Quotes from The Soul of A Man Under Socialism

Oscar Wilde was a Irish writer in the late 1800. Writing in many different forms; plays, novels, essays, and poetry. Many of his works are now considered classics. He is also the author of one of my favorite works of fiction, “The Picture of Dorian Gray.”

Recently I read one of his shorter essays, The Soul of A Man Under Socialism. Written in 1891, I found many of the quotes relevant to today.

Here are a sample of some of my favorite quotes from the essay. I highly recommend reading the entire essay to get better context. I’m leaving this quotes mostly comment free. Please leave your own interpretation of them in the comments.

On property, minimalism, and personal growth.

For the recognition of private property has really harmed individualism, and obscured it, by confusing a man with what he possesses. It has led individualism entirely estray. It has made gain not growth its aim. So that man thought that the important thing was to have, and did not know.

On the past, classics, individualism, and progress.

The fact is, the public make use of the classics of a country as a means of checking the progress of Art. They degrade the classics into authorities. They use them as bludgeons for preventing the free expression of Beauty in new forms. They are always asking a writer why he does not write like somebody else, or a painter why he does not paint like somebody else, quite oblivious of the fact that if either of them did anything of the kind he would cease to be an artist. A fresh mode of Beauty is absolutely distasteful to them, and whenever it appears they get so angry, and bewildered that they always use two stupid expressions—one is that the work of art is grossly unintelligible; the other, that the work of art is grossly immoral. What they mean by these words seems to me to be this. When they say a work is grossly unintelligible, they mean that the artist has said or made a beautiful thing that is new; when they describe a work as grossly immoral, they mean that the artist has said or made a beautiful thing that is true. The former expression has reference to style; the latter to subject-matter.

On American Journalism.

We are dominated by Journalism. 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.

On information overload. 

The fact is, that the public have an insatiable curiosity to know everything, except what is worth knowing.

On being present. 

For the past is what man should not have been. The present is what man ought not to be. The future is what artists are.

On human nature and 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.

On selfishness, self-development, and society. One of the more philosophical quotes where Wilde talks more about why socialism is how society should be structured.

Or a man is called selfish if he lives in the manner that seems to him most suitable for the full realisation of his own personality; if, in fact, the primary aim of his life is self-development. But this is the way in which everyone should live. Selfishness is not living as one wishes to live, it is asking others to live as one wishes to live. And unselfishness is letting other people’s lives alone, not interfering with them. Selfishness always aims at creating around it an absolute uniformity of type. Unselfishness recognises infinite variety of type as a delightful thing, accepts it, acquiesces in it, enjoys it. It is not selfish to think for oneself. A man who does not think for himself does not think at all. It is grossly selfish to require of ones neighbour that he should think in the same way, and hold the same opinions. Why should he? If he can think, he will probably think differently. If he cannot think, it is monstrous to require thought of any kind from him.

I encourage you to read the essay for yourself, and gain some better context. Even if you don’t agree with what Wilde suggests, its always good to get another perspective. This work is available for free on archive.org.

Let me know your thoughts and favorites in the comments .

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