In his most recent post, Mencius Moldbug quoted Oscar Wilde’s The Soul of Man Under Socialism. It is such an unabashed revelation of the progressive mind that one paragraph in I began wondering if it were a satire, but apparently it was not. If we wish to know what is going on in the minds of these bizarre creatures, one of their own has told us quite clearly.
The chief advantage that would result from the establishment of Socialism is, undoubtedly, the fact that Socialism would relieve us from that sordid necessity of living for others which, in the present condition of things, presses so hardly upon almost everybody. In fact, scarcely anyone at all escapes.
Now and then, in the course of the century, a great man of science, like Darwin; a great poet, like Keats; a fine critical spirit, like M. Renan; a supreme artist, like Flaubert, has been able to isolate himself, to keep himself out of reach of the clamorous claims of others, to stand ‘under the shelter of the wall,’ as Plato puts it, and so to realise the perfection of what was in him, to his own incomparable gain, and to the incomparable and lasting gain of the whole world.
Of course, in practice socialism has never done any such thing, but we all knew that. What I wish to draw attention to is the stunning narcissism of that second paragraph. Life, it seems, is about escaping all obligations to one’s fellow man so as to realize “the perfection of what was in him”. Less than a century after these words were written, people were abandoning their spouses and children, in some cases to destitution, so that they might realize the perfection of what was in them. Meanwhile, the rest of us were forced to endure the large and small crimes committed by their children, whose parents were too busy realizing the perfection of what was in them to civilize their children. The victims of the spawn of these perfected ones had no chance to realize the perfection of whatever was in them; they were and are too busy guarding against murder, robbery, deception, etc.
This is only the most obvious example of the social pathologies spawned by people who believe that they have a perfection in themselves that they ought to realize, never mind the cost to others. Fill in your own.
They find themselves surrounded by hideous poverty, by hideous ugliness, by hideous starvation. It is inevitable that they should be strongly moved by all this…. Accordingly, with admirable, though misdirected intentions, they very seriously and very sentimentally set themselves to the task of remedying the evils that they see. But their remedies do not cure the disease: they merely prolong it. Indeed, their remedies are part of the disease.
A couple of years ago, headlines were made by the unsurprising discovery that conservatives donate more money, time and blood to charity than do liberals. This is partly because liberals believe that the way to perform charity is to elect politicians who will steal money from everyone and give it to the objects of the liberals’ pity. They believe that when they vote or watch CNN, they have done their charity work.
There is also this to be said. It is immoral to use private property in order to alleviate the horrible evils that result from the institution of private property. It is both immoral and unfair.
Alleviating suffering is wrong, because it makes life bearable for people so that they don’t overthrow society. This theory was also subscribed to by the now mostly defunct Sendero Luminoso, a Peruvian terrorist organization which destroyed power plants, shopping centers, and other features of infrastructure, killing numerous civilians in the process, with the intention of making life so miserable for the proletariat that he would awaken from his slumber and create a worker’s paradise.
Under Socialism all this will, of course, be altered. There will be no people living in fetid dens and fetid rags, and bringing up unhealthy, hunger-pinched children in the midst of impossible and absolutely repulsive surroundings. The security of society will not depend, as it does now, on the state of the weather. If a frost comes we shall not have a hundred thousand men out of work, tramping about the streets in a state of disgusting misery, or whining to their neighbours for alms, or crowding round the doors of loathsome shelters to try and secure a hunch of bread and a night’s unclean lodging. Each member of the society will share in the general prosperity and happiness of the society, and if a frost comes no one will practically be anything the worse.
It’s enough to make you weep.
Upon the other hand, Socialism itself will be of value simply because it will lead to Individualism.
I suspect that progressives believe that “individualism” is a synonym for “narcissism”. (This, by the way, is why you will occasionally stumble across liberals who admire the novels of Ayn Rand. They ignore the parts of Objectivism they don’t like, such as capitalism and logic, because of what does appeal to them: her glorification of the ego. To be sure, an Ayn Rand hero must earn his arrogance with strict adherence to very high standards, but liberals manage to block that out and only bask in what they see as an endorsement of their narcissism.)
At present, in consequence of the existence of private property, a great many people are enabled to develop a certain very limited amount of Individualism. They are either under no necessity to work for their living, or are enabled to choose the sphere of activity that is really congenial to them, and gives them pleasure. These are the poets, the philosophers, the men of science, the men of culture – in a word, the real men, the men who have realised themselves, and in whom all Humanity gains a partial realisation.
