On The Human Condition of Hannah Arendt 4

Index to this series


With our fourth reading, we enter the “three central chapters” of The Human Condition, for Arendt’s systematic “discussion of labor, work, and action.” We shall be here through the ninth reading. Some questions raised now will no doubt be answered later.

Ramiz Ağa Çeşmesi (fountain) & Şenlik Dede Camii (mosque)
Beşiktaş, 2022.02.28

A general concern of mine is the abstractness of the discussion. What has it to do with us? Can I say that I know what labor is, because I bake bread and mop the kitchen floor, or because I once worked on a farm, or because I used to know how to fix whatever might go wrong on my bicycle? Can Arendt say such things, and does it matter? She has a moving passage towards the end of the present reading:

There is no lasting hap­piness outside the prescribed cycle of painful exhaustion and pleas­urable regeneration, and whatever throws this cycle out of balance … ruins the elemental happiness that comes from being alive.

Did she understand herself to be living within “the prescribed cycle”? What exhausted her? In the ellipsis of the quotation are two things that can throw off the balance:

  • poverty and misery where exhaustion is followed by wretched­ness instead of regeneration, or
  • great riches and an entirely effort­less life where boredom takes the place of exhaustion and where the mills of necessity, of consumption and digestion, grind an im­potent human body mercilessly and barrenly to death.

Was Arendt exhausting herself at the gym, or did she count the mental exhaustion of philosophy as adequate to keep her from being ground “mercilessly and barrenly to death”?

Summary by sections:

  • 11 “the labor of our body and the work of our hands Our language itself shows that we distinguish labor and work. In our theories, we have ignored the distinction:

    • Ancients, because all effort is despicable and to be consigned to slaves;
    • Moderns (Locke, Adam Smith, Marx), because effort gives us what we have.
  • 12 the thing-character of the world Theories are subjective, but there is an objective distinction:

    • Labor makes what we consume (e.g. bread), just to keep on living.
    • Work makes the the things (e.g. tables) that constitute the world that we live in.
  • 13 labor and life The distinction between labor and work parallels a distinction in life, shown in Greek with the words ζωή and βίος.

    • Biological life runs through endless cycles, as does labor to produce what is then immediately consumed.
    • Individual life passes from birth to death, as work has a beginning and end.
  • 14 labor and fertility The modern age has seemed to fulfil the Biblical command, “Be ye fruitful and multiply.” If like Marx one pays attention onto the process of production and consumption, one may overlook the importance of producing some things that last. Locke and Smith cared about such things, as property and wealth respectively, and the distinction between unproductive and productive labor was a start to showing how these things were possible.

Despite the disclaimer in the Prologue, that “the highest and perhaps purest activity of which men are capable, the activity of thinking, is left out of these present considerations,” §§11 and 12 end with some paragraphs on intellectual labor and thinking in general.

