Think Piece

Plotino Rhodakanaty and the Mexican Dimension of Fourierism

By Graeme Pente

The ideas of the French visionary socialist Charles Fourier (1772-1837) reached Mexico before 1861. As a “utopian” socialist, Fourier advocated for cross-class cooperation and capitalists’ voluntary surrender of their wealth and power. His disciples later elevated his ideas for making labor both attractive and dignified. Their newspaper Démocratie Pacifique (1843-1851) circulated “from Mexico to Buenos Aires,” making Fourier “the most well-known socialist in Latin America” (Pierre-Luc Abramson, Las utopías sociales en América Latina en el siglo XIX, 186). Yet the main vector by which Fourier’s thought reached Mexico was a Greco-Austrian socialist named Plotino Constantino Rhodakanaty (1828-?). Although scholars have addressed Rhodakanaty as an early Mexican Mormon (Jason H. Dormady and Jared M. Tamez, eds., Just South of Zion: The Mormons in Mexico and Its Borderlands, 59-72) and as a forerunner of Mexican anarchism, historians of Fourierism have entirely neglected him. Studies of Fourierism tend to focus on France, the doctrine’s place of origin; the United States, where reformers attempted several practical trials in the 1840s; or Great Britain, which enjoyed a small but active movement. Bringing Mexico into the study of early socialism expands the story of Fourierism beyond the North Atlantic. Indeed, a focus on Rhodakanaty’s thought and his blending of early socialism and anarchism provides new evidence of the lasting influence and adaptability of Fourierism in the Americas.

Plotino Rhodakanaty was born in Athens in 1828 (18-23 and 128-129). After his father died in the Greek War of Independence (1821-1832), Rhodakanaty’s mother took her infant son to live with her family in Vienna. He pursued medical training until, at the age of 19, he joined the revolutions sweeping Europe in 1848. Afterward, he found the early anarchism of Pierre-Joseph Proudhon (1809-1865) whom he sought in Paris in 1850. It may have been at this time that Rhodakanaty discovered Fourier, or perhaps it was after he returned to the French capital in late 1857 to continue his studies. In any case, steeped as he was in the swirling ideologies of socialism and anarchism in mid-nineteenth-century Europe, Rhodakanaty eventually developed a blend of communitarianism and democracy in which Fourier’s influence rose to the top. While in Paris in the late 1850s, he learned of Mexican President Ignacio Comonfort’s land reform program, which offered large tracts to foreigners willing to settle. Rhodakanaty envisioned the potential for an agrarian colony along Fourierist lines and set out for Mexico.

When Rhodakanaty arrived in Veracruz in late February 1861, his plans for Mexico changed. Benito Juarez had succeeded Comonfort to the presidency, and the latter’s land grants remained in question amidst the chaos of the War of the Reform (1857-1861) and the French Intervention (1861-1867). Rhodakanaty opted to stay in Mexico supporting himself as a medical doctor and teacher in the capital. He remained a figure in radical politics in Mexico City and the surrounding countryside, involving himself in the struggles of both urban and rural workers, until the 1880s. In that decade, Rhodakanaty may have fallen afoul of the new Porfirio Díaz regime, as he departed Mexico in 1886 and disappeared from the historical record.

Rhodakanaty started spreading Fourier’s ideas as soon as he arrived in Mexico. In 1861, he published a primer on socialism entitled Cartilla socialista, o sea el catecismo elemental de la escuela de Carlos Fourier: el falansterio. Rhodakanaty followed the French and American Fourierists in emphasizing the principle of association as the key to overcoming social ills. Socialization could combat competition and lead to harmony. He hoped that “some day, the Mexican people [will] emancipate themselves from the terrible yoke of plutocracy by means of association” (Plotino C. Rhodakanaty, Escritos, 11) In place of a world divided by various interests—industrial, class, political, national—association offered a “reign of wealth, truth, justice, peace, [and] work” (ibid., 17). This last ideal was a notably Fourierist one, as American followers of Fourier centered the notion of “attractive labor” in their propaganda and their French counterparts emphasized “the right to work.”

Rhodakanaty’s Fourierism was clear throughout the Cartilla. He structured his primer on socialism as a series of short “lessons,” in which he provided answers to a list of questions. In the second lesson, he offered a philosophical outlook on the factors shaping human behavior. Rhodakanaty mused on how the conduct of man was determined by “being surrounded by circumstances favorable to the harmonious movement of our native faculties, which would prompt him to seek the satisfaction of his passions in the way of the good… [these] prove the extent to which social organization exerts itself over him, and his moral and material action” (ibid., 19). Rhodakanaty here invoked Fourier’s faith that unleashing human passions would redound to the common good. The key was to adjust social circumstances to the natural passions, not to try to suppress them. Rhodakanaty similarly noted in Lesson Six that civil, moral, and political laws were created to establish and maintain order in a dysfunctional social system (ibid., 41-42). Thus, the perfection of the social system would make such laws irrelevant. The abolition of such laws represented steps away from the coercion already existing in society. The proposed dismantling of the legal apparatus attests to Fourierism’s anti-authoritarian character and its compatibility with anarchism.

