Thursday, February 3, 2011

Tragedy of the Commons

Tragedy of the Commons

Chapter Nine from the The Noblest Triumph, Property and Prosperity through the Ages by Tom Bethell, a book I highly recommend because it’s rare that an economic analysis ever makes the connection between prosperity and property rights, let alone how collectivization has utterly failed throughout history.


ROBERT OWEN MADE A FORTUNE within a society of private property, and lost it trying to establish a society without property.' But he remained confident throughout his life that what he called the New Moral World would soon appear. In the Communist Manifesto, he was praised for having detected the "decom­posing elements" in society. Friedrich Engels thought him "among the most eminent thinkers of all times." He was a true harbinger of the twentieth century's experiments in the abolition of property. One of the earliest socialists, he was also one of the few who spent his own money on the cause in which he so firmly believed. Whatever his faults, a lack of generosity was not among them.

He was born in 1771, a child of the Industrial Revolution. He went into business with Jeremy Bentham and hobnobbed with the duke of Kent. He claimed that he had spent four days with Thomas Jefferson "in close communion upon the two systems of society," but Jefferson did not record the encounter. Harriet Martineau, the popular expositor of political economy, reported that he was capable of believing "whatever he wished," while Thomas Macaulay "fled at the first sound of his discourse."

Like Bentham, Owen believed that the happiness of the greatest number lOOuId be the goal of society, but this could be achieved only within "a system general cooperation and community of property."2 In one of his many pamphlets, 'The Revolution in the Mind and Practice of the Human Race,", published when he was 78 years old, Owen called private property "an evil of able magnitude, and a never-failing cause of disunion among all classes countries."
After a few years' schooling, he moved to Manchester, and with borrowed capital formed a partnership to manufacture cotton-spinning machinery. This was the heyday of "Manchester liberalism," with the new, and therefore unregulated, Cotton industry rapidly supplanting the old, and highly regulated, wool trade. By the late eighteenth century, technological and economic changes were making the cotton trade one of the great commercial enterprises in the world, and Manchester was at its center. Between 1750 and 1830 the quantity of cotton imported into Britain increased a hundredfold.

On January 1, 1800, he took over the "government" of New Lanark Mills, in Scotland, having purchased it for £60,000 with several partners. Under the previous owner, whose daughter Owen married, the work force included several hundred orphaned children who were procured from the poorhouses of various parishes. Poor relief in Scotland was restricted to those who were permanently unable to provide for themselves, there was no equivalent of the dole, and the poor rates, or taxes, were lower than England's. Situated on the River Clyde, New Lanark was believed to be the largest cotton-spinning establishment in Great Britain. Richard Arkwright, who had patented the spinning jenny, was initially a partner.

With Owen in charge, the labor force increased to about 1,500. "Children were employed from the age of ten, though Owen would have preferred not to take them below twelve'" John F. C. Harrison wrote in Quest/or the Ne1l' Moral World. Until 1816, the hours of labor were thirteen per day; later reduced to twelve, with ten and a half hours of actual labor. Owen calculated that during his 30 years' association with New Lanark, over £300,000 in profits were divided among the partners, over and above the 5 percent paid annually on the invested capital and the cost of his various social experiments. 

 Owen provided housing at low rent, free medical services, a retirement fund and village schools for which there was a nominal charge. These were all based on actuarial principles, and the operation could not be mistaken "for anything other than what it was: a profit-making cotton mill," Harrison added. The equally large mill of Jedediah Strutt in Derbyshire resembled New Lanark, with the same housing, schools, health care and store. But visitors did not flock o see it, as they did to New Lanark, "nor did the Strutts consider their paternalistic efforts the germ of a new system of society."

Owen did a tremendous job of publicizing his reforms. He began to pend more and more time in London, meeting with lords and bishops. All vere impressed by the rich factory owner from the north who was agitating for improved working conditions. The archbishop of Canterbury gave him respectful attention, and the prime minister, Lord Liverpool, found time to see him. The duke of Kent (father of Queen Victoria) seemed to have become almost a confidant, chairing meetings on behalf of Owen's "new views." Owen loved being a lord, and his name-dropping reaches an embarrassing level in his autobiography.

