“The Mutualist” (1826)

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The Mutualist—at once the name of the tract and its author—appeared in five installments, starting in the summer of 1826. The first 24 Remarks are practical in nature and, while the author is definitely critical of the New Harmony settlement and elements, they are presented in a much more conciliatory tone than those written some months later, after criticism of the first three installments had been published in the Gazette. The later Remarks focus on the “metaphysical” aspects of Owen’s system, which “A Mutualist” understands as extrinsic to the basic project of cooperation, and potentially divisive. The author’s use of the term mutualist may be the first in print. Arthur Bestor, in “The Evolution of the Socialist Vocabulary,” notes no earlier appearances. Fourier had apparently coined the term mutualisme in 1822, but it doesn’t seem to have figured at all prominently in Fourier’s writings, which certainly did not lack for neologisms. The mutuelliste silk-weavers of Lyon, from whom Proudhon borrowed the term, began to use it around 1834. Of the major figures associated with the mutualist tradition, only John Gray, whose Lecture on Human Happiness (1826) is cited at the opening of The Mutualist, was active. Of course, Josiah Warren was at New Harmony at the time, and would soon be in Cincinnati beginning to develop a labor-note system much like the one sketched in the “10th Remark.” And perhaps this early convergence may help solve a problem of genealogy which has faced modern mutualists. By the 1870s, mutualism had become the term used by individualist anarchists which individualist anarchists used to describe their economic ideas, a tradition that drew from Proudhon, William B. Greene and Warren, despite considerable differences between the 48’er mutualism of Proudhon and Greene and the individual sovereignty philosophy of Warren. “A Mutualist” complicates the picture even further, suggesting an earlier currency of the term than commonly assumed, but also providing a potential link between Warren and Gray. We can now assume that Warren was at least aware of this very early mutualism, and we know that he shared with “A Mutualist” a concern about the more authoritarian elements of Owen’s philosophy.

From the Introduction to

“The History of Mutualism: Documents from the High Tide of Owenism”

(Corvus Editions)

Starting on June 7, 1826, a series of letters appeared in the New-Harmony Gazette, the weekly paper of Robert Owen’s experimental community at New Harmony, Indiana. They were signed “A Member of a Community,” and later, “A Mutualist,” and the actual identity of the author remains unknown. It is not even clear which community the Mutualist belonged to, although there may be some reasons to favor the Friendly Association for Mutual Interests at Valley Forge, Virginia. There were several Owenite communities founded in 1825 and 1826, including those at New Harmony and Kendall, Ohio.

There are six letters that we can safely attribute to the Mutualist. The first presents a series of questions, apparently posed by “several friends of the social system,” as Owen’s approach was known, seeking clarification on the practical application of Owen’s theories. This was followed immediately by three letters providing answers to the questions posed—answers which are critical of the arrangement of the existing communities, and particularly of New Harmony. These measured criticisms immediately drew responses from “L. G.,” an inhabitant of New Harmony and defender of the present state of the experiment there. He contributed four responses in all. Following these, the final two letters from the Mutualist became considerably more emphatic and less friendly in tone.

In 1826, “mutualist” was a brand-new term. Indeed, a whole array of political keywords—including “anarchism,” “socialism,” “capitalism,” “individualism,” and others—had either yet to be defined, or were just in the process of taking on meanings which we might recognize. The meanings of these terms, in this formative period, were rather like quicksilver, and subject to multiple, sometimes conflicting coinages. A Fourierist use of the term “mutualism” seems to have had almost no relation to the use made by the weavers of Lyons, from whom Pierre-Joseph Proudhon is believed to have borrowed it. It might well have happened that the Mutualist of 1826—the first explicit “mutualist” that has been found—could have belonged to a political current entirely unconnected with the anarchist mutualism of figures like Proudhon and William Batchelder Greene.

As it happens, there are connections, but they are not of any very clear or simple sort. The history of anarchist mutualism has been punctuated at intervals by periods in which the term “mutualism” has caught on in a big way, without those making use of the term having any particularly specific or programmatic connections with one another. One of these seems to have occurred at the “high tide” of Owenite experimentation in the mid-1820s. Another occurred in the years following 1848, and in America we can probably point to yet another in the 1870s, perhaps as a reaction to the increased currency of other, more aggressive labels, such as “anarchist” and the marxianized senses of “socialism.” We are arguably in the midst of yet another of these moments right now, as the response to Kevin Carson’s works has produced relatively large numbers of new critics and new adherents—any two of whom may or may not be “on the same page” with regard to the meaning of the term.

At present, “mutualism” most generally refers to those varieties of individualist anarchism which are both market-friendly and which consider a substantial amount of social involvement, even social construction, to be an inescapable part of what it means to be an individual. Carson considers mutualism to be “free-market anti-capitalism,” and a form of thoroughly voluntary socialism. Modern mutualists tend to claim, though to varying degrees, both the tradition of Proudhon and that of Josiah Warren, along with the particular formulations of “mutual banking” associated with Greene and the land reform priorities of radicals like Joshua King Ingalls. Warren, of course, hated labels and was horrified by comparisons to Proudhon, scandalized as he was by the latter’s famous comparison of property and robbery. A certain kind of fidelity to his thought would require us to deny him even the designation “anarchist,” despite the obviously anarchistic character of his thought.

