Sunday, 28 September 2014
A friend of mind drew kindly drew my attention to a very revealing historical artefact of whose existence I had previously been lamentably ignorant. It is the Fabian stained glass window designed by George Bernard Shaw in 1910, and now reinstalled in the Shaw Library in the London School of Economics.
The window depicts the Fabians in mediaeval costume remaking the world. The early historian of the movement, E. R. Pease, squeezes some bellows in a forge, while Sidney Webb wields an enormous mallet to a red hot globe and Shaw helps him. The scene contains the Fabian's coat of arms: a wolf in sheep's clothing. Above this inspiring scene we read:
Remould it nearer to the heart's desire.
This line comes from FitzGerald's Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam:
Dear love, could thou and I with fate conspire
To grasp this sorry scheme of things entire
Would we not shatter it to bits, and then
Remould it to the heart's desire?
Not altogether a modest programme, then, the world being shattered to bits and then remoulded to the heart's desire. Note the impersonal the: not our hearts desire, but the heart's desire. In other words, what we desire is what you desire, or would desire if you knew what was best for you. Under socialism, according to Shaw, you would not be allowed to be unhappy, and if you insisted on so being, you would be gently executed (for your own good).
Underneath the reforging of the world by Shaw and Webb, early Fabians were depicted praying to a pile of books. Among them are Fabian Essays (edited and contributed to by Shaw) and several volumes of his own plays. Shaw's works had become holy, at least in his own estimate.
When the window was reinstalled in the LSE, the press reported the window as an instance of Shaw's wit. I am not sure that witty is the first of words that I should apply to describe it: astonishingly arrogant comes more to mind.
The director of the LSE at the time, Howard Davies, said that the window was a timely reminder that the Fabians 'continue to influence our thinking about society, economics and politics,' an evident historical truth, though he scrupulously refrained from saying whether this was for good or ill.
The Prime Minister of the time, Anthony Blair, was present at the unveiling. He was for Fabian gradualism, of course - except in the matter of making money. There he preferred a less gradualist approach.
First published in Salisbury Review.
Posted on 09/28/2014 6:00 AM by Theodore Dalrymple
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