Context: John Ruskin always considered himself to be a kind of prophet. During the first part of his life he saw his primary task as bringing to the human race enlightenment and education in the perception of beauty and the religion of art. Regarding his society as faithless, perverse, and dislocated, he was convinced that he must deliver his message to the world at any cost. This intensity concerning art and architecture he carried to the arena of social philosophy in his later life. His concern had now expanded beyond the spiritual meaning of work to the conditions under which objects were produced or manufactured. He became convinced that the ultimate test of work and whatever it produced was its effect upon the human soul and the dignity of the individual. In the four essays which comprise Unto This Last, first published in the Cornhill Magazine, he attacks the orthodox principles of the existing political philosophy–not with a cry that it be abolished but with the demand for legislation to protect the interests of the worker from exploitation. Above all, he maintains the necessity of Captains of Industry, men of superior talent with a humanitarian perspective who will respect the freedom and creativity of all whom they direct. This principle he reiterates near the conclusion of the third essay:
. . . My continual aim has been to show the eternal superiority of some men to others, sometimes even of one man to all others; and to show also the advisability of appointing such persons or person to guide, to lead, or on occasion even to compel and subdue, their inferiors, according to their own better knowledge and wiser will. My principles of Political Economy were all involved in a single phrase spoken three years ago at Manchester: "Soldiers of the ploughshare as well as soldiers of the sword:" and they were all summed in a single sentence in the last volume of Modern Painters–"Government and co-operation are in all things the Laws of Life; anarchy and competition the Laws of Death."