Summary by paragraphs

  • 11 “the labor of our body and the work of our hands
    • ¶ 11.1 Both ancient and modern European languages distinguish labor from work.
    • ¶ 11.2 As nouns,
      • labor means laboring,
      • work can be the product of this.
    • ¶ 11.3 The ancients came to despise labor and work indiscriminately: anything that took effort.
    • ¶ 11.4 Slaves were despised for being subject to necessity, not the other way around as modern prejudice would have it. Hesiod knew the difference between
      • work, which good strife rouses us to, and
      • labor, which Pandora loosed on us.
    • ¶ 11.5 Slavery was a way, not to get stuff out of people, but to get oneself out of laboring.
    • ¶ 11.6 In classical antiquity, the distinction between labor and work was overshadowed by the distinction between private and public. Even this distinction was wiped out, first by philosophers, and then by Christians; they preferred contemplation to everything else.
    • ¶ 11.7 The modern age reversed the order of preference, but failed to recover the distinction between work and labor, although it made other distinctions, between
      • productive and unproductive,
      • skilled and unskilled,
      • manual and intellectual.
    • ¶ 11.8 Smith and Marx despised the unproductive labor of menial servants. However, these, like slaves, made possible their masters’ freedom or productivity.
    • ¶ 11.9 Unproductive labor is like labor as distinct from work: it may leave nothing behind, and yet life depends on it. Modern productivity caused Marx
      • to confuse labor with work,
      • to think it could all be eliminated.
    • ¶ 11.10 Labor is productive, in
      • keeping us going and
      • being able to do more than is needed for this.
    • ¶ 11.11 In Marx’s “quite unutopian ideal” of “socialized mankind,” all work becomes labor, because all is considered not objectively, but as “functions of the life process.”
    • ¶ 11.12 As for the distinctions of skilled and unskilled, manual and intellectual, they “play no role in either classical political economy or in Marx’s work,” because “the modern division of labor … tends to abolish skilled labor altogether.”
    • ¶ 11.13 Thinking
      • by itself is like labor in leaving no trace,
      • to become work needs remembering and materializing, through hand-work.
    • ¶ 11.14 The ancient distinction between liberal and servile arts was not between the intellectual and manual, but was political.
      1. Prudentia and utilitas were liberal.
      2. All trades were “sordid.”
      3. Below that was being paid for the operae, the pains themselves, rather than the opus, their result.
    • ¶ 11.15 Moderns distinguished the intellectual from the manual, because
      • every occupation was supposed to be useful,
      • intellectual work was increasingly needed.
  • 12 the thing-character of the world
    • ¶ 12.1 Ancient contempt and modern glorification of labor are based on the subjectivity of the laborer.
    • ¶ 12.2 Thus our theories are subjective, but our language is objective in its distinction of labor from work. “What consumer goods are for the life of man, use objects are for his world.”
    • ¶ 12.3 “Distinguished from both, consumer goods and use objects, there [94] are finally the ‘products’ of action and speech … Their reality depends entirely upon human plurality …” They are “outward manifestations of human life, which knows only one ac­tivity that … needs neither to be seen nor heard nor used nor consumed in order to be real: the activity of thought.”
    • ¶ 12.4 To become worldly things, action, speech, and thought must be seen, heard, remembered, and reified.
    • ¶ 12.5 We rely on a world of things more permanent than the activity of producing them or even the producers themselves.
  • 13 labor and life
    • ¶ 13.1 The least worldly, most natural things are the ones we need for life itself.
    • ¶ 13.2 Without a world, there would be only Nietzsche’s “eternal recurrence.”
    • ¶ 13.3 If “life” means the interval between birth and death, that’s bios as distinct from zōē.
    • ¶ 13.4 “… unlike working, whose end has come when the object is finished, ready to be added to the common world of things, laboring always moves in the same circle …”
    • ¶ 13.5 “When Marx defined labor as ‘man’s metabolism with nature’ … he was ‘speaking physiologically’ and … labor and consumption are but two stages of the ever-recurring cycle of biological life.” Marx does distinguish “the worst architect from the best of bees” because “the architect raises his struc­ture in imagination before he erects it in reality”; however, “Milton produced Paradise Lost for the same reason a silk worm produces silk.”
    • ¶ 13.6 For nature, work is destructive.
    • ¶ 13.7 “… the second task of laboring” is “its con­stant, unending fight against the processes of growth and decay … The protection and preservation of the world against natural processes are among the toils which need the monotonous perform­ance of daily repeated chores.”
  • 14 labor and fertility
    • ¶ 14.1 Marx cared about labor; Locke, private property; Smith, wealth. Their equation of work with labor yields the absurdity expressed by Veblen: “The lasting evidence of productive labor is its mate­rial product—commonly some article of consumption.”
    • ¶ 14.2 To avoid the problem that the products of labor don’t last,
      • Locke introduced money;
      • Marx admitted the need for reification, forgetting that labor was “metabolism.”
    • ¶ 14.3 Locke recognized that some things needed to be kept; Smith, exchangeable.
    • ¶ 14.4 “Marx’s attitude toward labor … has never ceased to be equivocal,” but this is only a sign of his greatness.
    • ¶ 14.5 What was so important about labor?
    • ¶ 14.6 From the 17th century on, the growth of wealth, property, and acquisition seemed endless, which is what labor is, but not work.
    • ¶ 14.7 Marx saw “laboring and begetting as two modes of the same fertile life proc­ess,” expressed in the command, “Be ye fruitful and multiply.”
    • ¶ 14.8 “The ‘blessing or the joy’ of labor is the human way to experience the sheer bliss of being alive which we share with all living creatures.” For the Old Testament, though not Hesiod, death and labor were not evils.
    • ¶ 14.9 “There is no lasting hap­piness outside the prescribed cycle of painful exhaustion and pleas­urable regeneration, and whatever throws this cycle out of balance”—be it poverty or wealth—“ruins the elemental happiness that comes from being alive.”
    • ¶ 14.10 Because Marx was interested only in the process of production and consumption, which “always strike a balance, the question of a separate existence of worldly things … does not occur to him at all.”
    • ¶ 14.11 Since Marx’s predecessors were interested in property and appropriation of wealth, it mattered to them that “labor’s products do not become more durable by their abundance.”


Arendt often cites ancient Greece and Rome; in the present reading, she also cites ancient Israel. What should we make of this, particularly when she distinguishes Israel from Greece?

Look in particular at how Arendt uses Hesiod.

  • Pages 81–2

    • ¶ 11.3

      • Note 6: a quotation from Vernant confirms the idea that, for Homer and Hesiod, there were just two kinds of worker: slave and “demiurge.”

      • Note 7: Hesiod’s line is quoted, “Work is not a disgrace at all, but not working is a disgrace.” Not working is glossed as being lazy, so that the whole line can be interpreted in the polis as encouragement to be slavish (by working).

    • ¶ 11.4

      • Note 8: Hesiod is recalled as attributing

        • work to “good strife,”
        • labor to Pandora.
  • Page 107

    • ¶ 14.8

      • Note 53: We were punished

        • with difficult labor by the God of Genesis;
        • with work, tout court, by the Zeus of Hesiod’s Works and Days.

        Also, for Paul, we were always servants or rather slaves to sin; now we can be slaves to God.

Apparently what Hesiod misses, but the Hebrew Patriarchs do not, is (in ¶ 14.8):

The reward of toil and trouble lies in nature’s fertility, in the quiet confidence that he who in “toil and trouble” has done his part, re­mains a part of nature in the future of his children and his children’s children.

We pass to Arendt’s text of (the first part of) Chapter III, which has an unlabelled preface or disclaimer.

In the following chapter, Karl Marx will be criticized. This is unfortunate at a time when so many writers who once made their living by explicit or tacit borrowing from the great wealth of Marxian ideas and insights have decided to become professional anti-Marxists, in the process of which one of them even discovered that Karl Marx himself was unable to make a living, forgetting for the moment the generations of authors whom he has “supported.” In this difficulty, I may recall a statement Benjamin Constant made when he felt compelled to attack Rousseau: “J’éviterai certes de me joindre aux détracteurs d’un grand homme. Quand le hasard fait qu’en apparence je me rencontre avec eux sur un seul point, je suis en défiance de moi-même; et pour me consoler de paraître un instant de leur avis … j’ai besoin de désavouer et de flétrir, autant qu’il est en moi, ces prétendus auxiliaires.” (“Certainly, I shall avoid the company of detractors of a great man. If I happen to agree with them on a single point I grow suspicious of myself; and in order to console myself for having seemed to be of their opinion … I feel I must disavow and keep these false friends away from me as much as I can.”)1

  1. See “De la liberté des anciens comparée a celle des modernes” (1819), reprinted in Cours de politique constitutionnelle (1872), II, 549.

