John Ruskin.

Unto this last : four essays on the first principles of political economy online

. (page 17 of 20)
Online LibraryJohn RuskinUnto this last : four essays on the first principles of political economy → online text (page 17 of 20)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook


by one man to another; but we do not define the idea of
harm: sometimes we limit it to the harm which the snf-



110 MUNERA PULVERIS.

ferer is conscious of; whereas much the worst injuries
are those he is unconscious of; and, at other times, we
limit the idea to violence, or restraint ; whereas much the
worse forms of injury are to be accomplished by indo-
lence, and the withdrawal of restraint.

118. "Injury" is then simply the refusal, or violation
of, any man's right or claim upon his fellows : which
claim, much talked of in modern times, rnider the term
" right," is mainly resolvable into two branches : a man's
claim not to be hindered from doing what he should ; and
his claim to be hindered from doing what he should not ;
these two forms of hindrance being intensified by reward,
help, and fortune, or Fors, on one side, and by punish-
ment, impediment, and even final arrest, or More, on the
other.

119. Now, in order to a man's obtaining these two
rights, it is clearly needful that the worth of him should
be approximately known ; as well as the want of w< nth,
which has, unhappily, been usually tli principal subject
of study for critic law, careful hitherto only to mark
degrees of de-merit, instead of merit ; assigning, indeed,
to the .Deficiencies (not always, alas! even to these) just
estimate, fine, or penalty ; but to the ^yficiencies, on the
other side, which are by much the more interesting, as well
as the only profitable part of its subject, assigning neither
estimate nor aid.

120. Now, it is in this higher and perfect function of
critic law, enabling instead of tabling, that it becomes



MTTNERA PULVEEI8. Ill

truly Kingly, instead of Draconic : (what Providence gave
the great, wrathful legislator his name?): that is, it be-
comes the law of man and of life, instead of the law of
the worm and of death both of these laws being set in
changeless poise one against another, and the enforcement
of both being the eternal function of the lawgiver, and

o O ?

true claim of every living soul : such claim being indeed
strong to be mercifully hindered, and even, if need be,
abolished, when longer existence means only deeper de-
struction, but stronger still to be mercifully helped, and
recreated, when longer existence and new creation mean
nobler life. So that reward and punishment will be found
to resolve themselves mainly* into help and hindrance ;
and these again will issue naturally from true recognition
of deserving, and the just reverence and just wrath which
follow instinctively on such recognition.

121. I say, " follow," but, in reality, they are part of
the recognition. Reverence is as instinctive as anger ;
both of them instant on true vision : it is sight and under
standing that we have to teach, and these are reverence.
Make a man perceive worth, and in its reflection he sees
his own relative unworth, and worships thereupon inevi-
tably, not with stiff courtesy, but rejoicingly, passionately,
and, best of all, restfutty : for the inner capacity of awe
and love is infinite in man ; and only in finding these, can

[* Mainly ; not altogether. Conclusive reward of high virtue is
loving and crowning, not helping ; and conclusive punishment of deep
vice is hating and crushing, not merely hindering.]



112 MTJNERA PULVERIS.

we find peace. And the common insolences and petu
lances of the people, and their talk of equality, are not
irreverence in them in the least, but mere blindness, stupe-
faction, and fog in the brains,* the first sign of any
cleansing away of which is, that they gain some power of
discerning, and some patience in submitting to, their true
counsellors and governors. In the mode of such discern-
ment consists the real " constitution " of the state, more
than in the titles or offices of the discerned person ; for it
is no matter, save in degree of mischief, to what office a
man is appointed, if he cannot fulfil it.

122. III. GOVERNMENT BY COUNCIL.

This is the determination, by living authority, of the
national conduct to be observed under existing circum-
stances ; and the modification or enlargement, abrogation
or enforcement, of the code of national law according to
present needs or purposes. This government is necessa-
rily always by council, for though the authority of it may
be vested in one person, that person cannot form any
opinion on a matter of public interest but by (voluntarily
or involuntarily) submitting himself to the influence of
others.

This government is always twofold - visible and in-
visible.

* Compare Chaucer's " vUlany" fclownishness).

Full foul and chorlishe seemed she,
And eke villanous for to be,
And little coulde of norture
To worship any creature.



