The Past Is Present

Our family just returned from an all-weekend celebration of my husband’s 90th birthday. Our daughter arranged it all–a party (at which he was surprised by the President of Indianapolis’ City-County Council, who read a Council proclamation issued in his honor), and a weekend trip to New Harmony, Indiana, where our family “took over” an entire, fairly large restored Victorian bed and breakfast.

For those of you unfamiliar with New Harmony, it’s a small historic town tucked into the southwest corner of the state. The entire town is a historic landmark; settled in 1814, it was founded as a “Utopia.”  Twice. It was first a spiritual sanctuary for the Harmonie Society–a German religious order– and then as a haven for international scientists and scholars led by Robert Owen. (Owen’s version might have lasted longer had he included some farmers and folks who could work with their hands along with the intellectual glitterati he assembled..)

Owen’s vision for “a New Moral World” of happiness, enlightenment, and prosperity is the better-known of the two experiments. Owen believed that a utopia could be achieved through education, science, technology, and communal living–elements that would foster  a “superior social, intellectual and physical environment” based on his ideals of social reform.  In January 1825 he signed the agreement to purchase the town from the Harmonie Society, renamed it New Harmony, and invited anyone who agreed with his vision to join him.

According to various accounts, the experiment attracted “crackpots, free-loaders, and adventurers” in addition to the scientists, artists and intellectuals Owen recruited. Almost immediately, members began arguing about inequities between workers and non-workers, and the town’s overcrowding. The lack of sufficient housing and the settlement’s inability to produce other needed goods has been attributed to a shortage of skilled craftsmen and laborers.

There’s lots more information about New Harmony and its  utopian history online–if you’re interested, Wikipedia will get you started.

We assembled at the Visitor’s Center on Saturday morning for a tour. The Center is in a world-famous contemporary building designed by Richard Meier sometime in the 1960s. A walking tour took us to several of the original structures, most of which have been carefully restored, and we learned that Robert Owen’s partner in “Utopia II” was a man named William McClure, who was a great proponent of education and the dissemination of knowledge, especially via newspapers. ( Evidently, the contemporary McClures Magazine is named for him. The things you learn…)

McClure was every bit as interesting as Owen, although his name is far less well-known (at least to me). President of the Academy of Natural Sciences of Philadelphia from 1817 to 1840, he came to New Harmony during the winter of 1825–1826, and brought with him a group of artists, educators, and fellow scientists from Philadelphia. They arrived aboard a keelboat that became known as the “Boatload of Knowledge.”

McClure directed the settlement’s schools, which became the first public schools in the United States open to both boys and girls, and established one of the country’s first  trade schools. He also established The Working Men’s Institute, a society for “mutual instruction.” It includes the oldest continuously operating library in Indiana, as well as a small museum.  The terms of his will included a provision bequeathing $500 to any club or society of laborers in the United States that established a reading and lecture room with a library of at least 100 books–and some 160 libraries in Indiana and Illinois took advantage of the bequest.

We visited an exhibit showcasing McClure’s printing operation, which included examples of the newspapers and other materials he produced, and I was especially struck by a placard he’d printed. It was headed: HEAR! and read

JOSEPH SHOWERS, Treasurer of Posey County will divide time with, and reply to, JUDGE J. PITCHER at New Harmony, Wednesday, September 4th, 1872 at 7 o’clock PM at POSEYVILLE, Thursday, September 5th at 7 o’clock PM …

Three other sites and times were also listed. Then below those listings:

Come out citizens and taxpayers and hear a complete and thorough vindication of the honesty and integrity of your County Officers against calumnies now being circulated by unscrupulous politicians for mere partisan effect.

I would say that some things never change, but obviously the grammar and vocabulary of those political “calumnies” has degraded rather significantly.

Political misinformation and mudslinging aren’t new. The methods of their dissemination, however, are. It would be fascinating to know just how many voters of Posey County attended these events that “divided time” and allowed candidates to “reply” to accusations. It would be equally interesting to know just how common these face-to-face debates were.

Most of all, it would be helpful to understand which elements of Robert Owen’s Utopian vision worked, and which ones didn’t, and why.


  1. A belated Happy Birthday to Robert N. Kennedy. Thank you for allowing Sheila the time to contemplate and write to share with all of us. 🥳

  2. Interesting that less than one hundred years after the lofty ideals of the Constitution were written the political system so hoped for had disintegrated into partisan politics… and remained there not just in Posey County but across the country. Sad.

