John Ruskin (1819-1900)
English domestic history can not be separated from that of the Empire: the processes of state formation and of imperial construction are inevitably linked in the history of the Great Bretagne. British imperial experience is constituting for both the colonized for the colonizers. However, British colonies have been long time an embarrassinglegacy for Liberal thinkers of the United Kingdom. Historians, sociologists and intellectuals of the British Empire have highlighted ideological justification of imperialism and a double standard implied by the defense of freedom inside and legitimation of tyranny abroad.
The objective of this paper is to decompose the argument in favour of Imperialism made by John Ruskin, professor of fineart at Oxford, on 8 February 1870 during a lecture. In the second part it will show the reverberation of British dominancy in the world in our present days and how prominent politicians cope with it and defend it.
First of all, Ruskin explains that the notion of Art of any country, which would in the contemporary current language mean either artistic creation, or general culture, “is theexponent of its social and political virtues [...] and ethical life” (pp.16-17). To make it clear, Ruskin understands the term art as savoir-vivre, as social behaviour and distinguished manners. He compares art to a „productive and formative energy“(p.17). He implies that only noble persons can have noble art as they are “associated under laws fitted to their time and circumstances” (p.17). Thisis the first Ruskin implies some discriminating gauge in judging people. He distinguished not only between uncivilized peoples and the British nation but also between citizens of Britain it self, where there are noble, refined and genteel men in contrast to poor and uneducated people. But what did colonizers do in India? They came and insensitively established British rigorous laws non-adapted tothe quite flexible cast system rules and unwritten laws. One can think about Rwanda or Sudan where British artificially installed their own idea of a state and divisions of regions, which did not fit to a multiethnic African country. It was not a natural time-requiring process of building a state with strong institutions, and consequences were disastrous. At the first crisis of for example lack ofwater, a civic war spread.
Ruskin believes in laws and their power to make better people thus he’d like to discover “the clue to the laws which regulate all industries”. They not only constrain people to obedience, but they also prescribe an ideal, everybody should struggle to achieve. However, lower classes – “unemployed poor- are becoming more violently criminal”. Neither middle classesare judged well as they do not manage they money properly willing to “live always up to their incomes” and thus create economic and social instability. What Ruskin blames most middle classes for, is that they do not produce their bread and improperly tend to the privilege of being “occupied in the highest arts”.
In fact, the author propels the idea that “the most perfect mental culturepossible to men is founded n their useful energies, and their best arts and brightest happiness are consistent only with their virtue”. Does Ruskin refer to the Voltaire’s Candide famous sentence: “Il faut cultiver son jardin” where “cultivate one’s garden” would literally transpose his own words that “food can only be got out of the ground”? Is it a metaphor meaning: let us leave metaphysicalproblems, and instead consider our virtues and care of things that can be changed and improved? Does it mean that individuals should struggle to make the society evolve and make it better? At least it goes in the line of Ruskin’s logic and rationality.
To conclude the first paragraph of the extract, Ruskin links arts with morality. Only noble people can create noble arts. And being a noble person...
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