The Soul of Man Under Socialism by Oscar Wilde

soul of manNB: This isn’t a comprehensive review – I think a compilation of annotation and notes would be more appropriate.

Oscar Wilde writes beautifully, and in The Soul of Man Under Socialism, it shows. In this essay, Wilde critiques capitalism, advocates for enlightenment and ‘individualism’, and expresses disdain for how the public dictates Art and what is ‘popular’ –

… the artist can fashion a beautiful thing;and if he does not do it solely for his own pleasure, he is not an artist at all.

Though I do not agree with anarchism (but given what happened to him, I cannot blame him for having this world view) and some of his arguments, Oscar Wilde offers an interesting perspective on the potential of human flourishing under socialism. Wilde talks a great deal of ‘individualism’ – a term which, I think, means self-actualization – which is greatly inhibited under capitalism.

It is mentally and morally injurious to man to do anything in which he does not find pleasure, and many forms of labour are quite pleasureless activities, and should be regarded as such … Man is made for something better than disturbing dirt.

Wilde is not saying that work is bad and we should all hand in our resignations tomorrow, but he is saying that manual labour, where you are the appendage of the machine, prevents us from living life and experiencing its beauty, to create, and to understand ourselves and realizing our inherent talents. Wilde saw freedom as freedom to become who we are, and become the best we can be.

Up to the present, man has been, to a certain extent, the slave of machinery, and there is something tragic in the fact that assoon as man has invented the machine to do his work, he began to starve.


Rating: 4/5

Book Information:
Book Name: The Soul of Man Under Socialism
Author: Oscar Wilde


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