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the old picture of the agricultural landlord-drone, battening on social prosperity to which he contributes nothing, is withdrawn for the present as too ludicrously out of accordance with the facts).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.

Republic of Beavers

Here’s Ferdinand, Baron d’Eckstein, addressing the issues that matter:

Mais quelle différence entre les vérités que nous admettons et les dogmes que proclame un industrialisme grossier et trivial, dogmes qui tendent à transformer l’ordre social en une république de castors, de fourmis ou d’abeilles. Méconnaissant la dignité humaine, ce genre d’industrialisme confierait les rènes du gouvernement au seul intérêt privé. C’est lui qui donne pour l’article de foi la maxime suivant, que gagner de l’argent c’est bien mériter de la civilisation, c’est répandre la lumière. C’est dans le sens de cette doctrine que le Constitutionnel immole chaque jour, sur les autels de la classe industrielle, les nobles et les administrateurs. Lancer le moindre sarcasme contre un fabricant, c’est un blasphème! malheur au poète comique, au journaliste ou au député qui se permettrait ce crime contre la seule classe inviolable de toute la société.

— ‘De l’industrialisme’, in Le Catholique, vol. 5 (1827), p. 241

Also of interest at the Virtual Stoa is the way that the Baron goes on to call Johann Gottlieb Fichte a Stoic just a few pages later (p. 239) — but, right now, we’re focused on the beavers.

When you start looking for it, the Republic of Beavers is everywhere!

Goethe called Venice the “Biberrepublik” in his Italian Journey (27 September 1786), and the identification was picked up by the  Comte Pierre-Antoine-Noël-Bruno Daru in his 1819 Histoire de la république de Venise, vol. 5. There’s even an article on ‘The Republic of Beavers: An American Utopia’ by Arnold L. Kerson  in the 2000 volume of Utopian Studies!

Daru says that it was Montesquieu who first called Venice the R of the Bs, but I don’t know what the original source is supposed to be. So I now find myself leaning towards the thought that the original for all of this is Voltaire, who in the entry on ‘laws’ in his Philosophical Dictionary (1764) shrewdly notes that ‘The republic of the beavers is still superior to that of the ants, at least if we judge by their masonry work.’

[thanks! IN]

It’s Exam Season!

If you were marking examination papers on nineteenth century British political history, what mark would you give someone who described the 1832 Reform Act in these terms?

[It was] landmark legislation, from politicians who refused to sit back and do nothing while huge swathes of the population remained helpless against vested interests, who stood up for the freedom of the many, not the privilege of the few.

And what comment might you be tempted to write in the margin?

John Stuart Mill Liked Butter

From the current LRB letters page:

‘A life history in which the stomach is wholly absent,’ Bee Wilson writes, ‘does not seem quite human’ (LRB, 25 June). She is understandably charmed by Rousseau’s spilling his guts in public, but says of John Stuart Mill: ‘you would never know whether [he] ever yearned for sweets or felt his tummy rumble.’ Mill’s Autobiography, despite its title, is not and does not purport to be a life history. Still, his stomach seems to have made noises – especially for butter, the availability and quality of which Mill assiduously reports in a string of letters to Harriet Mill from France, Italy and Greece. Some butter is ‘tolerable & intensely yellow’, whereas in Brittany he ‘never once met with any but very good butter even in the smallest places’. In Vendée ‘it is seldom good & I have never yet found it very good.’ He also had to put up with ‘commonplace’ honey which ‘had not the peculiar flavour of Syracusan’ (Syracusan butter too was apparently excellent).

Åsa Söderman

“The history of the wealth of the Sutherland family is the history of the ruin and of the expropriation of the Scotch-Gaelic population from its native soil”

Reading in today’s papers that Francis Egerton, the 7th Duke of Sutherland, wants the Great British public to cough up £100m to keep the Bridgewater Collection of old masters on public display in Scotland reminded me of what Karl Marx wrote in a newspaper article in 1853, “The Duchess of Sutherland and Slavery“, about his great-great-great-great aunt Lady Harriet Elizabeth Georgiana Howard.

(That duchess was the grand-daughter of The Duchess who features in the film, currently on the nation’s cinema screens, and played by Keira Knightley, apparently.)

Anyway: do read the Marx piece: it’s great fun.

200th Anniversary of the End of History?

We’ve just had the 200th anniversary of the battle of Jena, and I’m trying to remember whether history ended with that battle or with Hegel’s completion of The Phenomenology of Spirit around the same time. Anyway, if we have just had the 200th anniversary of the end of history, the mass media seem to have pretty much ignored it completely (except, apparently, in Ottawa).

Happy Birthday, John Stuart Mill!

200 today…

When proper allowance has been made for geographical exigencies, another more purely moral and social consideration offers itself. Experience proves that it is possible for one nationality to merge and be absorbed in another: and when it was originally an inferior and more backward portion of the human race the absorption is greatly to its advantage. Nobody can suppose that it is not more beneficial to a Breton, or a Basque of French Navarre, to be brought into the current of the ideas and feelings of a highly civilised and cultivated people—to be a member of the French nationality, admitted on equal terms to all the privileges of French citizenship, sharing the advantages of French protection, and the dignity and prestige of French power—than to sulk on his own rocks, the half-savage relic of past times, revolving in his own little mental orbit, without participation or interest in the general movement of the world. The same remark applies to the Welshman or the Scottish Highlander as members of the British nation.

More sensible Mill Birthday Blogging over here.

UPDATE [3pm]: Apparently my great-great-grandfather preached a sermon against the Times’s hatchet-job of an obituary of JSM in 1873. I wonder if I’ll be able to chase down a copy. (Where do you go for Victorian sermons, anyway?)