A Society Filled with Leisure
A discussion on leisure and the questionable necessity of work.
This paper examines the idea of a society filled with leisure (or work) as has been explored by a number of prominent thinkers since the Enlightenment. The paper also examines social categories such as class, and these categories are shown to be intimately linked to ideas about leisure, technology, work and finally to ideas on what it means to be human. The paper looks at Adam Smith’s book `The Theory of Moral Sentiments,` in which work is part of evolutionary progress; Voltaire’s “Candide,” in which pursuing meaningful work is the means to salvation; Auguste Comte’s theory of an ideal positivist society; Karl Marx’s theories of class and production; Max Weber’s Calvinistic theory of work; George Herbert Mead’s symbolic interactionism; and Habermas’ Western Marxism. The paper concludes that while humanity is ill-suited to leisure, technology has provided us with more leisure than ever before.
If the American and French revolutions laid down the political pattern of the modern world, the Industrial Revolution in Great Britain laid down the economic pattern and with this, ideas about what should be the relative importance of leisure and work and wealth in our lives. The changes that took place in Britain during the 19th century became almost a prototype of industrialization and of increasing leisure, wealth and surplus to a growing segment of society, although not, by all means, to all segments of society. To choose to industrialize (and to not so choose meant risking backwardness and dependence) was to imitate consciously the British Industrial Revolution and so also to buy into a certain set of economic precepts about the role of technology and the purpose of human labor. As with all areas of human endeavor, however, there were often substantial gaps between idealized versions of society and realistic ones. In the case of how people thought that technology and human labor might interact, there were also substantial differences in what people thought that they wanted and what they actually wanted, as we shall see.