Any attempt at a narrative history of mutualism, in its various senses, would, at this point, probably be premature. Many important documents from the tradition(s) are obscure, hard to access, untranslated or as yet undiscovered. This series of documents is part of an attempt to at least gather the raw materials for such a history. The various texts appear largely without editorial comment—and this is by design. Readers are encouraged to draw some of their own conclusions about the connections—and significant disconnects—between the various documents selected.

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[First Letter][1]

For the New-Harmony Gazette

Several friends of the social system would be much gratified, if Mr. Owen, or any other member of your community, could answer explicitly and with perspicuity, the following practical questions on the system; which they deem of great and vital importance. They have perused in vain the writings of Mr. Owen, and Mr. Gray, and the essays in your Gazette, and found no where any explanation relating thereto. The advantages of the social system, the defects of the opposite selfish system, the utility of cooperation and mutual indulgence, have been unfolded with; ability: while the abstract principles of Mr. Owen’s peculiar tenets on moral agency, and combinations of circumstances, have been insisted upon, although they do not appear to be essential thereto, since philanthropic individuals could cooperate, whatever might be their ideas on the moral principle of action. The essential and practical operations (and difficulties) of the system have not been clearly stated and examined, their place being occupied by those abstract disquisitions upon which it is hard and needless to convince. But essays on the following operations of active social life would be acceptable to; all, understood by all, useful to all, and would remove many doubts suggested by practical friends of the mutual system.

I. What is to be the stimulus or encouragement to superior industry, activity, and ability in the communities, where no merit is to be ascribed to any one laboring better, quicker, or longer than others? What are to be the inducements to superior exertions, or discoveries in the arts and sciences, or inventions having a beneficial influence and extensive results on the communities and mankind, if such exertions and discoveries are entitled to no reward nor praise? And what are to be the means used or adopted to restrain and meliorate the idle, the petulant, the proud, the vicious, the intemperate, the libertine, &c. if they are to deserve no blame for the injures and unhappiness they may produce? These opposite effects of excellence and depravity are to be expected, more or less, in all communities or aggregation of individuals. If promotion and expulsion are to be the result, are they not rewards and punishments? Is not approbation a kind of praise or reward? Is not admonition equal to blame? How are ambition, jealousy, and vanity to be checked, indolence and neglect to be prevented?

II. How are the communities to stand towards general society and the laws of the land? Even in the United States, the freest of all countries, a series of laws, results of ages of legislation on individual property, will act as checks and restraints on the mutual system, unless special laws are enacted for their benefit, and this it is doubtful whether selfish legislators will do. If the property of the communities is to be held in trust, what guarantee will bind the trustees? Are the members to be termed children or minors before the law, or what? Are they not to be deemed partners, since they labor for mutual benefit? As partners, the perplexing maze of laws on partnership will bear upon them, each being liable for each in all cases, and bad members might injure or disturb the communities: declarations and expositions will not avail in many cases. Widows and orphans have peculiar rights by law, which may perplex, or be used by enemies. How is all this to be avoided, how is it contemplated to act in common, and in spite of the bad laws forbidding special partnerships or cooperations?

III. Money is to be rendered useless, but how? Is not money or any other medium a conventional sign of a value, as much as cattle or cloth? Is not money wanted to buy the land, to settle upon, to hire additional workmen for the great buildings, for materials and tools, of trade or science, to pay the tax, &c. &c.? Are not money or values to be borrowed in and out the society, a stock created, and an interest paid thereon? All this requires money or the equivalent, whence will follow, as in every other concern, financial scheme, book., accounts, &c. If a community does not sell to general society a sufficiency to pay taxes, interest of stock, materials wanted, &c.—How are the difficulties that will follow to be overcome, and money to be dispensed with?

IV. A great hollow square is proposed, as the most efficient and useful mode of building a convenient village? Why has not the square been described, and engraved? Are we to go to Washington, or New Harmony, to see the models thereof? The journey may be long and expensive. Let us have good diagrams, elevations and explanations of a single side of the square, and we may then judge for ourselves, even at a distance. How are the halls, kitchens, rooms, stairs, doors, windows, &c. to be distributed? How are the steam stoves, chimneys, pipes for conveying warm and cool air or water to be contrived? What would be the cost of such a palace or single side, if built by contract, or by the members? What are the superior advantages of a hollow square over parallel sides at a convenient distance, or hollow triangles, pentagons, hexagons, or octagons? How will the unevenness of the ground be avoided? Are the sides to have cellars and garret—two or three stories? What kind of roofs? Are they to be made incombustible, and how?

Such, and many more, are the practical details which many have wished to know and are now asking to be informed upon.

A Member of a Community.


Or, Practical Remarks on the Social System of Mutual Cooperation. [2]

Mr. John Gray concludes his excellent lecture on human happiness by saying—“We think that too many modifications of the same fundamental principles cannot be laid before the public, for out of each something advantageous may be selected.”