I once read a feminist thinker saying that until the Twentieth Century, only men had the option of being “fully human”. (As a small tangent, allow me to point out that only a tiny handful of men had this option either. During the lifetime of Leonardo da Vinci, undoubtedly a “full human”, all but perhaps one or two thousand of the other men then living were illiterate and spending their lives in grueling manual labor.) This seems to be a common attitude among progressives: that only a person who is “self-actualized” counts as a real human being, while those who are stuck doing boring jobs or who do not plumb the depths of their inner world are less than human. This makes it permissible for a progressive elite to overrule their wishes in how their society is to be run; after all, what do people who are less than human know about building a utopia? It also allows them to dismiss the deaths of those murdered by the permanent criminal class spawned by progressive policies or the victims of communist famines; those people aren’t fully human anyway, so their deaths don’t really matter. And of course, no fetus has attained self-actualization, so pre-emptively preventing it from doing so is quite permissible.
The possession of private property is very often extremely demoralising, and that is, of course, one of the reasons why Socialism wants to get rid of the institution. In fact, property is really a nuisance. Some years ago people went about the country saying that property has duties. They said it so often and so tediously that, at last, the Church has begun to say it. One hears it now from every pulpit. It is perfectly true. Property not merely has duties, but has so many duties that its possession to any large extent is a bore. It involves endless claims upon one, endless attention to business, endless bother. If property had simply pleasures, we could stand it; but its duties make it unbearable. In the interest of the rich we must get rid of it.
How thoughtful of you.
As for begging, it is safer to beg than to take, but it is finer to take than to beg. No: a poor man who is ungrateful, unthrifty, discontented, and rebellious, is probably a real personality, and has much in him. He is at any rate a healthy protest. As for the virtuous poor, one can pity them, of course, but one cannot possibly admire them. They have made private terms with the enemy, and sold their birthright for very bad pottage. They must also be extraordinarily stupid.
Another mass of toxic progressive assumptions: criminals and lesser delinquents are heroic rebels against a vaguely defined injustice, and the poor are so stupid that if they are virtuous, they have been fooled into being so to their detriment. I submit that the Victorians, who regarded poor people as responsible moral agents capable of self-control and of distinguishing between right and wrong, had more respect for them that Mr. Wilde and his intellectual descendants.
Misery and poverty are so absolutely degrading, and exercise such a paralysing effect over the nature of men, that no class is ever really conscious of its own suffering. They have to be told of it by other people, and they often entirely disbelieve them. What is said by great employers of labour against agitators is unquestionably true. Agitators are a set of interfering, meddling people, who come down to some perfectly contented class of the community, and sow the seeds of discontent amongst them. That is the reason why agitators are so absolutely necessary. Without them, in our incomplete state, there would be no advance towards civilisation.
You can’t make an omelet without breaking eggs. And by “eggs”, of course, I mean “millions of human lives”.
It is clear, then, that no Authoritarian Socialism will do.
Every single real-life experiment in socialism has been authoritarian. Many very smart people have detailed the reasons that the nature of socialism makes any other path impossible, even with the best of intentions. Yet more than a century and hundreds of millions of deaths later, progressives still trot out the claim that all previous experiments are not real socialism, and as soon as we get real socialism it will be wonderful. Most of us, having accepted that we live in a world made of mud and dross and not in Plato’s realm of ideal forms, prefer systems which, even when imperfectly implemented, still make a great deal more human contentment possible than any other system ever tried. That is, capitalism with monarchy, or, if one is living in a benighted country which has been deprived of its rightful sovereign, a republic in its early stages.
Every man must be left quite free to choose his own work. No form of compulsion must be exercised over him. If there is, his work will not be good for him, will not be good in itself, and will not be good for others. And by work I simply mean activity of any kind.
