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Posted on April 30, by Scott Alexander I. A spectre is haunting Europe. One of them is the spectre of communism. The others are literal ghosts. They live in abandoned mansions.
Sometimes they wail eerily or make floorboards creak. If you arrange things just right, you might be able to capture them on film. Inghost hunters Frank Podmore and Edward Pease spent the night at the same West London haunted house, looking for signs of the paranormal. As the night dragged on without any otherworldly visitations, they passed the time in conversation and realized they shared an interest in communist thought.
The two agreed to meet up again later, and from these humble beginnings came one of the most important private societies in the history of the world. Before the Fabians, communism was a pastime of wild-eyed labor activists promising bloody revolution. The Society helped introduce the idea of incremental democratic socialism — not just in the sense of Bernie Sanders, but in the sense of the entire modern welfare state.
In the process, they pretty much invented the demographic of champagne-sipping socialist intellectuals. A small group of people who wanted to change the world founded an organization, garnered influence in a bunch of little ways, thought strategically and acted with discipline.
And after decades of work they got into positions of power and successfully changed the world, shifting the economic consensus from state socialism to free er markets. And the Fabians seem like the same story, told in reverse. A small group of idealists, thinking strategically and acting with discipline, moved democratic socialism from the lunatic fringe to the halls of intellectual power.
If aspiring generals study Alexander the Great and Napoleon, surely aspiring intellectual movements should study the neoliberals and the Fabians. Pease turns out to be an engaging writer with a good sense of humor.
His book, however, is a bit puzzling.
It paints a Fabian Society which is chronically disorganized and which kind of hilariously bumbles into global power despite itself. Still, it was informative, funny, and not totally absent of practical applications, so below I include some discussion and interesting passages.
After the original ghost hunt, Pease and Podmore met again in a few other situations and eventually got some people together to found The Fellowship Of New Life, agreeing: That an association be formed whose ultimate aim shall be the reconstruction of Society in accordance with the highest moral possibilities Later fleshed out as: The cultivation of a perfect character in each and all.
The sole and essential condition of fellowship shall be a single-minded, sincere, and strenuous devotion to the object and principle. Under these auspices, they gathered a collection of upper-middle-class bureaucrats whose names sounded kind of like C. Lewis villains, like Hubert Bland and Percival Chubb, who agreed to meet monthly and discuss how to achieve their goals.
Soon the political discussions started to crowd out the more philosophical ones, and so the politically-minded Fellows branched off to form their own society.
Since they believed that Communists should avoid talk of violent revolution and instead bide their time working within the system, they named themselves the Fabian Society after Roman general Quintus Fabius Maximus, famous for his delaying tactics.
According to one of their pamphlets: For the right moment you must wait, as Fabius did most patiently, when warring against Hannibal, though many censured his delays; but when the time comes you must strike hard, as Fabius did.
Every fortnight, the Society would sponsor a lecture, sometimes by a member, sometimes by a guest, on some aspect of communism. Afterwards there would discussion and socializing the type where you make friends, not the type where you nationalize industries. Pease notes that not only did this educate people, but the existence of a fortnightly activity kept people connected to the movement and the other members, and made them more likely to stick around and get engaged in other ways.
Sometimes the lectures would include or be replaced by debates among members on aspects of communist thought or policy.
Once again, the apparent primary objective of learning ended up being overshadowed by a secondary benefit: This became very important when the organization began fielding candidates for local government.
And the only opponents who have ever held their own against the Fabians in debate have been men like Mr. Foote, who learnt in the same school.How you choose to navigate your child’s teen years is one of the most important factors in how they learn and grow into adults, and your relationship with them now will set the course for years to come.
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