A Social Commentary
"Our true monarch is not Victoria but Victor Mammon," wrote John Ruskin back in 1866. Scorned for years as a crank, a reactionary, and a sexual deviant, could it be Ruskin's time again?I will readily admit that I'm not familiar at all with the thought and writings of John Ruskin. While my graduate degree centered on political philosophy, I spent most of my time reading Karl Marx, Eduard Bernstein, Karl Kautsky and Rosa Luxemburg with some Friedrich Nietzsche thrown in!
It was Ruskin's prophetic voice that breathed life into the fledgling Labour movement, Ruskin who railed, again and again, against the dehumanising power of capitalism. And it is Ruskin's voice we need to hear again, in a world turned topsy-turvy with the worship of money. For Ruskin, modern political economy was based on the "negation of the soul" – human beings flattened and turned into gross domestic product.
Ruskin understood that what really drove the Victorian desire to be rich was the desire to have power over others. The art of becoming rich, wrote Ruskin, was really the art "of contriving that our neighbours have less". Ruskin conceded that wealth wasn't bad in itself, but neither was it good.
~ from John Ruskin Can Help Us Rail Against the Dehumanising Power of Capitalism by David Barnes ~
But I must say, from the article cited above, that I agree with Ruskin's central thesis and it is the main reason I came to embrace socialism. In my opinion, the chief drawback to the capitalist system is its continual striving to dehumanize the majority of the world's population.
Our economic system (which goes hand-in-hand with our political system) places the desire for profit above the needs of the vast majority. We end up playing the role of expendable pawns on a global chessboard.
The grotesque accumulation of wealth by the elite minority subverts our cherished ideal of democracy. How can there be a realistic one-person/one-vote system when the egregiously rich few run the show from backrooms hidden from public view?
If we are at all honest and candid with ourselves, we should know the answer to that question! Massive wealth turns into absolute power and absolute power has almost no interest in humaneness, civility, justice, peace or freedom. All massive wealth cares about is accumulating more massive wealth.
Some of you reading this will opine that democratic socialism isn't the ultimate answer either. You will get no arguments from me on that point. In my opinion, there is no ultimate answer. There is no definitive final destination. As long as humans ply the earth, we will continue to dream of systems that are better than what we have now.
Capitalism has had its day in the sun, but it is time to move to the next rung on the evolutionary ladder. For me and many others, democratic socialism is the next step along the winding path.