The Soul of Man Under Socialism

Oscar Wilde
The Soul of Man Under

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Title: The Soul of Man
Author: Oscar Wilde
Release Date: August, 1997 [EBook #1017] [This file was first posted

on August 10, 1997] [Most recently updated: May 21, 2003]
Edition: 10
Language: English
Character set encoding: US-ASCII
OF MAN ***

Transcribed by David Price, email [email protected]


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. These, however, are
exceptions. The majority of people spoil their lives by an unhealthy and
exaggerated altruism-- are forced, indeed, so to spoil them. 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. The emotions of man are stirred more quickly than man's
intelligence; and, as I pointed out some time ago in an article on the
function of criticism, it is much more easy to have sympathy with
suffering than it is to have sympathy with thought. 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.
They try to solve the problem of poverty, for instance, by keeping the
poor alive; or, in the case of a very advanced school, by amusing the
But this is not a solution: it is an aggravation of the difficulty. The
proper aim is to try and reconstruct society on such a basis that poverty
will be impossible. And the altruistic virtues have really prevented the
carrying out of this aim. Just as the worst slave-owners were those who
were kind to their slaves, and so prevented the horror of the system
being realised by those who suffered from it, and understood by those
who contemplated it, so, in the present state of things in England, the
people who do most harm are the people who try to do most good; and
at last we have had the spectacle of men who have really studied the
problem and know the life--educated men who live in the East
End--coming forward and imploring the community to restrain its
altruistic impulses of charity, benevolence, and the like. They do so on
the ground that such charity degrades and demoralises. They are
perfectly right. Charity creates a multitude of sins.
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.
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
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