John Ruskin’s third essay “Qui Judicatis Terram” in his work Unto This Last reveals the essayist advocating for a more ethical mercantile economy in which merchants conduct business that is both legal and just. Opposed to the widely held belief by "political economists” that the merchant’s discipline is “simply the science of getting rich” without regard for “the development of social affections,” Ruskin argues instead for a science that heralds not only the legal but the just accumulation of wealth. Justice, Ruskin asserts, “is curiously overlooked in the ordinary political economist’s definition of his own ‘science’,” for, the economist’s definition, as it stands, allows businessmen to conduct “proceedings that may be legal” but “which are by no means just.” In order to prove this point, Ruskin calls into question the rhetoric behind the definition of the economist’s science:

So that it is clear the popular economist, in calling his science the science par excellence of getting rich, must attach some peculiar ideas of limitation to its character. I hope I do not misrepresent him, by assuming that he means his science to be the science of “getting rich by legal or just means.” In this definition, is the word “just,” or “legal,” finally to stand? For it is possible among certain nations, or under certain rulers, or by help of certain advocates, that proceedings may be legal which are by no means just. If, therefore, we leave at last only the word “just” in that place of our definition, the insertion of this solitary and small word will make a notable difference in the grammar of our science. For then it will follow that in order to grow rich scientifically, we must grow rich justly; and, therefore, know what is just; so that our economy will no longer depend merely on prudence, but on jurisprudence — and that of divine, not human law.

For Ruskin, the unjust “proceedings” of these “men of business” narrow-mindedly disregard “what other losses and gains, far away among the dark streets, are essentially, though invisibly, dependent on” their actions. Therefore, if the science of economics were to promote that “in order to grow rich scientifically,” one must also “grow rich justly”, it would foster a moral consciousness that takes into consideration the welfare of “the whole human race.” Essentially then, Ruskin’s definition of a legal and just economics aims to produce not just merchants but “righteous” men, “distinguished from the unrighteous by [their] desire and hope for justice.”


1. What techniques, if any, in the passage quoted above does Ruskin employ to show that he is being satirical? Is he successful?

2. Throughout his essays Ruskin references the Italian poet Dante. In what ways are Ruskin’s references to antiquity similar to those of Montaigne’s in “Of Cannibals”? In what ways do they differ?

3. In this essay, “Qui Judicatis Terram”, Ruskin writes:

I know no previous instance in history of a nation's establishing a systematic disobedience to the first principles of its professed religion. The writings which we (verbally) esteem as divine, not only denounce the love of money as the source of all evil, and as an idolatry abhorred of the Deity, but declare mammon service to be the accurate and irreconcilable opposite of God's service: and, whenever they speak of riches absolute, and poverty absolute, declare woe to the rich, and blessing to the poor. Whereupon we forthwith investigate a science of becoming rich, as the shortest road to national prosperity.

How does religion play into Ruskin’s attitudes towards this “science of becoming rich”? Is Ruskin arguing for the abolishment of wealth or is he simply advocating for a more divine purpose to the merchant’s profession?

Last modified 9 February 2011

6 May 2019