There we have the progressive deification of choice and authenticity. The former is absurd; we get to choose very little about anything. I did not choose to be white, female, American, a loner, a bookworm, an excellent speller, a terrible singer – unless we believe those New Agers who claim that before every incarnation, we “choose” what “lessons” we wish to learn in this lifetime. Further, civilizations advance on the premise that people must be held to certain obligations, whether we wish it or not. Having, for example, married and had children, we must fulfill our obligations to the family we have created even when we get bored with it, even when we meet someone else more attractive, and so on. This is not only beneficial to them, it creates emotional satisfactions for ourselves that may take decades to fully realize. Genuine education is another example. In the days before governments assumed the right to indoctrinate all of their citizens, it was parents who compelled their children to attend school – and in those days, difficult as it is to imagine now, schools were places where children actually learned things. A young child being dragged to his first day of learning his letters could not have anticipated the rewards of, a dozen years later, reading the satires of Aristophanes, and he would not have chosen to commit himself to years of labor to reach that goal. There are very important limits on this; a man whose wife is committing rampant adultery and neglecting their children should not be expected to honor his vows to her. But the wife made the choice, of her own free will, to flout her obligations. According to Wilde, it would not be good for anyone to “compel” her to refrain from betraying her husband or ignoring her children; what matters is that she has made a free choice. And that is the principle which has not only become socially acceptable, but enshrined in law.
As for the notion that only deeds which are heartfelt and spring from the purest of motives are at all good for anyone, let me give a couple of examples. When my maternal grandfather was in his final illness, I visited him frequently. He seemed to enjoy seeing me, and others claimed that his spirits were raised after my visits (as well as those of other relatives). My motives in visiting him were hardly shining examples of a saintly nature. I had never been particularly close to him. We never had much communication. My grandmother loved him, but I know that he behaved, on a couple of occasions, most reprehensibly towards her. My mother also told me numerous lurid stories of how he viciously abused her when she was a child. I have no idea if any of the stories are true, but if they are, then he inspired her subsequent abuse of me. It is possible that I have a lifetime of misery to thank him for.
However, there is also my grandmother to consider. My grandmother is the kindest person I have ever met. What affection I had during my childhood I owe completely to her. It is possible she could only cope with her husband’s abuse of their daughter the same way she coped with her daughter’s abuse of her granddaughter: by blocking it from her mind. Having plenty of weaknesses of my own, I can hardly hold weakness against her. Whatever my grandfather’s faults, she loved him, and it pleased her that I visited him so diligently and sent him cards so frequently.
Out of a dreary sense of duty and of residual childhood affection for the only adult I knew who was kind to me, I went through the very tedious and sometimes unpleasant motions of making two elderly people happy, one of whom deserved it and the other of whom might have deserved it.
My second example: movie stars and pop singers frequently use their celebrity to attract donations to feed the starving or give medicine to sick people too poor to pay themselves. Does anyone believe that their motives are purely altruistic? Don’t most of you think that probably these puffy-lipped egomaniacs just like the attention they get for telling everyone how compassionate they are? But this nasty motive nonetheless gets donations made to relieve human suffering. Do you think the people whose lives are saved by these donations give a fig for the motives responsible?
I hardly think that any Socialist, nowadays, would seriously propose that an inspector should call every morning at each house to see that each citizen rose up and did manual labour for eight hours. Humanity has got beyond that stage, and reserves such a form of life for the people whom, in a very arbitrary manner, it chooses to call criminals.
Has it indeed? Just how did Mr. Wilde imagine that the food and clothing and shelter he used came about? Did he believe that the laborers in the bookbinding factories that produced the volumes he enjoyed reading were in those factories because it fulfilled them? Did he imagine such might be the case in the future?
It is true that, under existing conditions, a few men who have had private means of their own, such as Byron, Shelley, Browning, Victor Hugo, Baudelaire, and others, have been able to realise their personality more or less completely. Not one of these men ever did a single day’s work for hire. They were relieved from poverty. They had an immense advantage.
We now have a great many people with a similarly immense advantage, called “welfare recipients”. I am waiting for one of them to produce a Les Miserables any day now.
Now, nothing should be able to harm a man except himself. Nothing should be able to rob a man at all. What a man really has, is what is in him. What is outside of him should be a matter of no importance.
Perhaps it should. Take it up with God; I hear He has a suggestion box. Until such is the state of affairs, kindly do not destroy what little security we have.
One will live. To live is the rarest thing in the world. Most people exist, that is all.
Again, the progressive contempt for those whose lives they consider insufficiently fulfilling. Certainly to me, the life of a cashier who spends his weekends watching ball games at the local bar & grill seems intolerably unsatisfying. However, I suspect that if I were to ask him about it, he would prove to be greatly attached to that empty existence. Possibly he even enjoys it. In any case, it is not up to me to wreck his life and that of everyone else to force him into a life I consider better.
