William Morris, like many of his contemporaries in the Victorian Romantic Movement -- including the Anglo-Catholic Socialists presented elsewhere in these pages -- frequently drew upon the thought and practice of pre-capitalist societies as a means of forwarding their critique of existing social relations.
They were by no means mere apologists for feudalism; they knew its limitations as well as -- and perhaps better than -- we do. Nonetheless, they found in medieval sources, particularly in architecture, art, and popular poetry, ample proof that crass capitalist commercialism is not the inevitable result of "human nature", that quite different arrangements, values, and goals have existed in the past and that new and different ones are entirely possible today.
What is presented in Mine and Thine is preeminently a moral vision -- one drawn from authentic pre-capitalist Christian values. That these fundamental Christian moral standards are today actively opposed by those who make the most noise about "traditional values" is merely another commentary on the way unjust social systems survive -- through the fostering of ignorance, sham, and hypocrisy in all their institutions, including (and perhaps especially) their pet religions.
Just for fun, I have succumbed to the temptation of comparing the viewpoint of Morris' Mine and Thine with some teachings of one of the great Fathers of the Christian Church, Saint John Chrysostom (347-407). There is a remarkable consistency from the fourth century, through the fourteenth, and on into William Morris's nineteenth. What consistency there is between that honorable moral tradition and the degenerate drivel dispensed by today's multimillionaire TV "evangelists" I leave it to others to judge. - - Ted Mellor
."Two words about the world we see, And naught but Mine and Thine they be.
Ah! might we drive them forth and wide With us should rest and peace abide;"
St. John Chrysostom: "For 'mine' and 'thine' -- those chilly words which introduce innumerable wars into the world -- should be eliminated from that holy Church.""All free, nought owned of goods and gear . . .
St. John Chrysostom: "All things would be in common.""No manslayer then the wide world o'er
"[God] left the earth free to all alike . . . is this not an evil, that you alone should enjoy what is common? Is not 'the earth God's and the fullness thereof'? If, then, our possessions belong to one common Lord, they also belong to our fellow servants. The possessions of one Lord are all common."
St. John Chrysostom: "Observe further now concerning things that are common, there is no contention, but everything is peaceful. But as soon as someone attempts to possess himself of anything to make it his own, then contention is introduced, as if nature itself protests against the fact that, whereas God brings us together in every way, we are eager to divide and separate ourselves by appropriating things, using those cold words 'mine and thine'. Then struggles and hatred arise. But where this does not happen, no strife or struggles appear.""Yea, God, well counselled for our health,
St. John Chrysostom: "God has given us but one dwelling place, this world; he distributed all created things equally; kindled one sun for all; stretched out above us one roof, the sky; set one table, the earth. And he also gave us another much greater table than this, but this, too, is one . . . We all drink from the same chalice. He has not bestowed more abundant and more honorable largesse upon the rich and meaner and lowlier upon the poor, but has called all equally. He has provided temporal things as generously as spiritual."That men might feed them therewithal,
St. John Chrysostom: "First then comes agriculture; second, weaving; third, building; and last of all, shoemaking . . . These, therefore, are the useful and necessary arts."
[One wonders how Morris resisted working in architecture -- Ted M.]"But now so ragest greediness. . ."
St. John Chrysostom:Then, from whence comes the great inequality of conditions in life? From the greed and arrogance of the rich. But, brethren, let us do away with this situation."That each desireth nothing less
St. John Chrysostom: He who lives for himself only and overlooks all others is useless; he is not even a man; he does not belong to the human race."