William Goodwin, Shelly and the stagnation of Social technologies. ( Post Brexit anxiety elixir!)
and more of my own poetry can be found at this link.
Percy Bysshe Shelley 1813
A Philosophical Poem (in 9 parts)
V. Page 37.
And statesmen boast
Of wealth :
There is no real wealth but the labour of man. Were the
mountains of gold, and the valleys of silver, the world would
added to the human race. In consequence of our conside-
not be one grain of corn the richer ; no one comfort would be
ration for the precious metals, one man is enabled to heap
rieties of disease and crime, which never fail to characterize
to himself luxuries at the expense of the necessaries of his
neighbour ; a system admirably fitted to produce all the va-
the two extremes of opulence and penury. A speculator
the unhallowed cravings of luxury and ostentation. The
takes pride to himself as the promoter of his country’s pros-
perity, who employs a number of hands in the manufacture
of articles avowedly destitute of use, or subservient only to
nobleman, who employs the peasants of his neighbourhood
vanity. The shew and pomp of courts adduce the same
in building his palaces, until “jam pauca aratrojvgera
regies moles relinquunt,”* flatters himself that he has
gained the title of a patriot by yielding to the impulses of
apology for its continuance ; and many a fete has been given,
famish ; not the blankets for want of which their babes are
many a woman has eclipsed her beauty by her dress, to be-
nefit the labouring poor, and to encourage trade. Who does
not see that this is a remedy which aggravates, whilst it
palliates the countless diseases of society ? The poor are
set to labour, — for what 1 Not the food for which they ;
no : for the pride of power, for the miserable isolation of
frozen by the cold of their miserable hovels : not those com-
forts of civilization without which civilized man is far more
miserable than the meanest savage ; oppressed as he is by
all its insidious evils, within the daily and taunting prospect
of its innumerable benefits assiduously exhibited before him :
ratio to their usefulness ;f the jeweller, the toyman, the ac-
pride, for the false pleasures of the hundredth part of socie-
ty. No greater evidence is afforded of the wide, extended,
and radical mistakes of civilized man than this fact ; those
arts which are essential to his very being are held in the
greatest contempt ; employments are lucrative in an inverse
tor, gains fame and wealth by the exercise of his useless
concerning its desirableness, but its practicability : so far as
and ridiculous art ; whilst the cultivator of the earth, he,
without whom society must cease to subsist, struggles
through contempt and penury, and perishes by that famine
which, but for his unceasing exertions, would annihilate
the rest of mankind.
I will not insult common sense by insisting on the doc-
trine of the natural equality of man. The question is not
tion of a few of its members, is defensible on the ground of
it is practicable, it is desirable. That state of human socie-
ty which approaches nearer to an equal partition of its be-
nefits and evils should, c&teris paribus, I be preferred: but
so long as we conceive that a wanton expenditure of hu-
man labour, not for the necessities, not even for the luxu-
ries of the mass of society, but for the egotism and ostenta-
public justice, so long we neglect to approximate to the re-
their respective situations, are precluded. A state which
demption of the human race.
* These piles of royal structure, will soon leave but few acres for the
t See Rousseau, ” L’Inegalite parmi les Hommes,” note 7.
j Making allowances on both sides.
Labour is required for physical, and leisure for moral im-
provement : from the former of these advantages the rich,
and from the latter the poor, by the inevitable conditions of
should combine the advantages of both, would be subjected
English reformers exclaim against sinecures, — but the
to the evils of neither. He that is deficient in firm health,
or vigorous intellect is but half a man ; hence it follows,
that, to subject the labouring classes to unnecessary labour,
is wantonly depriving them of any opportunities of intel-
lectual improvement ; and that the rich are heaping up for
their own mischief the disease, lassitude, and ennui by
which their existence is rendered an intolerable burthen.
true pension-list is the rent-roll of the landed proprietors :
they demand from us but a slender portion of industry. If
wealth is a power usurped by the few, to compel the many
to labour for their benefit. The laws which support this
system derive their force from the ignorance and credulity
of its victims : they are the result of a conspiracy of the
few against the many, who are themselves obliged to pur-
chase this pre-eminence by the loss of all real comfort.
