|Robert Owen, critique of individualism (1825-1826).|
Robert Owen, “Oration Containing a Declaration of Mental Independence,” Public Hall, New Harmony, Indiana (July, 4, 1826).
We meet to commemorate the period, when the inhabitants of this new world attained the power to withdraw from the control of the old world, and to form a government for themselves.
This event is likely to prove, in its consequences, as important as any which has occurred in ancient or modern times. It has been the means of preparing a new era in the history of man, and of producing such a change in circumstances as will admit of the introduction of measures to change, entirely, the character and condition of the human race.
The revolution in America, sanctioned and secured by the Declaration of Independence in 1776, gave to a people advancing towards civilization, the first opportunity of establishing a government, which would, by degrees, permit them to acquire that greatest of blessings, MENTAL LIBERTY.
Yes, my friends, the Declaration of Independence, in 1776, prepared the way to secure you MENTAL LIBERTY, without which man never can become more than a mere localized being, with powers to render him more miserable and degraded than the animals which he has been taught to deem inferior to himself. It is true, the right of mental liberty is inherent in our nature; for, while man exists in mental health, no human power can deprive him of it: but until the Revolution of 1776, no people had acquired the political power to permit them to use that right, when their minds should be so far freed from early imbibed prejudices as to allow them to derive benefits from its practice. No nation, except this, even yet possesses the political power to enable the people to use the right of mental freedom.
This right this invaluable right, you now enjoy by the Constitution obtained for you by Washington, Franklin, Henry, and the other worthies associated with them.
Still, however, these men, whose minds were in advance of the age in which they lived, were encircled by the prejudices which they and their fathers brought from Europe, and which had descended to the inhabitants of those regions through many ages of despotism, superstition and ignorance. And although a few of these highly-gifted men of the Revolution saw a stronger and clearer light at the distance, as they supposed, of some ages before them; they were too conscious of the extent of the old errors around them to attempt more than to secure the means in the Constitution which they formed, by which their successors might work their way to the superior distant light, and gain for themselves the innumerable advantages which real mental liberty could bestow upon them.
It is for YOU and YOUR successors now to press onward, with your utmost speed....
My friends, it surely cannot be your wish, that any good and great cause should be effected only by halves, and more especially when that which remains to be done, is, beyond all calculation, the more important? There is a noble object before us, to be won by some party or another in this or in some other country. It is no less than the destruction of the threefold causes which deprive man of mental liberty, which compel him to commit crimes, and to suffer all the miseries which crime can inflict. Could we but gain this object soon would rational intelligence, real virtue, and substantial happiness, be permanently established among men: ignorance, poverty, dependence, and vice, would be forever banished from the earth.
Let me now ask,
Are you prepared to imitate the example of your ancestors? Are you willing to run the risks which they encountered? Are you ready, like them, to meet the prejudices of past times, and determined to overcome them at ALL hazards, for the benefit of your country and for the emancipation of the human race? Are you, indeed, willing to sacrifice your fortunes, lives, and reputations, if such sacrifices should be necessary, to secure for all your fellow-beings, the GREATEST GOOD, that, according to our present knowledge, it is possible for them ever to receive?
Are you prepared to achieve a MENTAL REVOLUTION, as superior in benefit and importance to the first revolution, as the mental powers of man exceed his physical powers?
Upon an experience, then, of nearly forty years, which owing to a very peculiar combination of circumstances, has been more varied, extended and singular, than perhaps has ever fallen to the lot of any one man, and, during which period, my mind was continually occupied in tracing the cause of each human misery that came before me to its true origin; I now declare, to you and to the world, that Man, up to this hour, has been, in all parts of the earth, a slave to a TRINITY of the most monstrous evils that could be combined to inflict mental and physical evil upon his whole race.
I refer to PRIVATE, OR INDIVIDUAL PROPERTY ABSURD AND IRRATIONAL SYSTEMS OF RELIGION AND MARRIAGE, FOUNDED ON INDIVIDUAL PROPERTY COMBINED WITH SOME ONE OF THESE IRRATIONAL SYSTEMS OF RELIGION.
The revolution, then, to be now effected, is the destruction of this HYDRA OF EVILS in order that the many may be no longer poor, wretched beings, dependent on the wealthy and powerful few; that Man may be no longer a superstitious idiot, continually dying from the futile fear of death; that he may no longer unite himself to the other sex from any mercenary or superstitious motives, nor promise and pretend to do that which it depends not on himself to perform.
For nearly forty years have I been employed, heart and soul, day by day, almost without ceasing, in preparing the means and arranging the circumstances, to enable me to give the death-blow to the tyranny and despotism, which, for unnumbered ages past, have held the human mind spell-bound, in chains and fetters of such mysterious forms and shapes, that no mortal hand dared approach to set the suffering prisoner free. Nor has the fulness of time, for the accomplishment of this great event, been completed until within this hour, and such has been the extraordinary course of events, that the Declaration of Political Independence, in 1776, has produced its counterpart, the Declaration of Mental Independence in 1826 the latter just half a century from the former.
Rejoice, then, with me, my friends, that this light is now set upon a hill, for it will increase daily, more and more, until it shall be seen, felt, and understood, by all the nations of the earth.
