The Soul of Man Under . . .Anarchism?

by Kristian Williams

1. See, for instance: M. Saint-Georges de Bouhelier, "The Soul of Man Under Socialism," in The Individualist Anarchists: An Anthology of Liberty (1881-1908), ed. Frank H. Brooks (New Brunswick: Transaction Publishers, 1994) 101-4.

2. Oscar Wilde, "The Soul of Man Under Socialism," in Collins Complete Works of Oscar Wilde (Glasgow: HarperCollins, 2003) 1178.

3. Petr Kropotkin, whom Wilde knew and admired, defined anarchism thus: "Anarchism (from the Gr. av-, and apxn, contrary to authority), is the name given to a principle or theory of life and conduct under which society is conceived without government — harmony in such a society being attained, not by submission to law, or by obedience to any authority, but by free agreements concluded between the various groups, territorial and professional, freely constituted for the sake of production and consumption, as also for the satisfaction of the infinite variety of needs and aspirations of a civilized being."
Kropotkin was clear that anarchists held "their economic conceptions . . . in common with all socialists, of whom they constitute the left wing." [Petr Kropotkin,] "Anarchism" in The Essential Kropotkin, ed. Emile Capouya and Keitha Tompkins (New York: Liveright) 108-9.

4. Wilde, "Soul of Man," 1175.

5. See: E.P. Thompson, William Morris: Romantic to Revolutionary (New York: Pantheon Books, 1977) 564-572.

6. Quoted in Stuart Mason [Christopher Millard], Bibliography of Oscar Wilde (London: Bertram Rota, 1967) 73.

7. Oscar Wilde, "The Critic as Artist," in Collins, 1114.

8. David Goodway, Anarchist Seeds Beneath the Snow: Left-Libertarian Thought and British Writers from William Morris to Colin Ward (Liverpool: Liverpool University Press, 2006) 76-7. Wilde had previously written, in "The Truth of Masks" (1885), "Monarchy, Anarchy, and Republicanism may contend for the government of nations; but a theatre should be in the power of a cultured despot. There may be division of labour, but there must be no division of mind." Oscar Wilde, "The Truth of Masks," in Collins, Ibid., 1172.
When his collection of critical essays, Intentions, was to be released in a French edition, Wilde suggested removing "The Truth of Masks" ("je ne l’aime plus") and replacing it with "The Soul of Man under Socialism." The Complete Letters of Oscar Wilde, ed. Merlin Holland and Rupert Hart-Davis (New York: Henry Holt and Company, 2000) 487.

9. Oscar Wilde, "Libertatis Sacra Fames," in Collins, 858.

10. Oscar Wilde, "Sonnet to Liberty," in Collins, 859.

11. "Oscar Wilde: An Interview with the Apostle of Aestheticism," in Oscar Wilde in America: The Interviews, Eds. Matthew Hofer and Gary Scharnhorst (Urbana: U. of Illinois Press, 2010), 102-3.

12. Wilde, "Soul of Man," 1182.

13. Ibid.,1176.

14. Ibid.,1188.

15. Ibid.,1184.

16. Ibid.,1197.

17. Percival W. H. Almy, "New Views of Mr. Oscar Wilde," in Oscar Wilde: Interviews and Recollections, Volume 1. ed. E.H. Mikhail (New York; Barnes and Noble, 1979) 232.

18. Ibid., 229.

19. Ibid., 231-2, Compare with "The Soul of Man Under Socialism," 1179-81 (on Christ), 1182 (on punishment), and 1180 (on law-breaking).

20. Almy, 231-2.

21. Ibid., 232.

22. See: "The House Beautiful," 913-925, though here, too, he insists that beautiful things should be used: "Whatever you have that is beautiful if for use, then you should use it, or part with it to someone who will." Oscar Wilde, "The House Beautiful," in Collins, 921.

23. Wilde, "Soul of Man," 1178.

24. Ibid., 1183.

25. Ibid., 1183.

26. Ibid., 1181. Wilde referred to the failure of government earlier, in a review of Chuang Tsu’s writings: "‘There is such a thing,’ says Chuang Tsu, ‘as leaving mankind alone: there has never been such a thing as governing mankind.’ All modes of government are wrong. They are unscientific, because they seek to alter the natural environment of man; they are immoral, because by interfering with the individual, they produce the most aggressive forms of egotism; they are ignorant, because they try to spread education; they are self-destructive, because they engender anarchy." Oscar Wilde, "A Chinese Sage," in The Artist as Critic: Critical Writings of Oscar Wilde, ed. Richard Ellmann (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1982) 223-4.

27. Wilde, Soul of Man, 1192.

28. Ibid., 1193.

29. Ibid., 1177.

30. Complete Letters, 602.