He disputed with Malthus, Ricardo and James Mill, but found these "pushing, busy, and ever active political economists" to be "great talkers upon a false principle": individualism. He purchased 30,000 copies of the newspapers that reported on his meetings, and tirelessly mailed them to magistrates, bankers and bishops. The grand duke Nicholas, later czar of Russia, visited New Lanark, and hearing of the Malthusian theory of population, offered to solve it by transporting two million Englishmen to his native land. The grand duke hoped that Owen would replicate his mill in Muscovy. Owen thanked His Imperial Highness, but "being then independent in pecuniary matters," declined this "most liberal imperial offer."

In 1816, Owen opened his Institute for the Formation of Character, more or less anticipating Soviet developments 100 years later. His faith in human malleability was boundless. "Children are, without exception, passive and wonderfully contrived compounds," he wrote in his "Second Essay on the Formation of Character." They "may be formed collectively to have any human character. And although these compounds, like all the other works of nature, possess endless varieties, yet they partake of that plastic quality which ... may be ultimately moulded into the very image of rational wishes." The character of man was formed for him, not by him, he repeatedly said.

As his wealth increased, so did his independence, and he grew ever more indifferent to public opinion. He denounced "all religions," whose errors had made man "a weak, imbecile animal." Machinery he regarded as mankind's greatest curse. He also believed that people should be put back to work on the land, but not in the old way. Instead, they should live together in a collectivity. Owen's son Robert Dale Owen, returning from a trip abroad at this time, found that Owen was still doing well in business but losing ground "in public estimation." Robert Dale seemed to have picked up no trace of his father's utopianism. "He had been misled by benevolent enthusiasm," Robert Dale wrote of his father, and by his sudden wealth. Having started out with $10 in his pocket, Owen was worth a quarter of a million dollars by the time he was 45. Having overseen his sons' schooling, Owen must have expected that their characters, at least, had been formed for them and not by them. But Robert Dale's traditional views, published in his very readable autobiography Threading My Way (1874), shows that Owen's faith in education did not work out as hoped even within his own family.

One day in 1815, several boatloads of Lutheran schismatics from Wurttemberg sailed down the Wabash River, in Indiana. "Eight hundred strong, clad in the garb of the Fatherland, this quaint company went ashore at a point near the site or the present village of New Harmony," George Lockwood wrote in The New Harmony Movement. They knelt on the bank about a patriarchal leader, and with a song and prayer dedicated 'Harmonie' to the uses of a Christian brotherhood. These were the Rappites-German peasants, primitive Christians, practical communists, and disciples of George Rapp. As an organized protest against the existing state of religion in Germany, they had left the shores of their Fatherland behind them ten years before."

George Rapp believed that Jesus had enjoined a community of goods upon his followers, and it is interesting to see how far he was able to take his disciples in this difficult direction. When the Rappites at first established community of property, a record was made of the amount each had contributed.  This was refunded to anyone who withdrew. But within three years this agreement was abrogate and burned, signifying the Rappites' desire to practice communism to the fullest extent. Initially, marriage was normal among them but that, too, was changed. Those already married moved into houses where the sexes were strictly separated. It is a measure of the obedience that Rapp commanded that this seems to have been accepted without argument. The Rappites distilled whiskey for sale but drank none. Tobacco was also forbidden. They individually confessed their sins to George Rapp.

"From a pecuniary point of view." Robert Dale Owen wrote, the Rappites' experiment in communal living was a "marvellous success." He provides the following figures, and revealing comment: "At the time of their immigration to the United States, their property was worth no more than $25 a head." But 21 years later, a "fair estimate" was $2.000 per capita, children included. This was "probably ten times the average wealth throughout the United States; for at that time each person in Indiana averaged but a hundred and fifty dollars in property, and even in Massachusetts the average fell short of $300." Nonetheless, Robert Dale thought that "intellectually and socially" the community was a failure for it was an “ecclesiastical autocracy” with Rapp its absolute ruler. It was said that Rapp sold the property at Harmony because life had become too easy.  Some believed that the hard work of a new settlement made Rapp's disciples more submissive.

For whatever reason, Rapp’s agent traveled to Scotland and offered the property to Owen. "Here was a village ready built, a territory capable of supporting tens of thousands in a country where the expression of thought was free, and where the people were unsophisticated” son explained to Owen. “Well, Robert” the senior Owen said “what say you-New Lanark or Harmony?”   Robert Dale didn't hesitate: "Harmony."
"Does your father really think of giving up a position like his, with every comfort and luxury and taking his family to the wild life of the far West?" Rapp's agent asked. “He did not know” Robert Dale commented, "that my father's one ruling desire was for a vast theatre on which to try his plans of social reform.”

