Father George Rapp of Pennsylvania and Robert Owen of New Lanark, Scotland each hoped their visions for Mankind would manifest in New Harmony, Indiana. Rapp’s vision involving Christ’s Second Coming and Owen’s involving a world without any traditional religions look different but have similar dreams at their base. A world without private property ownership was one of the major goals for both.
I will leave an analysis of Rapp’s grand plans to the theologians. As to Owen’s, I defer to the philosophers but will refer to Robert Owen, A View of Society and Other Writings edited by Gregory Glaeys who is a Professor of History at Royal University of London and a recognized authority on Robert Owen.
According to Glaeys, Robert Owen (1771-1858) was one of the greatest British social reformers and was a pioneer in schemes for humane factory management, the eight-hour workday and the education of the poor. Owen even now remains respected as a pioneer socialist, feminist and advocate of an ecological approach to industry and urban life.
One of the most interesting ironies of the connections between the philosophies of Rapp and Owen and New Lanark and New Harmony is that the clergy was one of Owen’s fiercest opponents. Yet elements of Rapp’s Christian thought and Owen’s abhorrence of Christianity and all other organized religions intertwine, especially their mutual calls for a new world order and disdain for economic competition and individualism. Perhaps that was why and how Owen and Rapp knew of one another and what led to Owen in New Lanark, Scotland buying Rapp’s town of New Harmony, Indiana.
Glaeys describes that transaction as follows:
“In 1825 he (Owen) purchased a ready-made community set on 20,000 acres in southern Indiana from a pietistic German sect, the Rappites. At New Harmony he spent about 40,000 pounds (about $240,000) or four fifths of his New Lanark fortune in a fruitless effort to organize a disparate group of about 800 radicals, freethinkers, backwoodsmen and scientists.”
Unfortunately, too many of the 800 thought Owen’s utopian concept simply meant they could do nothing and Owen would support them. These ingrates had ample reason for this attitude based on Owen’s own creed as set forth in his Manifesto:
“Individual and national competition and contest are the best modes (under the then existing circumstances) by which wealth can be created and distributed.
But it is obtained by creating and calling into full action, the most inferior feelings, the meanest faculties, the worst passions, and the most injurious vices which can be cultivated in human nature.”
Owen sought a system of production and distribution that called for “…[T]he least labour to all members of a society, and especially with the least amount of unhealthy and disagreeable employment.”
Well, Gentle Reader, you can probably see how such an experiment might turn out. You are right. In about two years Owen’s heaven on earth was more akin to Purgatory. And Owen’s insistence on a strict compliance to his principles on his terms did not engender enthusiastic compliance. Or as the ancient Greeks might have observed, hubris is a mortal flaw.
There is so much more to Robert Owen and the symbiotic relationship between New Lanark, Scotland and New Harmony, Indiana than can be crammed within a few newspaper columns. However if you care to hang around awhile I plan to cram some stuff into my next few epistles.
But before the following weeks’ offerings, I must address last week’s column thanks to our friend and Robert Owen authority, Linda Warrum from New Harmony. Linda read last week’s column and offered some advice. First, Linda, thanks for reading Gavel Gamut; you have doubled my audience. Secondly, thanks for pointing out not all of Robert Owen’s children were given the middle name of Dale and Father Rapp’s group were not German Lutherans but Pietists who, “…[E]mphasized personal piety over religious formality and the orthodoxy of the Lutheran Church.” It was nice of Linda to both read Gavel Gamut and respond.
Those of you who have had the pleasure of visiting New Harmony, Indiana and those of us privileged to live there know its Anglo-Saxon origins include a huge debt to Robert Owen of New Lanark, Scotland. Owen made his fortune milling textiles and yarn in New Lanark and used a great deal of his money to buy New Harmony from the German Lutheran community led by Father George Rapp. Owen based his dream for mankind on the non-religious philosophies of the Enlightenment. The influences of both the Rappites and Owenites have been deeply woven into the two unique experiments that resulted in today’s New Harmony.
