At various points in his writings — as we've discussed in class — John Ruskin anticipates potential arguments against his judgments and proposals, often going so far as to literally argue with himself, employing the very voice he feels will be used against him. Sometimes, however, the counter-argument is buried more subtly in his rhetoric. In the Preface to Unto this Last, for example, Ruskin effectively defends his plans for installing Government factories and workshops for "the production and sale of every necessary of life":
In connection with the training schools, there should be established, also entirely under Government regulation, manufactories and workshops . . . And that, interfering no whit with private enterprise, nor setting any restraints or tax on private trade, but leaving both to do their best, and beat the Government if they could.
Et cetera, et cetera. The point here is that Ruskin seems to be defending himself against potential charges of socialism or Marxism — only, rather than doing so explicitly (as he does elsewhere) by invoking the voice of the Critic, he mentions this point only in passing. Clearly, Ruskin's plan represents a major, if not total, restructuring of English society and government; the consideration of private enterprise is not an unimportant one. It is thus somewhat curious that the author would want to raise the issue, then dispense with it, so quickly, and without using his usual and (probably) more effective technique.
Is this technique as effective as raising the counter-argument by using the actual voice of those who might wage it?
Also, is it a dangerous move to make — raising the issue of socialism and then, as it were, running from it?
Or does Ruskin's writing appear the more level-headed for it, effectively downplaying what might be a strong criticism of his position?
Last modified 2 October 2003