Oscar Wilde, His Life and Confessions, by Frank Harris

The Soul of Man Under Socialism

When I was editing “The Fortnightly Review,” Oscar Wilde wrote for me “The Soul of Man Under Socialism.” On reading it then it seemed to me that he knew very little about Socialism and I disliked his airy way of dealing with a religion he hadn’t taken the trouble to fathom. The essay now appears to me in a somewhat different light. Oscar had no deep understanding of Socialism, it is true, much less of the fact that in a healthy body corporate socialism or co-operation would govern all public utilities and public services while the individual would be left in possession of all such industries as his activity can control.

But Oscar’s genius was such that as soon as he had stated one side of the problem he felt that the other side had to be considered and so we get from him if not the ideal of an ordered state at least aperçus of astounding truth and value.

For example he writes: “Socialism . . . by converting private property into public wealth, and substituting co-operation for competition, will restore society to its proper condition of a thoroughly healthy organism, and insure the material well-being of each member of the community.”

Then comes the return on himself: “But for the full development of Life . . . something more is needed. What is needed is Individualism.”

And the ideal is always implicit: “Private property has led Individualism entirely astray. It has made gain not growth its aim.”

Humor too is never far away: “Only one class thinks more about money than the rich and that is the poor.”

His short stay in the United States also benefited him. . . . “Democracy means simply the bludgeoning of the people by the people for the people. It has been found out.”

Taken all in all a provocative delightful essay which like Salome in the æsthetic field marks the end of his Lehrjahre and the beginning of his work as a master.


Last updated Sunday, March 27, 2016 at 12:02