Some Good John Ruskin Links

The Ruskin Museum

The Ruskin Collection

Ruskin in Sheffield

The John Ruskin Papers

John Ruskin on Education

The Guild of Saint George

The Life of John Ruskin – Book

Patriotism & Capital Punishment

John Ruskin on Political Economy

Romanticism, Ruskin and Islam

Ruskin vs. Dehumanising Capitalism

Ruskin’s Mentor on Prophet Muhammad

Reactionary Socialism

The Reactionary Socialism is a philosophy that believes that traditional social structures and values should be maintained (or rebuilt if they have been removed) but the working classes should be nurtured and their interests valued. Also known as “Feudal” or Traditionalist Socialism, it is an ideology often based upon alliance of the traditional hierarchy and the working class against the greedy bourgeois politics of the middle classes and the nouveau riche (the latter’s views typically embodied in such things as Liberalism, laissez faire capitalism, uncontrollable “free trade” and the secularizing and anti-traditional tendency).

By the the 1830s it had become clear in both Britain and France that the bourgeoisie were now using their new found influence to favour their own material interests in ways that were harmful both to the upper classes and the working classes. Reactionary Socialism emerged as a natural reactionary response to the Jacobin French Revolution and also to Capitalism, just as the counter reformation had been the natural and pondered Catholic response to the Protestant reformation. It was not simply a call to the past, but rather a call to the better things from the past.

Early Reactionary Socialism attracted both upper class people who had been marginalized by the urban and industrial capitalists just as it attracted working class people who would benefit through the influence of its benevolent social policies. Many early Reactionary Socialists saw their mission as a war against the unnatural ‘Modern’ society, a war to protect the natural and traditional foundations and social bonds of society, foundations which had gradually evolved in accordance with the Divine Plan and which had shown their stability by withstanding the test of time.

Their war was against the low minded and petty politics of the bourgeoisie, politics which had served to create many individualistic self seeking people whose individualism had worked against the unity and well being of communities. The goal of this struggle was to rebuild the naturally more harmonious way of life of pre-industrial, pre-revolutionary times. In this they were not idealists working towards something never seen, but rather reactionaries seeking to rebuild something that once was. However this was not to be a return to the good and the bad of the past, but rather to its better part in particular – the alliance of aristocracy and the workers to provide safety nets that had not existed in Britain since the dissolution of the monasteries (which had long provided social services, healthcare and welfare before they were destroyed).

Reactionary Socialism is the antithesis to the divisive Jacobin ideologies, such as Secular Fundamentalism, Marxism, “Progressive” Liberalism etc). Indeed Reactionary Socialism in Britain roughly equated with what would sometimes be called “Tory Socialism” – an ideology which has very little to do with those who are called erroneously called “Tories” in modern Britain (i.e. the Conservative party whose current ideology owes little ideology to the real Tories and much to their enemies the Whigs, this to the extent that the term “High Tory” had to be coined to denote those with views approximating to real Tory values).

In France Reactionary Socialism was linked to a number of figures including the Legitimist Count Montalembert. He was associated to the Catholic party under Louis Philippe, and a reactionary alliance of composed of Orleanists and Legitimists under the Republic. In his time he was a Bonapartist. As well a believing is a social safety net he hoped to see the establishment in France of a new aristocratic era and he encouraged the French to improve their politics by emulating the good parts of the British system.

His close associate Felicite Robert de Lamennais was another believer in both Monarchy and Catholicism. He was an anti-revolutionary and and anti-materialist. He worked together with Count Montalembert and Abbé Lacordaire and  spoke out against Capitalism, expressing his own Reactionary Socialist ideology as a superior alternative. He promoted the idea that Christian love could form the basis of a more civilized way of human interaction.

In Britain Reactionary Socialism was often associated with the Young England Party, an aristocratic “Tory Socialist” grouping that supported the Conservative Prime Minister Benjamin Disraeli (incidentally Disraeli who was often cited as a major influence several decades later by early Labour MPs). One of these “Tory Socialists” was Lord John Manners MP, an Owenite who was involved (along with a collection of aristocrats and vicars) in a Church of England based, Cooperative inspired village project (the basic idea was to set up self supporting villages with agriculture and small industry for the benefit of the villagers).  Other notable figures in the movement included Richard Monckton Milnes the 1st Baron Houghton, George Smyth the 7th Vicount Strangford, Lord John Manners, Alexander Baillie-Cochrane the 1st Baron Lamington and Henry Thomas Hope MP (who was incidentally a strong supporter of the Carlists in Spain).

Another British input towards Reactionary Socialism came from the thinker and polymath Thomas Carlyle (another key intellectual and moral influence on the early British Labour Movement) and he himself was a great influence upon John Ruskin who held similar views (Ruskin was of course another great influence upon the early British Labour Movement). 

The secular fundamentalist followers of Karl Marx (an usurper of the term socialism who was born long after its British Christian beginnings) often couldn’t stand Reactionary Socialism. Many of them were (and still are) infuriated by those who they called Reactionary Socialists, “Feudal Socialists”, “Petit-Bourgeois Socialists”, “Utopian Socialists” and “German/True Socialists”, infuriated because they weren’t radical enough for them, infuriated because they rejected class war and sought beneficial cooperation instead, infuriated because they didn’t adhere to nonsensical Marxist historical theories, infuriated because they sometimes had leanings towards restoring pre-industrial means of production, infuriated because they appreciated good things from the past, infuriated because they appreciated the good things of the present.

Many Reactionary Socialists would be the last people to call themselves socialists because of the negative reputation which the Jacobin Marxists earned for the term. For example President Roosevelt’s New Deal policies were undeniably socialistic in nature, whilst Senator Huey Long was even more of a Socialist (proposing that the government should play Robin Hood and take from the undeserving rich to support the deserving poor, capping wealth at $10-15 million of fortune and to $ 1 million per annum income (before inflation that was a pretty massive sum), guaranteeing a basic income for the poor as well as free vocational training, free university education, a thirty hour working week, the right to one months annual leave from work, public works projects and old age and veterans benefits. Of course if anyone accused Huey Long of being a socialist he would declare that the Bible was his inspiration not Marx (he probably didn’t know that Socialism was actually invented by Christians long before Marx.

Indeed when the overwhelming majority of the British Labour Party politicians of the past strongly supported the Monarchy, traditional social values and the established constitution of Great Britain alongside the party’s economic ideology they were in effect expressing their loyalty to the essential principles of Reactionary Socialism, whether they knew they were or not. Many Labour supporters and voters wish the Labour Party still did hold traditional values, indeed when Labour moved away from its early roots and came under the influence of smug bourgeois social Liberals with both Jacobin and Libertine tendencies (such as Roy Jenkins)  it began a process through which Labour eventually lost the support of much of its natural working class constituency.

Of course, people don’t usually go round calling themselves Reactionary Socialists, but this inclination still survives. For example some well read people such as David Lindsay, author of Confessions of an Old Labour High Tory, conform to many of the elements of Reactionary Socialism in their thought whilst being familiar with its roots, many others conform to this ideology quite instinctively as their natural emotional response to the issues in modern politics, without having a name for their views.