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John Ruskin and the Ethical Foundations of Morris & Company, 1861–96

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Abstract

InUnto this Last, John Ruskin argued that Britain's industrial society was morally degenerate and pernicious in that it drove the labouring class into cultural and material poverty. The thinking of the Political Economists, which supported the new liberal industrial order, was correspondingly flawed, because it lacked any credible moral element. Ruskin's writings are in essence an appeal to the business leader to behave in a socially responsible, paternalistic fashion according to his own moral prescriptions. In this way, he believed that British society might be regenerated. This article examines the ways in William Morris sought to give practical expression to these ideas. There is no perfect correspondence between the business notions of John Ruskin and the practice of William Morris. Yet it is evident that Morris stuck to many of his mentor's ideas with remarkable tenacity; and the operation of the Morris business, especially those aspects relating to design, craftsmanship, work organisation, working conditions, scale and the market, owed much to Ruskin.

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Charles Harvey is Professor of Business History and Management and Director of the School of Management at Royal Holloway, University of London.

Jon Press is Professor of History at Bath College of Higher Education. TheirWilliam Morris: Design and Enterprise in Victorian Britain won the Wadsworth Prize for Business History in 1992, and was shortlisted for the National Art Book Prize. They are currently preparing a special issue of the journalBusiness History devoted to business ethics.

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Harvey, C., Press, J. John Ruskin and the Ethical Foundations of Morris & Company, 1861–96. J Bus Ethics 14, 181–194 (1995). https://doi.org/10.1007/BF00881432

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Keywords

  • Economic Growth
  • Political Economist
  • Industrial Society
  • Work Organisation
  • Business Leader