Thursday, December 31, 2009


Marx was a teenager -- or still in short pants -- when Robert Owen had already had an economic theory that is hardly discussed today. Between 1824 and 1827 he and his sons and daughter helped to develop a community in the United States.

I decide to take a little detour on my way West. I am going by car, for personal reasons. I left yesterday from Southern Indiana. Why was I interested in New Harmony? I think both because it is connected with Robert Owen, who is one of the economics thinkers most congenial to me, and because of my concern for the issue of community, over and above individualism.

And of course Robert Owen too had these concerns. So he is a guy I like. And in his view it is not only the machinery, or profit, that is important to a business, but the people too. He thought his employees worth caring for too. That's different. Real different.

Usually, employers feel some need to subsume employee interests to interests such as those of profit. As if they're two different things. Or maybe people are just mean. Owen, however, did not have any such "need." Instead, he cared. That turns out to be illegal. I'm joking, but, anyway, he was vitally interested in the community, and also in "community." He cared about people and community as it applied to his profitable enterprise in Scotland, and for his whole life until old age. I don't find his theories half bad. These are preserved in his writings. Why, I wonder, has history forgot about him?

But the Indiana settlement New Harmony --- or New Harmonie --- is a little different. It is not a textile factory, or a factory that is operated on humane principles, but a settlement. It is retroactively referred to as a "utopian" "community." For those are the words in use at New Harmonie in hand-out literature and in the museum. That, in fact, fell apart. It was also a hothouse of scholars. As a community, it failed after not much more than two years. I am not completely sure what the whole idea was. There may have been some utopian ideas there. Also a lot of creativity and ferment. What they've done is preserve the place. After all it’s quite nice.

There is a good museum (in the words of Bob Dylan, "where infinity goes up on trial"); many have come together to preserve this place --- it has sponsors such as a nearby university and others. I had a good time --- hashing out some of the details of community and individualism. One of these is valorized, or glorified by our leaders today, the other utterly repressed or devalued. But the truth is, both are there in equal measure in humanity and always will be.

So, let's have a rousing cheer for good old utopian communism! Owen's kind of thinking did in fact make a lot of headway in the US, what we call America. His place in Indiana attracted great scholars, prominent individuals, in the 1820's, although you'd never know it had ever happened... ...unless you visit New Harmony.

Well, I hope you liked my brilliant piece
-and my thanks to the ladies there, who interacted with me, when I arrived, as the last visitor of the day.

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