In the fall of 1823, Owen crossed the Atlantic, taking his other son, William, with him and leaving Robert Dale to manage the Scottish mill.  Owen purchased Harmony for $150,000-half what it was worth, according to Lockwood’s account.  The estate consisted of 30,000 acres, a tenth under cultivation, with 19 detached farms, 600 acres of improved land occupied by tenants, several orchards, and 18 acres of vines.  The village of Harmony included a church; houses of brick, frame and long, and factories with almost off of their machinery intact.

The Heterodox Instinct

Owen believed that society should be reorganized according to a blueprint that has repeatedly recurred in the minds of reformers: private property should be abolished, the family replaced by a larger unit, and religion either revised or abolished completely. In The Socialist Phenomenon, Igor Shafarevitch drew attention to the repetitive way in which these ideas have been proposed, in different countries and centuries. Private property, marriage and religion constituted Owen's "trinity of evils." He was not a man who spent much time with books, and undoubtedly his thoughts on these matters arose independently of any reading. They must reflect, as Shafarevitch has suggested, a deeply embedded heterodox instinct that is relatively common in mankind.

In his Book of the Nell' Moral World, containing the "Rational System of Society," Owen wrote that private property "alienates mind from mind" and produces in its possessors "pride, vanity, injustice and oppression." But the time was rapidly approaching when "the progress of science, and the knowledge of the means to form a superior character for all the individuals of the human race" would render private property "not only unnecessary, but most injurious to all".  The family would give way to a more "scientific" association, ranging in numbers from 500 to 2,000.13 It is characteristic of utopian reformers that the ideal size of their communities is often given precisely. Charles Fourier's phalanx, for example, was supposed to consist of 1,620 people. Followers no doubt believed that some esoteric secret of human society had been discovered. (The first attempt to set up a Fourierist phalanx took place in 1833. "Fourier himself had doubts almost from the beginning. He was soon chiding the disciples for taking liberties with the doctrine; and when the architect built a pigsty with stone walls 18 inches thick and no entrance, Fourier became convinced that he was in the pay of the Saint-Simonians." Jonathan Beecher and Richard Bienvenu, The Utopian Vision ofClwrles FOl/rier (Boston: Beacon Press, 1971),20)

Owen believed that communes should be constructed in squares, or perhaps rectangles. Education would play a major role. Once the communes were up and running, they would reproduce themselves by "swarming." The older way of organizing life would not have to be stamped out-it simply would not survive the competition. "There will be no desire or motive for individual accumulation of wealth," Owen wrote, for all would have sufficient under his plan. Prisons and punishments would no longer be required.

The Radicals in London were scornful.  William Hone wrote in his Reformist's Register: "Robert Owen, Esq., a benevolent cotton-spinner and on s of His Majesty's Justices of the Peace for the County of Lanark, having seen the world, and afterwards cast his eye over his well regulated manufactory in the said county, imagines he has taken a New View of Society, and conceives that human beings are so many plants, which have been out of the earth for a few thousand years and require to be reset. He accordingly determines to dibble them in squares after a new fashion .... I do not know a gentleman in England better satisfied with himself than Mr. Owen. I ask him to let us alone, lest he do us much mischief." Owen's leading principle, "all things in common, turns the whole country into a workhouse."

William Cobbett derided Owen's "parallelogram of paupers," and proclaimed it "a species of monkery." The gentleman "is for establishing innumerable communities of paupers. Each is to be resident in an inclosure somewhat resembling a barrack establishment, only more extensive..I perceive that they are all to be under a very regular discipline; and that wonderful peace, happiness and national benefit are to be the result!””

When he came to the United States, Owen's fame preceded him. In 1825 he addressed the Congress, the Supreme Court and the cabinet. The changes he contemplated were "greater than all the changes which have hitherto occurred in the affairs of mankind," he said. What is surprising is that he was taken so seriously. His wealth surely had much to do with it; one who had done well in business must have known what he was talking about.

Initially, Owen considered that a few years' training would be needed to wean recruits from their old "errors and prejudices." The key would be something called the Pestalozzian system, imported from Switzerland. The "progressive and symmetrical development of all the powers and faculties of the human being” would replace rote learning. Owen was soon joined by a group of scientists and Pestalozzian educators who came down the Wabash River in a vessel known later as the Boatload of Knowledge.

