A Joy For Ever/Note 7

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A Joy For Ever by John Ruskin
Note 7


Note 7th, p. 147.—"Pilots of the State."

142. While, however, undoubtedly, these responsibilities attach to every person possessed of wealth, it is necessary both to avoid any stringency of statement respecting the benevolent modes of spending money, and to admit and approve so much liberty of spending it for selfish pleasures as may distinctly make wealth a personal reward for toil, and secure in the minds of all men the right of property. For although, without doubt, the purest pleasures it can procure are not selfish, it is only as a means of personal gratification that it will be desired by a large majority of workers; and it would be no less false ethics than false policy to check their energy by any forms of public opinion which bore hardly against the wanton expenditure of honestly got wealth. It would be hard if a man who has passed the greater part of his life at the desk or counter could not at last innocently gratify a caprice; and all the best and most sacred ends of almsgiving would be at once disappointed, if the idea of a moral claim took the place of affectionate gratitude in the mind of the receiver.

143. Some distinction is made by us naturally in this respect between earned and inherited wealth; that which is inherited appearing to involve the most definite responsibilities, especially when consisting in revenues derived from the soil. The form of taxation which constitutes rental of lands places annually a certain portion of the national wealth in the hands of the nobles, or other proprietors of the soil, under conditions peculiarly calculated to induce them to give their best care to its efficient administration. The want of instruction in even the simplest principles of commerce and economy, which hitherto has disgraced our schools and universities, has indeed been the cause of ruin or total inutility of life to multitudes of our men of estate; but this deficiency in our public education cannot exist much longer, and it appears to be highly advantageous for the State that a certain number of persons distinguished by race should be permitted to set examples of wise expenditure, whether in the advancement of science, or in patronage of art and literature; only they must see to it that they take their right standing more firmly than they have done hitherto, for the position of a rich man in relation to those around him is, in our present real life, and is also contemplated generally by political economists as being, precisely the reverse of what it ought to be. A rich man ought to be continually examining how he may spend his money for the advantage of others: at present, others are continually plotting how they may beguile him into spending it apparently for his own. The aspect which he presents to the eyes of the world is generally that of a person holding a bag of money with a staunch grasp, and resolved to part with none of it unless he is forced, and all the people about him are plotting how they may force him: that is to say, how they may persuade him that he wants this thing or that; or how they may produce things that he will covet and buy. One man tries to persuade him that he wants perfumes; another that he wants jewellery; another that he wants sugarplums; another that he wants roses at Christmas. Anybody who can invent a new want for him is supposed to be a benefactor to society: and thus the energies of the poorer people about him are continually directed to the production of covetable, instead of serviceable, things; and the rich man has the general aspect of a fool, plotted against by the world. Whereas the real aspect which he ought to have is that of a person wiser than others, entrusted with the management of a larger quantity of capital, which he administers for the profit of all, directing each man to the labour which is most healthy for him, and most serviceable for the community.