11 “the labor of our body and the work of our hands2

  1. Locke, Second Treatise of Civil Government, sec. 26. [79]

Arendt will name Locke and allude to the section title in ¶ 11.2.

  • Our language, as in Locke’s phrase, suggests that there is a distinction between labor and work.
  • Our theories, even Locke’s, do not make proper use of this distinction.

Arendt’s burden is to show that the distinction is real. Still, evidently labor and work are similar enough to be confused.

¶ 11.1

The distinction between labor and work which I propose is unu­sual. The phenomenal evidence in its favor is too striking to be [79] ignored, and yet historically it is a fact that apart from a few scat­tered remarks, which moreover were never developed even in the theories of their authors, there is hardly anything

  • in either the pre­modern tradition of political thought
  • or in the large body of mod­ern labor theories

to support it. Against this scarcity of historical evidence, however, stands one very articulate and obstinate testi­mony, namely, the simple fact that every European language, an­cient and modern, contains two etymologically unrelated words for what we have to come to think of as the same activity, and re­tains them in the face of their persistent synonymous usage.3

  1. Thus,

    • the Greek language distinguishes between ponein and ergazesthai,
    • the Latin between laborare and facere or fabricari, which have the same etymo­logical root,
    • the French between travailler and ouvrer,
    • the German between arbeiten and werken.

    In all these cases, only the equivalents for “labor” have an unequivocal connotation of pain and trouble. The German Arbeit applied origi­nally only to farm labor executed by serfs and not to the work of the craftsman, which was called Werk. The French travailler replaced the older labourer and is derived from tripalium, a kind of torture. See Grimm, Wörterbuch, pp. 1854 ff., and Lucien Fèbre, “Travail: évolution d’un mot et d’une idée,” Journal de psy­chologie normale et pathologique, Vol. XLI, No. 1 (1948).

The phenomenal evidence cannot be ignored. Is this an allusion to phenomenology? What other kinds of evidence could there be?

¶ 11.2

Thus, Locke’s distinction between working hands and a laboring body is somewhat reminiscent of the ancient Greek distinction between

  • the cheirotechnēs, the craftsman, to whom the German Handwerker corresponds, and
  • those who, like “slaves and tame animals with their bodies minister to the necessities of life,”4 or in the Greek idiom, tō sōmati ergazesthai, work with their bodies (yet even here, labor and work are already treated as identical, since the word used is not ponein [labor] but ergazesthai [work]).

Only in one respect, which, however, is linguistically the most impor­tant one, did ancient and modern usage of the two words as synonyms fail altogether, namely in the formation of a correspond­ing noun. Here again we find complete unanimity; the word “la­bor,” understood as a noun, never designates the finished product, the result of laboring, but remains a verbal noun to be classed with the gerund, whereas the product itself is invariably derived from the word for work, even when current usage has followed the [80] actual modern development so closely that the verb form of the word “work” has become rather obsolete.5

  1. Aristotle Politics 1254b25. [80]

  2. This is the case for the French ouvrer and the German werken. In both languages, as distinguished from the current English usage of the word “labor,” the words travailler and arbeiten have almost lost the original significance of pain and trouble; Grimm (op. cit.) had already noted this development in the middle of the last century: “Während in älterer Sprache die Bedeutung von molestia und schwerer Arbeit vorherrschte, die von opus, opera, zurücktrat, tritt umgekehrt in der heutigen diese vor und jene erscheint seltener.” It is also interesting that the nouns “work,” œvre, Werk, show an increasing tendency to be used for works of art in all three languages.

Arendt does not look now at the etymology of χειροτέχνης; maybe she does later. The German Handwerker would seem to be a calque, a loan-translation, as “hand-worker” would be. A better calque in English might be “hand-crafter,” since τέχνη is a special kind of work, such as we may call craft: skilled work, such as can even be a profession. By the account of Beekes in his Etymological Dictionary of Greek (2009), τέχνη means “craftsmanship, handicraft, business, art; artifice, trick” and has two possible Indo-European roots:

  • *teḱ- “produce,”
  • *te-tḱ- “build, timber.”

The latter is reduplicated, and from it “is derived” the word τέκτων, meaning “carpenter, craftsman, artist, initiator.” I cannot tell whether Beekes means

  • that some scholars connect τέχνη and τέκτων, or
  • that they really are connected.

In any case, Beekes’s τέκτων article connects with this word also the Latin texō “weave, twine.” According to “The American Heritage Dictionary Indo-European Roots Appendix,” all of these words are related, along with the Latin

  • tēla “web, net, warp of a fabric, also weaver’s beam (to which the warp threads are tied),”
  • subtīlis “thin, fine, precise, subtle” (from *sub-tēla, “thread passing under the warp,” the finest thread);

and the root of these words is teks-, to which is given the meaning

To weave; also to fabricate, especially with an ax; also to make wicker or wattle fabric for (mud-covered) house walls.

The Latin and Greek words have the following descendents in English: In English then we have from

“text” and “tissue”;
“tiller” (of a boat) and (via the French toile) “toil” (obsolete for a net);
“tectonic” and “architect”;

The verb “toil” is related to Latin tudes “hammer” and Greek ὁ τύπος “blow” (as of a hammer). The two words “till” as in “till the soil” and “till the morning comes” probably have a common Germanic root, but nothing seems to be known beyond this; and “till” for a box is of unknown origin.

