Christian Socialism

By definition the term applies to the activities of a group of Anglicans between 1848 and 1854, but their ideas inspired subsequent generations. The group, which formed as a response to the Chartist fiasco of 1848, consisted of F.D. Maurice,* J.M.F. Ludlow,* and Charles Kingsley,* though later they were joined by Tom Hughes, Archie Campbell, Vansittart Neale, and others. They reacted against the dominant utilitarianism of the age, laissez-faire economics, and the indifference of the Anglican Church to social issues. Though not united politically, they were united in believing that Christianity stood for a structure of society which would enable men to live and work as brethren, and that competition is not a universal law. Ludlow was the founder of the movement, but Maurice was its prophet and thinker. Maurice had a dread of societies and hated the prospect of Christian Socialism's becoming a party. He aimed to “Christianise Socialism and to Socialise Christendom, not to Christian-Socialise the universe.”

The day following the failure of the Charter, the group brought out a poster introducing the Christian element into socialism. This was followed by the short-lived, much-criticized journal Politics for the People. Workers suspected this journal as a middle- class trap, but in 1849 the group began regular meetings with workingmen, which improved relations. Kingsley, meanwhile, wrote his novels Yeast and Alton Locke in defense of working-class aspirations, and Ludlow produced a program of founding workers' cooperatives. In 1850 associations of tailors, bakers, needlewomen, builders, bootmakers, and printers were formed, together with a Society for the Promotion of Working Men's Associations. Through lack of money, some of the associations foundered, but the group did make a direct contribution to the Industrial and Providential Societies Act (1852), which gave cooperatives their charter. In 1850 a new journal Christian Socialist appeared and met with much hostility. The driving force of the group was its Monday evening Bible study, though on Fridays it met to discuss social problems and the action to be taken. There were, however, clashes in the group, and from associations Maurice began to turn his attention to education, founding in 1854 the first workingmen's college, soon to be followed by others throughout the country.

The failure of several associations, the rising prosperity of England, and the indifference of the church at large ended the Christian Socialists, but the movement marked the beginning of modern social concern in the Anglican Church, inspired the later Guild of St. Matthew, the Christian Social Union, and the twentieth-century protests, as well as influenced trades unions, cooperative legislation, and working-class education.

G.C. Binyon, The Christian Socialist Movement in England (1931); C.E. Raven, Christian Socialism, 1848-1854 (1920); M.B. Reckitt, Maurice to Temple: A Century of the Social Movement in the Church of England (1947).