Charlotte Bronte said it long ago

With hope borne of nothing more than a fresh year, I dream on: That we all woke up to the inequity that has passed for national values for too many years. The reckless obsession with the glittering lights of our economy, dairying and tourism, illustrate how self-interest has overtaken public interest as a legitimate goal. I couldn’t resist showing, with minor deletions, Charlotte Bronte’s view of this clash of values in Shirley, published in 1849:

‘All men, taken singly, are more or less selfish, and taken in bodies they are intensely so; the mercantile classes illustrate it strikingly.  They are too oblivious of every national consideration but that of extending their own commerce.

A land ruled by them alone would too often make ignominious submission to mammon. During the late war, the tradesmen of England would have endured buffets from the French on the right cheek and on the left; their cloak they would have given to Napoleon, and then have politely offered him their coat also, nor would they have withheld their waistcoat if urged; they would have prayed permission only to retain their one other garment, for the sake of the purse in its pocket.

Not one spark of spirit, not one symptom of resistance would they have shown till the hand of the Corsican bandit had grasped that beloved purse; then perhaps, transfigured at once into British bulldogs, they would have sprung at the robber’s throat, and there they would have fastened, and there hung-inveterate, insatiable-till the treasure had been restored.

Tradesmen, when they speak against war, always profess to hate it because it is a bloody and barbarous proceeding; you would think to hear them talk, that they are peculiarly civilized, especially gentle and kindly of disposition to their fellow-men. This is not the case.

Many of them are extremely narrow and cold-hearted, have no good feeling for any class but their own, are distant-even hostile-to all others; call them useless; seem to question their right to exist; seem to grudge them the very air they breath, and to think the circumstances of their eating, drinking, and living in decent houses quite unjustifiable.

They do not know what others do in the way of helping, or teaching their race; they will not trouble themselves to inquire; whoever is not in trade is accused of eating the bread of idleness, of passing a useless existence. Long may it be ere England really become a nation of shopkeepers.”

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Chris Horan

Chris is a former social worker, probation officer and Family Court counsellor, living in Hawea in the South Island.