Arendt will talk later about skill, in ¶ 11.7 and especially ¶ 11.12, where she will mention that “unskilled work is a con­tradiction in terms.”

¶ 11.3

The reason why this distinction should have been overlooked in ancient times and its significance remained unexplored seems ob­vious enough. Contempt for laboring, originally arising out of

  • a passionate striving for freedom from necessity and
  • a no less pas­sionate impatience with every effort that left
    • no trace,
    • no monu­ment,
    • no great work worthy of remembrance,

spread with

  • the increasing demands of polis life upon the time of the citizens and
  • its insistence on their abstention (skholē) from all but political ac­tivities,

until it covered everything that demanded an effort. Ear­lier political custom, prior to the full development of the city-state, merely distinguished between

  • slaves, vanquished enemies (dmōes or douloi), who were carried off to the victor’s household with other loot where as household inmates (oiketai or familiares) they slaved for their own and their master’s life, and
  • the dēmiourgoi, the workmen of the people at large, who moved freely outside the private realm and within the public.6

A later time even changed the name for these artisans, whom Solon had still described as sons of Athena and Hephaestus, and called them banausoi, that is, men whose chief interest is their craft and not the market place. It is only from the late fifth century onward that the polis began to classify occupations according to the amount of effort required, so that Aristotle called those occupations the meanest “in which the [81] body is most deteriorated.” Although he refused to admit banausoi to citizenship, he would have accepted shepherds and painters (but neither peasants nor sculptors).7

  1. See J.-P. Vernant, “Travail et nature dans la Gréce ancienne” (Journal de psychologic normale et pathologique, LIL, No. 1 (January-March, 1955]): “Le terme [dēmiourgoi], chez Homère et Hésiode, ne qualifie pas à l’origine l’artisan en tant que tel, comme ‘ouvrier’; il définit toutes les activités qui s’exercent en dehors du cadre de l’oikos, en faveur d’un public, dēmos: les artisans—charpentiers et forgerons—mais non moins qu’eux les devins, les héraults, les aèdes.” [81]

    Vernant was Bernant in the first edition. One can see that the first two lines of the note in the second edition have been reset.

  2. Politics 1258b35 ff. For Aristotle’s discussion about admission of banausoi to citizenship see Politics iii. 5. His theory corresponds closely to reality: it is estimated that up to 80 per cent of free labor, work, and commerce consisted of non-citizens, either “strangers” (katoikountes and metoikoi) or emancipated slaves who advanced into these classes (see Fritz Heichelheim, Wirtschafts­geschichte des Altertums [1938], 1, 398 ff.). Jacob Burckhardt, who in his Griechische Kulturgeschichte (Vol. II, secs. 6 and 8) relates Greek current opin­ion of who does and who does not belong to the class of banausoi, also notices that we do not know of any treatise about sculpture. In view of the many essays on music and poetry, this probably is no more an accident of tradition than the fact that we know so many stories about the great feeling of superiority and even arrogance among the famous painters which are not matched by anecdotes about sculptors. This estimate of painters and sculptors survived many cen­turies. It is still found in the Renaissance, where sculpturing is counted among the servile arts whereas painting takes up a middle position between liberal and servile arts (see Otto Neurath, “Beitrige zur Geschichte der Opera Servilia,” Archiv für Sozialwissenschaft und Sozialpolitik, Vol. XLI, No. 2 [1915]).

    That Greek public opinion in the city-states judged occupations according to the effort required and the time consumed is supported by a remark of Aristotle about the life of shepherds: “There are great differences in human ways of life. The laziest are shepherds; for they get their food without labor [ponos] from tame animals and have leisure [skholazousin]” (Politics 1256a30 ff.). It is interest­ing that Aristotle, probably following current opinion, here mentions

    • laziness (aergia) together with, and somehow as a condition for,
    • skholē, abstention from certain activities which is the condition for a political life.

    Generally, the mod­ern reader must be aware that aergia and skholē are not the same. Laziness had the same connotations it has for us, and a life of skholē was not considered to be a lazy life. The equation, however, of skholē and idleness is characteristic of a development within the polis. Thus Xenophon reports that Socrates was accused of having quoted Hesiod’s line: “Work is no disgrace, but laziness [aergia] is a disgrace.” The accusation meant that Socrates had instilled in his pupils a slavish spirit (Memorabilia i. 2. 56). Historically, it is important to keep in mind the distinction between

    • the contempt of the Greek city-states for all non-political occupations which arose out of the enormous demands upon the time and energy of the citizens, and
    • the earlier, more original, and more general contempt for [82] activities which serve only to sustain life—ad vitae sustentationem as the opera servilia are still defined in the eighteenth century.

    In the world of Homer, Paris and Odysseus help in the building of their houses, Nausicaa herself washes the linen of her brothers, etc. All this belongs to the self-sufficiency of the Homeric hero, to his independence and the autonomic supremacy of his person. No work is sordid if it means greater independence; the selfsame activity might well be a sign of slavishness

    • if not personal independence but sheer survival is at stake,
    • if it is not an expression of sovereignty but of subjection to necessity.

    The differ­ent estimate of craftsmanship in Homer is of course well known. But its actual meaning is beautifully presented in a recent essay by Richard Harder, Eigenart der Griechen (1949).

Recall the analysis of activity on page 7 (¶¶ 1.1–4):

With the term vita activa, I propose to designate three fundamental human activities: labor, work, and action.

