Ernest Belfort Bax

The Ethics of Socialism


IN submitting a new collection of short pieces, most of which bear directly or indirectly on Socialism, I have to thank the socialistic and socialistically-sympathetic public for the favourable reception accorded to a similar little book published some two years ago under the title The Religion of Socialism. That the hints contained in the former series have been found suggestive by many Socialists is a sufficient excuse for publishing the present volume, which differs from the preceding mainly in the greater variety of its contents. There are two papers dealing with speculative matters, and one of a purely historical character. The rest all turn more or less on the subject of Socialism.

The opening paper on The New Ethic, which may be regarded as a pendant to that on Universal History, was originally published in January, 1888, in German in the Stuttgart Neue Zeit. As now given, it contains a few passages which had on that occasion to be suppressed in view of the Anti-Socialist law. Otherwise it is the same: The Revolution of the 19th Century.

It was addressed in the first instance mainly to secularist hearers and readers in the earlier stages of the English Socialist movement: and to those who have followed the subsequent literature of the movement it may seem to contain a good deal that has been said before, both by myself and others. It was thought, however, that, in view of the fact that there are still a considerable number of persons who profess a zeal for “freethought,” and yet do not embrace the ideal of Socialism, it might be worth while to include it in the series. The article, Criminal Law under Socialism, is practically a continuation of that on Civil Law under Socialism contained in the former volume. Of the other socialistic articles it is unnecessary to say anything by way of preface beyond the fact that their intention is suggestion rather than lengthy exposition.

The advance of the Socialistic movement within the last two years, i.e., since the publication of the Religion of Socialism, has been marked in England in two ways. Firstly, the Trades’ Unions have begun to be penetrated by socialistic ideas. The solid front of true British stupidity, of which, unfortunately, hitherto, they have been the embodiment, has at length, to say the least, been broken. Economic causes must infallibly do the rest before very long. The second noteworthy point in the progress of the English movement is the steady accession of what is sometimes termed the “intellectual proletariat” to the cause of Socialism. By the “intellectual proletariat” is to be understood the increasing class of young men of the middle classes, who, while provided with a good, and, in some cases, a “liberal” education, can find no opening for a livelihood in modern society. These persons are often possessed of the “higher culture” (to employ a phrase which has become current drawing-room slang), and yet they are commonly driven to the greatest shifts to gain a bare subsistence. While they have often to endure the hardships of the manual proletariat, their suffering is increased by the very fact of their education. This class is, if we mistake not, likely to do “yeoman’s service” in the cause of the Social Revolution in those countries where, as in England. it is largely represented. Although sprung from the middle-classes, economic progress can hardly fail to force it, as a class, into the struggle on the side of the “fourth estate”.

As regards those papers which are mainly non-socialistic in character, that on Dr. Faustus and his Contemporaries (first published in Macmillan’s Magazine), claims to put a fairly complete statement of all that can be said on the subject of the rise and development of the Faust-mythus. The short essay on Immortality criticises the dogma or belief from the standpoint of metaphysical analysis; and the concluding essay of the volume offers suggestions critical and otherwise on subjects of popular and speculative interest.

In conclusion, the author would like to say a word to the malignantly-hostile critic, if such there be, who may perchance deign to notice the present volume. He would particularly request that this gentleman would confine his animadversions to mere rude personal remarks if he finds any satisfaction therein, and not by manipulating extracts torn from their context, and placing sentences in “quotes,” with important words left out or interpolated, make the author responsible for statements and style of which he is wholly innocent. The author is aware that the malignantly-hostile critic whose intellectual resources are limited may be under some temptation to act thus, but he feels himself compelled to enter a protest against the practice, inasmuch as the general public has a superstition that even reviewers of reactionary “religious” journals draw the line at hard lying in their attempts to damage writers of whom they disapprove.


Last updated on 14.1.2006