As we saw in the previous posting on this subject, Robert Owen, the Father of Modern Socialism (and Communism) wanted to establish and maintain a perfect society in this life, a constant theme of socialism for the past two centuries and more. Since he believed that people are formed entirely by their environment, all that is necessary to create the perfect society (so he claimed) is to abolish religion, marriage, and private property. Everything will then be perfect.
|Robert Owen: Prophet of the New Vision of Society|
Owen’s weakness was not, however, in his logic, which followed more or less consistently from his badly flawed premises, but that he exempted from its conclusions both himself and any evidence that contradicted it. As one biographer noted a few years after Owen’s death in 1858, Owen divided humanity into three categories. These were, 1) the poor, who are prone by their environment to vice and crime, 2) the rest of humanity, who have been brainwashed by their environment to believe things they do not practice and so are all hypocrites and frauds, and 3) Robert Owen, “who alone sees the true condition of things, and to whom alone the secret of the remedy has been revealed.” (Frederick Adolphus Packard, Life of Robert Owen. Philadelphia, Pennsylvania: Ashmead and Evans, 1866, 65-66.)
As with all socialists (even before the term was coined cir. 1832), Owen’s goal was what is generally categorized as “the Kingdom of God on Earth.” All traditional religion was to be abolished and all the efforts of society were to be directed to the material and moral improvement of society as a whole, with special emphasis on the poor.
|Saint-Simon: Prophet of the New Christianity|
Owen’s goal was therefore indistinguishable from that of Henri de Saint-Simon, although — consistent with the habit socialist messiahs have of wanting to be thought original — Saint-Simon gave no credit to Owen, whose ideas antedated Saint-Simon’s Le Nouveau Christianisme, published posthumously in 1825. Both Owen and Saint-Simon wanted a religion purged of its religious elements, what Saint-Simon called “the New Christianity” and Fulton Sheen a century later would call “Religion Without God,” the title of his second book.
Interestingly, where Owen and Saint-Simon wanted to eliminate traditional religion and abolish God as God, de Lamennais, a much more profound, even brilliant thinker (although, as Alexis de Tocqueville observed, having a gargantuan ego that dwarfed even that of Owen) focused his efforts on abolishing man as man. In both cases the common goal was the creation of a perfect social order in this life.
Charles Fourier admired Owen’s work which, unlike his own, seemed to have achieved a large measure of success. When Owen announced that, discouraged by the refusal of other manufacturers in England or parliament to adopt his ideas — including removing God from the Church of England (although he downplayed that aspect of his proposals when making his presentations to members of parliament. . . .), he was arranging to establish a socialist colony in the United States (what became New Harmony, Indiana), Fourier applied for the job of CEO of the project. Being rejected by an underling (Owen had never heard of Fourier and instructed someone to get rid of him), Fourier decided that Owen was a charlatan who, like Fourier’s now-deceased rival Saint-Simon, was attempting to found a false religion of humanity in competition with his, Fourier’s, true religion of humanity.
|Fourier, True Prophet of the New Christianity|
In 1831, then, Fourier finally achieved a measure of success by attacking the ideas of Saint-Simon and Owen in a pamphlet, Pièges et Charlatanisme de Deux Sects, St. Simon et Owen, as false religions. Lending credibility to Fourier’s accusations was the fact that the New Harmony project had failed, and the so-called Church of Saint-Simonian was coming into public disrepute. This latter appears to have been as a result of a series of entertainments characterized by “loose relations between the sexes” — probably orgies — that offended even the Parisians.
Owen’s proposals were not made any more attractive by the fact that he not only proposed to eliminate the transcendent God and put humanity in His place, he also wanted all male children trained as soldiers to defend themselves and the new society by force of arms. This would be directed not only against actual attacks, but used to force anyone whose thought, word, or deed suggested that they opposed, or might oppose, the new world order. Characterizing all those who did not agree with him as madmen, in A New View of Society (1813) Owen declared,
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.
|Owen proposed a Children's Crusade for Socialism|
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. (Robert Owen, A New View of Society, quoted in Subrata Mukherjee and Sushila Ramaswamy, editors, Robert Owen: His Thoughts and Works. New Delhi: Deep and Deep Publications, 1998, 44-45.)
Thus, Owen’s remedy for hatred and war was to hate everyone whom he thought motivated by hate, and to declare war on the warmongers. It becomes easier to understand why John Keble regarded anything even faintly resembling Owen’s program as the beginning of the end not only of the Church of England, but of civilization itself. That was not all, however, as we will see in the next posting on this subject.