MUSTER A PULVERIS. 113

The visible government is that which nominally carries
on the national business ; determines its foreign relations,
raises taxes, levies soldiers, orders war or peace, and other-
wise hecomes the arbiter of the national fortune. The
invisible government is that exercised by all energetic and
intelligent men, each in his sphere, regulating the inner
will and secret ways of the people, essentially forming its
character, and preparing its fate.

Visible governments are the toys of some nations, the
diseases of others, the harness of some, the burdens of
more, the necessity of all. Sometimes their career is quite
distinct from that of the people, and to write it, as the
national history, is as if one should number the accidents
which befall a man's weapons and wardrobe, and call the
list his biography. Nevertheless, a truly noble and wise
nation necessarily has a noble and wise visible govern-
ment, for its wisdom issues in that conclusively.

123. Visible governments are, in their agencies, capable
of three pure forms, and of no more than three.

They are either monarchies, where the authority is
vested in one person ; oligarchies, when it is vested in a
minority ; or democracies, when vested in a majority.

But these three forms are not only, in practice, variously
limited and combined, but capable of infinite difference
in character and use, receiving specific names according
to their variations; which names, being nowise agreed
upon, nor consistently used, either in thought or writing,
no man can at present tell, in speaking of any kind ~>t



114 MUNEKA PULVEl^IS.

government, whether he is understood ; nor, in hearing,
whether he understands. Thus we usually call a just
government by one person a monarchy, and an unjust 01
cruel one, a tyranny : this might be reasonable if it had
reference to the divinity of true government ; but to limit
the term " oligarchy " to government by a few rich people,
and to call government by a few wise or noble people
" aristocracy," is evidently absurd, unless it were proved
that rich people never could be wise, or noble people rich ;
and farther absurd, because there are other distinctions in
character, as well as riches or wisdom (greater purity of
race, or strength of purpose, for instance), which may gi ve
the power of government to the few. So that if we had
to give names to every group or kind of minority, we
should have verbiage enough. But there is only one right
name " oligarchy."

124. So also the terms "republic" and "democracy"
are confused, especially in modern use ; and both of them
are liable to every sort of misconception. A republic
means, properly, a polity in which the state, with its all, is
at every man's service, and every man, with his all, at the
state's service (people are apt to lose sight of the last
condition), but its government may nevertheless be oligar-
chic (consular, or deceinviral, for instance), or monarchic
(dictatorial). But a democracy means a state in which the

[ * I leave this paragraph, in every syllable, as it was written, during
the rage of the American war ; it was meant to refer, however, chiefly
to the Northerns : what modifications its hot and partial terms require
T will give in another place : let it stand here as it stood.]



MUNERA PULVEIirS. 115

government rests directly with the majority of the citizens.
And both these conditions have been judged only by such
accidents and aspects of them as each of us has had expe-
rience of; and sometimes both have been confused with
anarchy, as it is the fashion at present to talk of the
" failure of republican institutions in America." when there
has never yet been in America any such thing as an insti-
tntion, but only defiance of institution; neither any such
thing as a res-publica^ but only a multitudinous res-privata
every man for himself. It is not republicanism which
fails now in America; it is your model science of political
economy, brought to its perfect practice. There you may
see competition, and the " law of demand and supply "
(especially in paper), in beautiful and unhindered opera-
tion.* Lust of wealth, and trust in it ; vulgar faith in
magnitude and multitude, instead of nobleness ; besides
that faith natural to backwoodsmen " lucum ligna,"f
perpetual self-contemplation, issuing in passionate vanity ;
total ignorance of the finer and higher arts, and of all
that they teach and bestow ; and the discontent of ener-
getic minds unoccupied, frantic with hope of nucompre-



* Supply and demand ! Alas ! for what noble work was there ever
any audible "demand" in that poor sense (Past and Present) ? Nay,
the demand is not loud, even for ignoble work. See " Average Earnings
of Betty Taylor," in Times of 4th February of this year [1863] :
" Worked from Monday morning at 8 A.M. to Friday night at 5.30 r.M.
for 1*. 5Arf." Laissez faire. [This kind of slavery finds no Abolitionists
that I hear of. ]

[f " That the sacred grove is nothing but logs."]



