Graham Wallas Essay - Critical Essays

Wallas, Graham


Wallas, Graham 1858-1932

English political scientist and biographer.

Wallas is considered a pioneering figure in the field of political psychology. An early member of the socialist Fabian Society, Wallas is credited with the introduction of human psychology into the field of political science, which had hitherto focused primarily on institutions and the rational factors involved in political choice. Believing that the intellectualist approach of Victorian economists, sociologists, and political theorists represented an incorrect view of political relationships, he offered a critique of the traditional view in his Human Nature in Politics. Later, Wallas presented another component of his thought by analyzing modern society and defending liberal democracy from twentieth-century anti-rationalism in his The Great Society: A Psychological Analysis.

Biographical Information

Wallas was born in Sunderland, Durham, England on 31 May 1858 to Gilbert Innes Wallas, a clergyman, and his wife Frances Talbot Peacock. Wallas received his early education at Shrewsbury and later studied classical literature at Corpus Christi College, Oxford. He became a schoolmaster in 1881, but left the Highgate School four years later over "a question of religious conformity." In 1886 Wallas made the first of four lecturing visits to the United States and joined the Fabian Society. He contributed "Property under Socialism" to the 1889 collection Fabian Essays in Socialism. In 1890 he was engaged as a university extension lecturer. Wallas resigned from the Fabian Society in 1895 and was appointed to a lectureship at the London School of Economics and Political Science, an institution he had helped to found. Wallas retained his position at the London School until 1923, acting as chair of the political science department from 1914. It was during this period that he wrote and published his The Life of Francis Place, 1771-1854 and the three works of political science for which he is principally noted, Human Nature in Politics, The Great Society: A Psychological Analysis, and Our Social Heritage. Wallas's wrote The Art of Thought, which appeared in 1926, and visited the United States in 1928 to lecture at the Williamstown Institute. He was granted honorary doctoral degrees from the University of Manchester in 1922 and Oxford University in 1931. Wallas died on 9 August 1931 at Portloe, Cornwall.

Major Works

Wallas's first book The Life of Francis Place is a historical biography of an English labor activist who rose from destitution in a debtor's prison which contains analysis of early nineteenth-century British social reform movements. Like this biography, Wallas's later works also consider sociopolitical issues, though they generally focus on the state of contemporary politics. In Human Nature in Politics Wallas criticized the intellectualist assumptions current among Western political theorists and emphasized the importance of psychology in political science. In that work, Wallas observes that political behavior is largely subject to what he called "non-rational inference" and that these patterns comprise a serious threat to contemporary democracy. In The Great Society Wallas presents an analysis of social organization within the large, modern state. In contrast to Human Nature in Politics, which warns against nineteenth-century intellectualisai, The Great Society includes a critique of various forms of twentieth-century anti-rationalism. Our Social Heritage studies those qualities of human personality acquired through social tradition. In The Art of Thought Wallas probes the subconscious determinants of creative thinking. Uncompleted at the time of his death, Social Judgment was edited by his daughter May Wallas and published in 1934. The work explores the historical and psychological components of the judgment process and the means by which this process may be improved. Also published posthumously, Men and Ideas: Essays contains articles and lectures on political science, social psychology, and education, as well as biographical sketches of several social theorists including Jeremy Bentham and John Ruskin.

Critical Reception

Because Wallas failed to provide a systematic approach in his political thought, critics have tended to view him as an innovative thinker whose valuable critique of modern political theory was not matched by positive contributions to the field. He is frequently remembered for his role with the Fabian Society in the 1890s. Many scholars, however, have since acknowledged that Wallas's early socialist stance did not contradict his support of democracy, but rather reflected his desire to strengthen liberalism through sustained, insightful criticism of the competitive and dehumanizing aspects of capitalism. Thus, while Wallas is often associated with anti-intellectualism, most commentators have continued to consider him a proponent of liberal ideals achieved through rational and collective social action. Despite Wallas's somewhat paradoxical approach to social dynamics and the limits of his influence on twentieth-century political science, critics have generally praised his innovative study of nonrational behavior in politics.

Principal Works

"Property under Socialism" [published in the collection Fabian Essays in Socialism] (essay) 1889

The Life of Francis Place, 1771-1854 (biography) 1898

Human Nature in Politics (political theory) 1908

The Great Society: A Psychological Analysis (political theory) 1914

Our Social Heritage (political theory) 1921

Jeremy Bentham (lecture) 1922

William Johnson Fox (1786-1864) (lecture) 1924

The Art of Thought (political theory) 1926

Physical and Social Science (lecture) 1930

Social Judgment [edited by May Wallas] (political theory) 1934

Men and Ideas: Essays [edited by May Wallas] (essays) 1940


Edward Porritt (essay date 1897)

SOURCE: A review of The Life of Francis Place, by Graham Wallas, in the American Historical Review, Vol. III, No. I, October, 1897, pp. 723-25.

