I love Oscar Wilde as much as the next man (as an actor said to a Bishop) but sometimes he is utterly up his own ass.
I tracked this little volume down thinking that one of the great Irishmen who never got to have an Irish passport might have an interesting pre-1917 perspective on Marxism. How disappointing this experience was for me. Try to count the error in this little glorious segment:
Over the portal of the new world, “Be Thyself” shall be written. And the message of Christ to man was simply “Be Thyself.” That is the secret of Christ.
When Jesus talks about the poor He simply means personalities, just as when He talks about the rich He simply means people who have not developed their personalities. Jesus moved in a community that allowed the accumulation of private property just as our does, and the gospel that He preached was not that in such a community it is an advantage for a man to live on scanty, unwholesome food, to wear ragged, unwholesome clothes, to sleep in horrid, unwholesome dwellings, and a disadvantage for a man to live under healthy, pleasant, and decent conditions. Such a view would have been wrong there and then, and would, of course, be still more wrong now and in England; for as man moves northwards the material necessities of life become of more vital importance, and our society is infinitely more complex, and displays far greater extremes of luxury and pauperism than any society of the antique world. What Jesus meant was this. He said to man, “You have a wonderful personality. Develop it. Be yourself. Don’t imagine that your perfection lies in accumulating or possessing external things. Your perfection is inside of you. If only you could realise that, you would not want to be rich. Ordinary riches can be stolen from a man. Real riches cannot. In the treasury-house of your soul there are infinitely precious things, that may not be taken from you. And so, try to so shape your life that external things will not harm you. And try also to get rid of personal property. It involves sordid preoccupation, endless industry, continual wrong. Personal property hinders Individualism at every step.” It is to be noted that Jesus never says that impoverished people are necessarily good, or wealthy people necessarily bad. That would not have been true. Wealthy people are, as a class, better than impoverished people, more moral, more intellectual, more well-behaved. There is only one class in the community that thinks more about money than the rich, and that is the poor. The poor can think of nothing else. That is the misery of being poor. What Jesus does say is that man reaches his perfection, not through what he has, not even through what he does, but entirely through what he is. And so the wealthy young man who comes to Jesus is represented as a thoroughly good citizen, who has broken none of the laws of his state, none of the commandments of his religion. He is quite respectable, in the ordinary sense of that extraordinary word. Jesus says to him, “You should give up private property. It hinders you from realising your perfection. It is a drag upon you. It is a burden. Your personality does not need it. It is within you, and not outside of you, that you will find what you really are, and what you really want.” To His own friends He says the same thing. He tells them to be themselves, and not to be always worrying about other things. What do other things matter? Man is complete in himself.
Numbers don’t yet go high enough for that counting to work. Maybe scientists will get to work on that instead of building iPads that come with old episodes of Glenroe pre-installed, which would be a miracle of modern techno wizardry.
I always knew of this little work because of a famous quote about utopia, that was typically charming of Wilde and still deeply troubling:
A map of the world that does not include Utopia is not worth even glancing at.
Utopia is a dangerous idea, the concept of heaven secularized has led only to very real hells. But it turns out that Wilde guts his own point by imagining his utopia to be an ongoing journey towards a never-existing destination, which is to say not a utopia at all:
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 realisation of Utopias.
A utopia called progress? Only someone who had not lived into the 20th Century could write such guff. That such a genius could commit it to paper and have it happily printed says something about the “spirit of the age” and how utterly sure of ourselves we were before our certainty stumbled haplessly for four years in the trenches of Flanders.
Your Correspondent, Has been saying stufffor years so constantly and so tediously that now even the church is picking it up.