Originally circulated in 1891 as a privately printed book, by the world-renowned gay Anglo-Irish Aestheticist poet, playwright and critic Oscar Wilde (1854-1900). Wilde declared himself an anarchist following his encounter with the Russian expatriate anarchist Peter Kropotkin. His artistic work, and his later persecution, trial and imprisonment for his sexual relationships with male lovers were widely and sympathetically discussed in the Anarchist press during the 1890s, and his Anarchist writings were later reprinted by Emma Goldman and Alexander Berkman’s Mother Earth publishing company. The essay offers a fascinating exploration of the cultural impacts of anarchistic socialism and individualism — not as a tearing-down of all in the name of rigidly formal equality, but rather a liberating opportunity for all to fully express what makes them unique, and and flourish in their idiosyncrasy.
“We are often told that the poor are grateful for charity. Some of them are, no doubt, but the best amongst the poor are never grateful. They are ungrateful, discontented, disobedient, and rebellious. They are quite right to be so. Charity they feel to be a ridiculously inadequate mode of partial restitution, or a sentimental dole, usually accompanied by some impertinent attempt of the sentimentalist to tyrannise over their private lives. Why should they be grateful for the crumbs that fall from the rich man’s table? Disobedience is man’s original virtue. It is through disobedience that progress has been made, through disobedience and through rebellion. . . .
“It is clear, then, that no Authoritarian Socialism will do. . . . Under an industrial barrack system, or a system of economic tyranny, nobody would be able to have any such freedom at all. Every man must be left quite free to choose his own work. No form of compulsion must he exercised over him. . . . All association must be quite voluntary. It is only in voluntary associations that man is fine. . . . Socialism itself will be of value simply because it will lead to Individualism.
“Art is Individualism, and Individualism is a disturbing and disintegrating force. Therein lies its immense value. For what it seeks to disturb is monotony of type, slavery of custom, tyranny of habit, and the reduction of man to the level of a machine. . . . 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.”
Introduced December 2013.