More than anything, Owen was misled by his optimism and his tremendous self-confidence. He simply issued an invitation to "the industrious and well disposed of all nations" to join him at New Harmony, and within a year one thousand adventurers duly arrived. They were quite willing to occupy the Rappite housing, go to assemblies, attend meetings, or do whatever Owen wanted. Most of the time, Owen himself wasn’t even on the premises. Although regarded as a practical Businessman, he was far more interested in theory, even when his own fortune was at stake. He left New Harmony immediately after its founding to go on a speaking tour, and he returned to England later that summer.

The following year he returned with Robert Dale Owen, who recalled that for a time the life was very pleasant-"the common experience of intelligent and well-disposed persons who have joined the Brook Farm or other reputable community." He found the good fellowship and absence of conventionalism charming. Particularly enjoyable was the "absolute freedom from trammels," whether in dress or opinion; the evening gatherings, the weekly discussion meetings, the concerts and the weekly ball, where he found "crowds of young people, bright and genial if not specially cultivated."

The accommodations were primitive, the fare simple, but for the young Owen it was as enjoyable as a summer under canvas. He helped tear down some old cabins, and once worked in the bakery; he even went into the fields and sowed wheat by hand, but this was tiring work. Eventually he busied himself in the school and edited the weekly paper. Then disenchantment set in, as it never did for his father. Robert Dale later referred to his fellow communards as "that heterogeneous collection of radicals, enthusiastic devotees to principle, honest latitudinarians, and lazy theorists, with a sprinkling of unprincipled sharpers thrown in."!?

"No communistic experiment was ever undertaken under more favorable auspices," Morris Hillquit wrote in his History of Socialism in the United States. "The hardships usually attending the first years of pioneer life of every community had been successfully overcome by predecessors, and no debt was weighing on the property."  This may have been a part of the problem, for the spur of necessity was lacking.  But the premise of New Harmony was precisely that the ownership arrangement would promote a cooperative spirit, from which would issue forth cheerful and abundant labor. This was far from being the result, however, as Charles J. Erasmus described in In Search of the Common Good.

Although the one thousand Owenites at New Harmony exceeded the number of Rappites before them, they neither put the factories into operation, nor ever even got farming underway. Without any plan for the selection of members the community ended up with no skilled craftsmen and only 35 farmers. There were members from every state in the union and nearly every country of northern Europe. They shared little or nothing in religion, back­ground, habits, opinions or interests. According to one contemporary, never before had a small communit… consisted of one thousand strangers all oblivious to each other's feelings ....
Freeloaders greatly outnumbered workers and little was accomplished. When the community could not even grow food to sustain itself Owen urged members to cultivate private, household gardens. Owen did not have the kind of charisma to command a community venture of this sort and did not stay on the premises long enough to use what he had. He left his sons in charge of the day-to-day operations, and when funds eventually gave out, the experiment ended. Living off Owen's largesse, the members developed neither social incentives to provision the collective good nor any strong commitment to the group. Most finally decided that they could do better for themselves working individually on the outside. Without previous experience working together, they had convened from all walks of life and all points of the compass, and they dispersed by the same route.

Owen made his great mistake three weeks after the Boatload of Knowledge disembarked. He proposed that the Harmonites should form themselves into a Community of Equality right away, with the property - his property! - to be shared in common. This worried his son, who recalled that the plan originally called for a training period of two or three years. Until then, the community had been run something like a business. A committee estimated the value of each worker's daily contribution, and credit slips for that amount were issued that could be exchanged for goods at community stores. Communards worked for pay, in other words, with remuneration roughly proportional to output.

But Owen, like Rapp before him, was determined to put communism into practice. He couldn't wait to go on to the next stage, with all members provided for, not according to their services, but equally, receiving "as near as can be" similar food, clothing and education; "and as soon as practicable, to live in similar houses, and in all respects to be accommodated alike." The assembly of all the members duly voted that the property was to be held "in perpetual trust for the use of the community." All who signed within three days could join the Community of Equality. Most signed, becoming partners in an enterprise wholly capitalized for them by Robert Owen.
"Liberty, equality and fraternity, in downright earnest!" Robert Dale wrote in dismay. He had been counting on inheriting his father's fortune, not consuming it with a thousand strangers in a two-year spree in the wilds of Indiana. "I made no opposition to all this," he wrote. "I had too much of my father's all-believing disposition to anticipate results which any shrewd, cool­headed business man might have predicted. How rapidly they came upon us'''