  1. Labor is the activity which corresponds to the biological process of the human body.
  2. Work is the activity which corresponds to the unnaturalness of human existence … Work provides an “artificial” world of things.
  3. Action … corresponds to the human condition of plurality … the condition … of all political life.

Arendt is now reviewing different ways of analyzing activity. When she says “Contempt for laboring … spread … until it covered everything that demanded an effort,” apparently she thinks what joins labor and work is that they require effort. This would seem to be begging the question of what effort is. Arendt refers to “the increasing demands of polis life upon the time of the citizens,” and this suggests that polis life too requires effort.

Does not polis life require bodily effort as such? It would seem to require effort, unless wars are fought only with slaves and mercenaries. Actual war may be rare, but presumably the citizens stay in training for it. Do they not also engage in athletic competitions, for pleasure and glory?

If “the polis began to classify occupations according to the amount of effort required,” amount of effort might possibly be measured by calories. But it seems we are really trying to measure necessity, and this is something moral or spiritual. Read on!

Meanwhile, the Hesiod line is 311 of Works and Days:

ἔργον δ᾽ οὐδὲν ὄνειδος, ἀεργίη δέ τ᾽ ὄνειδος.

Work is not a disgrace at all, but not working is a disgrace.

¶ 11.4

We shall see later that, quite apart from their contempt for labor, the Greeks had reasons of their own to mistrust the craftsman, or rather, the homo faber mentality. This mistrust, however, is true only of certain periods, whereas all ancient estimates of human activities, including those which, like Hesiod, supposedly praise [82] labor,8 rest on the conviction that the labor of our body which is necessitated by its needs is slavish. Hence, occupations which did not consist in laboring, yet were undertaken not for their own sake but in order to provide the necessities of life, were assimilated to the status of labor, and this explains changes and variations in their estimation and classification at different periods and in different places. The opinion that labor and work were despised in antiquity because only slaves were engaged in them is a prejudice of modern historians. The ancients reasoned the other way around and felt it necessary to possess slaves because of the slavish nature of all oc­cupations that served the needs for the maintenance of life.9 It was precisely on these grounds that the institution of slavery was de­fended and justified. To labor meant to be enslaved by necessity, [83] and this enslavement was inherent in the conditions of human life. Because men were dominated by the necessities of life, they could win their freedom only through the domination of those whom they subjected to necessity by force. The slave’s degradation was a blow of fate and a fate worse than death, because it carried with it a metamorphosis of man into something akin to a tame animal.10 A change in a slave’s status, therefore, such as manumission by his master or a change in general political circumstance that elevated certain occupations to public relevance, automatically entailed a change in the slave’s “nature.”11

  1. Labor and work (ponos and ergon) are distinguished in Hesiod; only work is due to Eris, the goddess of good strife (Works and Days 20–26), but labor, like all other evils, came out of Pandora’s box (90 ff.) and is a punishment of Zeus because Prometheus “the crafty deceived him.” Since then, “the gods have hidden life from men” (42 ff.) and their curse hits “the bread-eating men” (82). Hesiod, moreover, assumes as a matter of course that the actual farm labor is done by slaves and tame animals. He praises everyday life—which for a Greek is already extraordinary enough—but his ideal is a gentleman-farmer, rather than a laborer, who stays at home, keeps away from adventures of the sea as well as public business on the agora (29 ff.), and minds his own business.

  2. Aristotle begins his famous discussion of slavery (Politics 1253b25) with the statement that “without the necessaries life as well as good life is impos­sible.” To be a master of slaves is the human way to master necessity and there­fore not para physin, against nature; life itself demands it. Peasants, therefore, who provided the necessities of life, are classed by Plato as well as Aristotle with the slaves (see Robert Schlaifer, “Greek Theories of Slavery from Homer to Aristotle,” Harvard Studies in Classical Philology, Vol. XLVI [1936]). [83]

  3. It is in this sense that Euripides calls all slaves “bad”: they see every­thing from the viewpoint of the stomach (Supplementum Euripideum, ed. Arnim, frag. 49, no. 2).

  4. Thus Aristotle recommended that slaves who were intrusted with “free occupations” (ta eleuthera tōn ergōn) be treated with more dignity and not like slaves. When, on the other hand, in the first centuries of the Roman Empire certain public functions which always had been performed by public slaves rose in esteem and relevance, these servi publici—who actually performed the tasks of civil servants—were permitted to wear the toga and to marry free women.

What Arendt calls a “prejudice of modern historians,” namely “that labor and work were despised in antiquity because only slaves were engaged in them,” is like what she earlier called, on page 69 (¶ 9.3) in the previous reading, the “obvious contradiction in this modern concept of government, where the only thing people have in common is their private interests.”

  • The prejudice of modern historians involves a prejudice about people, that they can be judged for superficial reasons. Recall from note 7 to the previous paragraph that “the selfsame activity” can be a sign of slavishness or (a striving for) independence.
  • The modern concept of government involves the prejudice that nobody can be trusted. Strictly speaking, a government can be formed only by people who already trust one another to some degree.

In note 8, Arendt only hints at the duality of strife in Hesiod, Works and Days, lines 11–3 (the translation is by Glenn W. Most from the 2006 Loeb edition):

οὐκ ἄρα μοῦνον ἔην Ἐρίδων γένος, ἀλλ᾽ ἐπὶ γαῖαν
εἰσὶ δύω· τὴν μέν κεν ἐπαινήσειε νοήσας,
ἣ δ᾽ ἐπιμωμητή· διὰ δ᾽ ἄνδιχα θυμὸν ἔχουσιν.

So there was not just one birth of Strifes after all, but upon the earth there are two Strifes. One of these a man would praise once he got to know it, but the other is blameworthy; and they have thoroughly opposed spirits.

