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  • Cited by 2
  • Print publication year: 2007
  • Online publication date: September 2008

4 - Socialism and radicalism


When the Westminster Gazette began publication in January 1893 as a radical-liberal evening paper it turned to the essayist and novelist, Grant Allen, to provide a regular column of social commentary. The range of issues on which this notably prolific, socialist polemicist campaigned included Home Rule for Ireland, the uselessness of the aristocracy, the tyranny of monopolies, the burden on women of 'worn out moralities', the importance of internationalism; his affiliations lay with the Fabian Society, the Land Nationalisation Society, the Legitimation League and the Free Press Defence Committee. Allen's enthusiasms are instructive partly because they suggest something of the extent to which the boundaries separating radical-liberal or New Liberal positions, and those subsequently denoted as socialist, had become blurred by the 1890s. In the last year of his life, 1899, and in common with many, although by no means all, socialists, Allen campaigned against the Boer War (1899-1902); yet it was a New Liberal thinker, J. A. Hobson, who spearheaded pro-Boer support and who produced the most eloquent critique of imperialism of its day.

But beneath the confusing, shifting surface at the fin de siècle, there were detectable patterns in the orientation of radical ideas. Some had their origins in the evolution in social thought associated with the assimilation of the ideas of Comte. His positivism offered a substantial legacy to British intellectuals who sought a systematic means of analysing society and developing a rational future founded on a secular, scientific basis. From such application of scientific knowledge to the problems of society would come a positive philosophy of life which for its adherents 'would be the salvation of mankind'.