Enquiry proves that Socialism is founded upon a triple rock, historical, ethical and economic. It gives, to those who make it, a great hope - a hope which, once it finds entrance into the heart of man, stays in to soften life and sweeten death.
Socialism is one of those myriad movements of which everyone in the world has heard repeatedly and yet never really understood in even the smallest way. So, it was with interest that I began this book; eight essays by seven different authors, among them such soon to be luminaries as Sidney Webb and George Bernard Shaw. Surely, after this, socialism will be easy to explicate.
And it certainly is; socialism, it seems, is communism with all the bite taken out. It is, equal with communism, a brilliant theory that fails to work at all in practice. Again and again through this book, the drum is beaten to indicate that socialism is on the horizon. Thus it is of interest to read the new forwards to each new edition; George Bernard Shaw has the last word, writing a forward for the sixtieth anniversary edition of the book. He’s well over ninety and he seems just as passionate about socialism, if less idealistic and somewhat cynical and chagrined, more to the pity.
The great revolution never really happened, as we can all attest. Capitalism still reigns supreme on the world market. Certainly capitalism comes in for its fair share of lumps, all of them very much deserved. But would socialism truly work better? The book fails to convince me.
At bottom, it’s a philosophical break; to my way of thinking, every economic structure tried has failed to create utopia. It has rarely been the structure’s fault; the simple fact is that human nature tends toward greed, venality, corruption. Communism would work, as would socialism, as would capitalism, as would all models, if only men were angels and not men. But we are men; we are not angels. Thus all the flaws, the exploitations, the injustices, that are found in capitalism would certainly equally apply under socialism, a fact Shaw reluctantly begins to own up to in his final forward.
It’s an oddity, really. On the one hand, there is deep cynicism: the Fabian society believes that capitalism is corrupt through and through and that nothing can restore dignity to mankind but a complete scrapping of all this industry and the building of an entirely new model. Thus, the perspective of the Fabians is quite a dark one, quite a bleak one. However, when talking of socialism, the new model, things take a turn into the relentlessly sunny and cheery; the Fabians begin to believe that all men are basically philanthropists, that no one is lazy, that no one is greedy, that socialism could never be corrupted because mankind will rise to the occasion. One tries to think of a time when mankind rose to the occasion. One is baffled and a little sad.
Thus the deep schizophrenia of the book can be summed up quite easily. Capitalism has failed because man corrupted it. Socialism will stand because man will choose not to corrupt it. At once, man is the villain and the savior, the devil and the messiah. Quite a moving proposition; quite a utopia to live in. Quite a castle in the air.
2 ½ out of 5 stars.