Robert Owen's Experiment at New Lanark

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Alex Lorrain-Hill
HUMA 3300
04/19/06
Revised Final Draft

Robert Owen's Experiment at New Lanark

To determine whether or not Owen's undertaking at New Lanark was successful we must first understand its' purpose as well as its' practicality and what results might qualify his experiment as being a success. Stemming from Owen's view of the problems which plagued England's economy and manufacturing industry, his ultimate goal was to create a model of a self-supporting community which could eventually be used to establish others like it all over the world. Owen believed it would be most efficient and prosperous for all people to conform to the same rules, thus creating a social equality among the labouring classes, which he believed would help eliminate the poverty and social distress that plagued England in the nineteenth century following the French Revolution. Not everyone was accepting of Owen's plans for social reform but others like John Minter Morgan supported Owen's ideas despite the fact that his anti-religious views conflicted with Morgan's Christian values. The experiment at New Lanark prompted other communities based on Owen's views to be established such as the "Edinburgh Practical Society" formed by Owenite Abram Combe, the "Orbiston Community" also formed by Combe and New Harmony in America which Owen himself established.("The Steam Engine of the New Moral World": Owenism and Education, Harrison,1817-1829) Unfortunately such communities eventually failed. It could be said that in the short term Owen's experiment at New Lanark and others that followed were unsuccessful; however, "Owenism" did have more of a long term impact on society. Owen was successful in breaking ground for child labor laws, trade unionism, and the eventual improvement of manufacturing and economic conditions. Owen's views on social reform prompted others who practiced "Owenism", although not in agreement with all of his beliefs, to explore their own views on the subject. William Thompson, who became a champion of women's rights was a supporter of Owen and also Henry Hetherington who fought for, among other things, trade unions. While some did not agree with Owen's ideas, there were numerous individuals who supported Owen's views on social reform and were incited by his outspokenness on such views to explore their own theories. Owen's experiment may not have induced the exact result that he had wished, but it no doubt had a positive effect on a society which might have continued to decline had Owen not stepped up to the plate. In that sense, New Lanark by itself was not a success, but from a sociological perspective, the movement which it provoked most certainly was. First, it is important to discuss how Owen's theories of social reform were initially received. While it seems that Owen likely would have been seen in a positive light, given his efforts to better a declining society, it is also important to discuss the manner, positive and negative, in which Owen's proposals were initially received. Some viewed Owen as a hypocrite, citing that his theories on education contradict what he explained to be the reason behind his claim to be the only "rational being". During a speech, Owen offered that when laid up with an illness as a child he "….reflected, and read much, forming his own views, uncontrolled by the lessons of schools."(Times London, Oct. 4 1838, p.5 col A) Also, his anti-religion sentiment was not popular with most people and as a result, his views were often dismissed solely on that basis. While this aspect of Owen's personality often garnered much criticism, there were also many who supported his ideas. The success of Owen's ideas cannot be defined by his experiment at New Lanark alone, or be accredited solely to Owen. After New Lanark, there were many more similar undertakings by other social reformists who supported Owen's theories. John F. C. Harrison explains in "The Steam Engine of the New Moral World:...
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