Robert Owen, address, Public Hall, New-Harmony, Indiana (April 27, 1825).
I am come to this country, to introduce an entire new state of society; to change it from the ignorant, selfish system, to an enlightenment, social system, which shall gradually unite all interests into one, and remove all cause for contest between individuals.
The individual system has heretofore universally prevailed; and while it continues, the great mass of mankind must remain, as they comparatively are at present, ignorant, poor, oppressed, and, consequently, vicious, and miserable; and though it should last for numberless ages, virtue and happiness cannot be attained, nor can man, strictly speaking, become a rational being.
Until the individual system shall be entirely abandoned, it will be useless to expect any substantial, permanent improvement in the condition of the human race; for this system ever has been, and must ever remain, directly opposed to universal charity, benevolence and kindness: and until the means were discovered, and can be brought into practice, by which universal charity, benevolence and kindness, can be made to pervade the heart and mind of every human being, a state of society in which “peace on earth and good will to man” shall exist, must remain unknown and unenjoyed by mankind.
These invaluable blessings can be obtained only under a social system; a system derived from an accurate knowledge of human nature, and of the circumstances by which it is, or may be governed.
This knowledge has been, until now, hidden from man; he therefore knew not how to put the social system into practice; for without this knowledge, the social system is utterly impracticable. The slight attempts which have been made, in ancient and modern times, to procure some of the innumerable advantages, with which the social system abounds, have not proceeded from this knowledge, but have been founded on some artificial or unnatural view of our nature, and in consequence, only partial and temporary benefits have been obtained.
The knowledge of our nature, and of the circumstances which govern the character and conduct of man, are to be acquired only by attending to the facts which exist around us, and to the past history of the human species.
These facts and this history demonstrate that all men are formed by a creative power, and by the circumstances which are permitted to surround them birth; and that no man has ever had any will, or power, or control, in creating himself, nor in forming the circumstances which exist around him at birth, in his childhood, in youth, or in manhood. He is a being, then, whose general nature, whose individual, or personal nature, and whose artificial requirements, or character, have been formed for him. He cannot, therefore, become a proper subject for praise or blame, nor for artificial reward or punishment, or artificial accountability; but he becomes a being capable of being formed into the extremes of good or bad, and to experience the extremes of happiness or misery, by, and through the circumstances which shall exist around him at birth, in childhood, in youth, and in manhood: he cannot, therefore, become a rational object for anger or displeasure of any kind; but in whatever deplorable circumstance he may be found, and whatever may the character which nature and these circumstances may have formed for him, he is a being who justly claims our compassion, care, attention and kindness, in proportion to the extent of the evil and misery which he has been made to experience; and to this rule there can be no exception.
These fundamental principles being understood, and the real nature of man being thus laid open, to us, the proceedings requisite to produce good instead of evil, and happiness instead of misery, become obvious and easy of practice.
I have bought this property, and have now come here to introduce this practice, and to render it familiar to all the inhabitants of this country.
But to change from the individual to the social system; from single families with separate interests, to communities of many families with one interest, cannot be accomplished at once; the change would be too great for the present habits of society; nor can it be effected in practice, except by those who have been long acquainted with each other, and whose habits, condition and sentiments, are similar; it becomes necessary, therefore, that some intermediate measures should be adopted, to enable all parties, with the least inconvenience, to change their individual, selfish habits, and to acquire the superior habits requisite to the social state; to proceed, if I may so express myself, to a halfway house on this new journey from poverty to wealth; from ignorance to intelligence; from anxiety to satisfaction of mind; from distrust of all, to confidence in every one; from bad habits and erroneous ideas, to good habits and a correct mode of thinking in all things; in short, from a combination of wretched, irrational circumstances, most unfavorable to every one, to new arrangements in unison with our nature, and most beneficial to all; and the only difficulty against which we should have to contend, will be while we shall have to remain in this halfway house, in which we shall have to give up the old habits acquired under the individual system, for the new habits requisite for the social and improved state of society for which we are now preparing.
We are now about adopting the intermediate measures to exhibit to the inhabitants of this country, and the world, the practice by which good dispositions, good habits, high intelligence, kind feelings, and a superior conduct in all the affairs of life, can be given to the rising generation, and by which, also, a considerable approach may be made to this state, even by those of the present generation.
Constitution of the Preliminary Society of New-Harmony, Indiana (May 1, 1825).
The Society is instituted generally to promote the Happiness of the World.
This Preliminary Society is particularly formed to improve the character and condition of its own members, and to prepare them to become associates in Independent Communities, having common property.
The sole object of these Communities will be to procure for all their Members the greatest amount of happiness, to secure it to them, and to transmit it to their children to the latest posterity.
Persons of all ages and descriptions, exclusive of persons of color, may become members of the Preliminary Society.
Persons of color may be received as helpers to the Society, if necessary, or if it be found useful, to prepare and enable them to become associates in Communities in Africa; or in some other country, or in some other part of this country.
The Members of the Preliminary Society are all of the same rank, no artificial inequality being acknowledged; precedence to be given only to age and experience, and to those who may be chosen to offices of trust and utility.