Isolation and the Artist

In The Soul of Man Under Socialism, Oscar Wilde spends a brief portion of his discussion on the existence and potential eradication of crime. His remedy for this social malaise relies, of course, upon the implementation of Socialism and its counterpart, Individualism. Under these new societal tenets, crime would become a problem of the past, since the causes of crime would be removed. Wilde’s faith in his claims and the promises of Socialism seems unfounded in light of daily experience and common sense. Wilde’s argument seems aimed at the middle and upper classes, but its essence finds a place in nearly all who would hear it: who would not desire the abolition of crime? The style in which it is written, however, suggests that this particular argument is intended for the reasonably wealthy, since they have the most to lose from crime, and the educated, who might be swayed by Wilde’s discourse on the root of crime. “But though a crime may not be against property, it may spring from the misery and rage and depression produced by our wrong system of property-holding, and so, when that system is abolished, will disappear” (p. 075). This, Wilde’s basic argument, serves as an example of the benefit and personal liberation that Socialism would bring to a society. Though his essay’s most intense focus involves the artist and his or her relationship to Socialism and Individualism, here Wilde intends to display the maturity and understanding that his system will eventually loose in people’s hearts and minds. “Jealousy, which is an extraordinary source of crime in modern life, is an emotion closely bound up with our conceptions of property, and under Socialism and Individualism will die out” (p. 075). This claim of the elimination of an entire human emotion, as a result of Socialism, seems rather ridiculous and naivé. Wilde’s seems to posit that no one who is wealthy ever commits crimes. He ignores that the wealthy may have problems and difficulties, indeed psychological motivations and dilemmas that exist entirely separate from the realm of property and money. One who kills a lover because of infidelity is not jealous of property or wealth. Even if property were eliminated, clearly not all jealousy would disappear. These difficulties in Wilde’s discussion of crime afford a view into the difficulties found throughout his essay. The Individualism his Socialism supposedly provides would dissolve marriage and family structure. According to Wilde, this serves as a component in the process of becoming isolated. Isolation, in turn, leads to the possibility of the creation of true art. Wilde cites examples such as Keats and Darwin as men who have found the necessary isolation to create. The difficulty arises when one notes that these men were not isolated, but deeply involved in the society and community of their day. Darwin could not have made his discoveries without the successes and mistakes of his predecessors. Perhaps these criticisms take too narrow a view of Wilde’s terminology, but a great deal of wishful idealism seems to pervade his essay. Wilde expects too much from the soul of man under socialism.