Walden Two

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Walden Two
Walden Two cover.jpg
Author B. F. Skinner
Country United States of America
Language English
Genre Science fiction, Utopian novel
Publisher Hackett Publishing Company
Publication date
Media type Print
Pages 301
ISBN ISBN 0-87220-779-X
OCLC 75310838

Walden Two is a utopian novel written by behavioral psychologist B. F. Skinner, first published in 1948. In its time, it could have been considered science fiction, since science-based methods for altering people's behavior did not yet exist.[1][2] Such methods are now known as applied behavior analysis.

Walden Two is controversial because its characters speak of a rejection of free will [3] and a rejection of the proposition that human behavior is controlled by a non-corporeal entity, such as a spirit or a soul.[4] Walden Two embraces the proposition that the behavior of organisms, including humans, is determined by environmental variables,[5] and that systematically altering environmental variables can generate a sociocultural system that very closely approximates utopia.[6]


The first-person narrator and protagonist, Professor Burris, is a university instructor of psychology, who is approached by a former student, Rogers, and Rogers's friend, Steve Jamnik, sometime in the late 1940s. The young men are recent veterans of World War II and, intrigued by utopianism, mention an old acquaintance of Burris, T. E. Frazier, who in the 1930s started an intentional community that still exists. Burris agrees to contact Frazier, who invites them all to stay for several days to experience life in the community. Rogers brings along his girlfriend, Barbra, Steve brings his, Mary, and Burris brings a colleague named Professor Castle, who teaches philosophy and ethics.

The rest of the book proceeds largely as a novel of ideas, mostly involving Frazier, a talkative and colorful character, guiding his new visitors around the properties of the community—called Walden Two—and proudly explaining its socio-politico-economic structures and collectivist achievements, including odd but apparently effective customs mandated by the community's individually self-enforced "Walden Code." Topics such as behavioral modification, political ethics, educational philosophy, women in the workforce, the common good, historiography, freedom and free will, the dilemma of determinism, American democracy, Soviet communism, and fascism are discussed and often debated among the self-satisfied Frazier, the skeptical Castle, and the intrigued Burris.

In effect, Walden Two operates using a flexible design, by continually testing the most successful, evidence-based strategies in order to organize the community. Frazier argues that Walden Two thus avoids the way that most societies collapse or grow dysfunctional: by remaining dogmatically rigid in their politics and social structure. He verifies Walden Two's success by pointing to its members' overall sense of happiness and freedom—thanks in part to a program of "behavioral engineering" begun at birth. Though the people of Walden Two are encouraged to credit all individual and group achievements to the larger community, they indeed appear to live legitimately peaceful, pleasant, and fulfilling lives.

Frazier boasts that Walden Two's decision-making system is not authoritarian, anarchic, or even democratic. Except for a small fluctuating committee of Planners, temporarily including Frazier, Walden Two has no real governing body that could exercise force to motivate its members, a feature that Frazier often praises. The members are apparently self-motivated, following a relaxed schedule of only four hours of work a day on average (with the freedom to select a new place to work each day); they use the large remainder of their time to happily engage in creative efforts or leisure activities of their own choosing.

Excitedly, Steve and Mary sign up and are soon admitted as permanent members. Meanwhile, Castle has fostered a growing hunch that Frazier is somehow presenting a sham society or is in fact a tyrannical dictator. Castle, a strong proponent of democracy, finally confronts Frazier, accusing him of despotism, though he has no definitive proof. Frazier rebuts, on the contrary, that his vision for Walden Two is as a place free of all forms of despotism, even the "despotism of democracy." Frazier and Burris sometimes talk in private, with Frazier revealing that other communities loosely associated with Walden Two have now cropped up, the most recent being Walden Six. During one conversation, Frazier correctly intuits that Burris is wary of his conceited personality, but urges that Burris not let this influence his opinion of Walden Two and its success as a peaceful, functional society.

By the end, the remaining visitors depart the community in a mostly impressed state of wonder, except for Castle, who has smugly settled on the truth of his conspiracy theories. During his trip back to the university, Burris ultimately decides in an inspired moment that he wishes to fully embrace the Walden Two lifestyle. Abandoning his professorial post, he then travels on foot to Walden Two and, after a long journey, he is welcomed back with open arms.

The community[edit]

The novel describes "an experimental community called Walden Two".[7][8] The community is located in a rural area and "has nearly a thousand members".[9] The community encourages its members "to view every habit and custom with an eye to possible improvement" and to have "a constantly experimental attitude toward everything".[10] The culture of Walden Two can be changed if experimental evidence favors proposed changes. The community emulates (on a communal scale) the simple living and self-sufficiency that Henry David Thoreau practiced (on an individual scale) at Walden Pond, as described in his 1854 book Walden. Walden Two engages in behavioral engineering of young children that aims toward cooperative relationships and the erasure of competitive sentiments. The community has also dissolved the nuclear family through placing the responsibility of child-rearing in the hands of the larger community and not just the child's parents or immediate family.

