One wouldn't expect Oscar Wilde to write 'The Soul of a Man Under Socialism'. It isn't common for a self confessed dandy to make politics his muse.It is better for folks who obsess with things such as beauty and aesthetics to refrain from soiling their hands with all the mud slinging of politics. It is quite apparent from Wilde's essay, that while writing it, he was more misguided than the man who claimed to declare nothing but his genius.
Wilde claims that socialism will burgeon a sense of individualism among people.He says; that since people will not be concerned with issues of property and ownership, they will invest more time in evolving themselves rather than in the acquisition of material resources.Wilde believes that socialism will encourage individuality from other strata of society apart from the rich.He argues that since socialism compels all people to be on an equal standing,the need for altruism(in Wilde's opinion, the sole cause for human degradation)will be completely eliminated.Thus people be more concerned with developing the artistic temperament and a questioning mind rather than helping others.
While Wilde's intentions for the betterment of the human condition are apparent; his ramblings are,as I mentioned earlier,misguided. He says, and I quote,'Individualism, then, is what through socialism we are to attain.As a natural result,the State must give up all idea of government.' Perhaps, Mr. Wilde attributes certain qualities to society that it doesn't possess. For instance, who is to decide what comprises the state? Mr Wilde decries the use of human beings for manual labour and thus thinks it will be better to use machinery to clean the streets and to work in mines. The machinery will be provided by the 'state', the same 'state' that doesn't govern.It seems to appear that people are only supposed to invent and create and while the state provides all the support and the environment.Even if the state were an abstract entity, who is to turn that abstraction into a tangible entity?
Mr. Wilde paints a utopic portrait of the same society that humiliated him for his 'individuality' and cared more about his sexual preference than his contribution to the arts. He probably forgot that the foundation of every human society(even the one he lived in) was based on power.Perhaps he was in denial about the territorial nature that is inherent in every human being.If society were as Mr. Wilde intended it to be;there would be no fashion,no mass media(something that he censures when he mentions journalism),no competition and above all things, there would be widespread unemployment among gossip columnists.Sounds almost perfect doesn't it? Then again, of what use is a perfect world?
Speaking of perfection, I am nevertheless willing to forgive that glitch in Mr. Wilde's argument thanks to his near perfect prose. I still respect what Mr. Wilde writes about art(three fourths of the essay concerns art, there is practically no mention of politics towards the end).One should treat 'The Soul of a Man Under Socialism' as a treatise on art and its definition and just forget that Mr. Wilde ever had a political view.Wilde's idea of socialism bears close resemblance to a subdued form of anarchy. I am inclined to agree with George Bernard Shaw who found Wilde's essay very witty and entertaining but that it had nothing to do with socialism. It is unfortunate that Wilde wrote the essay before the world could come to a collective agreement on the true nature of socialism.It is however amusing to note that this is one of his more celebrated works and that it was the anthem on the lips of younger Victorians.So much for a two hundred year long generation gap!