The Making of British Socialism: Uniting Hope, Faith and Economics

Why did the British Marxists follow a Tory aristocrat who dressed in a frock coat and top hat? What was the role of Christian theology and idealist philosophy in shaping socialist ideas? Did the Fabians develop a new economic theory? The Making of British Socialism is an impressive book that via these specific questions, and others, offers an original perspective on the emergence of British socialism in the late 19th century.
The author, Mark Bevir (University of California, Berkeley), argues that British Socialism was not a working-class movement demanding state action, but a creative campaign of political hope promoting social justice, personal transformation and radical democracy. Bevir traces the ways in which people collectively made various socialist projects in a complex world of mass literacy and popular politics. He shows that British socialists responded to the dilemmas of economics and faith against a background of diverse traditions, melding new economic theories opposed to capitalism with new theologies which argued that people were bound in divine fellowship.
Bevir aims to rethink socialism by looking back to the late 19th century, before ideological lines became hardened by political parties and cold-war warriors. In doing so, he explores creative exchanges between socialism and other traditions, including popular radicalism, liberal radicalism, and romanticism. The book explores debates about capitalism, revolution, the simple life, sexual relations, and utopian communities. It gives detailed accounts of the Marxists, Fabians, and ethical socialists, including famous authors such as William Morris and George Bernard Shaw, and  locates these socialists among a wide cast of colorful characters, including Karl Marx, Henry Thoreau, Leo Tolstoy, and Oscar Wilde.
By showing how socialism combined established traditions and new ideas in order to respond to the changing world of the late nineteenth century, The Making of British Socialism turns aside long-held assumptions about the origins of a major movement. (Open access to the 1st chapter)

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