Therefore it is to be hoped that the following remarks, may be useful in eliciting and evolving several practical modifications of the beautiful and benevolent scheme of Social Cooperation: altho’ they may sometimes contradict come of the notions adopted in New-Harmony. Let us remember the sentiment of Voltaire

“Du choc des opinions, jaillit la verite.”

And since so many Social Communities are forming or contemplated, which all endeavor to vie and improve upon each other, future societies, if not the actual ones, may perhaps benefit by these remarks. The Constitutions of New-Harmony, Macluria, Philadelphia and Gray’s Community in England are as widely different in detail, and merely connected by the fundamental principle of cooperation, and mutual reciprocity. One hundred modifications of the same principle may be devised to produce greater facilities, energies, enjoyments, security and happiness: or obviate difficulties and impediments likely to occur.

1st Remark—A violent and sudden separation from society is always detrimental to the public and the individual. Has it ever been calculated how much the removal to New-Harmony of all its actual inhabitants has cost them? And how many friends of the System have been kept away by not having the means to remove there. If 1000 individuals have removed to New-Harmony, some must have spent ten dollars to convey themselves and their property, others twenty dollars or fifty dollars or even one hundred dollars. If twenty-five dollars for each be taken for an average, twenty-five thousand dollars was spent by them merely to reach a place of cooperation. This sum saved and put into common stock could have afforded a capital for two or three Communities to being with any where. One thousand individuals at least have preferred to stay at home, or been unable to leave it, principally on this consideration. It is for them that the remark is intended: let them choose n place or placer of cooperation much nearer o at hand, and thus by saving a great expense of removal, be able to throw more in common stock.

2d Remark.—What need of a definite number of members in order to cooperate? why 50 or 1000?—Cannot 5 or 10 or 20 or 50 families cooperate also on a small scale any where, as easily if not as effectually, and by gradual additions increase their number? They can surely and by setting a good example to their neighbors of good intent and brotherly friendship, do much on behalf of themselves and social cause. If they cannot procure all they want among themselves at first, whatever they exchange or perform or produce is so much gained, and the rest they can purchase as if they were in general society. Let therefore mutual societies be formed every where, whenever there are several families willing to help each other, and thus form the nucleus of a future Community.

3d Remark.—Why cannot mutual societies exist in large towns, where are the best markets for labor, and in the midst of actual society? What need of moving or buying large tracts of land, building expensive palaces, at the outset? Why not put their property, skill, funds, labor and resources in common, rent houses and stores, live like brothers, qualify themselves by mutual instruction, establish schools, profess, and create all needful conveniences, until they can by their own labor create sufficient wealth to become land holders, great proprietors and manufacturers?

The money spent by Mr. Owen for New-Harmony, would have enabled him to start twenty Communities in our principal cities and towns. If land is required to make new settlements, there are now many great landholders who would be very willing to I have tenants on such terms as Mr. Owen, to improve their lands and pay them a good interest. Several may even be found, generous enough to give their land for such beneficial purposes on any terms.

4th Remark.—It is the principle of human nature to be acted on by motives; whether they be circumstances or self acts which create new circumstances. Therefore motives must be presented to the mind for actions and exertions. If the idle, the slothful, the apathetic, are to be on a level with the diligent, the active, the skillful, these last who are the marrow-bones of society, will have no motives to exert themselves: since all their exertions would lead to support the idle in idleness, as now slaves do for the masters. It is vain to talk and write that we can not help in ourselves idleness or vice, because irresistibly led thereto, since we can when we are compelled. Let the compulsion be gentle but it must be efficient, or no reciprocal cooperation can ensue. Emulation must therefore be admitted in the mutual system, else all will gradually sink into machines. This emulation may be of rank or rewards or superior comforts. This, although denied in theory, by the metaphysicians of New-Harmony, is in fact the case in practice, since there must be there, superintendents, foremen, lecturers, &c. and the rewards of consideration, approbation, goodwill, facilities for comfort, better houses, &c. This is not said in rebuke; but merely to warn the future societies to avoid this inconsistency, which has already caused much obloquy, and never deny what is obvious and unavoidable. The benevolent men, rich in wealth or in talents and skill, who shall establish and help future communities, ought to receive superior privileges and accommodations, and obtain, (willing or not) the thanks and praises of those whom they have benefited.

5th Remark.—The same reasoning applies to vice, which must be restrained and blamed in spite of metaphysics, and all idle notions in their origin. And this is done in New Harmony, I hope, whatever be its inconsistency with favorite dreams of the mind. Are not or would not the members be blamed, rebuked and even expelled, who should steal what has been granted for the comfort of another or wantonly destroy it; who should abuse and strike a fellow-member; who should poison or choke him with brimstone or tobacco smoke; who should become intoxicated with opium or alcohol, &c.? If this has never happened yet, it may happen, and the consequence is the same.