The members[edit]

The community members are happy, productive, and creative; happiness derives from the promotion of rich social relationships and family life, free affection, the creation of art, music, and literature, opportunity for games of chess and tennis, and ample rest, food, and sleep. The community is self-governed; the members subscribe to the Walden Code of self-control techniques, which allow maintaining a happy, productive life in Walden Two with minimal strain. Self-governance, however, is supplemented with community counselors who supervise behaviour and are available to help the members with their problems in following the Walden Code. Many of the Walden Code rules, such as a general mandate to avoid expressions of personal gratitude, seem bizarre to members of mainstream American society.

Community governance[edit]

Walden Two consists of four loose groupings or classes of people (though they are not akin to strict economic classes): Planners, Managers, Workers, and Scientists. Walden Two has a constitution that "can be changed by a unanimous vote of the Planners and a two-thirds vote of the Managers".[11] The constitution provides for a "Board of Planners", which is Walden Two's "only government,"[12] though the power they wield only amounts to that, approximately, of effective community organizers. "Board of Planners" is a name that "goes back to the days when Walden Two existed only on paper".[12] "There are six Planners, usually three men and three women".[12] "The Planners are charged with the success of the community. They make policies, review the work of the Managers (heads of each area of labor), keep an eye on the state of the nation in general. They also have certain judicial functions."[12] A Planner "may serve for ten years, but no longer."[12] A vacancy on the Board of Planners is filled by the Board "from a pair of names supplied by the Managers".[12]

Frazier and five other people constitute the current Board of Planners during Burris's visit to Walden Two. Planners hold office in staggered, limited terms. They do not rule with any kind of force and are so opposed to creating a cult of personality, system of favoritism, or other consequences that would go against the common good that they do not publicly announce their office, and, likewise, most of the community members do not even bother to know the Planners' identities. The Planners live as modestly as the other members of the community; ostentatious displays of wealth and status are simply not compatible with Walden Two's egalitarian culture.

Managers, meanwhile, are "specialists in charge of the divisions and services of Walden Two".[12] A member of the community can "work up to be a Manager--through intermediate positions which carry a good deal of responsibility and provide the necessary apprenticeship".[13] The Managers are not elected by the members of Walden Two in any kind of democratic process.[13] The method of selecting Managers is not specified; however, since the Board of Planners is Walden Two's "only government",[12] it is reasonable to suppose that Managers are appointed by the Board of Planners.

The regular community members may also be called Workers, leaving the final group within Walden Two: the Scientists, who conduct experiments "in plant and animal breeding, the control of infant behavior, educational processes of several sorts, and the use of some of [Walden Two's] raw materials".[14] Scientists are the least discussed group; little is said about the selection, total number, specific duties, or methods of the Scientists, though it is again reasonable to suppose that Scientists are appointed by the Board of Planners.

Thoreau's Walden[edit]

Walden Two's title is a reference to Henry David Thoreau's book Walden. In the novel, the Walden Community is mentioned as having the benefits of living in a place like Thoreau's Walden, but "with company". It is, as the book says, 'Walden for two' - meaning a community and not a place of solitude. Originally, Skinner indicated that he wanted to title it The Sun is but a Morning Star, a quote of the last sentence of Thoreau's Walden,[15] but the publishers suggested the current title as an alternative. In theory and in practice, Thoreau's Walden experiment and the Walden Two experiment were far different from one another. For instance, Thoreau's Walden espouses the virtues of self-reliance at the individual level, while Walden Two espouses (1) the virtues of self-reliance at the community level, and (2) Skinner's underlying premise that free will of the individual is weak compared to how environmental conditions shape behavior.

The cover of Walden Two, shown above, includes an "O" filled with yellow ink, with yellow lines radiating from the center of the "O". That Sun-like "O" is an allusion to the proposition that "The sun is but a morning star".[citation needed]

News From Nowhere, 1984[edit]

Skinner published a follow-up to Walden Two in an essay titled News From Nowhere, 1984. It details the discovery of Eric Blair in the community who seeks out and meets Burris, confessing his true identity as George Orwell. Blair seeks out Frazier as the 'leader' and the two have discussions which comprise the essay. Blair was impressed by Walden Two's "lack of any institutionalized government, religion, or economic system", a state of affairs that embodied "the dream of nineteenth-century anarchism".[16]

Real-world efforts[edit]

Many efforts to create a Walden Two in real life are detailed in Hilke Kuhlmann's Living Walden Two[17] and in Daniel W. Bjork's B.F. Skinner.[18]