116 MUNERA PTJLVEEIS.

hended change, and progress they know not whither ; *
these are the things that have " failed " in America ; and
yet not altogether failed it is not collapse, but collision ;
the greatest railroad accident on record, with fire caught
from the furnace, and Catiline's quenching " non aqua, sed
ruina."t But I see not, in any of our talk of them,
justice enough done to their erratic strength of purpose,
nor any estimate taken of the strength of endurance of
domestic sorrow, in what their women and children sup-
pose a righteous cause. And out of that endurance and
suffering, its own fruit will be born with time ; [not aboli-
tion of slavery, however. See 130.] and Carlyle's pro-
phecy of them (June, 1850), as it has now come true in
the first clause, will, in the last ;

" America, too, will find that caucuses, divisionalists,
stump-oratory, and speeches to Buncombe will not carry
men to the immortal gods ; that the Washington Congress,

* Ames, by report of Waldo Emerson, says " that a monarchy is a
merchantman, which sails well, but will sometimes strike on a rock, and
go to the bottom ; whilst a republic is a raft, which would never sink, but
then your feet are always in the water." Yes, that is comfortable; and
though your raft cannot sink (being too worthless for that), it may go to
pieces, I suppose, when the four winds (your only pilots) steer competi-
tively from its four corners, and carry it, &<; cnrupivbc Boptri-; <f>o t >fij<rii'
aKavBai;, and then more than your feet will be in the water.

[f "Not with water, but with ruin." The worst ruin being that
which the Americans chiefly boast of. They sent all their best and
honestest youths, Harvard University men and the like, to that accursed
war ; got them nearly all shot ; wrote pretty biographies (to the ages of
17, 18, 19) and epitaphs for them ; and so, having washed all the salt
out of the nation in blood, left themselves to putrefaction, and the
morality of New York. ]



MUNERA PULVERIS. 117

and constitutional battle of Kilkenny cats is there, as here,
naught for such objects ; quite incompetent for such ; and,
in fine, that said sublime constitutional arrangement will
require to be (with terrible throes, and travail such as few
expect yet) remodelled, abridged, extended, suppressed,
torn asunder, put together again; not without heroic
labour and effort, quite other than that of the stump-
orator and the revival preacher, one day."

125.* Understand, then, once for all, that no form of
government, provided it be a government at all, is, as such,
to be either condemned or praised, or contested for in any-
wise, but by fools. But all forms of government are good
just so far as they attain this one vital necessity of policy
that the wise and 7cind, few or many, shall govern the
unwise and unkind / and they arc evil so far as they miss
of this, or reverse it. Nor does the form, in any case, sig-
nify one whit, but its, firmness , and adaptation to the need ;
for if there be many foolish persons in a state, and few wise,
then it is good that the few govern ; and if there be many
wise, and few foolish, then it is good that the many govern ;
and if many be wise, yet one wiser, then it is good that
one should govern ; and so on. Thus, we may have " the
ant's republic, and the realm of bees," both good in their
kind ; one for groping, and the other for building ; and
nobler still, for flying; the Ducal monarchy f of those

Intelligent of seasons, that set forth

The aery caravan, high over seas.

f * This paragraph contains the gist of all that precede.]
[| Whenever you are puzzled by any apparently mistaken use of



118 Ml'NERA PrLYKKIS.

126. Nor need we want examples, among the inferior
creatures, of dissoluteness, as well as resoluteness, in
government. I once saw democracy finely illustrated by
the beetles of North Switzerland, who by universal suf-
frage, and elytric acclamation, one May twilight, carried
it, that they would fly over the Lake of Zug ; and new
short, to the great disfigurement of the Lake of Zug,
KavOdpov \ipr]v over some leagues square, and to the
close of the cockchafer democracy for that year. Then,
for tyranny, the old fable of the frogs and the stork finely
touches one form of it ; but truth will image it more
closely than fable, for tyranny is not complete when it is
only over the idle, but when it is over the laborious and
the blind. This description of pelicans and climbing
perch, which I find quoted in one of our popular natural
histories, out of Sir Emerson Tennant's Ceylon, comes as
near as may be to the true image of the thing :