Rhodakanaty engaged with Fourierism most thoroughly in the Cartilla, but he remained heavily influenced by Fourier throughout the 25 years of his activism in Mexico. Rhodakanaty often wrote in the language of Christian socialism and cast nineteenth-century socialists as the proper inheritors of Christ. Yet he also connected Jesus with the French Revolution’s triad of liberty, equality, and fraternity. He set this triad in an intellectual genealogy of thinkers advocating social perfectibility that stretched back to Plato and culminated with Fourier himself. For Rhodakanaty, these conceivers of diverse utopias kept the dream of social perfection alive through millennia: from Plato’s Republic through Thomas More’s Utopia (1516) and Tommaso Campanella’s City of the Sun (1602) to Etienne Cabet’s Voyage en Icarie (1841) and “the immortal and famous” Charles Fourier (ibid., 84).

As much as Rhodakanaty remained influenced by Fourier, however, he also blended Fourierism with other socialist and anarchist influences during his decades in Mexico. He admitted no adherence to orthodoxy, himself, noting that his school was “forming, in short, a syncretic compilation of the brilliant theories of the wisest socialists, ancient as well as modern” (ibid., 68-69). One major difference between Rhodakanaty’s Fourierism and that of his French and American comrades was his opposition to the rights of private property. Rhodakanaty envisioned abolishing private property to return man to “his primitive origin in his simple state of nature when scattered throughout the forests and jungles he wandered the entire face of the earth, whose possession was in common” (ibid., 60). With the end of private property, there would no longer be a need for the army either (José C. Valadés, El socialismo libertario mexicano (siglo XIX), 38). Rhodakanaty’s opposition to private property and the army reflected the historical role of each in the oppression of the Mexican people: the power of the hacendados (large landowners) and the reign of the military. Rhodakanaty’s hostility to property clearly bore the mark of the early anarchist Pierre-Joseph Proudhon’s thinking. Proudhon was most famous for answering the question “what is property?” with the exclamation “Theft!” But Proudhon was also known for his intense hostility to the State, which had often set him at odds with his socialist colleagues during the French Second Republic (1848-1851).

In Mexico, Rhodakanaty married the schools of Proudhon and Fourier. For instance, he opened his Fourierist tract Garantismo Humanitario (1876-1877) with the call, “People: no more governments! Abolish tyrannies! Pass to social Guaranteeism!” (Plotino C. Rhodakanaty, Obras, 103). Rhodakanaty elsewhere suggested that the transition to socialism would see the formation of a system of territorial banks (Rhodakanaty, Escritos, 65). These banks had something in common with Proudhon’s conception of a People’s Bank, which would offer artisan cooperatives easy access to credit. Rhodakanaty seemed to adapt the idea to the Mexican context, where concerns with land and farming prevailed and the hacendados’ domination of landownership loomed large. Ultimately, Rhodakanaty set the systems of Proudhon and Fourier at the service of each other. He dismissed all government as “disorder,” and asked what purpose government would serve once the people were organized into phalansteries. The people “would form three, five, ten, twenty, one hundred, or one thousand phalansteries or communities and then they would unite freely, for solidarity, in a great federation, for the exchange of production and consumption” (quoted in Valadés, El socialism libertario, 38). The federal vision belonged to both Fourier and Proudhon, while autonomous communities of exchange belonged more to the anarchist. Yet the organizing unit was the phalanx, and the predominant idiom remained Fourierist.

Fourierism took on new dimensions with its importation to Mexico. In this new context, Rhodakanaty effected a reconciliation between the schools of Fourier and Proudhon that their leaders in France were unwilling to countenance. He recognized that the two doctrines complemented each other in their mutual emphasis on non-domination and small producers’ cooperatives. Against the centralization of Mexican state-building, Rhodakanaty offered a vision of the harmonious future inspired by and steeped in the language of Fourier. In turn, the Fourierist vision of small, autonomous communes tapped into local ideas of the traditional political independence of the Mexican village. The agrarian socialist vision that Rhodakanaty helped to formalize and spread among Mexican radicals endured the modernizing project of the Porfirio Díaz dictatorship to reemerge a generation later during the Mexican Revolution in the popular movements behind Francisco Villa and Emiliano Zapata.

Graeme Pente recently completed a Ph.D. in history at the University of Colorado Boulder. He lives in Charlotte, North Carolina and serves as a contributing editor at Erstwhile: A History Blog.

Featured Image: Street scene in Mexico City, c.1880. Attributed to William Henry Jackson, courtesy of the Library of Congress.

JHI Think Piece

Brazil and the World Revolutions at the Beginning of the 19th Century

By guest contributor João Paulo Pimenta

This post is a companion piece to Prof. Pimenta’s article in the Journal of the History of Ideas vol. 79, no. 1, “History of Concepts and the Historiography of the Independence of Brazil: A Preliminary Diagnosis.