It makes sense that there should be two Strifes, if we think of the associated verb in English: striving can be good or bad.

I recall the line, “I strove with none, for none was worth my strife,” from “Dying Speech of an Old Philosopher,” by Walter Savage Landor (1775–1864). I know the poem, only because of its quotation in Maugham, The Razor’s Edge (1944):

“But what I wanted to say to you was this,” he continued. “I’ve left proper instructions in my will, but I want you to see they’re carried out. I will not be buried on the Riviera among a lot of retired colonels and middle-class French people.”

“Of course I’ll do what you wish, Elliott, but I don’t think we need plan for anything like that for many years to come.”

“I’m getting on, you know, and to tell you the truth I shan’t be sorry to go. What are those lines of Landor’s? I’ve warmed both hands …”

Though I have a bad verbal memory, the poem is very short and I was able to repeat it.

“I strove with none, for none was worth my strife:
Nature I loved, and, next to Nature, Art:
I warmed both hands before the fire of Life;
It sinks, and I am ready to depart.”

“That’s it,” he said.

I could not but reflect that it was only by a violent stretch of the imagination that Elliott could fit the stanza to himself.

“It expresses my sentiments exactly,” he said, however. “The only thing I could add to it is that I’ve always moved in the best society in Europe.”

“It would be difficult to squeeze that into a quatrain.”

It seems obvious that “strife” and “to strive” are related, and that the latter comes from the French estriver, which is for Littré (1801–81) a Terme vieilli meaning Être en querelle and coming from estrif, another Terme vieilli, also written étrif and meaning Querelle, lutte. Even Furetière (1619–88) says estrif is vieux.

There is also a word étrivière, which Littré derives from a second word estrif, which is the old form of étrier, which means “stirrup.” Etymologically, the English word is a compound, “stye-rope.” I find no scholarly suggestion that the second estrif is derived from “stirrup,” nor any explicit indication that there really are two unrelated words that have been spelled estrif.

Etymology can require more than amateur skill.

In Greek, from ἔρις, there is a derived verb, ἐρίζω “to fight, wrangle, quarrel”; but according to Beekes, the etymology of these words is unknown, and there is no evidence of a relation with Ἐρινύς, meaning one of the Furies.

Hesiod continues.

  • It is a necessity that we respect bad strife (lines 14–6):

    ἣ μὲν γὰρ πόλεμόν τε κακὸν καὶ δῆριν ὀφέλλει,
    σχετλίη: οὔτις τήν γε φιλεῖ βροτός, ἀλλ᾽ ὑπ᾽ ἀνάγκης
    ἀθανάτων βουλῇσιν Ἔριν τιμῶσι βαρεῖαν.

    For the one fosters evil war and conflict—cruel one, no mortal loves that one, but it is by necessity that they honor the oppressive Strife, by the plans of the immortals.

    Most’s translation has us honoring strife, but τιμάω can also mean “to estimate,” perhaps negatively. Apparently the same evolution in meaning is seen in (the Latin origin of) “to observe,” from lauding to watching.

    As for the necessity here in Hesiod, it seems obvious that we must at least recognize that bad strife is possible.

    While reading the Republic, I found out that there was a speculative connection between ἡ τιμή (the source of τιμάω) and ἡ ποινή “penalty” (the source via Latin of “pain”); but I don’t see even a speculative connection between ποινή and ὁ πόνος “toil,” the word for what Pandora is going to give us and that Arendt takes to be analogous to “labor.”

  • Good strife induces us to work, even those of us who are “helpless” or literally “hand-less”—the adjective ἀπάλαμος comes from ἡ παλάμη, which means palm and is somehow related to our word “palm” (lines 17–20):

    τὴν δ᾽ ἑτέρην προτέρην μὲν ἐγείνατο Νὺξ ἐρεβεννή,
    θῆκε δέ μιν Κρονίδης ὑψίζυγος, αἰθέρι ναίων,
    γαίης ἐν ῥίζῃσι, καὶ ἀνδράσι πολλὸν ἀμείνω·
    ἥ τε καὶ ἀπάλαμόν περ ὁμῶς ἐπὶ ἔργον ἔγειρεν.

    But the other one gloomy Night bore first; and Cronus’ high-throned son, who dwells in the aether, set it in the roots of the earth, and it is much better for men. It rouses even the helpless man to work.

    This is the strife that induces you to raise up yourself, rather than tear down another (lines 21–4):

    εἰς ἕτερον γάρ τίς τε ἰδὼν ἔργοιο χατίζει
    πλούσιον, ὃς σπεύδει μὲν ἀρώμεναι ἠδὲ φυτεύειν
    οἶκόν τ᾽ εὖ θέσθαι· ζηλοῖ δέ τε γείτονα γείτων
    εἰς ἄφενος σπεύδοντ᾽· ἀγαθὴ δ᾽ Ἔρις ἥδε βροτοῖσιν.

    For a man who is not working but who looks at some other man, a rich one who is hastening to plow and plant and set his house in order, he envies him, one neighbor envying his neighbor who is hastening towards wealth: and this Strife is good for mortals.

Hesiod goes on to explain how living used to be easy; for more on this, see note 53, page 107 (¶ 14.8) below. Then Zeus ordered Pandora to be created, in retaliation for how Prometheus had stolen fire and given it to humans, hidden in a fennel stalk. Zeus had Hermes Argeiphontes deliver Pandora to Epimetheus, who (as fits his name, “afterthought”) forgot the warning from Prometheus not to accept gifts from Zeus. As Hesiod explains in lines 90–2:

Πρὶν μὲν γὰρ ζώεσκον ἐπὶ χθονὶ φῦλ᾽ ἀνθρώπων
νόσφιν ἄτερ τε κακῶν καὶ ἄτερ χαλεποῖο πόνοιο
νούσων τ᾽ ἀργαλέων, αἵ τ᾽ ἀνδράσι Κῆρας ἔδωκαν.

