Friday, April 1, 2022

The Larger Socialism

 The phrase the larger socialism is associated with a group of social reformers who lived in the early part of the twentieth century, most notably Edward Carpenter and Henry Salt. These names are unlikely to be familiar to you, yet both had influence beyond their time and place.

Edward Carpenter, if he is remembered at all, is as an early advocate for gay and lesbian rights. Herny Salt’s influence was indirect but substantial. He had written a book in defense of vegetarianism that found its way into the hands of a young Mohandis Gandhi. Gandhi had come to England to study law. Before leaving India he had promised his mother that he would not eat meat. Being a vegetarian in London posed not only practical problems, but ideological ones as well. Many apologists for British imperialism argued that meat eating, which was claimed as a source of vigor, helped explain why the vegetarian Hindus were now a subject people.

But Gandhi, quite by accident, discovered a vegetarian restaurant and on his first visit purchased a copy of Salt’s A Plea for Vegetarianism and other essays. The arguments in the book, persuaded Gandhi to keep to his vegetarianism, and provided an intellectual and moral rationale for the practice.

Salt’s influence on Gandhi did not end there, he wrote a biography of Thoreau, also read by Gandhi. The book introduced Gandhi to the notion of civil disobedience. 

The larger socialism tried to unify many currents of reform, including anti-militarism, feminism, anti-imperialism, socialism, animal rights, and socialism. Salt organized the Humanitarian League to give voice to these sentiments.

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