6th Remark.—Why should we hurt the prejudices, or infatuation, or habits, of the rich, the religious, the lawyers, and other actual classes of society, by telling them, you are useless, and we mean to teach how to dispense with you. This cannot be said in the pure spirit of genuine benevolence to all men. We ought to respect and conciliate all classes and opinions that are not vicious. The rich are to be invited to join us, and enjoy among us their actual wealth. The religious are to be respected, the free enjoyment of their worship granted, and any discussion avoided, or carried on with charitable equity and equanimity, &c.

7th Remark.—Lawyers are the rulers of the land, in this country of laws: when private strife shall cease, they will have to change their functions and become arbitrators, diplomatists, &c. Meantime they rule or have great influence, and ought not to be irritated. There are sufficient legal restraints already upon mutual property and labors and we must avoid to increase them by hostility. They ought rather to be consulted in transactions of moment, that we may not through oversight or neglect, fall under the lash of some flaw. We have promised to respect the laws, this includes those on property of all kinds, land, houses, patents, goods, &c. and the laws on inheritance, division of property, militia, trusts, conveyances, &c. and no one knows them all but those very lawyers.

8th Remark.—A pretension to absolute equality is rather a dream of the mind than a practicable good. It is acknowledged by all that we are not born alike both physically and mentally, and that no two individuals experience the same modifications of circumstances: therefore absolute equality is impossible and against nature’s rule of diversity in all her productions. The man born blind, or deaf, or lame, or deformed, is physically different from others. We are born with different strength of limbs, propensities, sympathies, faculties and powers of mind, and then are daily modified by our food, education, exercise our own actions, and the reactions of others. Uniformity of thought and motion, cannot be produced by any circumstance or combination of circumstances, because we all act or think in a peculiar way under the very same events. Political or social equality is very different from this abstract absolute equality, and qualified by liberty of action, allowing of gradations of skill, talents, capacities, comfort, &c. The inference is plain, we ought not to contend for absolute equality; but admit the law of nature, diversity, for a practical principle, wherefrom is derived the right of social equality in proportion to our powers and abilities to become useful to each other.

9th Remark.—Absolute toleration or liberty is likewise a theory, and not a practical effect; because it must always be qualified or limited by mutual reciprocity. Every individual ought to be free to think and act as he pleases, when he does not thereby curtail the happiness of others: else the absolute liberty to do good or evil, would be the liberty of a despot. It is even doubtful whether any one ought to be free to injure oneself, (for instance by intoxication or suicide,) if he is a useful and needful member of society. Restraints are therefore indispensable whenever an individual has the madness to do evil, and in the mutual societies, where no causes will exist for vice or crime, any one doing injuries, must be a wanton madman. We must hope that persuasion, blame, admonition and expulsion, will be as efficient punishments as confinement and murdering by hanging.

10th Remark.—As long as the mutual associations shall be surrounded by actual society, and people trafficking in land, cattle, goods, &c.: they will have occasion to deal with them, and employ a medium of exchange. When mutual institutions shall he so multiplied as to be able to deal in all instances among themselves, even then, they will want money, to pay taxes and postages: besides some medium to regulate their own exchanges. What medium shall be chosen, salt, skins, shells, &c. as among savage nations? or metals as now adopted by all the civilized nations? It is desirable that gold and silver should become merchandise again. In that case no other adequate regulating medium would be better than labor itself, and hours of labor might become the standard of value. This change cannot however be very proximate, and meanwhile an accordance of labor and money might be introduced, or a peculiar amount of money represent an hour of labor, according to the local value of labor.

11th Remark.—It cannot be too often repeated that the mutual system is no wise necessarily connected with Mr. Owen’s plan of hollow squares, as he has himself declared, when they were ridiculed. His plan is the best he could devise with the help of actual knowledge, to unite economy, concentration, comfort, and beauty; but he has invited to do better if possible. Knowledge is progressive, and something may yet be devised as superior to the hollow square, as they are to a log house. Meantime let us build when we have the means or the leisure, palaces 1000 feet long as the sides of the square are to be. Yet they ought not in all instances to he put 4 together in a square; because this would produce dullness of uniformity, and nature demands in the works of arts as in her own diversity, with the addition of symmetry. These palaces may therefore be aggregated or grouped in any convenient symmetrical form to suit the ground, our taste, our convenience and our means. They may be put 2 or 3, 4, 5, 8, 10, &c. in parallel rows surrounded by gardens, or even form a town and city by multiplication, each being 500 feet distant from each other. The following arrangements will illustrate this:

12th Remark—Mutual labor can be exerted in as many ways as individual labor, and with the additional advantage of unity of interest and cooperation. In the concentrated communities, gardening, agriculture, manufactures, instruction, and recreations, appear to form the circle of labor. But why are commerce, transportation, improvements, to be neglected? Mutual societies ought to trade (if not for profit) to exchange the exuberant for the needful. No company could better than they, build vessels or steamboats, pave roads, dig canals, and use them to run stages, wagons, lines. This would produce the threefold advantage of being profitable labor, of showing to the people at large how useful cooperation can be made, and to scatter everywhere the seeds of the mutual system. Moral, honest, and industrious mutual laborer, wagoners, mail-carriers, steam-liner men, would be admired and preferred. Tow-boats on canals and rivers, are particularly safe and useful; let the social friends turn their attention that way as soon as they can.

