As often mentioned in previous posts, on any given day when doing my Ruskin reading, I come across passages that touch me and which, as a result, I wish to share with readers. Today’s is one of these–for, today, as a nation, we who live in these still United States, find ourselves on the he cusp of a major midterm election , an election which will define the direction of our country at least until another major election occurs two years hence.
From the beginning, we Americans have been known, not inaccurately, to most of the rest of the world as a people dedicated to the promotion of self and the accumulation of money as our preeminent values. I see no radical evidence contradicting this characterization even now, well over 200 years since our founding; nor do I see any widespread evidence of any desire to mitigate these self-aggrandizing ways. In my view, it is these two “principles,” despite much evidence that many people try to do things that advantage and aide others, which have led us into most of the difficulties we have collectively faced both historically and still. And so, in such context, the following words of ur great thinker, which, like so many of his, holds our feet to the moral fire seemed particularly important to share–as it concerns both of these matters values which hold (too) dear. (Alas, I have lost the reference to where these fine words occur in Ruskin’s works–for which, apologies. If anyone reading knows that important piece of information, do let me know via email and I will share with everyone.)
The natural ordinance and function of the aristocracy is, always, to raise those who have less wherewithal to the highest level of which these less fortunate are capable.
This being the natural ordinance and function of aristocracy, its corruption, like that of all other beautiful things under the devil’s touch, is a very fearful one. Its corruption is that those who are naturally charged and expected ed to be the rulers and guides of of the people, forsake their noble task to seek their own pleasure and preeminence only, and use their power, subtlety, concerted influence, and prestige of ancestry,… to make the less fortunate toll for them, while feeding and clothing them for nothing, and forcing them to become, in various ways, their living property, goods, and chattel–even to the point of utter disregard of whatever misery these others may suffer through such insolent domination, while they, their masters, commit crimes to enforce their advantage.
And this is especially likely to be the case when the means of various and tempting pleasures are put within the reach of the more fortunate by advanced conditions of national prosperity and knowledge–and it is certain to be the case as soon as the positions occupied by those more fortunate become in any way purchasable by money–instead of being assured by demonstration of some kind of worth (either by strength of hand, true wisdom of conduct, or imaginative gift).
And now… for any readers who may be startled that what I’ve been saying as to the particular stress laid by the Founder of our religion on right dealing with wealth, let them be assured that it is with no fortuitous chance that, among the attributes of the powers of evil, “Mammon” is assigned for the direct adversary of the Master to whom they are bound. You cannot, by any artifice of reconciliation, be God’s soldier and his! Nor,–while the desire of gain is within your heart–can any true knowledge of the kingdom of God come there. No one shall enter its stronghold – no one shall receive its blessing – except “he that hath clean hands and a pure heart”– clean hands that have done no cruelty, pure hearts that know no base desire. And, therefore in the highest spiritual sense that can be given to words, be assured, not respecting the literal temple of stone and gold, but the living temple of your body and soul, that no redemption, nor teaching, nor hallowing, will be in anyways possible… until the following verses have been fulfilled: “And he went into the temple of God and cast out them that bought and sold therein and overthrew the tables of the moneychangers… and said unto them, ‘it is written that My house shall be a house of prayer, but ye have made it into a den of thieves!” (Mark 11: 11). “And he taught daily in the temple.” (Luke 19:47)”
Rembrant, “Christ drives the moneychangers from the temple” (1660)
Until next time, do continue well out there! and, tomorrow, do exercise your precious gift–the ability to influence the path on which we Americans shall travel in the near-future!
We’re all holding our breaths for America this week. Very timely post.
If only we had one public figure who would emulate Ruskin’s ability to make us “see” without the speaker’s self getting into the way or to help us imagine Athena as a breath of fresh air cleansing a polluted world.