Wilde’s individualistic philosophy

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Last updated: March 29, 2019

Present essay deals with the analysis of Wilde’s individualistic philosophy and politics through the prism of his distinction between property and creations (art) in his famous work “The Soul of Man Under Socialism”. Based on the study of ‘The Soul of Man Under Socialism’ other objects of his critique, including lack of creativity, the State, philanthropy would be studied to understand the philosophical origins of Wilde’s individualistic project.The thesis is defended that notwithstanding radical distinguishing between mentioned things, in fact Wilde’s individualistic politics are based both on self-possession and free expression. The latter is secured by the extended formulation of property, Wilde promotes.The Soul of Man under Socialism: property versus creativity.There is no denying the importance of the fact, that Wild’s harsh critique of capitalist society is deeply tied with his individualist politics, his living philosophy and engagement with anarchist tradition, represented by Russian anarchist Kropotkin’s contribution. Therefore, Wilde’s attack against capitalism focuses on individualism as the basic instrument for debunking the inhuman nature of English social relations.

The latter has a great resonance not only with Wild’s philosophical views, but his own non-conformist way of life, which challenged then dominant British conceptions of masculinity, morality and decency (Beaumont, 14).Let us discuss, how Wilde’s individualist critical stance, practically led to the distinction between property and creativity and what is even more important – to reformulation of the concept of property itself. Property, according to Wilde, is one of the basic limitations to the development of individuality, because it transforms human consciousness, making its passive supplement.Property dehumanizes relations between people, making them susceptible to calculation and envy. In this way, the abolishment of private property, corresponding to Marxist tradition, was seen by Wilde as sin qua non of just social order, leading to socialism.

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The absence of private property also means the assertion of individualism, a thought, which is especially evident in Wilde’s famous thesis that “Socialism itself will be of value simply because it will lead to individualism.”. (Wilde, 1051)Wilde’s critique of private property extends to the critique of the social strategies of its holders. The main target of Wilde is a bunch of philanthropists and ‘do-gooders’, who try to cure the problem, created by themselves by proposing means, which even more aggravate the situation.According to Wilde, helping poor in the way philanthropists do results in the further dissolution of their individuality, sinking into poverty, the absence of creativity self-esteem and nurturing their dependence on ‘benevolent’ rich men.  Hence, according to Wilde property and the strategies of its holders contradicts the notion of individuality and the drive of creativity embedded in it (Kuch, 372).In adopting the notion of ‘best self’ Wild exposes his understanding of individuality as the centerpiece of creativity.

Moreover, what is even more important, Wilde endows his notion of creative forces (arts) with critical meaning. According to Wilde, creativity bears on critical potential, while critique is in essence creative.In this way, the notion of creativity becomes inextricably linked with individualistic politics, which finally breaks with all sentiments of the past.

However, characteristic of Wilde’s project postulated critical potential of creativity has to do only with the development of individuality, but not society.The latter shows that Wilde still maintains his individualist sentiments, not compromising them with his theory of social change. However, not does only Wilde debunks property as the negative opposite of creativity, but also other social dimensions of existing order, which repress individuality, among which State is the central: ‘The State is not to govern ..

. [it] is to be a voluntary manufacturer and distributor of necessary commodities. The State is to make what is useful. The Individual is to make what is beautiful.’(Wilde 851).Here, again we see that the faculty of creativeness is strongly opposed to utilitarian functions of State, which are reduced to necessary distribution of resources.Hence, creativity should be understood as the basic component of Wilde’s individualist politics, which were specifically evident in his life, in which focused on finding means to be different from the majority of British men, preoccupied with sports, army, property and false needs.

Creative imagination and individuality, which Wilde promotes are intrinsically revolutionary, because they are based on the notion of Utopia, which is the only way to achieve progress: ‘A map of the world that does not include Utopia is not worth even glancing at, for it leaves out the one country at which Humanity is always landing. And when Humanity lands there, it looks out, and, seeing a better country, sets sail. Progress is the realization of Utopias.’(Wilde, 1184).The same skepticism, as in the case of the State and property may be found in Wilde’s attitude to labor: ‘‘I cannot help saying that a great deal of nonsense is being written and talked about the dignity of manual labour’…To sweep a slushy crossing for eight hours on a day when the east wind is blowing is a disgusting occupation” (Wilde, 1183).From these words it becomes evident that Wilde’s individualism is in fact asocial and critical of any sort of collective activity, which practically makes it just another side of then dominant market ideology of British society.

The latter analysis shows that the distinction between social dimensions of life, including property, state institutions, on the one side and individuality on the other, is the cornerstone of Wilde’s philosophy. However, then the question arises, how can Wilde’s negative conception of property correspond with his individualist politics, which in fact inverts this notion to produce mildly different meaning.There is no denying the importance of the fact, that Wilde achieves such compromise, by endowing human individuality with the qualities of property. As Kuch suggests in this respect, ‘Wilde’s delineation of what forms people’s consciousness is as subtle as it is forceful. In addition to his main proposition, that people have become conditioned to accept without question that individuality is equated with the ownership of property (Kuch, 373)The latter helps explain Wilde’s individualistic politics in his life.

Wilde in fact did not limit his property needs, spending his money to indulge his aesthetic needs, bohemian amusements and all kinds of ‘conspicuous consumption’.If interpreted from the standpoint of Wilde’s total criticism such practices may appear as a treason of one’s own principles and philosophy. However, if one should address the abovementioned point about Wilde’s reformulation of property as extended individuality, it would be easy to understand that Wilde saw nothing negative in consumption and getting property, which make human individuality more developed and multifaceted.

ConclusionTo sum it up, the analysis of Wilde’s individualist politics through the prism of distinction between property and creativeness, showed that Wilde’s criticism of social order is based on his notion of individuality as the source of creativeness and progress. In this way, Wilde’s opposes any social institutions or politics, which is based on the suppression of individuality either in ‘benevolent’ or ‘repressive’ way.The analysis also showed that Wilde suggests the extended formulation of property, in which it is understood as one of the dimensions of individuality, a means for its development, controlled by creative forces. The latter is extremely motivated by great contradictions included in anarchist project of socialism and individualism in general.ReferencesBeaumont, Matthew. (2004). Reinterpreting Oscar Wilde’s Concept of Utopia:’The Soul of Man Under Socialism’.

Utopian Studies, Vol. 15.Kuch Peter. (August 2005). Wildean Politics – ‘Or, Whatever one Wants to Call it’.

Irish Studies Review. Volume 13, Issue 3 , 369 – 377.Wilde, Oscar. (1988). The Soul of Man Under Socialism, The Complete Works of Oscar Wilde.

London: Collins.


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