Musil on Socialism

I’m dipping into the English translation of the diaries of Robert Musil, a handsome book published in 1998. Here is his discussion of socialism from the 1919-1921:

Ideology of socialism

  1. ) All people are equal
  2. ) Love thy neighbor as thyself.

1. is a downright untruth. The real true meaning of this assertion has become apparent in the meantime. Trials by jury, councils, parliament, the pupil often cleverer than the teacher. Take, from time to time, a spiritual purgative to clear out all knowledge. Spirit is destructive, and only constructive through setting up a collection of solutions from which practice makes its selection. When left to its own devices, spirit is a feud without end. (From this follows the position of the creative writer and the philosopher in socialist society.)

2. This principle has never been realized. It is not only unsuitable for the ethics of everyday life but also for the ethics of those who are most advanced. The only way it is realized, if at all, is in the exaggerated form: “Love thy neighbor more than thyself.” But then it is no longer pure, for here an idea is loved, an issue. Moreover, it denotes a condition, that of love.

This should be replaced by a principle that is, in ethical terms, of much less consequence but, in practical terms, more important: “Act in solidarity.”

Accordingly, the ethics of socialism rest on 2 practical maxims. That corresponds to the tasks of a political movement.

Hatred of the oppressors, feeling for the subjugated—all these ideas so dear to the socialist, his elan? First of all, these ideas all belong to the “status nascendi” of socialism, not to the finished society. [. . .]

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