Marriage, the family, and women in the Owenite socialist movement
Cook, Robert Paul
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Starting from a deterministic theory of human character, the Owenite socialist movement of the early nineteenth century developed a comprehensive but highly unorthodox system of moral, economic, and religious philosophy. As a logically necessary deduction from this philosophy, they were led to reject the existing arrangements for marriage, the family, and relations between the sexes and to propose new arrangements that would be compatible with their moral, economic, and religious outlook. Because socialist views on these matters were incongruous with prevailing intellectual and social trends, their attempts to implement the views in practice met with little lasting success. Nevertheless, they made a significant contribution to social change in these areas as a result of the originality of their theories and experiments and their frankness in bringing the issues involved to public attention. As a further extension of their general philosophy, the socialists were among the earliest and most radical exponents of feminism in both Britain and the United States. The importance of the socialists' theoretical, propagandising, and practical contributions to feminism suggests the need to revise the traditional view that dates the rise of a conscious, organized feminist movement only from the period after 1850. Socialist attitudes to birth control are less clear, but their views upon women, marriage and sex suggest that they were probably sympathetic to its use. Two of the most eminent socialists did in fact make major contributions to the birth control movement, and in so doing they were clearly influenced by socialist theories. Finally, socialist views upon marriage, the family, women, and birth control were closely connected with their views upon health, both mental and physical, and its relation to the social environment. On this question also, they made a highly original theoretical contribution.