The Failed Socialist State in Midwestern America

Dan O’Donnell tells the tale of the first socialist utopia in America and the lesson it offers for today.

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Perspective by Dan O’Donnell

The tiny village of New Harmony, Indiana is something of a Midwestern utopia—a beautiful slice of small-town Americana on the banks of the Wabash River.  A tree-lined main street evokes the memory of a simpler time in this country’s history when folks could leave their doors unlocked, neighbors were best friends, and everyone worked together for the common good.

In that simpler time 195 years ago, New Harmony was a literal utopia where people really did work together for the common good in what is considered to be the United States of America’s first socialist community.

On April 27th, 1825, British industrialist Robert Owen purchased New Harmony from a religious community with grand plans to turn it into what he called “a new moral world.”

“There is but one mode by which man can possess in perpetuity all the happiness which his nature is capable of enjoying,” he wrote, “[and] that is by the union and co-operation of all for the benefit of each.”

This spirit of cooperation in Owen’s utopia would prove his theory that “society may be formed so as to exist without crime, without poverty, with health greatly improved, with little, if any misery, and with intelligence and happiness increased a hundredfold; and no obstacle whatsoever intervenes at this moment except ignorance to prevent such a state of society from becoming universal.”

This would be a “community of equality” unlike any the country had seen before.  Each of New Harmony’s 800 residents would contribute their unique talents and share in the bounty that they were sure to produce together.

Only they didn’t.

Dan’s full article on why the society failed is avialable here on the MacIver Institute website.