Étienne Cabet Biography

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Who is Étienne Cabet? What did Étienne Cabet do? Information on Étienne Cabet biography, life story and philosophy.

Étienne Cabet; (1788-1856), French-American socialist, who founded the Icarian movement and established a Utopian community in America based on its principles of pacifism and communism. Cabet was born in Dijon, France, on Jan. 1, 1788. Educated as a lawyer, he moved to Paris in 1820 and joined the republican opposition to the restored Bourbon monarchy. He participated in the Revolution of 1830, which brought Louis Philippe to the throne, and was awarded the post of procureur général (prosecuting attorney) in Corsica. However, his continued republican agitation soon resulted in his dismissal.

In 1833, Cabet launched a vigorous attack against the monarchy in his newspaper Le Populaire. Threatened with imprisonment, he chose exile in London ( 1834-1839 ), where he studied Utopian writers, especially Robert Owen. After returning to France he published his own Utopian romance, the widely read Voyage en Icarie ( 1840 ). Icaria was Cabet’s vision of a perfect communist society. There all men worked, and all property was owned in common; production was regulated according to a national plan, and goods were distributed according to need.

Cabet has been classed among the “utopian socialists,” who, unlike the Marxists, believed that the classes of capitalist society could be persuaded to live in harmony under socialism and that communism could be established through peaceful democratic change. However, Cabet soon became impressed by the bourgeoisie’s unyielding hostility to socialist goals. Reluctantly he abandoned his belief in peaceful propaganda and formulated a doctrine of class antagonism. Yet, rather than advocate class war, he chose to establish an Icaria in America.

After an unsuccessful start in Texas, Cabet’s Icarians founded a settlement in Nauvoo, 111., in 1849. Cabet was elected its president, and in 1854 he became an American citizen. Patriarchal and authoritarian, he was deposed in 1856 following a violent schism. With a band of followers he moved to St. Louis, Mo., where he died on Nov. 8, 1856. Icarian communities later were established in Missouri, Iowa, and California, but all were abandoned by the late 1890’s.

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