  3. Maybe we shouldn’t have actual laws allowing politicians to lie without recourse. The “justification is that we can vote out liars.”

    Sounds like another Scalia invention.

    Interesting Wikipedia read about New Harmony. My family lineage is Owen from Orange County, French Lick. I even had a great Uncle named Robert Dale Owen.

    It’s not surprising that New Harmony’s intellectual village didn’t survive, considering it was Indiana. I noticed that most of those living there came from somewhere else. 🙂

    I think that pattern has reversed today – anybody with an intellect leaves Indiana. Lol

  4. Really “for allowing?” More appropriately, I hope
    Robert would agree, would be encouraging Shelia ….

  5. There have been several utopian communities tried over the centuries and as near as I can tell only one model remains. Several countries employ it like and including these United States. Among the many details that must be right is the mixed economy. In fact, as near as I can tell the mixed economy model employing both socialism and capitalism is used by every country in the world today, but of course, there is nothing utopian about many of the other countries because they do not employ the liberal democratic election of administrators for legislative, executive and judicial functions as well as the mixed economy.

    It turns out that it takes many goods and services to satisfy the needs of naturally diverse people and some means to produce offer no way to charge their costs on a unit of use basis while others do. For instance, public safety be it military or law enforcement, or education, or the three branches of government, or management of common transportation infrastructure be it land, sea, or air. Such goods and services only can be practically provided by assets owned by everyone and paid for by everyone through taxes that are independent of use. They assume use by everyone.

    On the other hand, some goods and services readily lend themselves to unit pricing so private ownership of the means of production is natural and not at all cumbersome. We have devised straightforward (at least for accountants) mechanisms to combine all of the costs to produce; means, labor, energy, natural resources, logistics, and management to come up with all-encompassing but unitized costs. Use one, pay for one.

    Humans are virtually impossible to domesticate and we demand the right to live the diversity that defines us. Economics though has to be disciplined because there is so much to be organized. While there was a great deal of experimentation over the previous centuries we seem to have finally arrived at a model that can be made to work for everyone in the mixed economy of socialism and well-regulated capitalism under liberal democracy.

  6. Debates in New Harmony – well, per the recent news, the GOP believes in “New Silence” and are ducking out of debates in many states. How dare we be questioned!


    If you are looking for robust open community and dialogue here in Indianapolis, the Annual Spirit in Place Festival invites active participation on timely civic issues of mutual concern.

    The enlightened community does not care how much you know until they know how much you care.

  8. Utopia,

    Impossible! History is littered with Utopian efforts.

    A Utopian society would be run by benevolent leadership! But then who is to lead? If everyone is equal, what happens? Eventually, those who are not in leadership will demand that leadership. Someone has to lead, or, you will have an Anarchical Society, very far removed from a Utopia or a Utopian society.

    Humanity is not built for leading itself! If mankind has evolved from Apes, why does mankind struggle to get along with his fellow man, more so than Apes get along with fellow Apes? The same with Chimpanzee’s or Monkey’s!?!?!

    It seems evolutionary advancement has been a myth! Of course, I suppose we could have a “planet of the Apes,” lol! But in all seriousness, I think we have that right now!

    Humanity/mankind is actually an extremely flawed species unable to direct its own steps. Being so highly evolved, lol, humanity has developed narcissism, jealousy, greed, loathing, self-a-grandizement, contentious behavior, divisive behavior, enmity and many other things!?!? And, I might add, is standing on the precipice of self-destruction! Ahhh, evolution what a wonderful way of intellectual advancement, LOL, Not!

    How can imperfection give rise to perfection? Through the evolutionary process, that was supposed to be happening. Continuously evolving to a higher level of consciousness and intellect. But, through scientific observation, the exact opposite is happening presently. I suppose, this imperfect species needs to put that evolutionary puppy in reverse and take that other fork in the road? Lol, not likely!

    A Panacea, a Shangri-La, a Utopia, a Valhalla, a lot of things to reach for, shouldn’t be difficult for such a highly evolved species, and yet impossible it is!!

    Humanity has embraced “Casuistry” as it’s moral compass. In theory, I suppose one could consider it an evolutionary type of process, but in actuality, it has become the parent of Me’ism. What a conundrum! You have those who put their trust in authority or logic, and then others who put their trust in instinct such as conscience or common sense or sentiment!

