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The question should really be, Why not Ruskin? Revered by Tolstoy, Gandhi, William Morris, Carlyle and Shaw for his crusade against the evils of laissez faire capitalism - by Virginia Woolf, Henry James, and Proust for the perfection of his prose - by art-lovers, led by Charlotte Bronte, who exclaimed, 'he has given me eyes to see' - by artists as one of the finest watercolourists and teachers to have lived - Ruskin is one of the great intellects who shaped our modern world. Yet although the practical effects of his teachings are all around us - he was the first to propose and agitate for free universal education, for workers' holidays, for national health provision, for public libraries and for much much more - Ruskin is hardly more than a name to most people today. We are the losers for this. Ruskin's teachings are very far from being of historical importance only: the beliefs and words that wrought so much good in the 19th century can be equally inspiring to us today. Ruskin's work on economics, on equality, on the environment and man's place in it - and the tools he offers us to think with - are more vitally needed than ever.
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James Spates has been Professor of Sociology at Hobart and William Smith Colleges, Geneva, NY, for thirty years. Ruskin has been a lodestar of his life and work, and in this short, passionately written essay he gives an exciting overview not just of Ruskin's achievements but also sketches out what he has to offer every reader today.
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