Unto This Last

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Jump to navigation Jump to search

Unto This Last is an essay critical of economics by John Ruskin, first published between August and December 1860 in the monthly journal Cornhill Magazine in four articles.[1] Ruskin says himself that the articles were "very violently criticized", forcing the publisher to stop its publication after four months.[2] Subscribers sent protest letters, but Ruskin countered the attack and published the four articles in a book in May 1862. The book greatly influenced the nonviolent activist Mahatma Gandhi. The book is also cited as an inspiration upon the British Labour Party in its initial stages, a survey of Labour Members of Parliament after the party achieved its electoral breakthrough in the 1906 UK general election listing the book as one of their key influences. [3]

The title is a quotation from the Parable of the Workers in the Vineyard:

I will give unto this last, even as unto thee. Is it not lawful for me to do what I will with mine own? Is thine eye evil, because I am good? So the last shall be first, and the first last: for many be called, but few chosen.

The "last" are the eleventh hour labourers, who are paid as if they had worked the entire day. Rather than discuss the contemporary religious interpretation of the parable, whereby the eleventh hour labourers would be death-bed converts, or the peoples of the world who come late to religion, Ruskin looks at the social and economic implications, discussing issues such as who should receive a living wage. This essay is very critical of the economists of the 18th and 19th centuries. In this sense, Ruskin is a precursor of social economy. Because the essay also attacks the destructive effects of industrialism upon the natural world, some historians have seen it as anticipating the Green movement.[4]

The eleventh hour labourers, etching by Jan Luyken based on the Parable of the Workers in the Vineyard

The essay begins with the following verses, taken from Matthew 20:13 and Zechariah 11:12 respectively (in the King James Version):[5]

Friend, I do thee no wrong.
Didst not thou agree with me for a penny?
Take that thine is, and go thy way.
I will give unto this last even as unto thee.

If ye think good, give me my price;
And if not, forbear.
So they weighed for my price thirty pieces of silver.

Mahatma Gandhi's paraphrase[edit]

Unto This Last had a very important impact on Gandhi's philosophy.[6] He discovered the book in March 1904 through Henry Polak, whom he had met in a vegetarian restaurant in South Africa. Polak was sub-editor of the Johannesburg paper The Critic. Gandhi decided immediately not only to change his own life according to Ruskin's teaching, but also to publish his own newspaper, Indian Opinion, from a farm where everybody would get the same salary, without distinction of function, race, or nationality. This, for that time, was quite revolutionary. Thus Gandhi created Phoenix Settlement.

Gandhi translated Unto This Last into Gujarati in 1908 under the title of Sarvodaya (Well Being of All). Valji Govindji Desai translated it back to English in 1951 under the title of Unto This Last: A Paraphrase.[7] This last essay can be considered his program on economics, as in Unto This Last, Gandhi found an important part of his social and economic ideas.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Radio, Sveriges. "John Ruskin: En brittisk 1800-talsaristokrat för vår tid? - OBS". sverigesradio.se (in Swedish). Retrieved 2021-11-15.
  2. ^ Radio, Sveriges. "John Ruskin: En brittisk 1800-talsaristokrat för vår tid? - OBS". sverigesradio.se (in Swedish). Retrieved 2021-11-15.
  3. ^ Anthony, P.D. (1984), John Ruskin's Labour: A Study of Ruskin's Social Theory. New York: Cambridge.
  4. ^ Wall, Derek (1994), Green History: A Reader. London: Routledge, pp. 117, 122, 207.
  5. ^ Unto This Last by John Ruskin
  6. ^ Gandhi's Human Touch
  7. ^ Gandhi, M. K. Unto this Last: A paraphrase. Ahmedabad: Navajivan Trust. ISBN 81-7229-076-4.

External links[edit]