For Work / Against Work
Debates on the centrality of work

Emile, Or On Education

by Rousseau, Jean-Jacques (1762)

Key Passage

The state of nature is manual labour. Of all conditions, the artisan’s is the most independent of fortune and men. The artisan depends only on his work. He is as free as the farmer is slave. For the latter is dependent on his field, whose harvest is at another’s direction. The enemy, the prince, a powerful neighbour, or a lawsuit can take this field away from him. By means of this field he can be vexed in countless ways. But wherever they want to vex the artisan, his baggage is soon packed. He takes his hand and goes away. However, agriculture is man’s first trade. It is the most decent, the most useful, and consequently the most noble he can practice. I do not say to Emile, ‘Learn agriculture.’ He knows it. He is familiar with all the kinds of rustic work. He began with them, he constantly returns to them. I say to him therefore, ‘Cultivate the inheritance of your fathers. But if you lose that inheritance, or if you have none, what is to be done? Learn a trade’. (p.195) (p.195)

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