Front Page Titles (by Subject) CHAPTER VII: Robert Owen and New Harmony - Socialistic Fallacies
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CHAPTER VII: Robert Owen and “New Harmony“ - Yves Guyot, Socialistic Fallacies 
Socialistic Fallacies (London: Cope and Fenwick, 1910).
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RObert Owen and “New Harmony“
M. Edward Dolleans, Professor of Political Economy in the University of Lille, has published an interesting and learned volume on Robert Owen. Robert Owen lived from 1771 to 1858. The son of a village labourer, he passed as an apprentice through various trades and businesses, and was selected at the age of twenty to direct the important fine thread manufactory of Messrs. Drinkwater, at Manchester. He developed this, and after leaving it in 1794, he married the daughter of a Scotchman called Dale, the owner of a large spinning mill at New Lanark, which he purchased and of which he assumed the control on January 10th, 1800, at the age of twenty-nine.
Robert Owen had imbued himself more or less conscientiously with the ideas of certain eighteenth century philosophers. He believed with Rousseau that man is born virtuous and that society has corrupted him, and that evil is inherent in institutions and not in man. He thought with Helvetius that all men possess the same degree of receptivity, so that man is the product of his surroundings with neither liberty nor responsibility of his own. It is necessary, therefore, to prevent evil and not to repress it. In order to prevent it, it is necessary to organise a machine into which every individual shall fit and perform the function which he sought to perform without realising it.
This conception is not new. The organisers of every religion have subjected their followers to dogma and ritual; by faith they destroy individual thought, by ritual they subject men to fixed mechanical observances. The repetition of impressions stores up a particular sentiment in a particular group of cells in the brain, which cause the performance of a particular definite act. Creeds, education, and military discipline never were and are not anything but the more or less systematic organisation of the phenomenon which is termed reflex action in the science of physiology. Owen furnishes an example. He is desirous of having the best machinery and the best cottons, but it is necessary to extract the greatest possible amount of advantage from them by means of a well-trained staff which is not overworked and is well fed and healthy, and is not enfeebled by drunkenness and disorderly living. He devotes himself to the well-being and the discipline of his workmen and prepares recruits for the future by undertaking the education of their children; but he does not interfere directly, although kept informed of the personal condition of his employees.
While holding that man is irresponsible and consequently ought not to be punished, he has recourse to a form of moral correction. Over each loom there hangs a square of wood, each side of which is painted a different colour, black, blue, yellow, and white. If the workman has misconducted himself on the preceding day, the colour which is exposed to view is black, if he has conducted himself well it is white. Owen by walking through the workshops sees at a glance upon the “telegraph” the condition of each of his employees, but he never remarks upon it to them.
The measures taken by Robert Owen, and his commercial practices, marked as they were by a niceness which inspired all the more confidence by reason of their unexpectedness, assured the success of his undertakings. But not content with doing good business, his desire was to transform the world.
In 1800 children were largely employed who belonged to the parish by virtue of the Poor Laws, and were cruelly over-worked. Owen, by precept and practice, showed how to reform the system under which they were abused, and on his competitors failing to follow his example he appealed to the legislature and obtained the Act of 1802, which formed an addition to the Poor Laws. He persevered and obtained the Act of 1817. He also desired to find a solution to the question of unemployed workmen during the crisis which followed the revolutionary wars.
Owen was never at a loss. He considered that the masses should be led by superiors, without enquiring into the origin of the right of control which he possessed, taking those who were out of work and making them inmates of “nurseries of men,” to use his own bold and characteristic expression.
Owen is an example of how a great captain of industry may thoroughly understand the conduct of his own business and may yet lose his footing when he meddles with politics. While himself employing the most highly perfected machinery, he looked upon machinery as the origin of the suffering of the workers, and in order to supply them with work he proposed to substitute the spade for the plough. This industrial worker dreamt bucolic dreams, and, considering agriculture to be the source of all riches and virtue, he desired to have the State organised as an agrarian community divided into communities of from 2,000 to 3,000 inhabitants, each of which should be self-contained and self-sufficient.
Owen was prepared to put his experiments to the proof, and did so at Motherwell, in Scotland, with a capital of £50,000. But M. Dolléans devotes himself to the study of a more important one of which full information is available—this was “New Harmony” in Indiana, U.S.A.
The point was to substitute a new organisation for an existing communistic organisation, namely, that of the Rappists. The Rappists had succeeded, but each of them desired to have his share of the capital of the Society instead of leaving it undistributed. This ending might have enlightened Owen as to the ultimate consequences of his experiment in admitting that everything there was for the best. He proceeded to the United States in 1825, and made a great to-do over his foundation. He enlisted Maclure, a rich American (who contributed 150,000 dollars), a number of philosophers, and eight hundred visionaries and persons of unsettled temperament, dreamers of either sex, each one of whom believed communism to be the ideal, provided that his system was accepted, as well as some adventurers and knights of industry.
On May 1st, 1825, the experimental or preliminary society was constituted. Every one is under a general duty to place his capacity at the service of the community, for each member of which an account is opened, the value of his services being carried to his credit and his various expenses to his debit. In the result this beautiful arrangement merely ended in the most complete anarchy. At the end of six months the industries left by the Rappists disappeared and there was neither labour nor control. Those who might feel disposed to work were unwilling to do so for the benefit of the idle. A large amount of discussion and disputation ensued, and a convention was nominated, which, on June 5th, 1826, adopted a constitution which confuses juridical and moral questions. It is preceded by a declaration of general principles, in the front rank of which there figure community of goods, equality of rights and of duties, sincerity and honesty in all acts, freedom from responsibility and the abolition of punishments and rewards.
The assembly, which consists of all the members of the community of either sex of more than twenty-one years of age, is possessed of legislative power; the executive power is vested in a council consisting of three ministers, elected by the assembly, and of a secretary, a treasurer, a commissary and six superintendents, each placed at the head of one of the six departments of the community. Who appoints these superintendents? Their subordinates of more than sixteen years of age, subject to ratification by the general assembly. This restriction was not sufficient to invest these departmental chiefs with authority, they were dependent for it upon those whom they employed, while at the same time it was their duty to furnish the executive council daily with their opinion upon the persons under their authority. It would be difficult to find an organization better adapted to promote impotence and dissensions.
When Owen returned after the lapse of a year, he found “New Harmony” in dissolution, but with remarkable optimism he did not despair. He accepted the dictatorship, but on April 15th, 1828, he was obliged to admit the failure of an experiment which had cost him personally 200,000 dollars. I will not exaggerate this negative result; it is obvious that the elements of which the population which came to make the experiment was composed were not the most suitable for ensuring its success. One is none the less entitled to enter it on the debit side of the communistic account.
These experiments failed to discourage this practical man from his visionary dreams. From 1834 until his death he published a weekly newspaper, the “New Moral World,” in which he persisted in proclaiming his unsectarian millennium, a new moral world which was to abolish individualistic competition in the interests of communism.