New Harmony in Indiana

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Robert Owen developed a co-operative culture among the workers in his textile mill in New Lanark, Scotland, and attempted to implement his vision in New Harmony, Indiana. His ideals did not create a new society, but their impact is still present.

Owen acknowledged that there are economic and social forces beyond our control that shape us. However, though education and reform, we can make adjustments. In 1817, his textile mill adopted eight hours of work, governed by his slogan “Eight hours labour, Eight hours recreation, Eight hours rest.” This was this same year that he spoke out against religion, asserting that they were all false. In 1824, he visited the US, hoping to spread his message across the Atlantic Ocean.

Also in 1824, a group called the Harmonists were looking to leave their land. They were a religious commune set up by George Rapp who established the town of Harmony, Indiana, in 1814. Robert Owen decided to buy the town in order to create “a New Moral World.” It would be renamed New Harmony.

Owen purchased the town in January 1825, but there were already inklings of disharmony. In a March 24, 1825 diary entry, his son William Owen wrote, “I doubt whether those who have been comfortable and content in their old mode of live will find an increase of enjoyment when they come here. How long it will require to accustom themselves to their new mode of living, I am unable to determine.”

It took two years for Owenites to determine that they would not get accustomed to it. The first arrivals came on the boat Philanthropist on January 26, 1826. They adopted “The New Harmony Community of Equality” as their constitution on February 5. It tried to arrange duties according to age, but lacked the details of how the duties would be implementes and the town would function. Labor remained unbalanced. It was typical micromanagement: fixating on what people should do instead of what they needed to do. New Harmony fissured in 1827, and Robert Owen went back to the UK.

In 1854, he apparently decided that not all religions were false and turned to spiritualism. The spirits of Benjamin Franklin and Thomas Jefferson gave him their advice. He followed suit after he died on November 17, 1858. Robert Owen dictated “The Seven Principles of Spiritualism” to Emma Hardinge Britten in 1871. He also serves as the namesake and spiritual forbearer for Chicago occultists The Owen Society for Hermetic and Spiritual Enlightenment.

Robert Owen’s vision for a just society remains, but perhaps he should not have expected to establish a socialist utopia in the land that spawned Mike Pence.

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