Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Progressivism: Utilitarianism, Georgism, and Comtism, just like the Fabians

From Edward Pease' "History of the Fabian Society", Chapter 1 - The Sources of Fabian Socialism - is opened this way:
The ideas of the early eighties—The epoch of Evolution—Sources of Fabian ideas—Positivism—Henry George—John Stuart Mill—Robert Owen—Karl Marx—The Democratic Federation—"The Christian Socialist"—Thomas Davidson

This list is curiously similar to what's found in the evolution of progressivism:(the major points are in order based on their listing as excerpted above)

Positivism. Developed by Auguste Comte - there were Positivist ideals right here in the US in the progressive movement. Last week I wrote "Herbert Croly was raised on Comtean beliefs", in which I limited the discourse to the original source's content. Beyond Croly's father and his influence upon his son, there was a "Positivist Church" right here in the states, in New York. It's influence may be limited when compared to other larger movements of the day(such as Georgism or Nationalism), but it did have a notable influence with one of the unions in the area, and Gillis Harp points out that those who were in attendance were the key opinion-makers of their day. Another of Harp's works includes this one about Positivism and Progressivism for those interested. The chapter on the Crolys is fairly compelling.(Google books has a page limit)

Henry George. Henry George's writings were pretty important in the era that preceded/led to the progressive era. Also, as noted above, George had an impact upon the Fabians as well. Georgist ideas were very popular amongst the Unions of the day(using his book for educational purposes), which supported his run for Mayor of N.Y. City.

John Stuart Mill. Utilitarianism, present within both the Fabian as well as progressive movements.

Robert Owen. I've never gone into detail about Owen. But Owen, amongst many others set up these socialist cooperatives around the United States, which were certainly influential in their day because they kept being built. Late in the 19th century, colonies based on George's ideas started popping up.

Christian Socialism. I have not yet gone into details much on this one, though I've swerved into it many times. Richard T. Ely (Who I've written about recently) was a leader of Christian Socialism. So too was the founder of the Fabian Society here in America, W. D. P. Bliss.

Thomas Davidson. Pease' writing describes Davidson this way:

Thomas Davidson was the occasion rather than the cause of the founding of the Fabian Society. His socialism was ethical and individual rather than economic and political. He was spiritually a descendant of the Utopians of Brook Farm and the Phalanstery, and what he yearned for was something in the nature of a community of superior people withdrawn from the world because of its wickedness, and showing by example how a higher life might be led.

That's the opening paragraph of the relevant section. Few notes: First, Brook Farm was in America(see above comments regarding Owen) Second, Phalanstery is a nod to Charles Fourier, who inspired many of the socialist communities built here in the US.

As to the description, note how he writes "showed by example how a higher life might be led". This could easily be a descriptor for the book Looking Backward, written by Edward Bellamy. But instead of a personal example in himself, Bellamy provides it in the book in Julian West and the plot line of the model society.

I highlight all of this to show how historically similar that progressivism is to the Fabians not just in tactics(making progress) but also in the evolution of how they came to be.

The obvious ones as listed above are Evolution(and it's other half, eugenics), and Karl Marx. The progressives, just like the Fabians, prefer to reject Revolution and engage in Evolution.(Disruption and subversion, making progress in small steps)

And then there are the clear differences. The time lines are different. British culture vs American culture. The Democratic Federation was a British political party. The coherence of the Fabian Society as a structured group, there hasn't been any official 'progressive society'. American Progressivism a century ago had the legacy of the Founding Fathers still lingering. But while the differences are notable, the similarities are profound.

Despite being an ocean apart, progressivism and Fabianism share a lot of the same dna, had similar childhoods, and had many of the same teachers.


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