    Imperfection cannot choose anything perfect, imperfection can try to achieve it to the best of it’s ability, but you will always have the anarchaic element which will prevent any sort of positive enlightenment or moral evolution.

    Hence, Me’ism! Because some imperfect someone decides that reinventing the wheel over and over again is the best way to improve society. It will never happen, and barring a great change, the precipice is looming! Mankind better hope and pray that there is truly a benevolence that will rescue him, but in our Superior evolved intellect, we actually ridicule that notion, because of our, what? Superior intellect? Is our intellectual conduct actually above Apes and chimps? Not hardly!

    The names of our conceived perfect societies are actually derived from philosophy, ancient Greek and ancient Rome and ancient Asian philosophical teachings. No parameters in society, only looking at the letter of the law so to speak but not the law itself. So right now, I’m getting ready to take my imperfect self out and attempt to help my imperfect neighbors whom I care deeply about. I will apply what I’ve learned about something more, because as it states in 1st Corinthians 13:13, “now however, there remain faith, hope, love, these three; but the greatest of these is love.”

    Colossians 3:14 reads; “but besides all these things, clothe yourselves with love, for it is a perfect Bond of union.”

    And back to 1st Corinthians, the apostle Paul States in the 13th chapter,”love is patient and kind, love is not jealous, it does not brag, does not get puffed up, does not behave in decently, does not look for its own interests, does not become provoked, does not keep account of injury. It does not rejoice over unrighteousness, but rejoices in the truth. It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things and endures all things. Love never fails.”

    I didn’t used to be that way, but I am now. It’s easy to be consumed with hatred, and I was! And it was killing me! But, I am refreshed, and I hope to continue that way.

    Now, that’s what I call evolving, hopefully it continues!

  9. The bad blood might be the same, but there are some differences, examples include: willingness of the people to hear both sides of the debate; debate rules were more like you would find in a high school or college debate team; debates could go on for hours and the voters stayed.

    In defense of Indiana, we were once a state where intellect counted, where there were more colleges and universities per capita than any other state. We produced Booth Tarkington, James Whitcomb Riley (whom Mark Twain praised as one of the great storytellers of his time), Cole Porter, George Ade, Theodore Dreiser, Kurt Vonnegut, Dan Wakefield, not to mention a host of highly regarded politicians (e.g. Skyler Colfax and John Brademas) and actors (Clifton Webb and Marjorie Maine were two of the best). Yes, you have to leave Indiana to become famous or even infamous, but they learned what made them so in Indiana.

  10. I went to New Harmony years ago. The motel I stayed in had Amish furniture. In the spring, they have a peony festival. In July, millions of lightning bugs gather there. It is probably more beautiful than fireworks. I walked through the labyrinth modeled after the one at the cathedral in Chartres, France. My visit was quiet and contemplative. If I recall correctly, Paul Tillich, one of the foremost existential theologians is buried there.

    Sadly, we live in a dystopia as evidenced by the fact we still have the plague of war, famine, disinformation, and people who deny that our climate is getting dangerously warm. Countries are dangerously divided by citizens on the extreme right and left i.e. Brazil. Even so, as the Buddhists affirm, “the jewel is in the lotus.” In the midst of this dystopia, people arise who inspire us to move the moral arc of the universe forward.

  11. Maybe we “Sheilalites”, mostly being 70+, ought to build our own “New New Harmony” cooperative community! But, what state? [An maybe, after Nov. 8, what country?” No snow and ice, please! 🙂 🙂

  12. Well,there is this…

    The state of Indiana received the greatest number of Carnegie library grants of any state. Between the years of 1901 to 1918, Indiana received a total of 156 Carnegie library grants, which allowed for the creation of 165 library buildings. Indiana received a total of over $2.6 million from the Carnegie Corporation.

