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.
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