" Heavy rains .came on, and as we stood on the high
ground, we observed a pelican on the margin of the shal-
low pool gorging himself ; our people went towards him,
and raised a cry of 'Fish, fish!' AVe hurried down, and
found numbers of fish struggling upward through the
grass, in the rills formed by the trickling of the ruin.
There was scarcely water to cover them, but nevertheless

words in these essays, take your dictionary, remembering I had to fix
terms, as well as principles. A Duke is a "dux" or "leader; "the
flying wedge of cranes is under a " ducal monarch " a very different
personage from a queen-bee. The Venetians, with a beautiful instinct,
gave the name to their King of the Sea. ]



MTNKIiA rn.VKKIS. 119



they made rapid progress up the bank, on which our fol-
lowei-s collected about two baskets of them. They were
forcing their way up the knoll, and had they not been
interrupted, first by the pelican, and afterwards by our-
selves, they would in a few minutes have gained the
highest point, and descended on the other side into a pool
which formed another portion of the tank. In going this
distance, however, they must have used muscular exertion
enough to have taken them half a mile on level ground ;
for at these places all the cattle and wild animals of the
neighbourhood had latterly come to drink, so that the sur-
face was everywhere indented with footmarks, in addition
to thi' cracks in the surrounding baked mud, into which
the fish tumbled in their progress. In those holes, which
were deep, and the sides perpendicular, they remained to
die, and were carried off by kites and crows." *

127. But whether governments be bad or good, one
general disadvantage seems to attach to them in modern
th lies that they are all costly.^ This, however, is not
essentially the fault of the governments. If nations
choose to play at war, they will always find their govern-
ments willing to lead the game, and soon coming under
that term of Aristophanes, "/caTT^Xot aa-irfowv" "shield-



[* This is a perfect picture of the French under the tyrannies of
their Pelican Kings, before the Revolution. But they must find other
than Pelican Kings or rather, Pelican Kings of the Divine brood, that
feed their children, and with their best blood.]

[f Head carefully, from this point ; because here begins the statement
of things requiring to be done, which I am now re-trying to make
definite in Furs C'lfiriffera.]



120 MUXKRA PL'LVERIS.



sellers." And when (TT^/A' eVi Trepan *) the shields take
the form of iron ships, with apparatus "for defence
against liquid fire," as I see by latest accounts they are
now arranging the decks in English dockyards they
become costly biers enough for the grey convoy of chief
mourner waves, wreathed with funereal foam, to bear back
the dead upon; the massy shoulders of those corpse-
bearers being intended for quite other work, and to bear
the living, and food for the living, if we would let them.

128. Nor have we the least right to complain of our gov-
ernments being expensive, so long as we set the government
to do precisely the work which brings no return. If our
present doctrines of political economy be just, let us trust
them to the utmost ; take that war business out of the
government's hands, and test therein the principles of
supply and demand. Let our future sieges of Sebastopol



be done by contract no capture, no pay (I admit that
things might sometimes go better so) ; and let us sell the
commands of our prospective battles, with our vicarages,
to the lowest bidder ; so may we have cheap victories, and
divinity. On the other hand, if we have so much suspi-
cion of our science that we dare not trust it on military
or spiritual business, would it not be but reasonable to try
whether some authoritative handling may not prosper in
matters utilitarian ? If we were to set our governments
to do useful things instead of mischievous, possibly even

[* "Evil on the top of Evil.'' Delphic oracle, meaning iron on the
anvil. ]



MUNERA PULVERIS. 121

the apparatus itself might in time come to be less costly.
The machine, applied to the building of the house, might
perhaps pay, when it seems not to pay, applied to pulling
it down. If we made in our dockyards ships to earn?
timber and coals, instead of cannon, and with provision
for the brightening of domestic solid culinary lire, in-
stead of for the scattering of liquid hostile fire, it
might have some effect on the taxes. Or suppose that we
tried the experiment on land instead of water carriage ;
already the government, not un approved, carries letters
and parcels for us ; larger packages may in time follow ;
even general merchandise why not, at last, ourselves ?
Had the money spent in local mistakes and vain private
litigation, on the railroads of England) been laid out,
instead, under proper government restraint, on really
useful railroad work, and had no absurd expense been
incurred in ornamenting stations, we might already have
had, what ultimately it will be found we must have,
quadruple rails, two for passengers, and two for traftic, on
every great line ; and we might have been carried in swift
safety, and watched and warded by well-paid pointsmen,
for half the present fares. [For, of course, a railroad
company is merely an association of turnpike-keepers, who
make the tolls as high as they can, not to mend the roads
with, but to pocket. The public will in time discover
this, and do away with turnpikes on railroads, as on all
other public-ways.]