Peg and I were somewhat aware of Robert Owen and his progressive policies on fair treatment for his employees in the New Lanark mills. But frankly, I had always thought the true Owen visionary was Robert’s son, Robert Dale Owen, who was a United States Congressman, a delegate to Indiana’s 1850-1852 Constitutional Convention and a passionate advocate for Women’s Rights and the abolition of slavery. Of course, Robert Dale was a visionary but Peg and I discovered when we visited New Lanark, Scotland two weeks ago that the origin of the son’s great passions was from the father.
All of Robert Owen’s children were given the middle name of “Dale” which was their mother’s maiden name. Caroline nee Dale Owen’s father, David Dale, was himself an innovator in methods of textile production. Robert Owen married the boss’s daughter and eventually owned controlling interest in the New Lanark mills which continue to produce great quantities of yarn today.
Some of you know Peg is an excellent knitter whose felted hats, mittens, purses and other creations are much sought after. Of course, she can only create one item at a time and her efforts to teach me “knit” from “purl” and “cast off” have been a great disappointment to her. However, New Lanark with its cornucopia of colors and textures was, forgive me Robert, heavenly. The manager of the gift shop in New Lanark was so impressed and excited by the photos of Peg’s creations Peg showed her she wants Peg to make items for the shop. We will soon be receiving a huge shipment of New Lanark yarn in New Harmony.
It also made us feel as if we were returning to New Lanark instead of visiting it for the first time when we were housed in “The New Harmony Suite” at the New Lanark Hotel. It was marvelous and felt like home.
When Peg and I toured the beautiful areas of New Lanark it was an almost mystical feeling. New Lanark is certainly different from New Harmony but it felt comfortable and somehow reassuring. New Lanark’s buildings reminded us of the dormitories, Granary and other structures in New Harmony. The River Clyde that powered David Dale’s original mill rushes through the town and is integral to its character much as the Wabash River is to New Harmony. But the connections between the two small towns, both of which have produced much original thought, are much more direct and concrete than merely emotional.
Robert and Caroline Owen’s large brick home is right beside the working factory. When Peg and I entered the home it felt much as the brick homes in New Harmony today. But it was the full New Harmony homage set out in the basement that showed without need for explanation the almost two hundred years of cultural intertwining between New Lanark, Scotland and New Harmony, Indiana. The numerous documents and photographs concerning New Harmony and especially the continuously running video portrayal of the contributions back and forth made Peg and me feel as if we had just sat down for coffee with our friends at Sara’s Harmony Way coffee shop in New Harmony.
So it appears to Peg and me and to other friends of ours from New Harmony, such as Nathan and Jeanne Maudlin who have also been to New Lanark and strongly recommended we put it on our Scotland vacation itinerary, that Thomas Wolfe’s melancholy lament may be wrong. Perhaps “you can go home again” if you are from New Harmony and go to New Lanark.
The Constitutional Convention was held in Philadelphia in 1787. The delegates kept the proceedings secret to avoid, “licentious publications of their proceedings.” James Madison, the Father of the Constitution, stated that no Constitution would have ever been adopted if the debates had been public. Remarkably, for four months the secrecy was maintained.
Can you imagine the motives CNN, FOX and MSNBC would have projected upon George Washington, et. al.? No delegate would have escaped the allegations of lying or even treason to the Revolution.
But inside the Convention the fifty-five delegates, half of whom were lawyers, debated the most volatile issues of the day. Slavery, whether we would have one-man-one-vote or an electoral college, large states versus small states, foreign attachments, the establishment of courts, provision for national defense and many others. How did they do it?
Of course, I do not know. However, I am pretty sure no one was called a liar for stating his views and no one was ascribed venal motives. Most likely George Washington as the presiding officer of the Convention made sure each delegate had an opportunity to present his views and everyone else had an opportunity to respond.
Maybe it is because I am a judge and once practiced law but it seems likely to me the Constitutional Convention proceeded much as a court case. First an issue would be brought up, States’ Rights for example, then each delegate who wished to would state his position. Then, after extensive but civilized debate a vote would be taken.