  13. League of Women Voters of Hamilton County are holding a candidate forum tonight at Carmel City Hall & virtually. It is for Senate seats 21 & 29 and House Districts 24, 32 & 39. No republicans are showing. Cowards! Off LWV website: “The League of Women Voters is a nonpartisan political organization encouraging informed and active participation in government. It influences public policy through education and advocacy.“ The Republicans up for re-election in Indiana are scared to do anything with their challengers because they will be called out on their votes. Todd Young voted to confirm 3 Supreme Court justices that voted in favor of overturning Roe & as we will continue to be horrified by reversing voting rights & basically dismantling our Democracy. Many Republican Indiana legislators don’t even bother to answer questions on the 411 voter guide. Seriously Hoosiers, these people expect your unwavering commitment to them, but they do not even bother to tell you their position on various issues we all face. Go check out the 411. You just put in your address & you can see who will be on the ballot & on mine, every Democrat has answered the questions so you know what they believe & what they want to do if elected. The Republican incumbents like Spartz & Schaibley answered one & then skipped questions relating to sensible gun control, gerrymandering & issues of inequality in housing, etc. Those are real issues you can’t just skip. #roevemberiscoming

  14. Great comments today! Pete’s bit about socialist/capitalist marriage and John Sorg’s adventure into human evolution were especially pithy – in my view.

    American politics, sadly, is currently under the boot of right-wing fascists. SCOTUS is actually going to hear a case that wants to overturn the Voting Rights Act. How’s that for respecting the Constitution and the rule of law? Typical Republican “activism”…

    John, there are recorded cases of tribes of chimps actually attacking and killing other tribes of chimps. One is led, therefore, to assume that since chimps are our closest ancestor of a different species and which whom we share about 95% of their DNA, our combative nature and leaning to fratricide in inherent. Uh oh.

    In my reading experience, the best explanation for all this wrangling comes from the book “The Watchman’s Rattle” by Rebecca Costa. She posits that humans have evolved MUCH faster socially than biologically. That suggests that we are trying to manage 8 billion humans with a neo-lithic mindset and instinct package. Is it any wonder, then, that people panic so easily? So easily pick up weapons against one another – especially a different “tribe”?

    As John says, we are standing on the precipice of our own destruction. All it’s going to take is a lunatic like V. Putin to push the doomsday button and most life forms on the planet will be destroyed. In that scenario, I think those organisms in the sea stand the best chance of survival while things like cockroaches and other rapidly-reproducing plants and animals will rule the land.

    No other known species has “evolved” the intellectual power to actually create the means for its own extinction. First, imagine a world where gasoline and the internal combustion engine didn’t exist. Okay. We have history to define that. But the IC engine has been used primarily to explode economics, a major element of contentiousness between tribes/nations. Then, of course, there’s mechanized war that was first introduced on a large scale in WW I. The quantum leap in destructive war and human slaughter from WW II has carried over to today where there are over 30 shooting wars going on between different factions/tribes of humans, and that doesn’t include the thermonuclear capabilities of several nations – like North Korea – who are ever-so-eager to yank of the dragon’s tail.

    New Harmony. Nice try, folks. It’s a fantasy world that proved all the above points from today’s contributors.

  15. According to the Wikipedia link,the racial makeup of the town at the time of the last consensus was 99.0% White.

    New Harmony? Interesting concept. Can you imagine attempting to create such a harmonious town today?

  16. Happy birthday to Bob!

    Thanks for the compliment, Todd (“anyone with an intellect leaves Indiana” 😢), and, Lester, you might want to consider Vancouver Island for your Utopia—we have—(it’s outside the U.S. and has cool summers, warm winters, stunning natural beauty, and a fairly well-functioning democracy)—sigh, you need permanent residency or citizenship to stay for more than 6 months. Friends have pleaded with us to consider adoption.

  17. Alberger – OMG – we have spent months looking globally at where to move if/when The Former wins – Vancouver Island was our winner – besides getting permission to stay (UGH), biggest concern was what it takes to travel out. We’re jealous!

  18. Yes, agreed Vern.

    Definitely Apes will take their patriarchies and attack other clans, but humans do it more often and they attack their own clans! Not very evolved in the grand scheme of things.

    With great power comes great responsibility, somehow they’ve lost the responsibility aspect of being the Apex life form on this planet.

    Anyway Vern, right on point, that’s why your books make a statement. I only keep Ring of Truth literature in my library, that’s why you’re a major addition to it.

  19. Vern, by the way, you suggested the watchman’s rattle, and it’s part of my collection now. I’ve read it already.

  20. Norris Lineweaver, I don’t think Prof. Kennedy needs to be “allowed” by her husband to write her newsletter, or to do anything. What a mysogynistic view of marriage you must have.

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