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Like a number of contemporary progressive thinkers, William Clarke (1852–1901) was a socialist with liberal leanings. Believing in the benefits of collective ownership and democratic reform, he joined the Fabian Society in 1886 before resigning from it in 1897. This article seeks to account for Clarke’s intellectual development from socialism to liberalism by focusing on the implications of his political writings. It argues that this estrangement partly resulted from the incompatibility between the principle of historic necessity underlying his critique of private ownership and his ongoing commitment to democracy and pragmatic reform.