POLITICAL THEORY John Ruskin – Free Ebook

at first glance he’d seem a deeply improbable person to call a political theorist john ruskin one of the most ambitious and impassioned English social reformers of the 19th century seemed to care mostly about one thing beauty which has a reputation for being eminently apolitical and removed from real life and yet the more Ruskin thought about beauty the beauty of things humans make the more he realized that the quest to make a beautiful world is inseparable from the need to remake it politically economically and socially in a world that’s nowadays growing not only evermore polluted and unequal but also that we seldom remark upon it uglier Ruskin’s emphasis on beauty and his understanding of its role in politics make him an unusual yet timely and very necessary figure John Ruskin was born in London in 1819 the only child in a wealthy and costed home every year during his teens he went with his parents on long tours of Europe the place that most impressed him and changed the course of his life was Venice which he first saw when he was 16 and to which he returned almost every year during long periods of his adult life in Venice he spent his days visiting churches floating in gondolas looking at paintings and making highly accurate drawings of his favorite architectural details on his return to England Ruskin was struck by the contrast between the glories of Venice and the often dingy realities of British urban life it’s a familiar phenomenon we tua liable to come back from the Grand Canal to Main Street in the corner store and fill our spirits sink and yet although we may mutter a few disparaging remarks on the whole we leave it at that we tend to feel that the ugliness that surrounds us is some sort of inviolable phenomenon which we would be best to resign ourselves to but that wasn’t Ruskin’s way he couldn’t get over the appalling realisation that in one place human effort had led to such delightful results and yet in most places the same or even more thought money and labor had produced a landscape that was dismal and soul-destroying why was the contemporary world so dispiriting ly monstrously ugly Ruskin began his career as an art critic but by middle-age a more direct and urgent goal came into view he realized that the ugliness of most things in Britain was the clearest indication of the decadence cruel economic ideology and rotten moral foundations of his society he devoted the remainder of his career to an urgent vocal fight against the underlying principles of modern capitalism he was always off to harangue some group of industrialists in Birmingham or Sheffield about their crooked value systems and the immense heart-rending superiority of Venice to modern England but he was also interested in practical action when his father died he was left an enormous fortune in 1871 he founded the guild of st. George he had long admired the medieval guild system where workers were well organized within trades that offered them both job security and pride in their work so he set up workshops in a network of farms creating sustainable unadulterated foodstuffs for a time he was a leading maker of apple juice he even wanted to set up a network of schools offering evening classes for workers as an alternative to the numbing mass-media otherwise pushed their way some of his ideas succeeded Ruskin’s devotees started a business making jumpers jams even a museum his most devoted disciple William Morris set up a highly influential interior decoration company and the guild itself has survived today and still perform some of the work that Ruskin had championed but of course Ruskin didn’t manage single-handedly to reform capitalism it seems a general law that people who can think well aren’t the most adept at organising change they aren’t good with the accounts they get impatient with meetings and so the world doesn’t change as much as it should however Ruskin remains an inspiration to anyone who seeks not just to reflect on the world but also to alter it towards beauty and wisdom in the mid 1870s while he was a professor at Oxford Ruskin got increasingly bothered that his students went to parties and wrote essays but never did anything very productive with their hands which he believed had a detrimental effect on their characters so he got together 60 students and organized them to mend a nearby road which had become ugly and unusable and to tidy the neighbouring green so the children could play on it it took them a long time and they made very imperfect progress there were complaints from the local landlord and a general conviction that Ruskin was a touch unhinged but the underlying point is crucial at a fear of seeming ridiculous we often end up not tackling the challenges around us the road mending is a small instance of a larger idea that animated Ruskin’s life that it’s the duty of creative privileged people to direct their efforts towards making the world more pleasing and tidy more convenient and beautiful not just for themselves but with the greatest good of the greatest number most of us have at some points felt the trees are lovely that somewhere else is far more beautiful than where we live today that there are too many shoddy things in the world that work really isn’t enjoyable enough that often we are miss employed but we tend to dismiss these thoughts as to personal minor not really of significance Ruskin argues us into a more ambitious and more serious attitude it is he says just such thoughts and experiences which need to be given proper weight which need to be analyzed and understood they provide crucial clues as to what is really wrong with the world and can therefore leaders towards moves that may make it genuinely a little better you

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