The New Palgrave Dictionary of Economics

2018 Edition
| Editors: Macmillan Publishers Ltd

Christian Socialism

  • E. Cannan
Reference work entry


Christian Socialism is a name which properly belongs to the propagation of cooperative production or working men’s associations by F.D. Maurice and his disciples in the years 1849 to 1853. Its origin is to be found in a letter from J.M. Ludlow to Maurice (March 1848) saying that the socialism of Paris workmen was a real power which would shake Christianity if it were not Christianized. After the publication of Henry Mayhew’s letters on the London poor in the Morning Chronicle, in 1849, Maurice and his followers at Lincoln’s Inn, who had already been trying to persuade the Chartists, in Politics for the People (6 May to 29 July 1848), and in discussions at the Cranbourne Tavern, that moral and sanitary reform were of much more importance than extension of the suffrage, turned their attention to economic questions. They were led to deny any beneficence to the operation of self-interest. ‘Free competition’, said Ludlow, ‘mars every-where, instead of making, the wisest distribution of labour’ (Christian Socialism, p. 35). ‘We have protested’, Maurice wrote to Dr Jelf, 12 November 1851, ‘against the spirit of competition and rivalry precisely because we believe it is leading to anarchy, and must destroy at last the property of the rich as well as the existence of the poor’ (Life, ch. ii, p. 83). As a remedy they proposed ‘Christian socialism’, or friendly association for productive purposes. They sometimes went so far as to imagine a state of things in which all producers might ‘combine regularly into one body which should, after mutual explanations and by mutual concert, fix the terms upon which each member should dispose of his wares to the others’ (Ludlow, Christian Socialism, p. 35); but they suggested no principle of distribution on which this agreement should be based. They founded an association of tailors (February 1850) of which Walter Cooper, formerly a Chartist, was manager, and organized a society for promoting working men’s associations under a council of promoters among whom were Maurice, Charles Kingsley, T. Hughes, E.V. Neale, and F.J. Furnivall. Alton Locke, which represents the ethical side of the Christian Socialist doctrine, was published early in 1850, and was followed by Tracts on Christian Socialism, Tracts by Christian Socialists, and the Christian Socialist, a weekly penny paper which lasted from 20 November 1850 to the end of 1851. Its place was then taken by the Journal of Association, which endured till 28 June 1852. The evidence of the ‘Promoters’ before Slaney’s Committee of the House of Commons on ‘Investments for the savings of the middle and working classes’ in 1850, aided in bringing about the legislation of cooperative societies by the ‘Industrial and Provident Partnerships Act’ of 1852. After the passing of that Act the society for promoting associations was remodelled and the term ‘Christian Socialism’, as employed in this connection, was abandoned. It was offensive alike to theologians, economists, and socialists. The hostility displayed towards the Christian Socialists in many quarters was more due to the name they assumed, and to the vehemence with which Kingsley denounced competition, than to dislike of their Associations, though these were doubtless looked on with some suspicion as copies from French models.

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  1. Brentano, L. 1883. Die christlichsoziale Bewegung in England, 2nd edn. Leipzig, 1883.Google Scholar
  2. Hughes, T. 1884. Prefatory Memoir in the Eversley edn of Alton Locke, 2 vols. London: John Murray, 1881.Google Scholar
  3. Ludlow, J.M. 1851. Christian socialism and its opponents. London.Google Scholar
  4. Maurice, F. 1884. Life of Frederick Denison Maurice, chiefly told in his own letters. London.Google Scholar

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© Macmillan Publishers Ltd. 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  • E. Cannan
    • 1
  1. 1.