From reading only the Lawrence Foster source so far I have been able to extrapolate a lot of key information about Oneida. I have begun to understand the multi-faced philosophy of Noyes. He saw our modern form of christianity encouraging less love and egalitarianism and so he advocated for a return to an earlier form of Christianity. He was aware that the kingdom of heaven could be literally realized on earth rather than it being a place we have to get to by the sweat of our proletariat brow.
One of the interesting practises that came into being at Oneida was male continence. This allowed for much more sexual activity because it was really a form of contraception. Men and women vice versa were trained by their older and sometimes post-menopause counterparts to uphold stamina in the sexual arena. This was a way to allow lots of love making without the complications of having kids whilst also training for a more durable and pleasurable experience. Because of this ability for everyone to have more casual love couplings were discouraged. This bred a more communal society as everyone shared not just one person’s body but many.
Another practise was that of mutual criticism. Individuals would be scrutinised by a large group leading to a real understanding of someone’s faults and accolades. Mutual criticism was a way keep the community aware and understanding of all members so as to bring more community.
Noyes was in disregard for individualism. He was keen to eliminate all selfishness and replace it with a care for the community that was grounded in the greater good. Members of the community were not allowed to be confined to any divisive group. This system can be referred to as complex marriage- all loved each other and placed the concerns of community above all else.
Oneida made great strides to break down the arbitrary distinctions between men and women. Women were free to participate in all aspects of community life (religious, economic and social). What helped this was the fact that children were reared communally allowing all members of society to no unfairly be confined to child rearing / domesticity.
The hierarchy at Oneida was that of gendered ascending and descending fellowship. Noyes was surrounded by a few spiritual men that were seconded by a few spiritual women. The less spiritual men were then followed by the less spiritual women. This was still somewhat sexist but in comparison to the outside world the four caste system was much more malleable. Fellowship usually came hand and hand with age and so the elders in turn had a higher status.
The community did well in economic pursuits producing many goods and services for the outside world but doing it in a cooperative, not capitalist, manner. At the time of the breakup all the holdings valued $600,000. Many millions today!
Many factors led to the breakup of Oneida. Leadership is paramount if Intentional Communities are able to achieve longevity. Noyes, sadly was never able to find a successor and so when he began to develop bad health the community began to crumble. Simplistic as it is I believe this to be the defining reason for the downfall.
Oneida can be situated in the problem of Utopia by analysing how when the leadership/authority started to wither, the less supported practices and institutions were able to come to light and be further realised. Noyes was committed to the common values of the community but when when he declined, sexual tensions arose that had come about by the mismatch between complex marriage and a hierarchy of fellowship.
Some observers of Oneida label it as a eugenic community. Fellowship meant status and increased availability of sexual contracts and so the wise, who were usually older, were granted the most pleasure at Oneida. Increasingly, men and women of greater fellowship were encouraged to reproduce with one another as to create spiritual babies.
Young people and community members of lower status felt like lesser members of the community. Young women were also against not being able to have an exclusive sexual relationship.
Therefore, the absence of the leadership of Noyes and the currents of sexual tension that had been exasperated by a furthered hierarchy were two defining factors that led to the breakup. Oneida had become a problematic Utopia but not before it had shown the outside world for two decades how to live a more communal and egalitarian way of life.