It is a question whether we have ever seen the full expression of a personality, except on the imaginative plane of art. In action, we never have…. What I mean by a perfect man is one who develops under perfect conditions; one who is not wounded, or worried or maimed, or in danger. Most personalities have been obliged to be rebels. Half their strength has been wasted in friction…. It will be a marvellous thing – the true personality of man – when we see it. It will grow naturally and simply, flowerlike, or as a tree grows. It will not be at discord. It will never argue or dispute. It will not prove things. It will know everything. And yet it will not busy itself about knowledge. It will have wisdom. Its value will not be measured by material things. It will have nothing. And yet it will have everything, and whatever one takes from it, it will still have, so rich will it be. It will not be always meddling with others, or asking them to be like itself. It will love them because they will be different. And yet while it will not meddle with others, it will help all, as a beautiful thing helps us, by being what it is. The personality of man will be very wonderful. It will be as wonderful as the personality of a child.
Point out to a progressive the masses of historical evidence that their schemes will lead only to horror, and they insist that their particular innovations will cause human nature to fundamentally change, that the newest scheme will have results that we cannot even imagine, but which, they are certain without the slightest evidence, shall be wonderful. Allow me to counter with a quotation from G. K. Chesterton:
What we need is to have a culture before we hand it down. In other words, it is a truth, however sad and strange, that we cannot give what we have not got, and cannot teach to other people what we do not know ourselves.
In the next passage, Mr. Wilde proceeds to tell us what Jesus really meant. In nearly two thousand years, it seems, Mr. Wilde was the first person to understand Jesus. And what Jesus meant, Mr. Wilde reveals, was that all of us should give up property and be ourselves.
Socialism annihilates family life, for instance. With the abolition of private property, marriage in its present form must disappear. This is part of the programme. Individualism accepts this and makes it fine. It converts the abolition of legal restraint into a form of freedom that will help the full development of personality, and make the love of man and woman more wonderful, more beautiful, and more ennobling.
Visit this site to get an idea of how wonderful, beautiful, ennobling, and helpful in the full development of personality the erosion of marriage has been.
Incidentally, the Soviet Union at first discouraged marriage and family. Very soon the crime rate was rampant and the work force far too undisciplined to do the work. The commissars sacrificed some of their ideology and started instead encouraging strong marriages that were difficult to get out of and made people raise their children. The crime rate fell and the work force was functional once more. Western progressives ignored this as carefully as they ignored everything else about the USSR.
All imitation in morals and in life is wrong…. People, in that case, are less conscious of the horrible pressure that is being put on them, and so go through their lives in a sort of coarse comfort, like petted animals, without ever realising that they are probably thinking other people’s thoughts, living by other people’s standards, wearing practically what one may call other people’s second-hand clothes, and never being themselves for a single moment.
Oh, the horror.
With authority, punishment will pass away. This will be a great gain – a gain, in fact, of incalculable value. As one reads history, not in the expurgated editions written for school-boys and passmen, but in the original authorities of each time, one is absolutely sickened, not by the crimes that the wicked have committed, but by the punishments that the good have inflicted; and a community is infinitely more brutalised by the habitual employment of punishment, than it is by the occurrence of crime. It obviously follows that the more punishment is inflicted the more crime is produced, and most modern legislation has clearly recognised this, and has made it its task to diminish punishment as far as it thinks it can. Wherever it has really diminished it, the results have always been extremely good. The less punishment, the less crime.
Progressives still believe this. The policies this principle have inspired has caused the crime rate throughout the West to explode.
There is nothing necessarily dignified about manual labour at all, and most of it is absolutely degrading. It is mentally and morally injurious to man to do anything in which he does not find pleasure, and many forms of labour are quite pleasureless activities, and should be regarded as such. To sweep a slushy crossing for eight hours, on a day when the east wind is blowing is a disgusting occupation. To sweep it with mental, moral, or physical dignity seems to me to be impossible. To sweep it with joy would be appalling. Man is made for something better than disturbing dirt. All work of that kind should be done by a machine.
