Sidgwick on Shaw

From his Diary, 8 September 1888:

September 8. — Back from a very pleasant two days at Bath. The town revived wonderfully my childish recollections, with its villas picturesquely climbing upwards from the basin where the town lies. But forty years ago archaeology was less advanced; now one can see from the street an old Roman bath 60 or 80 feet long, forming part, as it were, of the modern baths, and impressively illustrating the historic continuity of the “health resort.” The most interesting thing at my Section (Economic Science) was the field-day on Socialism which we had yesterday. The Committee had invited a live Socialist, red-hot “from the Streets,” as he told us, who sketched in a really brilliant address the rapid series of steps by which modern society is to pass peacefully into social democracy. The node of the transition was supplied by urban ground-rents (it is interesting to observe that the old picture of the agricultural landlord-drone, battening on social prosperity to which he contributes nothing, is withdrawn for the present as too ludicrously out of accordance with the facts). It is now urban ground-rent that the municipal governments will have to seize, to meet the ever-growing necessity of providing work and wages for the unemployed. How exactly this seizure of urban rents was to develop into a complete nationalisation of industry I could not remember afterwards, but it seemed to go very naturally at the time. There was a peroration rhetorically effective as well as daring, in which he explained that the bliss of perfected socialism would only come by slow degrees, with lingering step and long delays, and claimed our sympathy for the noble-hearted men whose ardent philanthropy had led them to desire to cut these delays short by immediate revolution and spoliation. It was, indeed, a mistake on their part; the laws of social development did not admit of it; but if we were not quite lost in complacent selfishness we should join him in regretting that this shorter way with property was impossible. Altogether a noteworthy performance: — the man’s name is Bernard Shaw: Myers says he has written books worth reading.

Hat-tip, NK.

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