Robert Owen

Robert Owen was born in Wales on May 14, 1771. Although not endowed with capital at the outset, his skills as a manager on textile plants allowed him to become wealthy.

One of the founders of British socialism, Robert Owen brought some of his ideas about improving the conditions of workers to the United States when in 1824 he purchased land from the Harmonist Society and established New Harmony in Indiana. His extreme views, which for example did not condone the use of money in the community, created dissatisfaction and the experiment ended in 1828.

Owens' views on many topics put him in conflict with Americans, who tended to have entirely different opinions. For instance, in discussing he stated in 1844 that:

The impression made upon the mind of this old man respecting religion is, that upon this subject the world has been in error from the beginning, but that it is a natural and unalienable right in man to have the most unlimited religious liberty, provided he does not inter- fere with the liberty of others. That all that is really known on the subject of theology from the beginning of history is, that of necessity, there is an eternal uncreated power which accomplishes whatever has been, is, or may be done throughout the universe, and that civilized nations, so called, have agreed to call that great first uncreated power, God, to which term there can be no rational objection. But what God is, no man knows; it is a mystery past human penetration to find out; and the quarrels among the human race on the subject of this power, on theology, or religion, are proof how far the nations of the earth are yet from being rational in their thoughts or conduct.

In this view, he did not differ a great deal from Thomas Paine.

As a socialist, Owen originally was critical of both capitalism and the joint stock method of organizing, even for something as progressive as a utopian community. By 1845, he had changed his views so such an extent that, regarding this as a possible intermediate step towards attaining a perfect community, he wrote a letter, "To the Capitalista and Men of Extensive Practical Experience in New York." The letter appeared in the New York Daily Tribune on April 2, 1845. Owen made the following suggestion:

The expenditure of the capital in the way to be proposed would, by the mode of its application, double its value in four or five years and give most advantageous occupation to operatives of every description, create a demand for all kinds of materials, and insure beneficial employment for the unemployed females; in fact, place the continually increasing prosperity of these states on a solid foundation and prevent the recurrence of what is technically called "bad times" ever being known again.

Owens was probably too optimistic, but in any event, the capitalists did not respond with financial support.

Owens eventually returned to Britain and died in Wales, in the same town in which he was born, on November 17, 1858.

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