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  • Cory Edmund Endrulat

Most Popular 19th Century Play-Writer Was An Artistic Anarchist

If there was ever a writer that came after William Shakespeare as a great poet and playwright, who challenged the mainstream norm of ideas, it was Oscar Wilde. He was a man who sought freedom through the use of art, known for his wit, eloquence and flamboyant personality. Born in 1854, his radical ideas regarding freedom came fashionably thereafter the Abolitionists in America and their struggle to end chattel slavery which many attacked at the time as “utopian” or “impractical” or even straight-out wrong. Whilst many people may look toward Wilde’s life experiences and different forms of theatrical arts, his artistic view on politics deserves some attention, especially as it may come to be quite shocking in regards to our present world and the fears people have about a better world. Wilde shares with us the untold slavery of our modern times, much like the great writer Leo Tolstoy, yet few historians may be willing to make this connection and share the following excerpts.

On the slavery that was said to have ended in America from the “U.S. Civil War,” Wilde shares with us how slaves regretted their new form of “freedom,” stating “slaves themselves they received, not merely very little assistance, but hardly any sympathy even; and when at the close of the war the slaves found themselves free, found themselves indeed so absolutely free that they were free to starve, many of them bitterly regretted the new state of things.”  This is similar to what was said by untold historical figures such as Lysander Spooner and Gustave de Molinari among many others. These individuals commonly said that the freedom the slaves got was not true freedom, and we may also understand that the rough conditions for the freed slave cannot justify their re-enslavement.

On our slavery to material things, Wilde states “Pity he has, of course, for the poor, for those who are shut up in prisons, for the lowly, for the wretched; but he has far more pity for the rich, for the hard hedonists, for those who waste their freedom in becoming slaves to things. Regarding and predicting the rise of technology in regards to freedom, he states, “human slavery is wrong, insecure, and demoralising. On mechanical slavery, on the slavery of the machine, the future of the world depends.

On the slavery that still exists in full vigor within the jailing systems of the modern day, Wilde having direct experience within it being controversially locked up for a consensual “vice,” stated that “prison life with its endless privations and restrictions makes one rebellious. The most terrible thing about it is not that it breaks one’s heart— hearts are made to be broken—but that it turns one’s heart to stone.

He provides more context on the nature of slavery, it’s dangerous foundation upon mental slavery that still exists today and the role of Abolitionists. “Just as the worst slave-owners were those who were kind to their slaves, and so prevented the horror of the system being realised by those who suffered from it, and understood by those who contemplated it, so, in the present state of things in England, the people who do most harm are the people who try to do most good.” “Slavery was put down in America, not in consequence of any action on the part of the slaves, or even any express desire on their part that they should be free. It was put down entirely through the grossly illegal conduct of certain agitators in Boston and elsewhere, who were not slaves themselves, nor owners of slaves, nor had anything to do with the question really. It was, undoubtedly, the Abolitionists who set the torch alight, who began the whole thing.


Wilde provides shocking insights into the nature of governments with it’s continually legitimized violence, and the need for voluntary politics (voluntaryism).  “Authority and compulsion are out of the question. All association must be quite voluntary. It is only in voluntary associations that man is fine.” “Every man must be left quite free to choose his own work. No form of compulsion must be exercised over him. If there is, his work will not be good for him, will not be good in itself, and will not be good for others. And by work I simply mean activity of any kind.” “Every Law, That men have made for Man, Since first Man took his brother’s life, And the sad world began, But straws the wheat and saves the chaff, With a most evil fan. This too I know—and wise it were, If each could know the same—That every prison that men build, Is built with bricks of shame, And bound with bars lest Christ should see, How men their brothers maim.” “The State must give up all idea of government. It must give it up because, as a wise man once said many centuries before Christ, there is such a thing as leaving mankind alone; there is no such thing as governing mankind. All modes of government are failures. Despotism is unjust to everybody, including the despot, who was probably made for better things. Oligarchies are unjust to the many, and ochlocracies are unjust to the few. High hopes were once formed of democracy; but democracy means simply the bludgeoning of the people by the people for the people... The form of government that is most suitable to the artist is no government at all.” (Wilde is referring to Zhuangzi from Ancient Taoism, as the man before Christ — “One is absolutely sickened, not by the crimes that the wicked have committed, but by the punishments that the good have inflicted; and a community is infinitely more brutalized by the habitual employment of punishment, than it is by the occasional occurrence of crime.” “It is indeed a burning shame that there should be one law for men and another law for women. I think that there should be no law for anybody.

As the common attack against Abolitionists, the voluntaryist view upon governments is labeled as “utopian.” However, Wilde shares with us why this is a superstition. “Is this Utopian? A map of the world that does not include Utopia is not worth even glancing at, for it leaves out the one country at which Humanity is always landing. And when Humanity lands there, it looks out, and, seeing a better country, sets sail. Progress is the realisation of Utopias... It will be what the Greeks sought for, but could not, except in Thought, realise completely, because they had slaves, and fed them; it will be what the Renaissance sought for, but could not realise completely except in Art, because they had slaves, and starved them. It will be complete, and through it each man will attain to his perfection.”

In conclusion, as with many writers who spoke about the nature of things from a timeless and universal perspective, or those who sought beyond the current form of society and looking toward the better future, Oscar Wilde’s words will continually come back to life, and it is our role to learn from his heartfelt struggles and critical observations. Will scholars study the true nature of slavery? I invite you to read my book “Slavery Gone For Good: Black Book Edition” ( to learn more and hear from many more perspectives.


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