Ohio Wesleyan English Teacher’s First Book Explores Early Socialism Writings
By Ohio Wesleyan University
DELAWARE, Ohio – The title of the new book by Ohio Wesleyan University professor Mark A. Allison – “Imagining Socialism: Aesthetics, Anti-politics, and Literature in Britain, 1817-1918″ – immediately raises two questions: Why an English professor would he write a book on socialism? And what is “anti-politics?” “
“These are good questions,” said Allison, Ph.D., English professor Ben T. Spencer of the OWU. âIn Britain, writers and artists were very important supporters of socialism throughout the 19th century.
“For example, Nobel Prize-winning playwright George Bernard Shaw has given hundreds and hundreds of pro-socialist speeches, and HG Wells, remembered for his sci-fi classics like ‘War of the Worlds’ and âThe Invisible Man,â wrote works of socialist propaganda that sold as well as his novels, âAllison said.
âThe more I searched for that connection, the more it made sense. Unlike other forms of social organization, such as, say, monarchy or democracy, there has never been a fully realized socialist society. Imagination, this key trait of artists, was needed to imagine what it could be. Hence my title, âImagining Socialismâ.
And “anti-political? “
âMost people think socialism means great government and state control,â said Allison, who joined Ohio Wesleyan faculty in 2007. âBut all of the founders of socialism had a bad opinion. of politics, which they associated with partisanship, corruption, and unnecessary activity.wars.This was especially true in Britain, which, like America, has a long history of distrust of centralized authority. .
“Socialists were mainly interested in what they called ‘social’ rather than ‘political’ reform,” he continued. âThey thought that if you wanted to make society fairer, you had to focus on places like the workplace, the school and the local community. By transforming the constituent elements of civil society, you could promote cooperation instead of competition, leading to social harmony. Over time, these reforms would reduce the scope of institutional policy, or even replace it altogether.
âAs I investigated socialism’s ‘anti-political’ approach to reform, I discovered that there was a second reason writers and artists were so central to British socialism,â continued Allison, who is also co-director of the Ohio Wesleyan Honor Program. . âThe arts themselves have resources that could help depoliticize collective life.
âFor example,â he said, âWilliam Morris, the great poet and great thinker of art, argued that while men and women were allowed to approach all work with equal pride and the same creativity that skilled artisans bring to their work, this would eventually allow citizens to relate to each other in mutual respect which would eliminate the need for a formal policy.
“Robert Owen, director of a cotton mill and founder of British socialism, believed that the way to achieve a form of non-governmental society was to educate young people to seek their own happiness through the good of the collective. “Allison continued. . âOwen called it ‘rational education.’ But when you look at his school’s program, you find that teaching song and dance was at the heart of it. These activities literally taught the children to âharmonizeâ with each other: to channel their natural desire to excel into some form of effort that would improve group performance.
“While nineteenth-century socialists approached social problems from different angles, they repeatedly turned to the arts in their efforts to tame ‘politics’ and imagine the world differently.”
Although Allison’s book deals with the British tradition of 19th-century socialism, it does address the concerns of the day: growing economic inequality, exasperation at political polarization and deadlock, and the surprising resurgence of interest in socialism among Millennials and Generation Z.
âWhen I started researching this book, socialism was not on the contemporary radar,â Allison said. âThen the Great Recession of 2007-2008 happened and things started to snowball.
âBernie Sanders ran two unexpected presidential campaigns, and Jeremy Corbyn had his five-year term as Prime Minister of the United Kingdom. Newspapers have started to publish opinion polls showing that young people have more favorable views on socialism than on capitalism. Suddenly, what I considered a very specialized subject no longer seemed to me specialized at all. “
What does Allison want readers to take away from her book?
âFirst of all, I believe in the intrinsic value of literature and literary analysis,â he said. âThe backbone of this book is the close examination of the works of great 19th century writers, some famous, others unjustly forgotten.
âBeyond that, I will quote the last words of my introduction: ‘It would be foolish to believe that a literary study of 19th century British socialism could open the door to utopia. But it would be vanity to think that the struggles of so many intelligent, committed and well-meaning men and women have nothing to teach us today.
Learn more about Imagining Socialism and Allison and Ohio Wesleyan’s English Department at owu.edu/English.
Founded in 1842, Ohio Wesleyan University is one of the nation’s premier liberal arts universities. Located in Delaware, Ohio, the private university offers more than 70 undergraduate specializations and participates in 24 NCAA Division III varsity sports. Through its signature program, The OWU Connection, Ohio Wesleyan teaches students to integrate knowledge across disciplines, build a diverse and holistic perspective, and apply knowledge in real-world contexts. Ohio Wesleyan is featured in the âColleges That Change Livesâ book and is on the US News & World Report and Princeton Review âBest Collegesâ lists. Learn more at owu.edu.