Within two weeks of the vote, a majority of the assembly asked Owen's help "for one year in conducting the concerns of the Community." In addition to sharing the property, Owen was now also expected to pay the bills. In return he would be able to tell his guests what to do.  A general sense of relief met Owen’s acceptance.  The New Harmony Gazette reported: “Under the sole direction of Mr. Owen, the most gratifying anticipation of the future may be safely indulged.”                   
There was one little problem: He could tell them what to do, but how could he get them to do it? The members were now co-owners! A contributor to the Gazelle soon complained that "industrious members have been compelled to experience the unpleasant sensation of working for others, who are either unwilling or unable to do their share of the labor" - a plain restatement of the problem encountered at Plymouth Colony. One more attempt was made to keep track of the hours worked, but this was thought "to work injustice, as one worker might do as much in an hour as another might in four."

"You have indolence, or the love of ease among you at New Harmony," a "Friendly Spectator" wrote. "It appears doubtful whether human nature can be brought to such moral perfection as to execute the social system entirely. There must be a controlling motive to urge men to physical exertion. He now has that in the possession of all that his work can give him. In the social [as opposed to the private] system, you must make his disposition so virtuous as to make him feel his responsibility. Can you do this?”

In 1826, the duke of Saxe-Weimar showed up and left a good account, including a revealing glimpse of Owen. In the tavern, he wrote, he struck up a conversation with a plainly dressed man, about 50 years old, who mentioned "the disordered state in which I would find everything." When the duke asked after Mr. Owen, the man announced that he was Mr. Owen. He showed the duke over the premises and pointed out the old Rappite church, now occupied by joiners' and shoemakers' shops, and the mansion where George Rapp himself once lived. Like Lenin in the Kremlin, Owen contented himself with an austere apartment. In the evening he took the duke to an orchestral performance and a recitation of poetry, during which Owen described his plan: "He looks forward to nothing else than to remodel the world entirely; to root out all crime; to abolish punishment; to create similar views and similar wants, and in this manner to abolish all dissension and warfare," the duke recounted. He expressed some doubts to Owen, but made no impression. "He was too unalterably convinced of the result to admit the slightest room for doubt. It grieved me to see that Mr. Owen should be so infatuated by his passion for universal improvement as to believe and assert that he is about to reform the whole world, and yet that almost every member of his society with whom I talked, acknowledged that he was deceived in his expectations, and expressed their opinion that Mr. Owen had commenced on too grand a scale, and had admitted too many members without the requisite selection.”

Owen's money was rapidly running out, and the experiment came to an end a year later, with his farewell address in May, 1827. His intention had been to admit only the qualified, he told the Harmonites, but this was frustrated when the assembly , adopting majority rule, had voted to admit all “preliminary” members.  His optimism nonetheless remained undiminished. Returning to England, he stopped en route to deliver lectures on the New Moral World. In his autobiography, he managed to omit all reference to the New Harmony experience.

Owen generously offered land to those who wanted to set up smaller communes. Several were formed, but all failed. Some leases were obtained by "speculators who care not a whit or co-operative principles, but sought private gain” his son wrote.  “By the speculators he lost in the end a large amount of personal property, of which, under false pretenses, the had obtained control.”   Evidently, a number of people said that they intended to live cooperatively, but within months privatized and sold their property.   Owen had no legal recourse.

 Robert Dale Owen later became a congressman from Indiana, and played a role in founding the Smithsonian Institution. By the time he wrote his autobiography, nearly 50 years after the events described, he had concluded that his father's plan was flawed in its central feature: "I do not believe that any industrial experiment can succeed which proposes equal remuneration to all men, the diligent and the dilatory, the skilled artisan and the common laborer, the genius and the drudge. I speak of the present age; what may happen in the distant future it is impossible to foresee and imprudent to predict. What may be safely predicted is that a plan which remunerates all alike will, in the present condition of society, ultimately eliminate from a cooperative associa­tion the skilled, efficient and industrious members, leaving an inefficient and sluggish residue, in whose hands the experiment will fail. both socially and pecuniarily.”

 Owen spent on New Harmony, "and in meeting his ultimate losses the next year by swindlers, upwards of $200.000” his son wrote.  "Thus, as his property did not then reach a quarter of a million, he was willing to give up more than four-fifths of what he was worth to this great experiment.”  He added the following touching comment: "The remainder, not exceeding $40,000, might have sufficed for a competence, had he been content to live quietly upon it. But it soon melted away in a hundred expenditures for experiments, publications and the like, connected with social and industrial reform. He seems to have felt it to be a point of honor, so long as he had means left, to avert reproach from the cause of co-operation by paying debts left standing at the close of unsuccessful experiments, whenever these had been conducted in good faith.”