Some of these efforts include:

  • 1955 In New Haven, Connecticut a group led by Arthur Gladstone tries to start a community.
  • 1966 Waldenwoods conference is held in Hartland, Michigan, comprising 83 adults and 4 children, coordinated through the Breiland list (a list of interested people who wrote to Skinner and were referred to Jim Breiland).
  • 1966 Matthew Israel forms the Association for Social Design (ASD), to promote a Walden Two,[19] which soon finds chapters in Los Angeles, Albuquerque, and Washington, D.C..
  • 1967 Israel's ASD forms the Morningside House in Arlington, Massachusetts.[20]
  • 1967 Twin Oaks Community (website) is started in Louisa County, Virginia.
  • 1969 Keith Miller in Lawrence, Kansas founds a 'Walden house' [21] student collective that becomes The Sunflower House 11.
  • 1971 Roger Ulrich starts "an experimental community named Lake Village in Kalamazoo, Michigan".[22][23]
  • 1971 Los Horcones (website) is started in Hermosillo, Mexico.
  • 1972 Sunflower House 11 is (re)born in Lawrence, Kansas from the previous experiment.
  • 1973 East Wind (website) in south central Missouri.[24]

Twin Oaks is detailed in Kat Kinkade's book, A Walden Two experiment: The first five years of Twin Oaks Community.[25] Originally started as a Walden Two community, it has since rejected its Walden Two position, however it still uses its modified Planner-Manager system as well as a system of labor credits based on the book.

Los Horcones does not use the Planner-Manager governance system described in Walden Two. They refer to their governance system as a "personocracy".[26] This system has been "developed through ongoing experimentation".[27] In contrast to Twin Oaks, Los Horcones "has remained strongly committed to an experimental science of human behavior and has described itself as the only true Walden Two community in existence."[28] In 1989, B. F. Skinner said that Los Horcones "comes closest to the idea of the 'engineered utopia' that he put forth in Walden Two".[29]

Cultural engineering[edit]

Skinner wrote about cultural engineering in at least two books, devoting a chapter to it in both Science and Human Behavior and Beyond Freedom and Dignity. In Science and Human Behavior[30] a chapter is titled "Designing a Culture" and expands on this position as well as in other documents. In Beyond Freedom and Dignity there are many indirect references to Walden Two when describing other cultural designs.


Hilke Kuhlmann's Living Walden Two possesses many subtle and not-so-subtle criticisms of the original Walden Two which are related to the actual efforts that arose from the novel. One criticism is that many of the founders of real-life Walden Twos identified with, or wanted to emulate, Frazier, the uncharismatic and implicitly despotic founder of the community.

In a critique of Walden Two, Harvey L. Gamble, Jr. asserted that Skinner's "fundamental thesis is that individual traits are shaped from above, by social forces that create the environment", and that Skinner's goal "is to create a frictionless society where individuals are properly socialized to function with others as a unit", and to thus "make the community [Walden Two] into a perfectly efficient anthill".[31] Gamble writes, "We find at the end of Walden Two that Frazier [a founding member of Walden Two]... has sole control over the political system and its policies. It is he who regulates food, work, education, and sleep, and who sets the moral and economic agenda." However, contrary to Gamble's critique, it should be noted that neither Frazier nor any other person has the sole power to amend the constitution of Walden Two. See the "Community governance" section, above.

