The Fabian society was weirdly similar to the EA movement
I recently ran into this book review by Scott Alexander. While reading the book review I kept being struck by passages that could just as well have been describing the EA movement.
The Fabian movement was an influential British socialist movement. They managed to get their members into various important positions in society to lobby for their, at the time, radical socialist agenda demanding free public education, women’s suffrage, eight hour work days and more.
Even its critics sounded familiar, arguing that the Fabian society was nothing more than a talking-club the privileged!
A few highlights from the review:
Whatever the Fabians’ other advantages, they arose at a really good time to be a socialist thinker. There was a sort of feeling in the air that socialism was the wave of the future, that there were literally no good arguments whatsoever against it, that you were either an intellectual (in which case it was obvious that socialism was better) or you were just so thoughtless that you had never even considered the matter at all
He didn’t expect forceful action – recruitment campaigns, branch organizations, or the like – to have any effect. Instead, he favored a soft touch. Have the sort of intellectual atmosphere that talented people would be attracted to. Gradually draw them in with interesting social and intellectual activities. Once they’re attached, get them in on the first rung of some ladder or other – local politics, informal debate, small-time pamphlet writing. Have a few geniuses around who can recognize other geniuses. Then have positions to put people in once they’re worthy of it – whether it’s the lecture circuit, the propaganda business, or a university for them to teach at.
The Society’s members tended to be strange people, mercurial and hard to keep on task. Occasionally they would get distracted and forget about communism entirely, running off to worry about art or philosophy or ghost-hunting or something.
Pease was generally unimpressed with how these worked out. He felt experience had proven most of the people based outside London to be intellectually second-rate and without much to contribute.
It seems to me there is a ton to learn from the history of the Fabian society. Both from its successes and shortcomings. I’m curious to hear what you think.