The Fate of the Rappites

George Lockwood believed that "ignorance and superstition" had been the most marked characteristics of the Rappite community. Yet when his book was published, in 1905, 80 years after Owen purchased Harmony, the Rappites still survived. Owen's community had lasted for just two years. All the Owenite communities in England and the United States failed within a few years. Most lasted for less than two.

It's worth taking a brief look at the fate of the Rappites After they left Indiana they bought land on the Ohio River. There a new village was built called Economy. In 1832, an "intriguer" from Germany who called himself Count Maximilian joined the community. According to Charles Nordhoff's Communistic Societies of the United States, he advocated "a livelier life" and various other "temptations to worldliness," persuading one-third of the commu­nity to leave with him. The two-thirds who stayed on were prosperous and generous enough to pay these seceders $105,000. Those who left set up another community ten miles way "on communistic principles." They restored marriage, and quickly spent the Rappite money. "After a desperate and lawless attempt to extort more money from the Economy people, which was happily defeated, [the count] absconded with a few of his people in a boat to Alexandria, on the Red River, where he perished of cholera in 1833," Nordhoff wrote.

George Rapp himself died in 1847, aged 90, at the end preaching to the community through an open window. Those elected to succeed him preserved his rules. By 1875, the community's wealth may have amounted to $30 million. A time of bad investments and declining fortunes followed. The dwindling community seems to have quietly privatized itself, and in 1903 the Liberty Land Company of Pittsburgh purchased the entire 2,500 acres of Economy for an estimated $4 million. Six members survived when Lockwood's book was published in 1905. "Before many years have passed." he wrote. "the lands once tilled by the Rappites will be grown over with factories and homes, the last of those who lived and labored in the hope of realizing the communism of the early Christians will be laid to rest under the moundless greensward of the Rappite burying ground, the last dollar of the millions heaped up through the patient labor of the stolid Harmonists will have passed to individual bank accounts.”

The irony was that George Rapp had shown that life without private property is possible, but only if the commune members share an overriding purpose. Probably, religion alone can achieve that, and such a community may also have to be celibate.  If separate families exist, the parental self-sacrifice needed to raise children will not easily coexist with the knowledge that their efforts are subsidizing others. It may be that a religious community not only can live communistically, but must do so: can, because freed from the cares of raising children, members will be able to subordinate the material question; must, because the individual desire for property (beyond personal possessions) might otherwise subvert the religious goal of the community.

Owen strongly disagreed with such notions, needless to say. He knew about the survival of the Rappites and the Shakers, and regarded them as "perhaps the most moral societies known in consequence of their abandonment of private property." But they existed in a "very unnatural and unsatisfactory state," having excluded the "natural enjoyment by which man alone can become satisfied and happy." They had not yet discovered how to "exclude private property and to maintain the natural union of the sexes." It had been utterly beyond their powers to do So.” And so it had. But it had also been beyond his.
"Communities based on religious views have generally succeeded," Charles A. Dana wrote in the New York Sun in 1869. "The Shakers and the Oneida community are conspicuous illustrations of this fact, while the failure of the various attempts made by the disciples of Owen, Fourier and others, who have not the support of religious fanaticism, proves that without this great force the most brilliant social theories are of little avail.”

In a sense, Owen himself had tried to establish a religious community.  A few days after his public denunciation of all religions, he wrote: "On this day, the most glorious the world has seen, the religion of charity, unconnected with faith, is established for ever.” He was in many ways a religious man, at times coming close to speaking of himself as a messiah. In his New Lanark address, he declared that "the minds of all men must be born again ... All things shall pass away, and all shall become new." The path forward was clear: "The period is arrived when I may call numbers to my aid, and the call will not be in vain."

In his eighties, Owen edited the Millennial Gazette and took up spiritualism. According to G. D. H. Cole, "Shakespeare, Shelley, Napoleon, the Duke of Wellington and the prophet Daniel became his familiars." At the very end of his life, in November, 1858, he returned to his Welsh birthplace, visited the house where he was born, tried to see an old friend who had died 20 years earlier, arranged several public meetings, drew up a plan to reorganize the education of the town, and died a few days later.

No comments:

Post a Comment