A.J. DiCintio
The president in the garden
By A.J. DiCintio
April 23, 2009

I thought it an entirely good thing for the nation to catch glimpses of President Obama pulling weeds in the White House Vegetable Garden — until I realized such images might cause some folks to place him in the tradition of nineteenth century American radicals, the deep-dreaming agrarians who were devotees of what Marx called "utopian socialism."

So, in the interest of telling the truth about the profound distance between the place where the often gentle, too frequently ridiculous, always thoroughly human utopians fall on the political scale and the one occupied by Barack Obama, a little history is in order.


In 1825, Englishman Robert Owen, a wealthy proponent of socialism and "cooperative living" and thus a forebear of every limousine liberal, purchased 20,000 acres in Indiana to establish a community of utopian new harmony — which degenerated into a dystopia of miserable discordance after only two years, owing to the old cacophony that foolish idealism always creates.

The only other important observation to be made about Owen and the professors, writers, businessmen, and ordinary folks who populated New Harmony is this:

Although they correctly reasoned that the flower of socialism could never take root amid the chicken. . . . of places such as Harvard, Massachusetts, they committed the monstrous stupidity of believing it would flourish like prairie grass among the horse. . . . of an Indiana field.


In 1841 John Humphrey Noyes founded this community, absolutely certain his philosophy of Perfectionism would lead to la dolce utopia in New York State.

Central to Perfectionism was Noyes' idea of "complex marriage," a revolutionary concept in which every male is married to every female. (O! What nectar flows from the beautiful blossom that is the left's intellectual superiority!)

Regarding concerns that the promiscuity likely to result from complex marriage would create a population explosion whose problems might tax even the utopian genius, Noyes counseled not to worry; for, like every good liberal who pulls "evolving standards of decency that mark the progress of a maturing society" out of thin air, he decreed that Oneidans be ruled by the standards of "stipiculture," a practice by which only "morally perfect" adults procreate children.

(The long lines of persons claiming to possess documentation proving their moral perfection must have caused quite a bureaucratic tangle for Oneida. But, as every liberal is happy to inform us, back breaking bureaucracies and soul fatiguing queues are a small price to pay for perfection.)

Despite its nonsense about perfectionism and stipiculture, Oneida did accomplish something remarkable: It survived more than a decade. (As you will soon see, after a mere six months, the denizens of Fruitlands ran wildly down the streets of Harvard town shouting, "To hell with the communal, transcendental, vegan life, let us eat meat!")

After that modest achievement, the Oneida community held together only because its members eschewed living solely off the land to engage in the (formerly wicked) activity of bourgeois manufacturing and (at prices determined by the once evil market) selling their (now eminently moral) excess production to others.

Thus, in Oneida, did perfectionism, complex marriage, and stipiculture surrender to Reality; did foolish idealism bow to Common Sense; did collectivism acquiesce to Freedom and Individual Initiative; and did True Love conquer all.


Some notable members of America's literati joined in this experimental community organized by George Ripley in 1841 at West Roxbury, Massachusetts. However, naming them is infinitely less important than reporting this fact:

The Brook Farm Institute of Agriculture and Education failed in six years precisely because it attracted intellectuals of the time — including Harvard professors who, unlike their modern counterparts, knew the proper place for shoveling manure.


Amos Bronson Alcott, father of Louisa May Alcott, was bursting with great hopes for success when, in1843, he founded Fruitlands.

Unfortunately, the community's utopian fruit never matured, in part because a love-of-power seed sprouted in Amos' agriculturalist brain, causing him to decree that residents refrain from using animal products of any kind.

Of course, it wasn't just a restrictive diet and the prohibition against using quills as pens that prompted Emerson to observe, "They look well in July. We shall see them in December." It was the entirety of Alcott's vision that made Ralph Waldo correct in his prediction of a winter of discontent.

Sure enough, any locals moved to check up on the health of the agrarian socialists had to get to Fruitlands by December of '43 because a month later the community fell apart.

Alas, the truth about Fruitlands and other utopian experiments (just as it became the truth about communism and other forms of socialism) is that those who believed staunchly in the evils wrought by oversupply could not produce enough food to keep themselves alive.

With images fresh in our minds of American Pollyannas brought to ruin by an arrogance that drove them to believe, "Thinking makes it so," we are now able to tackle the question of where on the political scale to place those whom Karl Marx mocked as feckless primitives — but nevertheless praised for the role they played in laying a foundation for a world in which family, private property, and free enterprise are "abolished."

What we find is that there is no reasonable answer other than this: We must place the utopians close to anarchists because those apolitical dreamers believed in moral suasion as the only proper means by which to enforce the "laws" of their communal societies.

Finally, the implications of that judgment allow us to dismiss nonsense about the president as kin to America's idealistic agrarians and conclude as follows regarding his political ideology:

Politician Barack Obama loves centralized authority to the extent that he would astonishingly increase the power and reach of the level of government most remote from the people, burden present and future generations with a suffocating incubus of debt, and subjugate citizens to the autocratic thumb of liberal activist judges.

Thus, by a stunning distance, he stoops closer to the dictatorial end of the political scale not just in contrast to utopians or presidents who went before him but to the vast majority of Americans, past and present.

That fact, and not images of a polished intellect expediently positioned between arugula and chard, ought to occupy the minds of the American people.

© A.J. DiCintio


The views expressed by RenewAmerica columnists are their own and do not necessarily reflect the position of RenewAmerica or its affiliates.
(See RenewAmerica's publishing standards.)

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A.J. DiCintio

A.J. DiCintio posts regularly at RenewAmerica and YourNews.com. He first exercised his polemical skills arguing with friends on the street corners of the working class neighborhood where he grew up. Retired from teaching, he now applies those skills, somewhat honed and polished by experience, to social/political affairs.


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