Tuesday, September 25, 2012

thomas carlyle's trickle-down moral economics

[from Latter-Day Pamphlets #4, "The New Downing Street," 15 April 1850:]

We may depend upon it, where there is a Pauper, there is a sin; to make one Pauper there go many sins. Pauperism is our Social Sin grown manifest; developed from the state of a spiritual ignobleness, a practical impropriety and base oblivion of duty, to an affair of the ledger. Here is not now an unheeded sin against God; here is a concrete ugly bulk of Beggary demanding that you should buy Indian meal for it. Men of reflection have long looked with a horror for which there was no response in the idle public, upon Pauperism; but the quantity of meal it demands has now awakened men of no reflection to consider it. Pauperism is the poisonous dripping from all the sins, and putrid unveracities and god-forgetting greedinesses and devil-serving cants and jesuitisms, that exist among us. Not one idle Sham lounging about Creation upon false pretences, upon means which he has not earned, upon theories which he does not practise, but yields his share of Pauperism somewhere or other. His sham-work oozes down; finds at last its issue as human Pauperism,—in a human being that by those false pretences cannot live. The Idle Workhouse, now about to burst of overfilling, what is it but the scandalous poison-tank of drainage from the universal Stygian quagmire of our affairs?


  1. I wonder if Carlyle's use of the word, "idle" when referring to the public, who have for so long ignored the plight of the poor, was intentional. The non-reflective public vs. the non-working poor - both are idle. If use of the word 'idle' were intentional, I think he would have used a capital 'P,' so I am tempted to believe it was coincidence, but poetic nonetheless: "Men of reflection have long looked with a horror for which there was no response in the idle public, upon Pauperism,"


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    2. Clarification: capital 'P' for idle Public It's early!

  2. commenting in haste -- it's perhaps dangerous to put too much emphasis on Carlyle's capitalization habits; I have yet to figure out a clear rhyme or reason for his capitalizing & non-capitalizing; sometimes he clearly wants to put emphasis on something, sometimes it just seems a holdover from his investment in German literature (in German of course, *all* nouns are capitalized)...