Not quite a political party, not quite a pressure group, not quite a debating society, the Fabians could only have happened...



Not quite a political party, not quite a pressure group, not quite a debating society, the Fabians could only have happened in Britain. They coalesced in the 1880s as a small group of radical middle-class bohemians, galvanizing each other with their intellectual brio and their avid, inchoate socialism. In what is a thoroughly admirable study, the MacKenzies have captured the vitality of the early years, a vitality which gradually, under the grinding aegis of the Webbs, turned to a dull, laggard faith in state collectivism. Shaw, Graham Wallas, H. G. Wells, Herbert Bland, Annie Besant, Sidney Webb, and Beatrice Potter were an incongruous group of confederates. The MacKenzies have managed to seamlessly mingle their personal histories with the larger story of the Fabian Society. Since much of this is anecdotal, it is immense fun to read. More important, the authors have pinpointed (without belaboring) all the internal paradoxes of Fabianism. In Shaw's phrase they were ""missionaries among the savages,"" convinced that restructuring society was too important to be left to the rude masses. Profoundly elitist, the Society became a prisoner of the Webbs' ""clinical detachment""; their revulsion at anything that smacked of millenarian revolution inevitably forced them to the sidelines during the great trade union battles of the Edwardian era. Too many free spirits departed and intellectual daring turned to intellectual priggishness. The MacKenzies record their quarrels, their amours (unsurpassed by The Bloomsbury crowd), their Minority Reports, and the ambiguous achievements of ""permeation""--their strategy for influencing the Liberal and Labor Parties. That a group of such unregenerate individualists should have created an organization which slowly sank into docile acceptance of sterile state collectivism does not escape the MacKenzies' notice. Still, they make a remarkable story--this cross-pollination of Positivism, William Morris' romanticism, the economics of Marx and Henry George. For a brief time they stood at the center of it all. By 1914 their day was over--the MacKenzies stop without the protracted, moribund epilogue.

Pub Date: March 1, 1977


Page Count: -

Publisher: Simon & Schuster

Review Posted Online: N/A

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 1977