as you may have gathered, one of my little lines is nineteenth-century american reform movements. i turn to these because they were the last movements of the american "left" that directly endorsed individuality and political freedom that was not itself grounded in political oppression, that wasn't just an attempt to wield state power. one problem with this material, for my money, is that it was connected with the fad of "spiritualism," into which it almost disintegrated after the civil war, but which infested it long before. (cf perhaps victoria woodhull. but i was also shocked to come across letters by my dude josiah warren taking the whole thing very seriously. (his long island utopia modern times (=brentwood) was a big center of this kind of junk, but i'd though him pretty immune.)
there have been various accounts of why this should be so. spiritualism was more or less anti-christian or at a minimum extremely unorthodox, so it was theologically liberating. it has often been pointed out that the fad was dominated by women, and had a feminist tinge: its "clergy" was female, which was an important development. but to make the case for it as a sociological development, you have to overlook the fact that its practitioners were charlatans (i mean, actual frauds), its doctrines moronic. and that it was a distraction from actual political reform, a frittering away of the energies of serious, committed people into an ether emitted by themselves.
that's why i was pleased to come across this in thoreau's correspondence, from a letter to his sister sophia, july 13, 1852: