Edward Carpenter

Day, Fred Holland (1864-1933) - Edward Carpenter.jpg

Edward Carpenter (29 August 184428 June 1929) was an English socialist poet, socialist philosopher, anthologist, and early gay activist.


  • Eros is a great leveller. Perhaps the true Democracy rests, more firmly than anywhere else, on a sentiment which easily passes the bounds of class and caste, and unites in the closest affection the most estranged ranks of society. It is noticeable how often Uranians of good position and breeding are drawn to rougher types, as of manual workers, and frequently very permanent alliances grow up in this way, which although not publicly acknowledged have a decided influence on social institutions, customs and political tendencies
    • The Intermediate Sex (1908), pp. 114-115
  • I can see only one ultimate way out of the morass in which we are engulfed. The present commercial system will have to go, and there will have to be a return to the much simpler systems of co-operation be-longing to a bygone age . . . To that condition, or something very like it, I am convinced we shall have to return if society is to survive. I say this after a long and close observation of life in many phases. . . This is what the miners, I think, in a dim, subconscious way, have already perceived, for they retain in their minds much of the primitive mentality of pre-civilization days.
    • The Healing of Nations and the Hidden Sources of Their Strife (1919)
  • Every human being grows up inside a sheath of custom, which enfolds it as the swathing clothes enfold the infant.

“Defence of criminals: A criticism of morality” (1889)Edit

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  • The law is in a sense the consolidated public opinion of society.
  • The money-grubber has been floating with the great current of society, while the poor man has been swimming against it.
  • The poacher … is asserting a right (and an instinct) belonging to a past time—when for hunting purposes all land was held in common. … In those times private property was theft. Obviously the man who attempted to retain for himself land or goods, or who fenced off a portion of the common ground and—like the modern landlord—would allow no one to till it who did not pay him a tax—was a criminal of the deepest dye. Nevertheless the criminals pushed their way to the front, and have become the respectables of modern society.
  • Law represents from age to age the code of the dominant or ruling class, slowly accumulated, no doubt, and slowly modified, but always added to and always administered by the ruling class. Today the code of the dominant class may perhaps best be denoted by the word Respectability—and if we ask why this code has to a great extent overwhelmed the codes of the other classes and got the law on its side (so far that in the main it characterises those classes who do not conform to it as the criminal classes), the answer can only be: Because it is the code of the classes who are in power. Respectability is the code of those who have the wealth and the command, and as these have also the fluent pens and tongues, it is the standard of modern literature and the press. It is not necessarily a better standard than others, but it is the one that happens to be in the ascendant; it is the code of the classes that chiefly represent modern society; it is the code of the Bourgeoisie. It is different from the Feudal code of the past, of the knightly classes, and of Chivalry; it is different from the Democratic code of the future—of brotherhood and of equality; it is the code of the Commercial age and its distinctive watchword is—property.
    The Respectability of today is the respectability of property. There is nothing so respectable as being well-off.
  • Thus we see that though there are for instance in the England of to-day a variety of classes, and a variety of corresponding codes of public opinion and morality, one of these codes, namely that of the ruling class whose watchword is property, is strongly in the ascendant. And we may fairly suppose that in any nation from the time when it first becomes divided into well-marked classes this is or has been the case. In one age—the commercial age—the code of the commercial or money-loving class is dominant; in another—the military—the code of the warrior class is dominant; in another—the religious—the code of the priestly class; and so on.
  • Probably the respect or stigma attaching to particular classes of actions arose from the fact that these classes of actions were—or were thought to be—beneficial or injurious to the society of the time; but it is also clear that this good or bad name once created clings to the action long after the action has ceased in the course of social progress to be beneficial in the one case, or injurious in the other; and indeed long after the thinkers of the race have discovered the discrepancy. And so in a short time arises a great confusion in the popular mind between what is really good or evil for the race and what is reputed to be so—the bolder spirits who try to separate the two having to atone for this confusion by their own martyrdom.
  • Plato in his allegory of the soul—in the Phaedrus—though he apparently divides the passions which draw the human chariot into two classes, the heavenward and the earthward—figured by the white horse and the black horse respectively—does not recommend that the black horse should be destroyed or dismissed, but only that he (as well as the white horse) should be kept under due control by the charioteer. By which he seems to intend that there is a power in man which stands above and behind the passions, and under whose control alone the human being can safely move. In fact if the fiercer and so-called more earthly passions were removed, half the driving force would be gone from the chariot of the human soul. Hatred may be devilish at times—but after all the true value of it depends on what you hate, on the use to which the passion is put. Anger, though inhuman at one time is magnificent and divine at another. Obstinacy may be out of place in a drawing-room, but it is the latest virtue on a battlefield when an important position has to be held against the full brunt of the enemy. And Lust, though maniacal and monstrous in its aberrations, cannot in the last resort be separated from its divine companion, Love. To let the more amiable passions have entire sway notoriously does not do: to turn your cheek, too literally, to the smiter, is (pace Tolstoy) only to encourage smiting; and when society becomes so altruistic that everybody runs to fetch the coal-scuttle we feel sure that something has gone wrong. The white-washed heroes of our biographies with their many virtues and no faults do not please us. We have an impression that the man without faults is, to say the least, a vague, uninteresting being—a picture without light and shade—and the conventional semi-pious classification of character into good and bad qualities (as if the good might be kept and the bad thrown away) seems both inadequate and false.

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