In "Signs of the Times" Carlyle laments the growing trend towards a mechanized society. In the following passage he argues that man is not a product of Mechanism but rather has constructed it. As he will say at the end of his essay, "We are fettered by chains of our own forging, and which ourselves also can rend asunder."

Nay, even with regard to Government itself, can it be necessary to remind any one that Freedom, without which indeed all spiritual life is impossible, depends on infinitely more complex influences than either the extension or the curtailment of the "democratic interest"? Who is there that, "taking the high priori road," shall point out what these influences are; what deep, subtle, inextricably entangled influences they have been and may be? For man is not the creature and product of Mechanism; but, in a far truer sense, its creator and producer: it is the noble People that makes the noble Government; rather than conversely. On the whole, Institutions are much; but they are not all. The freest and highest spirits of the world have often been found under strange outward circumstances.

Do you agree with Carlyle? What about the argument he makes earlier in his essay that the mechanism of society has created people with a deep dependence and faith in the mechanical?

The Philosopher of this age is not a Socrates, a Plato, a Hooker, or Taylor, who inculcates on men the necessity and infinite worth of moral goodness, the great truth that our happiness depends on the mind which is within us, and not on the circumstances which are without us; but a Smith, a De Lolme, a Bentham, who chiefly inculcates the reverse of this, — that our happiness depends entirely on external circumstances; nay, that the strength and dignity of the mind within us is itself the creature and- consequence of these

How well can the two be separated, if at all? Are we products of our society or is our society our own construction? How do these two factors interact?

Victorian Web Overview Thomas Carlyle Leading Questions

Last modified 22 September 2003