Walden Two is a utopic novel novel by the behavioralist psychologist B. F. Skinner, who rejected the philosophical concept of free will. The novel describes a small rural community that lives simply in nature, similar to the way Henry David Thoreau described in his 1854 book Walden. The community lives with an experimental attitude towards life and its members constantly strive for self-improvement. The government is democratic and its leaders live as simply as all the other citizens.
The first-person narrator and protagonist, Professor Burris, is a university instructor of psychology, who is approached by two young men (one a former student) sometime in the late 1940s. The young men are recent veterans of World War II and, intrigued by utopianism, express interest in an old acquaintance of Profess Burris, named T. E. Frazier, who in the 1930s started an intentional community that still thrives. Burris contacts Frazier, who invites them all to stay for several days to experience life in the supposedly utopian community. Venturing to the community, named Walden Two, the young men bring their girlfriends and Burris brings along 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 smug, talkative, and colorful character, guiding his new visitors around Walden Two and proudly explaining its socio-politico-economic structures and collectivist achievements. A wide range of intellectual topics such as behavioral modification, political ethics, educational philosophy, sexual equality (specifically, advocacy for women in the workforce), the common good, historiography, freedom and free will, the dilemma of determinism, fascism, American democracy, and Soviet communism are discussed and often debated among the self-satisfied Frazier, the skeptical and doubting Castle, and the quietly 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. Despite these behavior-guiding procedures during childhood, the adults of Walden Two indeed appear to be legitimately peaceful, productive, and happy people; they also appear to govern the course of their own lives.
Frazier delightedly explains that Walden Two's decision-making system is not authoritarian, anarchic, or even democratic. Except for a small fluctuating group of community organizers, called Planners (temporarily including Frazier), Walden Two has no real governing body; certainly, the Planners have no power to exercise violent force on the community, a feature that Frazier often praises. Each member of the community is apparently self-motivated, with an amazingly relaxed work schedule of only four average hours of work a day, directly supporting the common good and accompanied by the freedom to select a fresh new place to work each day. The members then use the large remainder of their time to engage in creative or recreational activities of their own choosing. The only money is a simple system of points that buys greater leisure periods in exchange for less desirable labor. Members automatically receive ample food and sleep, with higher needs met by nurturing one's artistic, intellectual, and athletic interests, ranging from music to literature and from chess to tennis.
As Burris and the other visitors tour the grounds, they discover that certain radically unusual customs have been established in Walden Two, quite bizarre to the American mainstream, but showing apparent success in the long run. Some of these customs include that children are raised communally, families are non-nuclear, free affection is the norm, and personal expressions of thanks are taboo. Such behavior is mandated by the community's individually self-enforced "Walden Code", a guideline for self-control techniques, which encourages members to credit all individual and other achievements to the larger community, while requiring minimal strain. Community counselors are also available to supervise behavior and assist members with better understanding and following the Code.
Excitedly, two of the young visitors sign up and are soon admitted as permanent members. Castle, though, has fostered a growing hunch that Frazier is somehow presenting a sham society or is in fact, secretly, a dictator. Defending the virtues of democracy, Castle finally confronts Frazier directly, accusing him of despotism, though he has no definitive proof. Frazier rebuts, on the contrary, that the vision for Walden Two is as a place safe from all forms of despotism, even the "despotism of democracy".
At some points, Frazier and Burris have pleasant talks in private, with Frazier revealing that other communities loosely associated with Walden Two have now cropped up, the most recent being Walden Six. Although enticed by Walden Two's obvious success as a peaceful community, Burris finds it difficult to look past Frazier's irritating pride and boastfulness about the community. During one conversation, Frazier admits to being boastful, but argues that his personality should not influence Burris's opinion of Walden Two and his own observations. By the end of their stay, the remaining visitors leave the community in a mostly impressed state of wonder, except for Castle, who has stubbornly settled on the idea that, somehow, Frazier is a scoundrel and the community is fraudulent.
During the visitors' trip back to the university, Burris ultimately decides in an inspired moment that he wishes to fully embrace the Walden Two lifestyle. Quickly abandoning his professorial post, Burris travels back in a long and spiritually satisfying journey on foot; he is welcomed once again to Walden Two with open arms.