13th Remark.—Instruction is after education, the best mode to convince and ameliorate mankind.—Both ought to be used at the same time. The most efficient modes to instruct will be:

  1. By establishing superior academies or universities of general knowledge.
  2. By mutual instruction and lectures on all subjects.
  3. By the Press. Academics and lecture may all be on the plan of mutual instruction; the most able and willing members may be monitors and teachers by turns. There are few who cannot communicate some knowledge, if it be merely the result of their own experience. Teachers of youth must have a greater share of self-knowledge and attainments: and may be considered as a profession. Good teachers will do much to establish a popular college; but another requisite is very much wanted to render education more generally attainable. It is cheapness of tuition and food. Now these desiderata can no where be attained more completely than in the communities. Ten dollars per annum, or one dollar per month, ought to be the utmost charged to strangers who should send their children to receive our mutual instruction. The rich may be charged one dollar per week, board, and the poor only half a dollar, or even nothing, if they allow their children to work some hours a day for us.

14th Remark.—The press deserves a few remarks. Gazettes, newspapers, tracts and books, cannot be too much multiplied. Let them be well conducted, impartial, devoted to human happiness and the mutual system, free of any metaphysical or abstract creed, or at least without a wish to enforce one; but above all, let them be cheap and attainable by the poor. By mutual labor, paper and printing can be afforded for half of the actual price, and this alone is an engine of knowledge beyond calculation. A weekly paper of one dollar per annum, or pamphlets at 6 cents a piece, would be read by thousands, and scatter our views of human happiness, with useful knowledge, to the most remote corners.

15th Remark.—Combination and competition are the two great balances of labor or the power of production. Competition prevents and countervails combination, which leads to monopolies. The mutual societies will be combinations of labor; not for the purpose of raising prices, but to lessen them; or rather to render labor exchangeable. They will be able to work so much cheaper because free of clogs, charges and profits, they can afford to sell their superfluous labor very low, or even to give it away in pure benevolence. Therefore no one ought to be afraid of such combinations, except those who are interested in selling at high rates, or making great profits. For instance, a pound of physic sells perhaps for one dollar by wholesale; but, if you want a dose you must pay twenty-five cents; while the pound may afford 100 such doses, and therefore sells by retail at 25 dollars, or 25 times its first cost. Such is the absurdity and abuse of the retailing system. In the mutual societies your dose will cost you one cent, and so on for every needful article.

16th Remark.—Before the combination of actual trade, there is another kind which the mutual system will destroy: it is that of puffing reputation, whereby the man by cunning and the help of his friends can acquire a name, must be paid more than another for doing the very same thing, and no better. This applies to mechanics, lawyers, and almost every other profession. A tailor will charge 30 dollars for a coat, made by his workman, and the same coat in the hands of that workman, is only worth 15 or 20 dollars! A great lawyer must have a fee of 1000 dollars, and a petty lawyer will do the same business for 100, or even 10 dollars. None but fools it seems could thus throw away their money; but mankind are now a mass of folly. One must have a fashionable tailor in order to boast of it, and he pays double price for the boast. We shall avoid all this by estimating all labor by its intrinsic and equivalent utility.

17th Remark.—Mutual exchanges between individuals or communities, may perhaps require appraisers. These officers will have the task of equity to perform, and act as arbitrators. Their rule of conduct will be and ought to be based upon three considerations. 1. Time required or employed to perform a labor. 2. Skill displayed in the execution. 3. Intrinsic utility and duration. From the combination of these, every labor can be reduced to a standard of value. In some countries, and at a distance from markets or consumption, many variations will occur, in the value of some labor, which will be regulated by circumstances, and local wants or mutual calls.

18th Remark.—There are some habits which time alone can eradicate, and we ought not to be overjealous about them, when they are harmless, although they may consume additional labor. For instance, how can we hope to destroy the wish of finery and pretty baubles in women, except by degrees? That innocent habit can be partly indulged, a few ribbons, or flowers, can satisfy it, as well as lace or gold lama. In general, indulgence and liberty could be safely allowed in dress; a neat shoe often costs no more than a clumsy one, a good coat is not dearer than a plain quaker coat. Therefore, each may suit their taste.

19th Remark.—But there is something of far more importance than dress:—it is food. Such food as we have acquired the habit of, or agrees with our stomach, is by far more conducive to health and happiness than any other.—Entire liberty should be left on that score, and a variety of food provided to suit all—healthy and delicate food, or even dainties, cost no more than gross and coarse food, and if they do, they save sickness and medicines. Some individuals prefer, however, this coarse food, and are fond of hams, bloody roast beef, smoked raw meat, cucumbers, pickles, green apples, and other indigestible bad food. Let them be indulged, but warned of their effects on health. While soups, jellies, meat and vegetables well steamed or dressed ought to be provided for those who value their health and an easy digestion.

