One of the things we find most consistent about socialism is its inconsistency, the ability to say one thing and do another with astonishing regularity. This was brought forcibly home to us when we came across the writings of Robert Owen, considered the first of the British line of socialism.
British socialism developed out of English liberal democracy in which a private sector élite is considered sovereign, not the people as a whole as in European liberal democracy, or each person as in American liberal democracy. Thus, while Owen claimed that people’s attitudes and beliefs are irrevocably dictated by their environment, he hinted that he and other members of the élite had somehow managed to free themselves of the unnatural shackles imposed by private property, organized religion, and marriage and family.
You see the contradiction. If people’s beliefs and actions are dictated by their environment, then Owen’s beliefs and actions were also dictated by his environment, which meant that they were as unnatural as those of everyone else!
Unless, of course, as a member of the élite, Owen was somehow different — which is substantiated by the fact that he claimed that private property must be abolished and retained ownership of the factories that made his fortune, and fought strenuously against turning over ownership of New Harmony to anyone except himself until he was paid in full (he lost that argument).
Owen was also agin’ marriage, but stayed married, although leaving his wife alone for extended periods. He was at least consistent in his rejection of religion, although he ended up a spiritualist talking to the ghosts of Benjamin Franklin, Thomas Jefferson, the Duke of Kent, and others, even after his medium was exposed as a fraud.
Anyway, one of the more bizarre proposals Owen made was presented in the third essay in his book, A New View of Society (1813). We will present it as Owen published it, and we will save our commentary for the next posting on this subject. Keep in mind that Owen claimed he formed his opinions at a very early age and never changed any of them:
|Children trained as soldiers, according to Robert Owen|
While, however, any part of mankind shall be taught that they form their own characters, and continue to be trained from infancy to think and act irrationally, that is, to acquire feelings of enmity, and to deem it a duty to engage in war, against those who have been instructed to differ from them in sentiments and habits; even the most rational must, for their personal security, learn the means of defence, and every community of such characters, while surrounded by men who have been thus improperly taught, should acquire a knowledge of the destructive art, that they may be enabled to overrule the actions of irrational beings, and maintain peace.
To accomplish these objects to the utmost practical limit, and with the least inconvenience, every male should be instructed how best to defend, when attacked, the community to which he belongs. And these advantages are only to be obtained by providing proper means to the instruction of all boys in the use of arms and the arts of war.
As an example how easily and effectively this might be accomplished over the British Isles, it is intended that the boys trained and educated in the Institution at New Lanark shall be thus instructed; that the person appointed to attend the children in the play-ground shall be qualified to drill and teach the boys the manual exercise, and that he shall be frequently so employed. That afterwards fire-arms of proportionate weight and size to the age and strength of the boys, shall be provided for them; when also they might be taught to practise and understand the more complicated military movements.
This exercise, properly administered, will greatly contribute to the health and spirits of the boys, give them an erect and proper form, and habits of attention, celerity and order. They will however be taught to consider the exercise an art rendered absolutely necessary by the partial insanity of some of their fellow-creatures, who, by the errors of their predecessors transmitted through preceding generations, have been taught to acquire feelings of enmity increasing to madness against those who could not avoid differing from them in sentiments and habits; that this art should never be brought into practice except to restrain the violence of such madmen; and in these cases it should be administered with the least possible severity; and solely to prevent the evil consequences of those rash actions of the insane, and if possible cure them of their disease.
As we said, we’ll present our commentary on this proposal in the next posting on this subject.#30#