This time honored approach to resolving controversies has served the legal system and America well for over two hundred years. First define the issues for resolution, a criminal trial for example, then allow each side to fully present their views without threats or name-calling.
I humbly suggest this same respectful approach will work in every conversation from government to individuals. Shouting down or using force to prevent those one disagrees with from speaking will not result in the kind of result we achieved in 1787.
As I was writing this column I received an email and an attachment from my friend Jerry Wade of New Harmony, Indiana who used to live in New York City and who still subscribes to the New York Times.
Jerry must have been really bored recently because he has obviously been following my column about our country’s increasingly uncivil discourse. Jerry sent me an article by Bret Stephens that appeared as an opinion editorial in The Times. It contained an excellent analysis of the current climate surrounding “Freedom of Speech”, a.k.a., “If you don’t agree with me, you must be crazy!”
I will share a small portion of Stephens’ article with you.
“We disagree about racial issues, bathroom policy, health care laws and, of course, the 45th president. We express our disagreements in radio and cable rants in ways that are increasingly virulent; street and campus protests that are increasingly violent; and personal conversations that are increasingly embittering.”
Stephens does suggest a solution:
“… [T]o disagree well you must first understand well. You have to read deeply, listen carefully, watch closely. You need to grant your adversary moral respect; give him the intellectual benefit of doubt; have sympathy for his motives and participate empathically with his line of reasoning. And you need to allow for the possibility that you might yet be persuaded of what he has to say.”
In other words, to have productive intellectual discourse we have to first concentrate on being civil.
After writing this column for twenty-seven years I can easily delude myself into believing that the reason no one writes in with complaints is because people agree with my opinions. Of course, I am fully aware a more likely reason is because no one reads them.
Be that as it may, should you have read “Gavel Gamut” recently you know the general topic has been the state of discourse and discussion in America. More to the point, why do so many people seem so angry with people whose only sin is to voice an opinion with which others disagree?
While even every day conversations among friends now sometimes turn into shouting matches and hurt feelings, the worst practitioners of “My way or the highway” are the cable television news anchors and the editorial writers of large newspapers. These pundits with public pulpits who are purveyors of pusillanimous perfidy often take it upon themselves to state as a fact that some statement by some public figure is false. Frequently no foundation is laid and no leeway is given for a statement being a mistake.
Usually the public figure who is maligned as mendacious, not misguided, has no opportunity to respond. An attack is launched and in our contemporary world of instant Internet access by millions of ill informed users the attack becomes the reality.
An electorate that forms its opinions on such marshy grounds might support government actions which are anathema to our nation’s welfare. Also, a steady diet of such diatribes could result in a backlash against the First Amendment. That would truly lead to a national disaster.
I know calling for self-policing by the media could morph into a call for government policing of the media. So what alternatives do we have? There are many, of course, but I would like to suggest we encourage the application of a few self-imposed procedures that might help make our current hostile environment more positive.
These procedures are neither secret nor complicated and have been slowly and carefully crafted over many years. Well, maybe next week.
Once upon a time one could read a newspaper or listen to the radio or watch television and get information on current events. One might hear a report about our nation’s involvement in a war for example. I was born in 1943 so my first war memory is from Korea. Perhaps Korea might provide war tocsin again.
Anyway, I recall news reports about General MacArthur and President Truman. I do not recall anybody calling anybody else a liar for expressing their views or positions. Issues as raw and visceral as Commander-In-Chief versus commander in the field were discussed and analyzed without resort to epithets. About the worst MacArthur ever said about Truman was he was only a captain in WWII and about the worst Truman ever said about MacArthur, even as he relieved him of command, was that MacArthur failed to salute him.
The conversations and arguments as to the relative merits of civilian control over the military and the authority of Congress to declare war were presented as honorable people with differing views. I do not recall my parents or my teachers in school using ad hominem arguments instead of evidence-based analysis. In other words, each side accepted their views were merely opinions based on facts, as were the opposition’s views. Neither side was so sure of its own omniscience and the other side’s venality as to assert its own opinions were synonymous with unmitigated facts.