[In the following review, Porritt favorably assesses Wallas's The Life of Francis Place, commenting that in the work Wallas "handled admirably the enormous mass of material at his disposal. " ]

The special value of Mr. Wallas's Life of Francis Place is at once obvious to students of English constitutional and party history of the period between the French Revolution and the abolition of the Corn Laws. Biographies and volumes of memoirs and letters coming within these sixty years have been published in large numbers during the last twenty-five years. First-hand material of this kind has been constantly growing in volume; but up to the present time there has been no authoritative book covering that part of the movement for constitutional reform with which Francis Place was so conspicuously identified. Place was never of the House of Commons. Although he began life as a working tailor, quite early in his career he had a shop of his own, and was exceedingly prosperous. In the days of the unreformed Parliament, it would have been easy for a man of his wealth to have bought a seat in the House of Commons, as was done by Hume, Ricardo, Romilly and other men who were on the popular side in the Reform movement. Place never availed himself of this opportunity; yet no man, in or out of Parliament, was more actively concerned in politics than he. His life was largely given up to politics. It was exclusively so from about his forty-sixth year. He was associated with the movement for the repeal of the Combination Laws; from 1807 to 1832 with the movement for the first Reform Bill; later on with the movements for poor-law reform and municipal reform; with the Chartist agitation; with the movement for the repeal of the taxes on newspapers; and finally with the agitation for the repeal of the Corn Laws.

In all these movements, Place was active as an organizer; often as a lobbyist; and continuously as an advocate of reform in any newspaper whose editor would print his letters. New light is thrown by Mr. Wallas's book on the agitation for the repeal of the Combination Laws, and also on the beginnings of the system of elementary education in England; for among his numerous activities, Place took a foremost part in the establishment of the British and Foreign Schools Society, an...

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Henry Jones Ford (essay date 1909)

SOURCE: A review of Human Nature in Politics, by Graham Wallas, in the Yale Review, Vol. 18, May, 1909, pp. 101-03.

[In the following review, Ford considers Wallas's Human Nature in Politics as a work of "unique value. "]

This work is a philosophical inquiry by a practical politician into the nature of the forces that shape politics. Books of this class are rare. Few men have the combination of abundant knowledge with power of expression required to produce them. Hence they possess unique value.

The work is in two parts, the first of which may be characterized as a schedule of the bankruptcy of Liberalism as a political philosophy, and...

(The entire section is 750 words.)

A. D. Lindsay (essay date 1914)

SOURCE: A review of The Great Society: A Psychological Analysis, by Graham Wallas, in the Political Quarterly, No. 3, September, 1914, pp. 201-04.

[In the following review, Lindsay offers a positive estimation of The Great Society, but observes that certain portions of the book should have been "considered less from the standpoint of psychology and more from that of philosophy. "]

This [volume, The Great Society] is a welcome sequel and complement to that most original and stimulating book Human Nature in Politics. Mr. Wallas is easily the most instructive of our present writers in political theory. This book is as full of enlightening...

(The entire section is 1694 words.)

Harold J. Laski (essay date 1932)

SOURCE: "Lowes Dickinson and Graham Wallas," in the Political Quarterly, Vol. III, No. 4, October-December, 1932, pp. 461-66.

[In the following excerpt, Laski evaluates Wallas and the significance of his work.]

Graham Wallas was, I think, the supreme teacher of social philosophy in the last forty years. Other men have left a systematic edifice more likely to have enduring influence—Leonard Hobhouse, Alfred Marshall, Mr. and Mrs. Webb. But Wallas had two gifts of unique quality. He was a magnificent lecturer who, at his best, was one of the most inspiring academic forces of our time. The innumerable students, both in England and America, who went to hear him were...

(The entire section is 1015 words.)

Leonard Woolf (essay date 1940)

SOURCE: A review of Men and Ideas: Essays by Graham Wallas, in the Political Quarterly, Vol. XL, No. 3, July-September, 1940, pp. 301-03.

[In the following review, Woolf comments on Wallas's "extraordinary originality and freshness of mental vision, " though he observes that the thinker was hindered by his lack of "a profoundly creative mind. "]

Volumes of essays, which are in fact miscellaneous articles and addresses, are a severe test of the author's worth, particularly if their subject is political or historical. Graham Wallas stands the test so well that it would alone suffice to show that he was a very remarkable man. The selection and editing [of Men...

