From industrial change to historical inevitability: Annie Besant's socialism and the philosophies of history

A leading figure of the British and Indian intellectual stage from the 1880s, Annie Besant (1847-1933) is chiefly remembered for her numerous and somewhat diverging commitments. This article seeks to account for her shift from socialism to theosophy by focusing on the latter as a system of thought a...

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Published in: Intellectual history review Vol. 29; no. 3; pp. 515 - 534
Main Author: Guy, Stéphane
Format: Journal Article
Language: English
Published: Routledge 07-03-2019
Taylor & Francis (Routledge)
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Summary: A leading figure of the British and Indian intellectual stage from the 1880s, Annie Besant (1847-1933) is chiefly remembered for her numerous and somewhat diverging commitments. This article seeks to account for her shift from socialism to theosophy by focusing on the latter as a system of thought and on the philosophical basis of her critique of capitalism. It is argued that the case for the common ownership of means of production that she makes throughout her socialist writings both results from her secularism and explains her eventual drift away from it. In an attempt to promote equality through democratic and pragmatic methods, Besant claimed to predicate her enterprise on the laws of evolution rather than on utopian schemes or revolutionary action. It is shown how this approach drew on philosophies of history: collectivism was deemed the necessary outcome of economic changes and the next stage of industrialization. It is also shown how Besant's brand of socialism rested on a faith in progress, rather than on scientific reasoning. A secularized theology - her plea for socialism, it appears - was at odds with the philosophical foundations of democracy that she advocated throughout her life.
ISSN: 1749-6977
1749-6985
DOI: 10.1080/17496977.2018.1526914