20th Remark.—Next comes drink. There are an infinite variety of beverages. The sober and enlightened man will always prefer water, milk, wine, lemonade, cider, beer, syrups, &C. to every other. But let those be indulged who have acquired the habit of tea, coffee, chica, &c. As for all the alcoholic liquors, such as brandy, whiskey, rum, &c, it would be well to dispense with them altogether, for they are disguised poisons, but if habits are strong, let them be overcome gradually, and these liquors only used as occasional medicaments.

21st Remark.—The mutual societies must not fall into the mistaken notion or belief, that we live in the most enlightened age of the world, and that arts ad sciences have reached their ne plus ultra. Nothing is more erroneous nor more common: how many think yet that after us the world is to end, or can no longer improve! Let us on the contrary admit that notwithstanding the wonderful discoveries of this age, there are many more in store for future ingenuity and enjoyment, Therefore we must trail with pleasure all present and future improvements, whatever be their nature, and encourage by all means our fellows to do the same, and follow the path of discovery. We must allow them some merit for the good they may do to us, in spite of metaphysical notions. At present the laws of the land grant them a reward, and we must devise means to make our regulations accord with these laws. Else every ingenious man who may achieve a great discovery or improvements among us would be ipso facto driven away into general society; by the very act of the good and useful mental and mechanical labor he may have achieved; since he would receive no reward (not even praise) for the benefits he may confer.

22nd Remark.—All recreations are innocent, which do not produce vice or unhappiness. Dancing is not vicious; it is as innocent as walking, running, or jumping, an agreeable and healthy exercise for youth principally; nay, in France and Switzerland young and old dance together. But if some should find a recreation in loud noise and screams, that would disturb the peace and quiet of society, let them be restrained. Singing and music delight every one except a few who are defective in ears or may be sick; they need not attend concerts.

23rd Remark.—Breaking the Sabbath is a great scandal with Puritans. But the Catholic and Grecian churches do not deem dancing, nor singing, nor theatrical performances, a beach of the Sabbath; and why should Protestants dictate to Catholics? The Jews and Sabatarians hold Saturday to be the Sabbath. The Mohomedans hold Friday. We have chosen the day of the sun; but if any one chooses any other day or no day at all, who has a right to interfere and say you shall not follow your Sabbath, but mine? This question about Sabbath will only cease when we shall change our weeks and make them of five days, as they were once (or of ten, as the French did once). That a time of rest is needful to all, cannot be denied; but one day in five would be better than one day in seven. Or what will be still better, no days of public rest ought to be chosen, when four hours of labor daily will be amply sufficient to supply all our wants; since then we shall have a daily Sabbath, or rest of 24 hours.

24th Remark.—The credit we have received ever from the foes of the social system is, that all our communities would be so many asylums for the indigent, the unfortunate, the disappointed, the industrious with a large family, &c. Let us therefore render them such, and never refuse admittance, or rather invite at all times, all those and any other unhappy being, who wishes to better himself. We shall then become benevolent institutions if nothing more, and deserve the respect of the good.


The Mutualist has seen the reply of a writer in the Gazette to his Practical Remarks on Cooperation.[3] This writer has done him injustice in suggesting that the moral aim and improvement had been kept out of view. Because the Mutualist had only touched some of the practical topics of cooperation, it ought not to be said that he bad forgotten the others; but leaving recrimination, he means to enter at once into some other practical remarks, which may be extended again in time, and apply to all the aims of cooperation.

25th Remark.—It is a very unhappy Circumstance, that whenever any number of individuals congregate for any useful specific purpose, they will deviate from their moral and benevolent aim, to talk, dispute, or insist upon some peculiar exclusive political or religious opinions or notions, wherein they may differ, and which have no special bearing upon the good in view. It is desirable that means may be devised to change this propensity or circumstance, in order that no exclusive irrelevant notion may interfere with cooperation.—Why could not the subject be dismissed altogether?

26th Remark.—But since Mr. Owen is making his metaphysical theory of circumstances the sine qua non of cooperation, as much so as the Shakers make the separation of the sexes let him know that there are many of his friends who think that by doing so he is becoming an intolerant sectarian himself. They consider that sectarianism consists in compelling and insisting upon any peculiar tenet, whatever it may be, while tolerance and benevolence consist in allowing to all the enjoyment or happiness of their private thoughts, on abstruse and religious subjects.

27th Remark.—The practice of Mr. Owen being contrary to his profession of benevolence and tolerance, will be a heavy blow to moral and mutual cooperation. His new religion being a sect of Pantheism and Materialism, and as exclusively intolerant as any other, must be deemed by many, another new aberration of the human mind.

28th Remark.—Yet M. Owen will have proselytes and converts: since if a man was to preach and compel his disciples to believe that the moon was made of green cheese, he would be followed by some, particularly if he had land and money to support his disciples in idleness and slavery of body and mind—of this we have many proofs in history. Mr. Owen is then the founder of a new sect, and not the benefactor of all industrious and oppressed individuals.

29th Remark—The moral results of this new sect are yet to be seen. Many doubt whether compelling cooperators to abandon their religion, their liberty of thought, and their wives, can improve their moral habits. Mental Independence ought not to be a dictation, else it becomes mental slavery to a peculiar notion.

