopia.[2]

In 1839, Cabet returned to France to advocate a communitarian social movement, for which he invented the term communisme.[3] Cabet's notion of a communal society influenced other socialist writers and philosophers, notably Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels.[4][5] Some of these other writers ignored Cabet's Christian influences, as described in his book Le vrai christianisme suivant Jésus Christ (The real Christianity according to Jesus Christ, in five volumes). This book described Christ's mission to be to establish social equality, and contrasted primitive Christianity with the ecclesiasticism of Cabet's time to the disparagement of the latter. It also contained a popular history of the French Revolutions from 1789 to 1830.[2]

In 1841 he revived the Populaire (originally founded by him in 1833), which was widely read by French workingmen, and from 1843 to 1847 he printed an Icarian almanac, a number of controversial pamphlets and the book on Christianity mentioned above. There were probably 400,000 adherents of the Icarian school.[2]

In 1848, Cabet gave up on the notion of reforming French society. Instead, after conversations with Robert Owen and Owen's attempts to found a commune in Texas, Cabet gathered a group of followers from across France and traveled to the United States to organize an Icarian community.[6] They entered into a social contract, making Cabet the director-in-chief for the first ten years, and embarked from Le Havre, February 3, 1848, to take up land on the Red River in Texas. Cabet came later at the head of a second and smaller band. Texas did not prove to be the Utopia looked for, and, ravaged by disease, about one-third of the colonists returned to France.[2]

The remainder moved to Nauvoo, Illinois, to a site recently vacated by the Mormons, in 1849.[7] Because of the improved location, it developed into a successful agricultural community. By 1855, the Nauvoo Icarian community had expanded to about 500 members with a solid agricultural base, shops, schools, and a newspaper.[7] Amidst this success, however, Cabet was forced to return to France in May 1851 to settle charges of fraud brought up by his previous followers in Europe.[7][8] When he returned in July 1852, the community was suffering economically,[8] and a split developed regarding the work division and food distribution.[7] In attempts to save the community upon his return, Cabet issued a series of edicts; he forbade "tobacco, hard liquor, complaints about the food, and hunting and fishing 'for pleasure'."[8] Demanding absolute silence in workshops and submission to him rubbed the Icarians the wrong way and internal problems arose.[8] After disputes within the Nauvoo community, Cabet was expelled and he went to St. Louis, Missouri, in 1855, where he died the following year, but not before he pulled the Nauvoo Icarians to the local court, petitioning the legislature to repeal the act that incorporated the community into the state.[7] The last Icarian colony at Corning disbanded in 1898.


  1.  Chisholm, Hugh, ed. (1911). "Cabet, Étienne". Encyclopædia Britannica (11th ed.). Cambridge University Press. 
  2. 2.0 2.1 2.2 2.3 2.4 Wikisource-logo.svg Gilman, D. C.; Thurston, H. T.; Colby, F. M., eds. (1905). "Cabet, Etienne". New International Encyclopedia (1st ed.). New York: Dodd, Mead. 
  3. "CABET, Etienne (1788-1856) Fondateur du communisme en France". Recherches sur l’anarchisme. Retrieved 2007-02-27. 
  4. "Engels To Marx". Retrieved 2007-06-05. 
  5. "Engels To Étienne Cabet 5 April 1848". Retrieved 2007-06-05. 
  6. Friesen, John W.; Friesen, Virginia Lyons (2004). The Palgrave Companion to North American Utopias. New York: Palgrave Macmillan. p. 137. 
  7. 7.0 7.1 7.2 7.3 7.4 Friesen, John W.; Friesen, Virginia Lyons (2004). The Palgrave Companion to North American Utopias. New York: Palgrave Macmillan. p. 139. 
  8. 8.0 8.1 8.2 8.3 Pitzer, Donald (1997). America's Communal Utopias. Chapel Hill and London: The University of North Carolina Press. p. 283. 

Further reading

  • Johnson, C. Utopian Communism in France: Cabot and the Icarians’ (1974)

External links