Sidney Webb, 1st Baron Passfield

English socialist economist, 1859–1947

Sidney James Webb, 1st Baron Passfield (13 July 185913 October 1947) was a British socialist, economist, reformer and a co-founder of the London School of Economics. He was one of the early members of the Fabian Society. With his wife, Beatrice, he formed a working partnership; the Webbs are often linked together.

Sidney Webb, 1st Baron Passfield

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  • Just as every human being has an ancestry, unknown to him though it may be; so every idea, every incident, every movement has in the past its own long chain of causes, without which it could not have been. Formerly we were glad to let the dead bury their dead: nowadays we turn lovingly to the records, whether of persons or things; and we busy ourselves willingly among origins, even without conscious utilitarian end. We are no longer proud of having ancestors, since every one has them; but we are more than ever interested in our ancestors, now that we find in them the fragments which compose our very selves.
  • It need hardly be said that the social philosophy of the time did not remain unaffected by the political evolution and the industrial development. Slowly sinking into men's minds all this while was the conception of a new social nexus, and a new end of social life. It was discovered (or rediscovered) that a society is something more than an aggregate of so many individual units—that it possesses existence distinguishable from those of any of its components. A perfect city became recognized as something more than any number of good citizens—something to be tried by other tests, and weighed in other balances than the individual man. The community must necessarily aim, consciously or not, at its continuance as a community: its life transcends that of any of its members; and the interests of the individual unit must often clash with those of the whole.
  • The capitalist is very fond of declaring that labour is a commodity, and the wage contract a bargain of purchase and sale like any other. But he instinctively expects his wage-earners to render him, not only obedience, but also personal deference. If the wage contract is a bargain of purchase and sale like any other, why is the workman expected to toff his hat to his employer, and to say ‘sir’ to him without reciprocity?
  • The constituency parties were frequently little unrepresentative groups of nonentities dominated by fanatics and cranks, and extremists, and that if the block vote of the Trade Unions were eliminated it would be impracticable to continue to vest the control of policy in Labour Party Conferences.
    • Remarks to Beatrice Webb (19 May 1930), quoted in Beatrice Webb, The Diary of Beatrice Webb: "The Wheel of Life," 1924–1943, eds. Jeanne MacKenzie and Norman Ian MacKenzie (1982), pp. 216-217

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