30th Remark.—Good men of all sects, or of no sect at all, believe or feel that men have always had the power to change their circumstances, and even their religion, whenever their mind and reason become ripe and able to choose between many. The new sect of circumstances or exclusive materialism, professes to teach and force the opinion that no circumstances have ever been changed by men, until now! or until it has become known that they can change them: while many believe that this has always been known, and acted upon by all the legislators and sectarians of old.

31st Remark.—The great plan of extensive benevolence announced by Mr. Owen, had gained him many friends all over the United States. These friends should wish to know what he has done to realize their expectations. Where have the square palaces been built which were to supersede all other buildings? Has even one been begun? Where are the gardens, conveniences, improvements, great machines, which were to provide for all those willing to work and unable to find a remuneration for their labors? What moral evils have been destroyed?

32nd Remark.—Has not Mr. Owen, like other sectarians, been more intent on inculcating his religious principles, than in organizing communities? But what are to be the moral ties of his disciples (or machines as some would be called?) A single rotten wheel, or cog, puts machinery out of order; many such rotten cogs will be found, or become such in time, and then moral evil will be produced as in any other sect or society.

33rd Remark.—The Mutualist does not look at the Owenian system through the medium of selfish society; but in the balance of good and evil to be produced, and he asserts with all benevolent minds, that to deprive men and women of their religion, if they choose to have any; or allow a bad husband to discharge at pleasure a good wife, or a bad wife a good husband, who do not wish to be discharged, will lead to unhappiness, misery, discord, and many other ills in the selfish system; which would have been avoided by not mixing these notions with cooperation, to which they are quite strangers, but are introduced by a sectarian spirit, not calculated to add to the individual happiness of all.

34th Remark.—Has not freedom of thought and metaphysical tolerance, been partly if not wholly discarded in New Harmony? and has not a new mental thralldom been established instead, whereby all are compelled by the public opinion of the majority to believe, or feign to believe, that they are machines (and posts, as Mr. Owen has said) to be carved and molded by new modellers, under the penalty of being thought fools, or priest-ridden.

35th Remark.—Has not a physical thralldom been adopted in practice, where all are compelled to toil as slaves, for coarse food and clothes, and 10 hours a day, (while it was declared that a general decrease of labor was to follow immediately) under penalty of expulsion, &c.? And what is worse, why are many compelled to labor at occupations uncongenial and disagreeable to them? Is not this slavery? and worse circumstances than in selfish society? where any individual would for such drudgery and toil, be better fed, clothed, and enjoy many innocent gratifications besides.

36th Remark.—The observations of the Mutualist are not made in a spirit of hostility, but far otherwise; he deems to understand the Social System as well as Mr. Owen himself, who will be taught by experience that nothing great nor good nor permanent, can be done, even with his ample means, under a system of circumstances not better, but worse, and involving a mixture of intolerance, thralldom, servitude and immorality.

“A Mutualist” (aka “A Member of Community”)


For the New-Harmony Gazette.[4]

Mssrs. Editors,

I have always read, and shall continue to read with the greatest pleasure, in your Gazette, all the remarks and propositions which tend to facilitate the practice of the excellent system of communities introduced by Mr. Owen. In this state of mind I enjoyed much satisfaction in perusing the article entitled “Mutualist, No. 1,” contained in your last number, though somewhat disappointed to find that the writer did not even mention the principal object of these associations which is to ameliorate the moral condition of mankind, by substituting the social virtues in the place of our vicious habits. He speaks only of cooperation in profitable labor, which already exists on a small scale in the partnerships formed in general society, by far the greater part being of short duration, commencing with flattering prospects and ending with disappointment, because the circumstances of the partners not being essentially changed by their association, their individual interests soon lead to a dissolution of the common concern.

If it is so easy as this writer pretends to form communities on the plan of Mr. Owen by assembling a small number of families together, how docs it happen that no such communities were formed in this country until his principles were seen in practical The Yellow Spring Association may perhaps be thought an exception, though it owed its origin to the presence of Mr. Owen in Cincinnati. The result of this experiment is far from being satisfactory. Far from coinciding with the Mutualist on the important subject in question, I consider him entirely wrong in viewing the first assemblage of persons at New-Harmony & a violent and sudden separation, injurious to the public and to the individuals; and as to the calculation of the expenses of transportation hither I find an aggregation of at least three fifth.

These expenses are, of course, voluntarily incurred by the individuals, and consequently each one in proportion to his means, not merely to reach a place of cooperation, but to establish an institution for the education of their children-such an education as could not be procured elsewhere at any price.

This object is attained-this grand desideratum to every good father of a family is supplied the institution is formed, and no good parent will find it dearly purchased. Albert Gallatin, who has recently been appointed Minister Plenipotentiary to Great Britain, observed to one of his friends last summer, that our system of education was the best in the world, and every one knows of what weight the opinions of this distinguished citizen are.

