Monday, February 2, 2009

The Fabian Way

I needed something to read and grabbed The Right Nation: Conservative Power in America off a stack of books and opened it randomly and read the following passage.

The Fabians, a society of intellectuals, founded their organization in 1884. Their ranks included Sidney and Beatrice Webb, H.G. Wells and George Bernard Shaw. Their aim was to replace the "scramble for private gain" with "collective welfare," and their chosen technique was "permeation." They did not believe in overthrowing society, like the Marxists. They did not particularly care about winning elections, like the Labor Party they also helped found. Indeed, they tried not to tie themselves to one particular party. They hoped that socialism would come about gradually but relentlessly--by clothing collectivism in the garb of common sense and by extending government controls over one institution after another.

For the Fabians, the important thing was to change the climate of opinion so that whoever got into Parliament was marching to their tune. "Nothing in England is done without consent of a small intellectual yet practical class in London, not 2,00 in number," Sidney Webb once observed. The society's primary aim was to influence that class, but it also made a point of shaping the minds of less important people. The Fabian pamphlet was one of their hallmarks; they established periodicals like the New Statesman, set the agenda on numerous parliamentary committees and founded the London School of Economics and Political Science.

The Fabians also helped to establish the idea that socialism was an exciting way of life, not just a political creed. They founded a network of "groups" -- the women's group, the arts group, groups for education, biology and local government. One of the most successful of these was the "nursery," composed of bohemian young men and women who took that notorious roue H.G. Wells as their role model...
In some ways, the Fabians were a peculiarly British phenomena. In others, Fabianism was a template for something that was much more universal. Across Europe groups of intellectuals helped to establish the idea that socialism was the wave of the future, and groups of activists helped to define socialism not just as a body of ideas but also as a community. The result of all these efforts was the "socialist movement": an ideology that was also a fraternity; a set of beliefs that could organize people's lives from the cradle to the grave; a faith that could exert a relentless pressure on moderates and extract a terrible revenge on traitors.

"The Fabians also helped to establish the idea that socialism was an exciting way of life, not just a political creed."

This is an idea that I have been trying to find a way to articulate. To paraphrase the above sentence: We need to establish that the American Experiment is an exciting way of life, not just a country. We need to establish that a classical liberalism updated for the 21st century is an exciting way of life, not just a political creed. Our vision of the free society needs to be something that can appeal to people in a way that captures their imagination, makes them feel that are participating in something special, motivates them to seek out ways to creatively express what they are feeling and thinking and experiencing. That is what will successfully disseminate the ideas and the vision; it is what will generate support for community building and institution building. (This opens the door for Seth Godin's idea of Tribes which is an excellent book and will be the subject of another post)


Jay@Soob said...

Odd to equate Fabian with socialism. I take Fabian to be construed from the strategy of Fabius Maximus which seems much more reminiscent of guerrilla warfare than that of a collective social program. Weird.
I'm likely missing or ignorant of something beyond Fabian war strategy.

phil said...

From the Wikipedia entry:
The group, which favoured gradual incremental change rather than revolutionary change, was named – at the suggestion of Frank Podmore – in honour of the Roman general Quintus Fabius Maximus (nicknamed "Cunctator", meaning "the Delayer"). His Fabian strategy advocated tactics of harassment and attrition rather than head-on battles against the Carthaginian army under the renowned general Hannibal Barca.