The commodities that substantially contribute to the sub-
sistence of the human species form a very short catalogue,
these only were produced, and sufficiently produced, the
life, may be devoted to the cultivation of the understanding,
species of man would be continued. If the labour necessa-
rily required to produce them were equitably 3ivi3ed among
the poor, and still more, if it were equitably divided among
all, each man’s share of labour would be light, and his por-
tion of leisure would be ample. There was a time when
this leisure would have been of small comparative value :
it is to be hoped that the time will come, when it will be ap-
plied to the most important purposes. Those hours which
are not required for the production of the necessaries of
monopoly and oppression cannot be necessary to prevent
the enlarging our stock of knowledge, the refining our
taste, and thus opening to us new and more exquisite sour-
ces of enjoyment.
It was perhaps necessary that a period of monopoly and
oppression should subsist, before a period of cultivated
equality could subsist. Savages perhaps would never have
been excited to the discovery of truth and the invention of
art, but by the narrow motives which such a period affords.
But, surely, after the savage state has ceased, and men have
set out in the glorious career of discovery and invention,
them from returning to a state of barbarism. — Godwin’s En~
quirer, Essay II. See also Pol. Jus. Book VIII. ch. 11.
It is a calculation of this admirable author, that all the
conveniences of a civilized life might be produced, if socie-
ty would divide the labour equally among its members, by
each individual being employed in labour two hours during
William Godwin (3 March 1756 – 7 April 1836)
was an English journalist, political philosopher and novelist.
He is considered one of the first exponents of utilitarianism,
and the first modern proponent of anarchism.
Some Passages that Fired me up.
‘I am the Fairy Mab: to me ‘tis given The wonders of the human world to keep; The secrets of the immeasurable past, In the unfailing consciences of men, Those stern, unflattering chroniclers, I find; The future, from the causes which arise In each event, I gather; not the sting Which retributive memory implants In the hard bosom of the selfish man, Nor that ecstatic and exulting throb Which virtue’s votary feels when he sums up The thoughts and actions of a well-spent day, Are unforeseen, unregistered by me; And it is yet permitted me to rend The veil of mortal frailty, that the spirit, Clothed in its changeless purity, may know How soonest to accomplish the great end For which it hath its being, and may taste That peace which in the end all life will share. This is the meed of virtue; happy Soul, Ascend the car with me!’
‘Where Athens, Rome, and Sparta stood, There is a moral desert now. The mean and miserable huts, The yet more wretched palaces, Contrasted with those ancient fanes Now crumbling to oblivion, – The long and lonely colonnades Through which the ghost of Freedom stalks, – Seem like a well-known tune, Which in some dear scene we have loved to hear, Remembered now in sadness. But, oh! how much more changed, How gloomier is the contrast Of human nature there!
‘Spirit! ten thousand years Have scarcely passed away, Since in the waste, where now the savage drinks His enemy’s blood, and, aping Europe’s sons, Wakes the unholy song of war, Arose a stately city, Metropolis of the western continent. There, now, the mossy column-stone, Indented by time’s unrelaxing grasp, Which once appeared to brave All, save its country’s ruin, – There the wide forest scene, Rude in the uncultivated loveliness Of gardens long run wild, – Seems, to the unwilling sojourner whose steps Chance in that desert has delayed, Thus to have stood since earth was what it is. Yet once it was the busiest haunt, Whither, as to a common centre, flocked Strangers, and ships, and merchandise; Once peace and freedom blest The cultivated plain; But wealth, that curse of man, Blighted the bud of its prosperity; Virtue and wisdom, truth and liberty, Fled, to return not, until man shall know That they alone can give the bliss Worthy a soul that claims Its kindred with eternity.
‘How strange is human pride! I tell thee that those living things, To whom the fragile blade of grass That springeth in the morn And perisheth ere noon, Is an unbounded world; I tell thee that those viewless beings, Whose mansion is the smallest particle Of the impassive atmosphere, Think, feel and live like man; That their affections and antipathies, Like his, produce the laws Ruling their moral state; And the minutest throb That through their frame diffuses The slightest, faintest motion, Is fixed and indispensable As the majestic laws That rule yon rolling orbs.’