I ardently desire to see communities multiply every where without regard to the number of the families by which they are commenced; but I believe that a small number of families cannot associate on the community principles but under disadvantages which cannot be compared with the expenses necessary to join a larger assemblage, and I am persuaded that the prosperity of Macluria and of Feiba Peveli will be chiefly owing to their location in vicinity of New-Harmony, and more especially to its schools, and the ties of interest between those communities and other similar communities in their immediate neighborhood.

The proposition of forming or commencing communities on Mr. Owen’s principles in the midst of large cities appears to me absurd. How is it possible in such situations to obtain economy of time or consumption? Without adverting to the exorbitant charges of rent, how can schools be established capable of realizing the end contemplated by this system; and moreover, how are the funds necessary to such establishments to be procured? How shall the influence of bad examples, especially of luxury, that first principle of ruin and depravation be avoided? and how shall the morals of youth be preserved in a population where these evils, and temptations are daily exhibited before their eyes—where gormandizing and drunkenness present themselves at every step’?

I reserve the remainder of my reflections for succeeding number, at present observing only to the Mutualist, that it is not sufficient to give counsel as to the number of individuals or family requisite to form communities of cooperation; it is necessary to detail the means of this cooperation, to demonstrate its advantages; and especially, on a subject of this importance, not to keep out of view the moral object, which is the amelioration of the human species.

L. G.

For the New-Harmony Gazette .[5]

Mssrs. Editors,

The desire alone of being useful to my companions in the career we have entered for ameliorating the condition of our species, and assuring to our posterity the precious inheritance derived from the exercise of the social virtues dictated observations on the remarks of the “Mutualist,” to which you have been pleased to assign a place in your No. 39. The same desire now stimulated me to continue them.

The money expended by Mr. Owen for New-Harmony would have enabled him to start twenty communities in our principal cities and towns,” &c. I think I have demonstrated, a t least in part, the absurdity of forming communities in the midst of cities and populous towns. I shall only add, that those individuals who may attempt such establishments, finding themselves surrounded by relations and friends who cannot participate in their taste for such societies, will daily be incommoded by their interference, influenced by their example, and subjected to religious intolerance, which, in general society, tends to produce fanaticism and hypocrisy.

I am convinced, that Mr. Owen, far from having employed his funds injudiciously in forming a society at this place, has, on the contrary, given to all the friends of humanity an example of disinterested devotion, the consequences of which cannot be appreciated. What kind of pecuniary advantage could he expect, in giving to the members of this society the enjoyment, rent free, of buildings which cost him a large sum of money, and which are decaying every day, as well as of lands already cleared and in a state of cultivation? It appears that, on this point, the “Mutualist” has received the most erroneous information.

In his 4th remark he is not au fait in regard to what passes here, and that he views communities through the spectacles of general society, which can disclose to him the advantages’ and disadvantages of the individual system only. What would become of philanthropy, benevolence and reciprocal kindness, if sympathy for the poor was not worth the dollar of the opulent? Does lie not know, that in the partnerships existing in general society one of the partners often contributes a double part towards the profits of the partnership, which are, however, divided in equal portions, without reproaching his associates, of whose good will he is satisfied?

In a community organized on the principles of Mr. Owen, idleness, indolence, and apathy are out of the question: the practice of the virtues opposed to these vices would soon make it appear to the members indulging themselves in pernicious habits, that they were not made for such a society, and they would consequently retire of their own accord, without being required to do so.

Those who are not sufficiently disinterested to impart to their fellow beings a portion of the talents and activity they have the good fortune to possess, will find their proper places among speculators and egotists in general society, where their ambition can be stimulated, and where they will rarely be incommoded by examples of generosity which they are not disposed to imitate.

The danger and inconvenience of ranks, rewards and superior comforts, hate been so sufficiently established, and proved, in divers passages of your Gazette, that I need not discuss a subject already victoriously adjusted by better pens than mine. I will only observe to the “Mutualist,” that if we have Intendents, and Superintendents, far from these offices and titles being a recompense, they are only additional labor which some individuals undertake to perform at the request of their fellow-men, and with a consciousness of their capacity to discharge them, conferring no distinction or enjoyments which are not common at all. If any member conducts himself so ill, that his example and bad behaviour become dangerous to the society, he is dismissed; not by way of punishment, but in order to protect the society from the danger of his example, and its consequences.

I perfectly agree that every thing should be said and done in the pure spirit of benevolence to all men; and all things here are directed by that spirit. If the “Mutualist” had had occasion to visit this place lately, he would probably have dispensed with his 6th and 7th remarks in his first No. and he would easily have been convinced, that in an institution based on truth, virtue, and equality, the rich cannot be invited to enjoy their riches and exhibit their luxury.

In my next, I design to develope the sense and general acceptation of the term Equality, as understood in this place.

L. G.


[1] Source: New Harmony Gazette. June 7, 1826.

[2] Source: New Harmony Gazette. June 14, 1826; June 21, 1826; June 28, 1826; October 25, 1826; December 27, 1826.

[3] See page 16.

[4] Source: New Harmony Gazette. June 21, 1826.

[5] Source: New Harmony Gazette. July 5, 1826.


About Shawn P. Wilbur 2703 Articles
Independent scholar, translator and archivist.