Remembering Ruskin 2016

Two days ago, February 8, 2016, was John Ruskin’s 197th birthday.

The namesake of this blog, Ruskin was a revolutionary force of ideas in the worlds of social criticism, art history, and architecture. His four-piece magnum opus on socioeconomics–Unto This Last (1862)–is a moral¬†masterpiece that influenced thinkers and activists from Gandhi to Schumacher, and should, at risk of sounding sensationalist, serve as a guiding manifesto to anybody claiming to fight for social and economic justice.

To celebrate unofficial John Ruskin Day, here are a few of his better-known quotes to inspire the ongoing struggle against the economy of ugliness:

There is no Wealth but Life. Life, including all its powers of love, of joy, and of admiration. That country is the richest which nourishes the greatest numbers of noble and happy human beings; that man is richest, who, having perfected the functions of his own life to the utmost, has also the widest helpful influence, both personal, and by means of his possessions, over the lives of others.

Unto This Last, Essay IV:¬†“Ad Valorem”


You must either make a tool of the creature, or a man of him. You cannot make both. Men were not intended to work with the accuracy of tools, to be precise and perfect in all their actions. If you will have that precision out of them, and make their fingers measure degrees like cog-wheels, and their arms strike curves like compasses, you must unhumanize them.

The Stones of Venice, “The Nature of Gothic”


Now it is a good and desirable thing, truly, to make many pins in a day; but if only we could see with what crystal sand their points were polished, — sand of human soul, much to be magnified before it can be discerned for what it is — we should think there might be some loss in it also.

The Stones of Venice, “The Nature of Gothic”


And the great cry that rises from all out manufacturing cities, louder than their furnace blast, is all in very deed for this, — that we manufacture everything there except men; we blanch cotton, and strengthen steel, and refine sugar, and shape pottery; but to brighten, to strengthen, to refine, or to form a single living spirit, never enters into our estimate of advantages.

The Stones of Venice, “The Nature of Gothic”


[On the science of political economy’s disregard for the human soul.] Observe, I neither impugn nor doubt the conclusion of the science if its terms are accepted. I am simply uninterested in them, as I should be in those of a science of gymnastics which assumed that men had no skeletons. It might be shown, on that supposition, that it would be advantageous to roll up the students into pellets, flatten them into cakes, or stretch them into cables; and that when these results were effected, the re-insertion of the skeleton would be attended with various inconveniences to their constitution.

Unto This Last, Essay I: “The Roots of Honour”


[T]he art of becoming “rich,” in the common sense, is not absolutely nor finally the art of accumulating much money for ourselves, but also of contriving that our neighbours shall have less. In accurate terms, it is “the art of establishing the maximum inequality in our own favour.”

Unto This Last, Essay II: “The Veins of Wealth”


The science of political economy, which has yet to distinguish itself from the bastard science, as medicine from witchcraft, and astronomy from astrology, is that which teaches nations to desire and labour for the things that lead to life: and which teaches them to scorn and destroy the things that lead to destruction.

Unto This Last, Essay IV: “Ad Valorem”

Happy John Ruskin Day!



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