Here Mr. Wilde has actually hit on something. It is only technological advance – not progressive crusades – which has made the lot of the lower classes more bearable. But he has no understanding that machines do not invent themselves. And now, over a century later, there is still a great deal of manual labor to be done. I have a vacuum cleaner and a dishwasher, but I must pick up everything off the floor and then push the cleaner around with my own hands, and my dishes stubbornly refuse to rinse themselves off, put themselves into the washer, and then put themselves back on the shelves.
In England, the arts that have escaped best are the arts in which the public take no interest. Poetry is an instance of what I mean. We have been able to have fine poetry in England because the public do not read it, and consequently do not influence it. The public like to insult poets because they are individual, but once they have insulted them, they leave them alone. In the case of the novel and the drama, arts in which the public do take an interest, the result of the exercise of popular authority has been absolutely ridiculous. No country produces such badly-written fiction, such tedious, common work in the novel form, such silly, vulgar plays as England. It must necessarily be so. The popular standard is of such a character that no artist can get to it.
Progressives still despise any art which normal people can enjoy. This leads often to grotesquely amusing spectacles, such as galleries full of college graduates talking seriously about the deep insights they see in the piles of randomly assembled chunks of wood being presented to them as “sculpture”. “Art films” are another symptom of this mentality. In fact, unpopular art is created by inept people who are too incompetent to learn to draw a horse that actually looks like a horse or write a story where the events progress naturally from each other and make you care about them.
I consider myself a misanthrope, but here is a key difference between a misanthrope and a progressive: the misanthrope accepts that the mass of men have nothing in common with him. He may make sarcastic remarks about the bad taste and stupidity of his fellow beings, but all he really wants is to be left alone, not forced to endure the company of people who voluntarily watch Friends and then talk about it. The progressive wishes to lift everyone else up to his level, at gunpoint if necessary, whether they like it or not. And despite his blathering about how no force must be used to compel anyone to do anything, Mr. Wilde admits it:
Indeed, there is much more to be said in favour of the physical force of the public than there is in favour of the public’s opinion. The former may be fine. The latter must be foolish. It is often said that force is no argument. That, however, entirely depends on what one wants to prove. Many of the most important problems of the last few centuries, such as the continuance of personal government in England, or of feudalism in France, have been solved entirely by means of physical force. The very violence of a revolution may make the public grand and splendid for a moment. It was a fatal day when the public discovered that the pen is mightier than the paving-stone, and can be made as offensive as the brickbat. They at once sought for the journalist, found him, developed him, and made him their industrious and well-paid servant. It is greatly to be regretted, for both their sakes. Behind the barricade there may be much that is noble and heroic. But what is there behind the leading-article but prejudice, stupidity, cant, and twaddle? And when these four are joined together they make a terrible force, and constitute the new authority.
In America the President reigns for four years, and Journalism governs for ever and ever. Fortunately in America Journalism has carried its authority to the grossest and most brutal extreme. As a natural consequence it has begun to create a spirit of revolt. People are amused by it, or disgusted by it, according to their temperaments. But it is no longer the real force it was. It is not seriously treated.
This reminds me of the old science fiction authors who expected that by the Twenty-First Century we would have colonies on the moon and flying cars.
It will, of course, be said that such a scheme as is set forth here is quite unpractical, and goes against human nature. This is perfectly true. It is unpractical, and it goes against human nature. This is why it is worth carrying out, and that is why one proposes it. For what is a practical scheme? A practical scheme is either a scheme that is already in existence, or a scheme that could be carried out under existing conditions. But it is exactly the existing conditions that one objects to; and any scheme that could accept these conditions is wrong and foolish. The conditions will be done away with, and human nature will change. The only thing that one really knows about human nature is that it changes. Change is the one quality we can predicate of it. The systems that fail are those that rely on the permanency of human nature, and not on its growth and development.
Only, human nature has been permanent for several thousand years now. All attempts to change it have failed completely. Why are we to believe that this time, things will be different?
And so Individualism exercises no compulsion over man. On the contrary, it says to man that he should suffer no compulsion to be exercised over him. It does not try to force people to be good. It knows that people are good when they are let alone.
Let alone so that the light of their inner goodness can shine through. Mr. Wilde was probably something of a loner – most artists are. Too many of us make the mistake of believing that our personal preference for solitude is a sign of our moral superiority. It isn’t, it is a matter of our temperament and cannot be learned. Nor is there any particular reason that it should be. If God had wanted us to be a species of loners, He would have derived us from cats, not apes.
Read Full Post »