Coleridge, employment and the sorcery of wealth

Barry Hough

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The Friend and the Lay Sermons present the problem of how the employment relationship should be located within the public/private divide that operates in Constitutional theory. This article is concerned with the question whether, in Coleridge’s thought, the low wages that caused the endemic poverty of the working poor engaged a role for the state, or whether the outcomes of contracting - the terms of the bargain between worker and employer - resided within an exclusively private realm with which the state should not, in principle, concern itself. If a role for the state was envisaged, how could that role be fulfilled?
I shall argue that, whilst Coleridge’s Lay Sermons explicitly propounded three influences for moderating the disruptive potential of laissez-faire liberalism, there is elsewhere in Lay Sermons and The Friend the embryonic form of a fourth mechanism that he fails to locate within this typology of remedies. In this article I am principally concerned with the fourth possibility rather than the remedies that Coleridge explicitly prescribed. I shall not be concerned with Coleridge’s ideas on trade unionism, other than to note here that he did not argue for a regulatory regime that would tolerate collective industrial action. This was so because the coercive disciplinary powers necessary to enforce solidarity between workers was, in his view, incompatible with the moral freedom of the individual worker.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)132-144
Number of pages13
Issue number2
Early online date1 Jun 2015
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jul 2015


  • Coleridge
  • Laissez-faire
  • Justice
  • Employment
  • Wages
  • Poverty


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