The Fairy paused. The Spirit, In ecstasy of admiration, felt All knowledge of the past revived; the events Of old and wondrous times, Which dim tradition interruptedly Teaches the credulous vulgar, were unfolded In just perspective to the view; Yet dim from their infinitude. The Spirit seemed to stand High on an isolated pinnacle; The flood of ages combating below, The depth of the unbounded universe Above, and all around Nature’s unchanging harmony.
Those gilded flies
That, basking in the sunshine of a court,
Fatten on its corruption! what are they? –
The drones of the community; they feed
On the mechanic’s labor; the starved hind
For them compels the stubborn glebe to yield
Its unshared harvests; and yon squalid form,
Leaner than fleshless misery, that wastes
A sunless life in the unwholesome mine,
Drags out in labor a protracted death
To glut their grandeur; many faint with toil
That few may know the cares and woe of sloth.
Whence, thinkest thou, kings and parasites arose?
Whence that unnatural line of drones who heap
Toil and unvanquishable penury
On those who build their palaces and bring
Their daily bread? -From vice, black loathsome vice;
From rapine, madness, treachery, and wrong;
From all that genders misery, and makes
Of earth this thorny wilderness; from lust,
Revenge, and murder. -And when reason’s voice,
Loud as the voice of Nature, shall have waked
The nations; and mankind perceive that vice
Is discord, war and misery; that virtue
Is peace and happiness and harmony;
When man’s maturer nature shall disdain
The playthings of its childhood; -kingly glare
Will lose its power to dazzle, its authority
Will silently pass by; the gorgeous throne
Shall stand unnoticed in the regal hall,
Fast falling to decay; whilst falsehood’s trade
Shall be as hateful and unprofitable
As that of truth is now.
‘Nature rejects the monarch, not the man; The subject, not the citizen;
for kings And subjects, mutual foes, forever play A losing game into
each other’s hands, Whose stakes are vice and misery. The man Of virtuous
soul commands not, nor obeys. Power, like a desolating pestilence, Pollutes
whate’er it touches; and obedience, Bane of all genius, virtue, freedom, truth,
Makes slaves of men, and of the human frame A mechanized automaton.
Nature! -no! Kings, priests and statesmen blast the human flower Even in
its tender bud; their influence darts Like subtle poison through the bloodless veins
Of desolate society. The child, Ere he can lisp his mother’s sacred name,
Swells with the unnatural pride of crime, and lifts His baby-sword even in a hero’s
mood. This infant arm becomes the bloodiest scourge Of devastated earth;
whilst specious names, Learnt in soft childhood’s unsuspecting hour,
Serve as the sophisms with which manhood dims Bright reason’s ray and sanctifies
the sword Upraised to shed a brother’s innocent blood. Let priest-led slaves cease
to proclaim that man Inherits vice and misery, when force And falsehood hang
even o’er the cradled babe, Stifling with rudest grasp all natural good.
44 1v ‘War is the statesman’s game, the priest’s delight, The lawyer’s jest,
the hired assassin’s trade, And to those royal murderers whose mean
thrones Are bought by crimes of treachery and gore,
The bread they eat, the staff on which they lean.
Guards, garbed in blood-red livery, surround Their palaces,
participate the crimes That force defends and from a nation’s rage
Secures the crown, which all the curses reach That famine, frenzy,
woe and penury breathe.
These are the hired bravos who defend The tyrant’s throne -the
bullies of his fear; These are the sinks and channels of worst vice,
The refuse of society, the dregs Of all that is most vile;
their cold hearts blend Deceit with sternness, ignorance with pride,
All that is mean and villainous with rage Which hopelessness of good
and self-contempt Alone might kindle; they are decked in wealth,
Honor and power, then are sent abroad To do their work.
The pestilence that stalks In gloomy triumph through some eastern land
Is less destroying. They cajole with gold And promises of fame
the thoughtless youth Already crushed with servitude;
he knows His wretchedness too late, and cherishes Repentance for
his ruin, when his doom Is sealed in gold and blood!