Publication details[edit]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Skinner, B.F. (1986). "Some Thoughts About the Future". Journal of the Experimental Analysis of Behavior, 45(2), p. 229. "What the protagonist in Walden Two called a behavioral technology was at the time still science fiction, but it soon moved into the real world."
  2. ^ Skinner, B.F. (1948). Walden Two. Indianapolis: Hackett Publishing Company. Revised 1976 edition, page vi. ISBN 0-87220-779-X. "The 'behavioral engineering' I had so frequently mentioned in the book was, at the time, little more than science fiction".
  3. ^ Aschner, Mary Jane McCue (1965). "The Planned Man: Skinner". The Educated Man: Studies in the History of Educational Thought. Paul Nash, Andreas M. Kazamias, and Henry J. Perkinson (Editors). John Wiley & Sons, pp. 389–421. "Public reaction to Walden Two, with its proposal for planned man, was initially slow. But eventually Skinner found himself at the storm center of a controversy that has scarcely abated to this day. Philosophers and psychologists charged into the latest jousting match in the perennial tourney between proponents of determinism and defenders of free will". p. 402.
  4. ^ Ivie, Stanley D. (2006). "Models and Metaphors". Journal of Philosophy and History of Education 56, pp. 82–92. Retrieved August 23, 2012. "Skinner’s system does not provide for a God or a human soul". p. 88.
  5. ^ Skinner, B.F. (1938). The Behavior of Organisms: An Experimental Analysis. Cambridge, Massachusetts: B.F. Skinner Foundation. ISBN 1-58390-007-1, ISBN 0-87411-487-X.
  6. ^ Skinner, B.F. (1971). Beyond Freedom and Dignity. Knopf. ISBN 0394425553, ISBN 978-0394425559.
  7. ^ Skinner, B. F. (1985). "News From Nowhere, 1984". The Behavior Analyst, 8(1), pp. 5–14. "My name is Burris. I live in an experimental community called Walden Two". p. 5.
  8. ^ Altus, Deborah E., and Morris, Edward K. (2009). "B. F. Skinner's Utopian Vision: Behind and Beyond Walden Two". The Behavior Analyst, 32(2), pp. 319–335. B. F. Skinner regarded Walden Two as his "book about an experimental community". p. 320.
  9. ^ Walden Two, p. 18.
  10. ^ Walden Two, p. 25.
  11. ^ Walden Two, p. 254.
  12. ^ a b c d e f g h Walden Two, p. 48.
  13. ^ a b Walden Two, p. 49.
  14. ^ Walden Two, p. 49–50.
  15. ^ Thoreau, Henry David (1854). Walden; or, Life in the woods. Boston, Massachusetts: Ticknor and Fields. "The sun is but a morning star." p. 357.
  16. ^ Skinner, B.F. (1985). "News From Nowhere, 1984". The Behavior Analyst, 8(1), p. 6.
  17. ^ Kuhlmann, Hilke (2005). Living Walden Two. University of Illinois Press. ISBN 0-252-02962-3.
  18. ^ Bjork, Daniel W. (1997). B.F. Skinner: A Life. American Psychological Association. ISBN 978-1-55798-416-6. 
  19. ^ "New Walden II Will Open in Fall". The Harvard Crimson, March 9, 1968. Retrieved August 25, 2012.
  20. ^ Gonnerman, Jennifer (August 20, 2007). "Matthew Israel Interviewed by Jennifer Gonnerman". Mother Jones (magazine). Retrieved August 25, 2012.
  21. ^ Feallock, R. and Miller, L. K. (1976). "The design and evaluation of a worksharing system for experimental group living". Journal of Applied Behavior Analysis, 9(3), pp. 277–288.
  22. ^ Ulrich, Roger E. (1973). Toward Experimental Living. Available on microfiche at Western Michigan University, Kalamazoo, Michigan.
  23. ^ Bonfiglio, Olga (July 3, 2011). "Lake Village Homestead Farm celebrates its 40th year in operation". Kalamazoo Gazette. MLive Media Group. Retrieved August 26, 2012.
  24. ^ Ramsey, Richard David (December 1979). Morning Star: The Values-Communication of Skinner's Walden Two. Unpublished doctoral dissertation; Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, Troy, NY. Available from University Microfilms International, Ann Arbor, MI.
  25. ^ Kinkade, Kathleen (1973). A Walden Two experiment: The first five years of Twin Oaks Community. William Morrow and Company. ISBN 0-688-00020-7.
  26. ^ Comunidad Los Horcones (February 25, 2012). "Communities Directory". Fellowship for Intentional Community, Retrieved August 23, 2012. "We value the participation of all members in decision making. We call our organization 'personocracy'".
  27. ^ Sanguinetti, Angela (2012). "The Design of Intentional Communities: A Recycled Perspective on Sustainable Neighborhoods". Behavior and Social Issues, 21, pp. 5-25. "The Walden Two-inspired community of Los Horcones in Sonora, Mexico, proclaims an egalitarian system of governance developed through ongoing experimentation, called 'Personocracy' (Los Horcones), which they describe as equitable and unrestricted access to power, participation, and responsibility." p. 20.
  28. ^ Lamal, Peter (2009). "From Rats and Pigeons to Cultural Practices: A Review of Beyond the Box: B. F. Skinner's Technology of Behavior from Laboratory to Life, 1950s to 1970s". Behavior and Social Issues, 18, p. 176.
  29. ^ Rohter, Larry (November 7, 1989). "Isolated Desert Community Lives by Skinner's Precepts". The New York Times. 
  30. ^ Skinner, B.F. (1953). Science and Human Behavior, Chapter XXVIII: "Designing a Culture". Cambridge, Massachusetts: B.F. Skinner Foundation. Paperback edition: Free Press (March 1, 1965). ISBN 0029290406, ISBN 978-0029290408.
  31. ^ Gamble, Harvey L., Jr., (1999). "Walden Two, Postmodern Utopia, and the Problems of Power, Choice, and the Rule of Law". Texas Studies in Literature and Language, 41(1), p. 3. Retrieved September 19, 2009 from accessmylibrary.com

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