|The Robert Owen Museum. Photo by "Indigo Goat" Some rights reserved|
A New View of Society
A New View of Society
"I had done all I could to enlighten the evils of those whom I employed; yet with all I could do under our most irrational system for creating wealth, forming character, and conducting all human affairs, I could only to a limited extent alleviate the wretchedness of their conditions, while I knew society possessed the ample means to educate, employ, place and govern the population."
Robert Owen's experiments in social reform at New Lanark were extremely successful and attracted a great deal of attention. He published his ideas on educational reform and the influence of social environment on character, in a series of essays which were collected and published as a New View of Society. In this major work he outlined his vision of the ideal community - a system run on a co-operative basis involving both factories and agriculture.
At this time Britain had been plunged into severe economic depression following the Napoleonic wars. There was mass unemployment, widespread poverty and hunger riots. In a series of public lectures, in pamphlets and letters to newspapers, Robert Owen proposed the formulation of communities based on New Lanark but run on a co-operative basis as a solution to the employment problem.
At first the new ideas attracted some influential supporters, including the Duke of Kent, but later his attacks on the Church did great damage to his campaign. By many he was seen as a challenger of the established order of society and lost some of the respect he had gained for his pioneering work in factory and educational reform.
After an extensive European tour in 1818, he was asked to prepare a report for the County of Lanark on his ideas for model communities as a solution for unemployment. This report, submitted in 1820, aroused considerable interest, and an influential committee was formed to consider his plans. Eventually it was suggested that funds should be raised for an experimental community, although the committee did not support his plans for widespread social reform.