For previously the tribes of men used to live upon the earth entirely apart from evils, and without grievous toil and distressful diseases, which give death to men.

Then Pandora interfered (lines 94–5):

ἀλλὰ γυνὴ χείρεσσι πίθου μέγα πῶμ᾽ ἀφελοῦσα
ἐσκέδασ᾽: ἀνθρώποισι δ᾽ ἐμήσατο κήδεα λυγρά.

But the woman removed the great lid from the storage jar with her hands and scattered its contents abroad–she wrought baneful evils for human beings.

As far as I can tell, this is the first mention of a storage jar (ὁ πίθος) in the poem.

¶ 11.5

The institution of slavery in antiquity, though not in later times, was not a device for cheap labor or an instrument of exploitation for profit but rather the attempt to exclude labor from the condi­tions of man’s life. What men share with all other forms of animal life was not considered to be human. (This, incidentally, was also the reason for the much misunderstood Greek theory of the non­human nature of the slave. Aristotle, who argued this theory so explicitly, and then, on his deathbed, freed his slaves, may not have been so inconsistent as moderns are inclined to think. He denied not the slave’s capacity to be human, but only the use of the word “men” for members of the species man-kind as long as they are totally subject to necessity.)12 And it is true that the use of the word “animal” in the concept of animal laborans, as distinguished from the very questionable use of the same word in the term animal rationale, is fully justified. The animal laborans is indeed only one, at best the highest, of the animal species which populate the earth. [84]

  1. The two qualities that the slave, according to Aristotle, lacks—and it is because of these defects that he is not human—are the faculty

    • to deliberate and decide (to bouleutikon) and
    • to foresee and to choose (proairesis).

    This, of course, is but a more explicit way of saying that the slave is subject to necessity. [84]

We initially look to see

  • not what we can get out of people,
  • but how we can get out of working.

The meaning of

  • animal laborans and animal rationale here and
  • homo faber in ¶ 11.4

will be taken up further below (¶ 11.7).

¶ 11.6

It is not surprising that the distinction between labor and work was ignored in classical antiquity. The differentiation

  • between
    • the private household and
    • the public political realm,
  • between
    • the household inmate who was a slave and
    • the household head who was a citizen,
  • between
    • activities which should be hidden in pri­vacy and
    • those which were worth being seen, heard, and remem­bered,

overshadowed and predetermined all other distinctions until only one criterion was left:

  • is the greater amount of time and effort spent in private or in public?
  • is the occupation motivated by cura privati negotii or cura rei publicae, care for private or for public business?13

With the rise of political theory, the philosophers over­ruled even these distinctions, which had at least distinguished be­tween activities, by opposing contemplation to all kinds of activity alike. With them, even political activity was leveled to the rank of necessity, which henceforth became the common denominator of all articulations within the vita activa. Nor can we reasonably ex­pect any help from Christian political thought, which accepted the philosophers’ distinction, refined it, and, religion being for the many and philosophy only for the few, gave it general validity, binding for all men.

  1. Cicero De re publica v. 2. [85]

The philosophers’ distinction is, on page 16 (¶ 2.7), between what is by nature (φύσει) and what is by custom or law (νομῴ). The former is for philosophers to contemplate in quiet; the rest is just part of the vita activa. On page 14 (¶ 2.5), Plato discovers the superiority of contemplation; Christianity makes it “a right of all.”

¶ 11.7

It is surprising at first glance, however, that the modern age

  • with its reversal of all traditions,

    • the traditional rank of action and contemplation no less than
    • the traditional hierarchy within the vita activa itself,
  • with its

    • glorification of labor as the source of all values and its
    • elevation of the animal laborans to the position tradi­tionally held by the animal rationale

should not have brought forth a single theory in which

  • animal laborans and homo faber,
  • “the labour of our body and the work of our hands,”

are clearly distin­guished. Instead, we find

  1. first the distinction between
    • productive and
    • unproductive labor,
  2. then somewhat later the differentiation be­tween
    • skilled and
    • unskilled work, and,
  3. finally, outranking both because seemingly of more elementary significance, the division of all activities into
    • manual and
    • intellectual labor.

Of the three, how­ever, only the distinction between productive and unproductive labor goes to the heart of the matter, and it is no accident that the two greatest theorists in the field, Adam Smith and Karl Marx, based the whole structure of their argument upon it. The very [85] reason for the elevation of labor in the modern age was its “pro­ductivity,” and the seemingly blasphemous notion of Marx

  • that labor (and not God) created man or
  • that labor (and not reason) distinguished man from the other animals

was only the most radical and consistent formulation of something upon which the whole modern age was agreed.14

  1. “The creation of man through human labor” was one of the most per­sistent ideas of Marx since his youth. It can be found in many variations in the Jugendschriften (where in the “Kritik der Hegelschen Dialektik” he credits Hegel with it). (See Marx-Engels Gesamtausgabe, Part 1, Vol. 5 (Berlin, 1932], pp. 156 and 167.) That Marx actually meant to replace the traditional definition of man as an animal rationale by defining him as an animal laborans is manifest in the context. The theory is strengthened by a sentence from the Deutsche Ideologie which was later deleted: “Der erste geschichtliche Akt dieser Individuen, wo­durch sie sich von den Tieren unterscheiden, ist nicht, dass sie denken, sondern, dass sie anfangen ihre Lebensmittel zu produzieren” (ibid., p. 568). Similar for­mulations occur in the “Okonomisch-philosophische Manuskripte” (ibid., p. 125), and in “Die heilige Familie” (ibid., p. 189). Engels used similar formula­tions many times, for instance in the Preface of 1884 to Ursprung der Familie or in the newspaper article of 1876, “Labour in the Transition from Ape to Man” (see Marx and Engels, Selected Works [London, 1950], Vol. II).

