Thursday, September 11, 2008

William Cobbett, Prophet of Doom?

"A great misfortune of the present day is, that everyone is, in his own estimate, raised above his real state of life: everyone seems to think himself entitled, if not to title and great estate, at least to live without work. This mischievous, this most destructive, way of thinking has, indeed, been produced, like almost all our other evils, by the Acts of our Septennial and Unreformed Parliament. That body, by its Acts, has caused an enormous Debt to be created, and, in consequence, a prodigious sum to be raised annually in taxes. It has caused, by these means, a race of loan-mongers and stock-jobbers to arise. These carry on a species of gaming, by which some make fortunes in a day, and others, in a day, become beggars. The unfortunate gamesters, like the purchasers of blanks in a lottery, are never heard of; but the fortunate ones become companions for lords, and some of them lords themselves. We have, within these few years, seen many of these gamesters get fortunes of a quarter of a million in a few days, and then we have heard them, though notoriously amongst the lowest and basest of human creatures, called "honorable gentlemen"! In such a state of things, who is to expect patient industry, laborious study, frugality and care; who, in such a state of things, is to expect these to be employed in pursuit of that competence which it is the laudable wish of all men to secure?"


No, this is not from yesterday's newspaper, but from an 1830 book, Advice to Young Men, by the British radical William Cobbett (1763-1835). Cobbett's advocacy of widespread ownership of the means of production, limited economic role for the State, free and open markets, and restoration of the rights of private property caused him to be classified as a revolutionary. Cobbett also supported civil rights for Catholics, Americans, Irish, and other undesirables.

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