Carlyle on the Cutting Asunder of Human Relations

Thomas Carlyle lm.jpg

Certainly the notion everywhere prevails among us … That the grand panacea for social woes is what we call ‘enfranchisement,’ ’emancipation;’ or, translated into practical language, the cutting asunder of human relations, wherever they are found grievous…. Let us all be ‘free’ of one another; we shall then be happy. Free, without bond or connection except that of cash-payment; fair day’s wages for the fair day’s work; bargained for by voluntary contract, and law of supply-and-demand: this is thought to be the true solution of all difficulties and injustices that have occurred between man and man.

To rectify the relation that exists between two men, is there no method, then, but that of ending it? The old relation has become unsuitable, obsolete, perhaps unjust; it imperatively requires to be amended; and the remedy is, Abolish it, let there henceforth be no relation at all. From the ‘Sacrament of Marriage’ downwards, human beings used to be manifoldly related, one to another, and each to all; and there was no relation among human beings, just or unjust, that had not its grievances and difficulties, its necessities on both sides to bear and forbear. But henceforth, be it known, we have changed all that, by favor of Heaven: ‘the voluntary principle’ has come up, which will itself do the business for us; and now let a new Sacrament, that of Divorce, which we call emancipation, and spout of on our platforms, be universally the order of the day!—Have men considered whither all this is tending, and what it certainly enough betokens? Cut every human relation which has anywhere grown uneasy sheer asunder; reduce whatsoever was compulsory to voluntary, whatsoever was permanent among us to the condition of nomadic:—in other words, loosen by assiduous wedges in every joint, the whole fabric of social existence, stone from stone: till at last, all now being loose enough, it can, as we already see in most countries, be overset by sudden outburst of revolutionary rage; and, lying as mere mountains of anarchic rubbish, solicit you to sing Fraternity, &c., over it, and to rejoice in the new remarkable era of human progress we have arrived at.

Thomas Carlyle, Latter-Day Pamphlets

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