Belfort Bax’s Life
Ernest Belfort Bax (July 1854 – November 1926) was an English socialist journalist and philosopher, associated with the Social Democratic Federation (SDF).
In his Reminiscences and Reflexions of a Mid and Late Victorian, he describes the narrow Evangelicanism and Sabbatarianism in which he was brought up, and which, he says, “left an enduringly unpleasant reminiscence behind it,” though he also says that theology never affected him deeply. “I believed in it, of course, in a way, knowing nothing else, and hence it being the only theory of the universe available for my young intelligence. What interested me more than any maunderings anent the individual soul, being ‘born again’ and the like, was when my old governess used to talk to me about Daniel’s image and its four monarchies. This gave me a theory of history, such as it was, and I have always felt the need of an intelligible doctrine of history.” Bax adds that he believed thoroughly as a child in the supernatural, and was dissatisfied with the assurances of his elders that miracles, though they had happened at the beginning of the Christian era, did not happen now.
Bax was privately educated, and come early under the influence of such writers as Lewes, Lecky, Bain, Spencer and Mill, which doubtless had the effect of reducing his supernaturalist leanings to a minimum. Certainly he was for the remainder of his life a robust and aggressive Rationalist. If his early bias in the other direction can be said to have left any trace, it is, in a curious belief, which he retained to the end of his days, in the workings in human affairs of an unaccountable and malicious element of luck or chance. Watertight against God, angel or devil, his Rationalism was never quite proof against a “Poltergeist.”He was first introduced to Marxism while studying philosophy in Germany. He combined Karl Marx’s ideas with those of Immanuel Kant, Arthur Schopenhauer and Eduard von Hartmann. Exploring possible metaphysical and ethical implications of socialism, he came to describe a “religion of socialism” as a means to overcome the dichotomy between the personal and the social, and also that between the cognitive and the emotional. He saw this as a replacement for organised religion, and was a fervent atheist, keen to free workers from what he saw as the moralism of the middle-class.
In 1880 in Berlin he was a correspondent for the Standard. This brought him into contact with Eduard von Hartmann, and with German philosophy in general. Henceforward Mill, Spencer and Bain yielded place to Kant and Hegel. After his return to England, Bax became associated from 1882 onwards with Hyndman and William Morris in the Socialist Movement; at first as a member of the Democratic (soon to become the Social-Democratic) Federation. On his return to England in 1882, he joined the SDF, but grew disillusioned and in 1885 left to form the Socialist League with William Morris. After anarchists gained control of the League, he rejoined the SDF, and became the chief theoretician, and editor of the party paper Justice. He opposed the party’s participation in the Labour Representation Committee, and eventually persuaded them to leave. Bax worked for a period with Morris in the Socialist League, but returned to the Social-Democratic Federation in 1888, and never left it again. From this period to his death the history of Bax’s life is mainly the history of his work as a philosopher, historian and publicist.
Initially very anti-nationalist, Bax came to support the British in World War I, but by this point he was concentrating on his career as a barrister and did little political work.
Bax – A Men’s Rights Anti-feminist
We can clearly categorize E. Belfort Bax as a men’s rights advocate and anti-feminist. Bax was an ardent antifeminist since, according to Bax, feminism was a part of the “anti-man crusade”. According to Bax, “anti-man crusades” were responsible for “anti-man laws” during the time of men-only voting in England. Bax wrote many articles in The New Age and elsewhere about English laws partial to women against men, and women’s privileged position under the law. He believed that women’s suffrage would unfairly tip the balance of power to women. In 1908 he wrote The Legal Subjection of Men as a response to John Stuart Mill’s 1869 essay “The Subjection of Women.” In 1913 he published The Fraud of Feminism, detailing feminism’s adverse effects on males and society. Section titles included “The Anti-Man Crusade”, “The ‘Chivalry’ Fake”, “Always The ‘Injured Innocent'”, and “Some Feminist Lies and Fallacies”.
Bax died in London.