Those too the tyrant serve, who, skilled to snare The feet of justice
in the toils of law, Stand ready to oppress the weaker still,
And right or wrong will vindicate for gold, Sneering at public virtue,
which beneath Their pitiless tread lies torn and trampled where
Honor sits smiling at the sale of truth.
‘Then grave and hoary-headed hypocrites, Without a hope,
a passion or a love, Who through a life of luxury and lies Have crept
by flattery to the seats of power, Support the system whence their
honors flow. They have three words -well tyrants know their use,
Well pay them for the loan with usury Torn from a bleeding world!
-God, Hell and Heaven: A vengeful, pitiless, and almighty fiend,
Whose mercy is a nickname for the rage Of tameless tigers hungering
for blood; Hell, a red gulf of everlasting fire,
Where poisonous and undying worms prolong Eternal misery
to those hapless slaves Whose life has been a penance for its crimes;
And Heaven, a meed for those who dare belie Their human nature,
quake, believe and cringe Before the mockeries of earthly power.
‘Hence commerce springs, the venal interchange
Of all that human art or Nature yield;
Which wealth should purchase not, but want demand,
And natural kindness hasten to supply
From the full fountain of its boundless love,
Forever stifled, drained and tainted now.
Commerce! beneath whose poison-breathing shade
No solitary virtue dares to spring,
But poverty and wealth with equal hand
Scatter their withering curses, and unfold
The doors of premature and violent death
To pining famine and full-fed disease,
To all that shares the lot of human life,
Which, poisoned body and soul, scarce drags the chain
That lengthens as it goes and clanks behind.
‘Commerce has set the mark of selfishness,
The signet of its all-enslaving power,
Upon a shining ore, and called it gold;
Before whose image bow the vulgar great,
The vainly rich, the miserable proud,
The mob of peasants, nobles, priests and kings,
And with blind feelings reverence the power
That grinds them to the dust of misery.
But in the temple of their hireling hearts
Gold is a living god and rules in scorn
All earthly things but virtue.
‘Since tyrants by the sale of human life
Heap luxuries to their sensualism, and fame
To their wide-wasting and insatiate pride,
Success has sanctioned to a credulous world
The ruin, the disgrace, the woe of war.
His hosts of blind and unresisting dupes
The despot numbers; from his cabinet
These puppets of his schemes he moves at will,
Even as the slaves by force or famine driven,
Beneath a vulgar master, to perform
A task of cold and brutal drudgery; –
Hardened to hope, insensible to fear,
Scarce living pulleys of a dead machine,
Mere wheels of work and articles of trade,
That grace the proud and noisy pomp of wealth!
But mean lust
Has bound its chains so tight about the earth
That all within it but the virtuous man
Is venal; gold or fame will surely reach
The price prefixed by Selfishness to all
But him of resolute and unchanging will;
Whom nor the plaudits of a servile crowd,
Nor the vile joys of tainting luxury,
Can bribe to yield his elevated soul
To Tyranny or Falsehood, though they wield
With blood-red hand the sceptre of the world.
‘All things are sold: the very light of heaven
Is venal; earth’s unsparing gifts of love,
The smallest and most despicable things
That lurk in the abysses of the deep,
All objects of our life, even life itself,
And the poor pittance which the laws allow
Of liberty, the fellowship of man,
Now, to the scene I show, in silence turn, And read the
blood-stained charter of all woe, Which Nature soon
with recreating hand Will blot in mercy from the book of earth.
How bold the flight of passion’s wandering wing,
How swift the step of reason’s firmer tread,
How calm and sweet the victories of life,
How terrorless the triumph of the grave!
How powerless were the mightiest monarch’s arm,
Vain his loud threat, and impotent his frown!
How ludicrous the priest’s dogmatic roar!
The weight of his exterminating curse How light!
and his affected charity, To suit the pressure of the changing times,
What palpable deceit! -but for thy aid, Religion!
but for thee, prolific fiend, Who peoplest earth with demons,
hell with men, And heaven with slaves!