While I was not sent to Vietnam I did serve in the military during that war. When I returned to my college campus after receiving my honorable discharge, the country was embroiled in a bitter and divisive argument about the draft and the war.
When Vice President Hubert Humphrey came to IU to present the Administration’s position on the war, students protested but without violence and without accusing the speaker of false motives. Most students were against the war and our government was supporting it. It took millions of arguments and another several years but finally we left Vietnam. I never heard Humphrey call any students liars nor did I or any of my fellow students attempt to prevent him from speaking. We certainly felt free to disagree and to loudly say so.
The media reports of the latter half of the 1960’s and first half of the 1970’s were often hard hitting on the recitation of facts with which President Johnson was confronted. But I never heard a national news figure say about the President, “He flat out lied!” Such argument quashing language was reserved for pool halls and bar room brawls.
So, assuming I may be at least somewhat correct in my impressions that our civil society is now just a society, how did we get here? You probably have a thought or two on this topic. If so, you probably have plenty of friends and family who never let you voice them. I know I do. Thank goodness I can get my views published in several newspapers. Well, at least, I think that’s a good thing.
As lifetime members of the Indiana University Alumni Association Peg and I receive IU’s magazine which usually is devoid of substance and replete with solicitations for even more money. I normally toss it in the trash with a casual glance. However, this Fall 2017 edition contained an essay by C.J. Lotz titled “Fighting Words” which took up the issues surrounding the questions being asked by every Talking Head. Of course, no one really wants to know what anyone else thinks so right after the questions are raised the Talking Heads answer them for us as they wish. The main question is, “Are we becoming an ever more polarized society?” The question the Talking Heads deign to answer for us is, “Why?” It is simply assumed that we are.
Frequently someone opines that we are in the midst of the most fractured, volatile social and political environment America has ever experienced. Such a priori statements reek with irony. The people who boldly assert such an evaluation are themselves adding to the fracturing. Often there is neither citation of facts nor any attempt at logical analysis. The nearest thing to a thought process is an assessment of blame. Targets might include everything from a nasty election to Hurricane Harvey being the wrath of the gods for the outcome of the election.
While Hurricane Harvey has neither mind nor soul, it does remind one of the kind of natural disaster the gods of the Bible or those of Ancient Greece might use to send a message. Harvey’s destruction struck at the just and unjust without discrimination. Such an approach is similar to the types of statements you can hear every day in our national and interpersonal discourse. You will notice I did not say we were engaged in argument. Arguments entail clashing viewpoints. What we so often witness today are simple pronouncements as if from Olympus.
The past two years have witnessed the kind of hyperbole and vitriol one might expect from the buildup to a professional boxing or wrestling match. Take the recent bout between the boxer, Floyd Mayweather, and Mixed Martial Arts fighter, Conor McGregor. Mayweather made $300,000,000 and McGregor $100,000,000. With four letter words and gross threats of physical harm the pre-fight “conversation” sounded like two twelve year olds in a school yard. It reminded me of CNN’s Wolf Blitzer and FOX’s Sean Hannity yelling out fake news. On the other hand the banal invective did help gin up lots of money from red meat loving fans, which of course, is the objective of the news media too.
Fighting words by groups and individuals are our society’s replacement for the kind of physical fighting that once was used to quell disagreements. Each side of a dispute would choose a champion, a mounted knight for example, then the two champions would fight to the death of one of them. The survivor won the argument. In other words, might did make right or as we might observe today, one side was right because it won, not won because it was right. There are often no nuances to our contemporary verbal clashes. It is all or nothing.
What is more concerning are the motives each side projects onto the other. It is simply assumed the opposition is lying and venal. The possibility of an honest mistake or another reasonable alternative is not considered.
Perhaps such a development in our national and personal discourse is itself subject to interpretation as suggested by the IU publication. So, if you have nothing of particular interest to do for awhile perhaps you might want to take an Odyssey with me for a week or so in search of constructive conversation.