For Work / Against Work
Debates on the centrality of work

Roads to Freedom

by Russell, Bertrand (1918)

Key Passage

But would the necessary work be done if the individual were assured of the general standard of comfort even though he did no work?Most people will answer this question unhesitatingly in the negative. Those employers in particular who are in the habit of denouncing their employes as a set of lazy, drunken louts, will feel quite certain that no work could be got out of them except under threat of dismissal and consequent starvation. But is this as certain as people are inclined to sup- pose at first sight? If work were to remain what most work is now, no doubt it would be very hard to induce people to undertake it except from fear of destitution. But there is no reason why work should remain the dreary drudgery in horrible conditions that most of it is now.43 If men had to be tempted to work instead of driven to it, the obvious interest of the community would be to make work pleasant. So long as work is not made on the whole pleasant, it cannot be said that anything like a good state of society has been reached. Is the painfulness of work unavoidable?At present, the better paid work, that of the business and professional classes, is for the most part enjoyable. I do not mean that every separate moment is agreeable, but that the life of a man who has work of this sort is on the whole happier than that of a man who enjoys an equal income without doing any work. A certain amount of effort, and something in the nature of a continuous career, are necessary to vigorous men if they are to preserve their mental health and their zest for life. A considerable amount of work is done without pay. People who take a rosy view of human nature might have supposed that the duties of a magistrate would be among disagreeable trades, like cleaning sewers; but a cynic might contend that the pleasures of vindictiveness and moral superiority are so great that there is no difficulty in finding well-to-do elderly gentlemen who are willing, without pay, to send helpless wretches to the torture of prison. And apart from enjoyment of the work itself, desire for the good opinion of neighbors and for the feeling of effectiveness is quite sufficient to keep many men active. (p.87) (p.87)

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