The Sentimental Socialist

 “The sentimental Socialist, though not necessarily Christian, retains essentially the introspective attitude of the Christian ethics. He forms societies, the members of which are supposed to pledge themselves to indefinitely high aims, aims that tower above the clouds from which it requires the practised eye to distinguish them. These aims ‘won from the void and formless infinite’ seem to be won only for the sake of being handed over to the equally formless indefinite. The only shape approaching articulation into which they wreath themselves, is that of resolutions and letters. The young people of the well-to-do middle-class, for whom sentimental Socialism possesses attractions, think human nature susceptible of higher aims than the current ones, and meet in drawing rooms for the apparent purpose of passing resolutions to that effect. The sentimental Socialist desires above all things to be broad and comprehensive. Now any proposition conveying a distinct meaning is necessarily limited by that meaning; and must be taken to exclude its opposite, and a fortiori the society adopting it to exclude those who hold its opposite. But how can a society whose aims are so high, condescend to such small matters of detail as meaning? How can a man as Catholic as the ‘Brother of the Higher Life,’ or the New Atlantis Society, be so narrow as to exclude anyone. Hence in the resolutions adopted by such associations, the first requisite is the absence of meaning. All is possible in the man (or woman) who aims high enough. Danton’s motto ‘to dare, to dare, and again to dare,’ becomes in the hands of the sentimental Socialist, ‘to aim, to aim, and again to aim’ at an ineffable O—Voilà tout. All this ‘casting of empty buckets into empty wells and drawing nothing up’ may be entertaining, beautiful, ennobling for a short spell, but palls after a time, which is probably the explanation of the fact that the societies that start so rosy flight invariably die of inanition within measurable distance of their inauguration, though only to make way for new ones. The young men and women of our blasé middle-class civilisation require a stimulus; this stimulus may be aesthetic, philanthropic, or social. It may consist in languishing vapouring on art, on improved dwellings, on social reconstruction. Just now it wears the latter aspect. The whole movement is born of the morbid self-consciousness of our Christian and Bourgeois civilisation run to seed.”

E. Belfort Bax (“Today,” March 1884.).

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