Ethic of leisure
William Godwin’s ethic of leisure and the riddle of social justice
In An Enquiry Concerning Political Justice (1793) William Godwin declared, “the object, in the present state of society, is to multiply labour; in another state, it will be to simplify it.”
In The Enquirer (1797), he affirmed, “[t]he genuine wealth of man is leisure, when it meets with a disposition to improve it. All other riches are of petty and inconsiderable value. Is there not a state of society practicable,” he asked in conclusion, “in which leisure shall be made the inheritance of every one of its members?”
In Thoughts on Man (1831), Godwin repeatedly emphasized the proposition that, “every human creature is endowed with talents, which, if rightly directed, would shew him to be apt, adroit, intelligent and acute, in the walk for which his organisation especially fitted him.” Leisure was indispensable to fulfilling that endowment in that “occupation, which arises contingently” was “often not less earnest and intent in its pursuits” than the “prescribed” occupation of a trade or profession.
Given Godwin’s Calvinist upbringing, theological training, and self-professed lifelong “vocation as a missionary,” it is plausible to construe Godwin’s consecration of leisure as a critique and reformulation of Calvin’s doctrine of the worldly calling, the doctrine crudely handed down to posterity as the Protestant work ethic. Adding consequence and mystique to Godwin’s leisure ethic is its hitherto overlooked influence on Karl Marx’s analysis of surplus value in the Grundrisse through the intermediary of an “anonymous” 1821 pamphlet, The Source and Remedy of the National Difficulties.
Yes, I like this essay and this stream of thinking a lot after all this time. Work is not be devalued, after all.
Really nicely done.
i wonder where you are going with this. i think i agreee with you and godwin about the (high) value of leisure. but i wonder about about
whether the people as a whole do: give them more leisure, will they go out and find a second job in order to have more money?
whether the employers do: seems to me a lot of them want your full time devotion (24/7 if they can get it) and would not want a “high value” employee who had better things to do with their time.
whether there are some people who wouldn’t know what to do with more leisure: watch more television, drink more beer, hang out and make trouble?
academics (after graduate school) have lots of free time after they publish their quota. i assume they use all of that time thinking about their next paper. not bad for the truly gifted. maybe hell for those who didn’t realize the were not truly gifted until they were in too deep?
Here is where I am going…
1. Do you have the same questions if the daily hours of work are 12 and the workdays in the week are 6? (those who opposed the 10 hour day and the five-day week did)
2. Or do you assume that the numbers 8, 40 and 5 have some mystical connection to productivity and well-being? (historically 12 hours a day, 54 hours a week and 6 days a week had such mystical qualities to opponents of work time reduction)
A historical deep dive into the arguments for and against shorter hours show a remarkable persistence of the old arguments AGAINST shorter hours and contemporary amnesia (one might say erasure) about the arguments FOR shorter hours. I have no new arguments. All I do is excavate and present the best arguments that have been made. The “counter-arguments” consistently ignore those actual best arguments and simply rehearse the same old same old.
yes, i know the same questions were asked. but it does make a difference where you are starting from. mine were questions, not arguments.
i have to say my own work experiences were not so delightful that i would not take advantage of a very low number of “required” work hours to spend most of my time with my own hobbies and thoughts. as the wonders of social security have enabled me to do… after years of paying for it.
i once read a very funny, if horrifying, sci fi story in which every citizen was granted a certain amount of capital at birth, which was enough that if one lived frugally would last a lifetime, but if one overspent he would be required to pay the overage by working after a certain age. the hero of the story thought he had figured a way around the pay-back. didn’t end well for him.
just curiosity: did you read my first comment? all of it?
i know the “they’ll just drink it up and get in trouble” was an argument against the six day week, eight hour day. but i thought that “they will just get another job” and “their boss wants their complete seven day twenty-four hour loyalty” were newish in this context.
as for the “drink and trouble” argument, I thought that “some of…” changed the terms of the debate enough to be worth considering.
and then, since my second comment “where you are starting from…”might be unclear, i was thinking it would suggest that there might be some difference between starting from six twelve hour days, and starting from five eight hour days… perhaps only because the shorter days/hours leaves you with more time that makes it worth while trying to fill it with something better than TV or another drink.
I always read before I reply.
Nope, this was the big fuss about the 36-hour workweek established in the tire industry in the 1930s. MOONLIGHTING!!! Nothing new under the sun. Turns out there was no statistical evidence for this panic other than the suspicions of employers. When a statistical analysis was done in the 1960, there was a slight difference in the rate of moonlighting of 36-hour workers and 40-hour workers but not a statistically significant difference. Incidence of moonlighting declined as income increased. About a quarter of “moonlighting” by rubber workers was self-employment moonlighting, which is NOT the same as having a second job.
That’s exactly the point of shorter working time — to make it worthwhile to fill the disposable time with something better than TV or another drink. Too bad that a few people will not succeed in doing so. But a few people moonlighting is not a problem if wages are adequate.
thanks for the reply. i can see why no one ever knows what anybody else is talking about (actual conclusion of psychology srtudy i read somewhere, but they said it doesn’t matter much.)