In Praise of Idleness
Russell's Views On Idleness.Very helpful for M.A. English students....
“IN PRAISE OF IDLENESS” BY BERTRAND RUSSELL SHORT SUMMARY & CRITICAL APPRECIATION This book contains the essays on such aspects of social questions as are ignored in clash of politics. It shows the dangers of too much organization in thought and action. It explains why Bertrand Russell is not agreed on Fascism or communism. The importance of knowledge consists not only in its direct practicality but also in the fact that it promotes contemplative habit of mind. The book concludes that there is risk of insects defeating the human race. It also discusses the characteristics of western Civilization, and the nature of the soul. In the essay, “In Praise of Idleness” Russell says that without considerable amount of leisure a man is cut off from many of the best things. There is no reason why the bulk of population should suffer this deprivation. Only foolish self-denial makes us continue to insist on work in excess he need no longer exists. Russell says that, in the past, there was a small leisure class and a large working class. The leisure class enjoyed the advantage for which there was no basis in social justice. This made it necessarily oppressive, cruel and without sympathy. Moreover, it invented theories to justify its luxuries. These facts contributed of what we call civilization. It cultivated the art and sciences; it wrote the books, invented the philosophies, and refined social relations. Without the leisure class, humankind would never have emerged from barbarianism. Russell, in this essay, argues that there must be adoption of three-day working week. It would solve many of the problems of the world. However, there has been past much time since the writing of this book, yet its valuable lessons have not been learnt. This is the book worth reading. In this essay, Lord Bertrand Russell proposes a cut in the definition of full time to four hours per day. As this article was written in 1932, he has not the benefit of knowing that, as we added more wage earners per family (Women entered the work force.) and families shrunk, an the means of production became more efficient the number of hours each wageearner must work to support the family has stayed constant. These facts seem to support Russell’s point. This essay is stylistically interesting, and comprehensive, but it does not introduce the philosophy that it should. Russell is the first to admit that he does not understand some of the philosophers he covers, but some of his treatments are just plain wrong. The essay “In Praise of Idleness” is potentially useful contribution of Russell. He proposes that we need to abandon the idea that work is good in itself, and to minimize the amount of work to do. Such a view has been wholly absent from the philosophy of work for the past 500 years or more. Initially idleness may have been rejected for religious reasons but now it is rejected on economic basis. Russell writes approvingly about the good influence of Christianity on the Western Civilization; he even goes to the extent of calling Fascism “a return to the worst in Paganism.” The basic objection on Fascism is that there alone a part of human kind is the holder of power; but according to Russell, Christianity, in theory has always recognized each human 1
soul as an end in itself, and not a mere means to glory of others. Modern democracy has derived strength from the moral ideals of Christianity. Russell has some interesting things to say about anthropology. He says that the anthropologist selects and interprets facts according to the present day common prejudices. Russell says, “The educational machine, throughout the Western Civilization, is dominated by two ethical theories: that of Christianity and that of Nationalism. These two, when taken seriously, are incompatible, as is being evident in Germany.” Russell says in his essay that savings are the cause of many evils. He is trying to convince that idleness is good for people. One of the commonest things to do with savings is to lend them to some Government. In view of the fact that the bulk of the public expenditures of the most civilized Governments consists in payment for past wars or preparation of future wars; the man who lends his money to a Government is in the same position as the bad men in Shakespeare who hired murderers. Therefore, it would be better if he spent the money even in drink or gambling. When Russell points for the reduction of the amount of human work, he is satirical but his point is serious. He says that work is of two kinds: first altering the position of matter at or near the earth relatively to the other such matter; second, telling other people to do so. The first kind is pleasant and ill paid; the second is pleasant and highly paid. The second kind of work is extensible: there are not only those who give orders, but those who give orders, but those who give advice as to what orders should be given. Usually opposite kinds of advice are given simultaneously by two organized bodies of men; this is called politics. Then, Russell says about idleness and wants us understand that the idleness he is for, is not that of the idle rich. From the beginning of the civilization until the Industrial Revolution, a man could produce by hard work little more than was required for the subsistence of himself and his family, although his wife worked at least as hard as he did, and his children added their labour as soon as they are old enough to do so. The small surplus above necessaries was not left to those who produced it, but it was used by warriors and priests. This system had much impression upon men’s thoughts and opinions. Modern technique has made it possible for leisure, within limits to be not advantage of small privileged classes, but a right evenly distributed throughout the community. This morality of work is the morality of slaves and modern world has no need of slavery. Overall, the essay is very interesting. It is bit satiric in the beginning but as the reader goes on it becomes serious. However, many of his arguments are logical and sensible but the overall impression of the essay is that Russell suffers from the “Ivory Tower” syndrome in relation to his talk about educational institutions. He thinks that more leisure time is the solution to society faults. The fact is that it would lead to the world of his visions. Some bad people are just bad, and no amount of leisure time will make them good. The worst part is, these bad people are generally the one who create successive generations of bad people, perpetuating the problem. Written & Composed By: Prof. A. R. Somroo Cell: 03339971417