Thursday, August 28, 2008

Socialism Before the French Revolution: A History / William B. Guthrie -- Macmillan Co., 1907.

By the time this book was published, Marxism dominated the socialist movement, but the revolutionary movement Russia was yet to succeed. The Progressive movement in the US was in full swing, but corporate control in the US was at one of its historical highs. In Socialism before the French Revolution, William Guthrie examines the roots of socialism, particularly in the work of three important writers: Thomas More, Thomas Campanella, and Morelly. Guthrie places these authors on one side of a rough ideological divide that separates (1) thinkers who believe that the natural workings of society generate the best of all possible social arrangements from (2) thinkers who believe that human ingenuity can improve upon these arrangements. The former strand of thinking comes to its culmination with Adam Smith. The latter has its origins in Plato.

Guthrie acknowledges the utopian tendencies in his subjects, but emphasizes numerous practical proposals in each. Topically, Guthrie addresses their views about private property, surplus value, and -- quite interestingly -- the role of the family as an instituion in opposition to socialism and the general good. The analysis of socialism goes beyond the three central figures and touches on several other radical thinkers, particularly various French thinkers. The entire work leaves one thinking these pre-industrial authors were a lot more modern than one would have thougth.

The work earned Guthrie a PhD in political science at Columbia University.

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