Monday, May 29, 2017

"A Contemptible Democratical Oligarchy of Glib Economists:" Samuel Coleridge

Samuel Taylor Coleridge (1772-1834) is of course most famous for writing poems like "The Rime of the Ancient Mariner" and "Kubla Kahn,"  as well as hanging around with William Wordsworth and being one of the founders of the Romantic Movement in England, which glorified the emotions of individuals acting in the face of nature or historical settings. Thus, it's not a surprise that Coleridge was no fan of the then-budding discipline of economics, nor of modern commerce.

Here are a couple of passionately aimed shots he took at the subject, as described in the Letters, conversations and recollections of S. T. Coleridge. edited by Thomas Allsop. The first edition of the book was published in 1836, two years after Coleridge's death; the quotations here are from the third edition, published in 1864 (p. 73) and magically available through the Hathi Trust website. The comments are circa 1820. Here's are a couple of comments from Coleridge in full flight: 
"It is this accursed practice of ever considering only what seems expedient for the occasion, disjoined from all principle or enlarged systems of action, of never listening to the true and unerring impulses of our better nature, which has led the colder-hearted men to the study of political economy, which has turned our Parliament into a real committee of public safety. In it is all power vested; and in a few years we shall either be governed by an aristocracy, or, what is still more likely, by a contemptible democratical oligarchy of glib economists, compared to which the worst form of aristocracy would be a blessing."

"Commerce has enriched thousands, it has been the cause of the spread of knowledge and of science, but has it added one particle of happiness or of moral improvement? Has it given us a truer insight into our duties, or tended to revive and sustain in us the better feelings_of_our nature? No! no! when  I consider what the consequences have been, when I consider that whole districts of men, who would otherwise have slumbered on in comparatively happy ignorance, are now little less than brutes in their lives, and something worse than brutes in their instincts, I could almost wish that the manufacturing districts were swallowed up as Sodom and Gomorrah."