129. Suppose it should thus turn out, finally, that a true



122 MUNEBA. PULVERIS.

government set to true work, instead of being a costly
engine, was a paying one ? that your government, rightly
organized, instead of itself subsisting by an income-tax,
would produce its subjects some subsistence in the shape
of an income dividend ? police, and judges duly paid
besides, only with less work than the state at present pro-
vides for them.

A true government set to true work ! Xot easily to be
imagined, still less obtained ; but not beyond human hope
or ingenuity. Only you will have to alter your election
systems somewhat, first. l$ot by universal suffrage, noi
by votes purchasable with beer, is such government t< > be
had. That is to say, not by universal equal suffrage.
Every man upwards of twenty, who had been convicted
of no legal crime, should have his say in this matter ; but
afterwards a louder voice, as he grows older, and approves
himself wiser. If he has one vote at twenty, he should
have two at thirty, four at forty, ten at fifty. For every
single vote which he has with an income of a hundred a
year, he should have ten with an income of a thousand,
(provided you first see to it that wealth is, as nature in-
tended it to be, the reward of sagacity and industry not
of good luck in a scramble or a lottery). For every single
vote which he had as subordinate in any business, ho
should have two when he became a master; and every
office and authority nationally bestowed, implying trust-
worthiness and intellect, should have its known proportion-
al number of votes attached to it. But into the detail and



MUXERA PULVERI8. 123

working of a true system in these matters we cannot now
.enter ; we are concerned as jet with definitions only, and
statements of first principles, which will be established
now sufficiently for our purposes when we have examined
the nature of that form of government last on the list in
105, the purely u Magistral," exciting at present its
full share of public notice, under its ambiguous title of
" slavery."

130. I have not, however, been able to ascertain in
definite terms, from the declaimers against slavery,
what they understand by it. If they mean only the im-
prisonment or compulsion of one person by another, such
imprisonment or compulsion being in many cases highly
expedient, slavery, so defined, would be no evil in itself,
but only in its abuse ; that is, when men are slaves, who
should not be, or masters, who should not be, or even the
fittest characters for either state, placed in it under condi-
tions which should not be. It is not, for instance, a ne-
cessary condition of slavery, nor a desirable one, that
parents should be separated from children, or husbands
from wives ; but the institution of war, against which
people declaim with less violence, effects such separations,
not unfrequently in a very permanent manner. To
]>rr-< a sailor, seize a white youth by conscription for a
soldier, or carry off a black one for a labourer, may all be
right acts, or all wrong ones, according to needs and cir-
cumstances. It is wrong to scourge a man unnecessarily.
So it is to shoot him. Both must be done on occasion;



124 ' MUXERA PULVERIS.

and it is better and kinder to flog a man to his work, than
to leave him idle till he robs, and flog him afterwards.
The essential thing for all creatures is to be made to do
right ; how they are made to do it by pleasant promises,
or hard necessities, pathetic oratory, or the whip is com-
paratively immaterial.* To be deceived is perhaps as
incompitible with human dignity as to be whipped; and
I suspect the last method to be not the worst, for the help
of many individuals. The Jewish nation throve under it,
in the hand of a monarch reputed not unwise ; it is only
the change of whip for scorpion which is inexpedient ;
and that change is as likely to come to pass on the side of
license as of law. For the true scorpion whips are those
of the nation's pleasant vices, which are to it as St. John's
locusts crown on the head, ravin in the mouth, and sting
in the tail. If it will not bear the rule of Athena and
Apollo, who shepherd without smiting (ov 7r\rjyfj vipovres),
Athena at last calls 110 more in the corners of the stivers ;
and then follows the rule of Tisiphone, who smites with-
out shepherding.

131. If, however, by slavery, instead of absolute com-
pulsion, is meant the purchase, by money, of the -right of
compulsion, such purchase is necessarily made whenever
a portion of any territory is transferred, for money, from
one monarch to another : which has happened frequently

[* Permit me to enforce and reinforce this statement, with all ear-


1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 17 19 20

Online LibraryJohn RuskinUnto this last : four essays on the first principles of political economy → online text (page 17 of 20)