Wilde about Christ (8): Individualism

From The Soul of Man Under Socialism. It is always quite amusing how, even to this day, the anti-Wilde faction (yes, there is one) will focus on OW’s supposed sexual degeneracy and feckless lifestyle as being potentially “corrupting” or destabilising influences. The real danger and excitement in Wilde is enshrined in passages like this – the perfect vade mecum for any young person wanting to kick off the traces and be themselves. This is a true manifesto, a perfectly drawn blueprint for rebellion.

Yes; there are suggestive things in Individualism. Socialism annihilates family life, for instance. With the abolition of private property, marriage in its present form must disappear. This is part of the programme. Individualism accepts this and makes it fine. It converts the abolition of legal restraint into a form of freedom that will help the full development of personality, and make the love of man and woman more wonderful, more beautiful, and more ennobling. Jesus knew this. He rejected the claims of family life, although they existed in His day and community in a very marked form. “Who is my mother? Who are my brothers ?” He said, when He was told that they wished to speak to Him. When one of His followers asked leave to go and bury his father, “Let the dead bury the dead,” was His terrible answer. He would allow no claim whatsoever to be made on personality.

And so he who would lead a Christ-like life is he who is perfectly and absolutely himself. He may be a great poet, or a great man of science; or a young student at a University, or one who watches sheep upon a moor; or a maker of dramas, like Shakespeare, or a thinker about God, like Spinoza; or a child who plays in a garden, or a fisherman who throws his nets into the sea. It does not matter what he is, as long as he realises the perfection of the soul that is within him. All imitation in morals and in life is wrong. Through the streets of Jerusalem at the present day crawls one who is mad and carries a wooden cross on his shoulders. He is a symbol of the lives that are marred by imitation. Father Damien was Christ-like when he went out to live with the lepers, because in such service he realised fully what was best in him. But he was not more Christ-like than Wagner, when he realised his soul in music; or than Shelley, when he realised his soul in song. There is no one type for man. There are as many perfections as there are imperfect men. And while to the claims of charity a man may yield and yet be free, to the claims of conformity no man may yield and remain free at all.

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