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Dwight Waldo (essay date 1942)

SOURCE: "Graham Wallas: Reason and Emotion in Social Change," in Journal of Social Philosophy & Jurisprudence, Vol. 7, No. 2, January, 1942, pp. 142-60.

[In the following essay, Waldo examines Wallas's project of synthesizing reason and emotion in his political theory.]

The pioneering contributions of Graham Wallas in a number of fields of inquiry, among them social psychology and the study of public opinion, are well known and widely acknowledged. Much less well known, generally disregarded are the reflections upon the nature, function and methods of the social studies, which form the essential matrix of his early works and are the very substance of his later...

(The entire section is 7498 words.)

Harry Elmer Barnes (essay date 1948)

SOURCE: "Graham Wallas and the Sociopsychological Basis of Politics and Social Reconstruction," in An Introduction to the History of Sociology, University of Chicago Press, 1948, pp. 696-716.

[In the following essay, Barnes analyzes Wallas's theory of political psychology as presented in his Human Nature in Politics, The Great Society, and Our Social Heritage.]


An exceedingly suggestive attempt by an Englishman to apply sociology and psychology to the treatment of public problems is to be found in the works of Graham Wallas (1858-1932), late professor of political science in the...

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Mary Peter Mack (essay date 1958)

SOURCE: "Graham Wallas' New Individualism," in Western Political Quarterly, Vol. 11, No. 1, March, 1958, pp. 14-32.

[In the following essay, Mack follows the development and influence of Wallas's political thought.]

As he walked with Lowes Dickinson in Cambridge one day, Graham Wallas suddenly stretched his hand out as if trying to seize something, and asked, "Don't you sometimes feel that the solution of the problem of democracy is just there, almost within reach, if only you could see more clearly and grasp more firmly?" Dickinson's eyebrows arched ironically.1 What was Wallas looking for? Did he find it? Or was he a Don Quixote of political...

(The entire section is 8756 words.)

Robert D. Heslep (essay date 1968)

SOURCE: "Graham Wallas and The Great Society," in Educational Theory, Vol. 18, No. 2, Spring, 1968, pp. 151-63.

[In the following essay, Heslep probes Wallas's normative analysis of the modern "Great Society, " particularly as it applies to morality, happiness, and education.]


Graham Wallas is usually recognized as a major contributor to the literature on the Great Society, a term which is again in currency. First, he is commonly acknowledged as the person who initially publicized the term. Before the publication of his book The Great Society1 the term was rarely used;2 and since then it has become a stock item in...

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Sugwon Kang (essay date 1979)

SOURCE: "Graham Wallas and Liberal Democracy," in the Review of Politics, Vol. 41, No. 4, October, 1979, pp. 536-60.

[In the following essay, Kang studies Wallas's attempts to strengthen and sustain the foundations of liberal democracy.]

During his lifetime (1858-1932) Graham Wallas's pioneering contributions to the study of politics were widely acknowledged. Thus, his Human Nature in Politics (1908) was rightly acclaimed as a turning point in British and American political science, away from the study of political institutions and toward the study of political behavior. With his later works, notably The Great Society (1914), Our...

(The entire section is 9760 words.)

Stefan Collini (essay date 1980)

SOURCE: "The Fabian Fringe Thinker," in the Times Literary Supplement, No. 4035, July 25, 1980, pp. 837-38.

[In the following review of Graham Wallas and the Great Society by Terence H. Qualter, Collini regards Wallas's equivocal influence on modern political science.]

Did I remark to you that I am beginning to discover that there is a genuinely English mind? I see that when I talk to Wallas, who is full of real insights, can never concentrate on any subject, never argue about it abstractly, is always driven to the use of concrete illustration, is rarely logical, and about eight times out of ten patently in the right.


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Further Reading


Moran, Michael G., Michael E. Rukstelis, and Daniel A. Roberts. "Graham Wallas (1858-1932): A Bibliography." Bulletin of Bibliography 45, No. 3 (1988): 194-203.

Chronological bibliography of primary and secondary sources preceded by a brief introduction to Wallas's work.


Beardsley, Monroe Curtis. "'Rationality' in Conduct: Wallas and Pareto." Ethics LIV, No. 2 (January 1944): 79-95.

Disputes several fallacies related to "nonlogical" human conduct presented in the works of Wallas and Vilfredo Pareto.

Bowle, John. "Modern Sociologists: Durkheim on Environment:...

(The entire section is 466 words.)