With our present system of individual Mammonism, and Government by Laissez-faire, this Nation cannot live — Past and Present, 271

Carlyle had little trust in democracy and turned to his old doctrine of heroes. He appealed to middle-class industrialists to revoke Mammonism and laissez-faire in order to become heroic leaders of the working-classes in their strife for the spiritual and moral regeneration of the nation. Carlyle, who remained fiercely critical of the aristocracy during his entire career, believed that the new “ Captains of Industry ” might lead the nation as ancient heroes. As Emery Neff explained almost a century ago.

In Past and Present he penetrated beneath political machinery to political forces, and eloquently appealed to the Captains of Industry, who were the strongest power in society, to direct their hitherto selfish energies toward the good of the nation as a whole, and become generous patrons and protectors of their employees. If these men of proved capacity had heeded the appeal, and had become a new paternal aristocracy like that in the heyday of feudalism, the course of English, and perhaps of European history might have been changed. [281]

For Carlyle, the old “Captains” of the nation — the nobility and aristocractic landowners — had long ago degenerated into “Captains of Idleness.” The enlightened “Captains of Industry,” the mill owners, he believes, can form a new, natural aristocracy capable of creating prosperity and establishing a social hierarchy based on preserved class difference, loyalty and mutual respect. Thus the Carlylean paradox: “Carlyle, the ardent critic of nineteenth-century laissez-faire capitalism, wants its leaders — the capitalist mill owners of the North — to replace the old feudal aristocracy, which has abandoned its political, social, and spiritual responsibilities, and thereby create a new kind of capitalist-anticapitalist feudal order!” [George P. Landow].

Related Material


Bloom, Harold, ed. Thomas Carlyle: Modern Critical Views. New York: Chelsea House Publishers, 1986.

Carlyle, Thomas. The Carlyle Encyclopedia. Cranbury, NJ: Rosemont Publishing & Printing Corporation, 2004.

Neff, Emery. Carlyle and Mill: An Introduction to Victorian Thought. New York: Columbia University Press, 1926.

Victorian Web Overview Thomas Carlyle Political themes and contexts Spcial History

Last modified 29 December 2009