Unique themes emerge and recur within every country’s history for a number of reasons: they relate to subjects that have received significant scholarly attention, they deal with facts that have long-term effects in the life of a country, and they resonate with the general public beyond academia, provoking interest, opinions, and emotional responses. Consider, for example, Independence and the Civil War in the US, Revolution and World War II in France, the Roman Empire in Italy, the Ming Dynasty and the Great Revolution in China, and Immigration and the Malvinas War in Argentina. In Brazil, one might mention the slavery of African populations, the civil and military dictatorship of the late twentieth century, and surely the history of the separation of Brazil from Portugal in the early nineteenth century, which resulted in the creation of a new sovereign state and a new nation, both of them still prevailing.

Throughout the Western world, the first years of the nineteenth century are special: relevant events abound, each one seeming to “pull” another toward a more integrated world, producing new conditions that accelerate the process of dramatic, affecting, and sometimes hopeful historical transformation. The changes during the early nineteenth century were profound and enduring, and often political. Brazil, then part of the Portuguese Empire, transformed during this time. While the wars between Napoleonic France and other European powers spread throughout most of the European continent, a particularly pivotal event took place in Portugal: to avoid confronting the enemy, the Portuguese court abruptly chose to leave Lisbon and, under protection of the British Navy, flee to Brazil. On the other side of the Atlantic Ocean, a contradictory movement started to develop.

The departure of the Portuguese royal family for Brazil, as depicted by Henri L’Evêque

With its new headquarters in Rio de Janeiro, the Portuguese Empire avoided the risk of fragmentation, which was extinguing the Spanish Empire, and escaped French domination. While the empire secured its survival during chaotic wartime Europe, the relocation wrought profound changes and consequences. Rivalries between Portuguese people in Brazil and Portugal, conflicts of interest, and new political expectations prompted a new idea: the assembly of a government and a state in Brazil, separate from Portugal. With Brazilian Independence in 1822, this idea became reality. Now, thanks to this process, there is a country named Brazil, with its own political, economic, military, administrative, juridical, and electoral institutions—its own 210 million citizens.

The declaration of Brazilian independence, as depicted by Pedro Américo

Myriad works have already been written on this subject. And still, it compels the minds and imaginations of professional historians and social scientists, amateur researchers, and laypeople. My article in the January 2018 issue of the Journal of the History of Ideas discusses one of the historiographic renovations that contributes to the ongoing significance of Independence as a theme integral to Brazilian history. “Conceptual history” or “Begriffsgeschichte”— which attends to the words, languages, and political ideas that made history—is not a new approach. But when applied to Brazilian Independence, the history of concepts casts new light on overlooked elements of the event, and reveals its significance not only to Brazilian history, but also to our shared global history.

João Paulo Pimenta holds a Ph.D. in History from the Universidade de São Paulo, where he has been a professor in the History Department since 2004. He has also been a visiting professor at El Colégio de México (2008, 2016, 2017), at the Universitat Jaume I, Spain (2010), at the Pontifícia Universidad Católica de Chile (2013), at the Universidad de
la República, Uruguay (2015) and at the Universidad Andina Simón Bolívar, Ecuador (2015, 2016). His work explores the history of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, especially the relationship between Brazil and Hispanic America; the national question and collective identities; and the history of historical times in Brazil and the wider Western World.


JHI 79:1 Available

The latest issue of the Journal of the History of Ideas, volume 9 number 1, is now available in print, and online at Project Muse. The table of contents is as follows:


Tricia M. Ross, “Anthropologia: An (Almost) Forgotten Early Modern History,” 1–22

Albert Gootjes, “The First Orchestrated Attack on Spinoza: Johannes Melchioris and the Cartesian Network in Utrecht,” 23–43

Daniel Steinmetz-Jenkins and Kevin Brookes, “The Many Liberalisms of Serge Audier,” 45–63

Elías Palti, “Revising History: Introduction to the Symposium on the Bicentennial of the Latin American Revolutions of Independence,” 65–71

Jeremy Adelman, “Empires, Nations, and Revolutions,” 73–88

Francisco A. Ortega, “The Conceptual History of Independence and the Colonial Question in Spanish America,” 89–103

Gabriel Entin, “Catholic Republicanism: The Creation of the Spanish American Republics during Revolution,” 105–23

Elías Palti, “Beyond the ‘History of Ideas’: The Issue of the ‘Ideological Origins of the Revolutions of Independence’ Revisited,” 125–41

Federica Morelli, “Race, Wars, and Citizenship: Free People of Color in the Spanish American Independence,” 143–56

João Paulo Pimenta, “History of Concepts and the Historiography of the Independence of Brazil: A Preliminary Diagnosis,” 157–68

Journal authors are always encouraged to submit a blog post about their article—or anything else—to JHIBlog. And if you’re a reader of JHIBlog, why not consider subscribing to the Journal? Subscription information is available at the Penn Press website, including information about special rates for students.