    Google translation: “The first historical act of these individuals, what distinguishes them from the animals, is not that they think, but that they begin to produce their food.”

    It seems that Hume, and not Marx, was the first to insist that labor dis­tinguishes man from animal (Adriano Tilgher, Homo faber [1929]; English ed.: Work: What It Has Meant to Men through the Ages [1930]). As labor does not play any significant role in Hume’s philosophy, this is of historical interest only; to him, this characteristic did not make human life more productive, but only harsher and more painful than animal life. It is, however, interesting in this context to note with what care Hume repeatedly insisted that neither thinking nor reasoning distinguishes man from animal and that the behavior of beasts demonstrates that they are capable of both.

The modern reversal of tradition was introduced on page 17 (¶ 2.9).

¶ 11.8

Moreover, both Smith and Marx were in agreement with mod­ern public opinion when they despised unproductive labor as parasit­ical, actually a kind of perversion of labor, as though nothing were worthy of this name which did not enrich the world. Marx cer­tainly shared Smith’s contempt for the “menial servants” who like “idle guests … leave nothing behind them in return for their con­sumption.”15 Yet it was precisely these menial servants, these household inmates, oiketai or familiares, laboring for sheer sub­sistence and needed for effortless consumption rather than for pro- [86] duction, whom all ages prior to the modern had in mind when they identified the laboring condition with slavery. What they left behind them in return for their consumption was nothing more or less than their masters’ freedom or, in modern language, their masters’ potential productivity.

  1. Wealth of Nations (Everyman’s ed.), II, 302. [86]

The real parasitism would seem to go the other way. Have we here the “prejudice of modern historians,” mentioned on page 83 (¶ 11.4), against the people who do menial labor? See “prejudicial” in the first sentence of the next paragraph.

¶ 11.9

In other words, the distinction between productive and unpro­ductive labor contains, albeit in a prejudicial manner, the more fundamental distinction between work and labor.16 It is indeed the mark of all laboring

  • that it leaves nothing behind,
  • that the result of its effort is almost as quickly consumed as the effort is spent.

And yet this effort, despite its futility, is born of a great urgency and motivated by a more powerful drive than anything else, because life itself depends upon it. The modern age in general and Karl Marx in particular, overwhelmed, as it were, by the unprece­dented actual productivity of Western mankind, had an almost ir­resistible tendency to look upon all labor as work and to speak of the animal laborans in terms much more fitting for homo faber, hoping all the time that only one more step was needed to eliminate labor and necessity altogether.17

  1. The distinction between productive and unproductive labor is due to the physiocrats, who distinguished between producing, property-owning, and sterile classes. Since they held that the original source of all productivity lies in the natural forces of the carth, their standard for productivity was related to the creation of new objects and not to the needs and wants of men. Thus, the Marquis de Mirabeau, father of the famous orator, calls sterile “la classe d’ouvriers dont les travaux, quoique nécessaires aux besoins des hommes et utiles a la société, ne sont pas néanmoins productifs” and illustrates his distinc­tion between sterile and productive work by comparing it to the difference be­tween cutting a stone and producing it (see Jean Dautry, “La notion de travail chez Saint-Simon et Fourier,” Journal de psychologie normale et pathologique, Vol. LII, No. 1 [January–March, 1955]).

  2. This hope accompanied Marx from beginning to end. We find it already in the Deutsche Ideologie: “Es handelt sich nicht darum die Arbeit zu befreien, sondern sie aufzuheben” (Gesamtausgabe, Part I, Vol. 3, p. 185) and many dec­ades later in the third volume of Das Kapital, ch. 48: “Das Reich der Freiheit beginnt in der Tat erst da, wo das Arbeiten … aufhört” (Marx-Engels Gesamtaus­gabe, Part II [Zürich, 1933], p. 873). [87]

So when Marx wanted to define man as animal laborans as in note 14 on page 86 (¶ 11.7), he was really thinking not of the “parasitical” laborer, but of the noble worker?

In what we produce, as the proportion that we consume just to stay alive decreases towards zero, we may (with a faulty mathematical imagination) conclude that what we thus consume may itself vanish.

¶ 11.10

  • No doubt the actual historical development that brought labor out of hiding and into the public realm, where it could be organized [87] and “divided,”18 constituted a powerful argument in the develop­ment of these theories.
  • Yet an even more significant fact in this respect, already sensed by the classical economists and clearly dis­covered and articulated by Karl Marx, is that the laboring activity itself, regardless of historical circumstances and independent of its location in the private or the public realm, possesses indeed a “pro­ductivity” of its own, no matter how futile and non-durable its products may be.

This productivity does not lie in any of labor’s products but in the human “power,” whose strength is not ex­hausted when it has produced the means of its own subsistence and survival but is capable of producing a “surplus,” that is, more than is necessary for its own “reproduction.” It is because not labor it­self but the surplus of human “labor power” (Arbeitskraft) explains labor’s productivity that Marx’s introduction of this term, as Engels rightly remarked, constituted the most original and revolu­tionary element of his whole system.19 Unlike the productivity of work, which adds new objects to the human artifice, the productiv­ity of labor power produces objects only incidentally and is pri­marily concerned with the means of its own reproduction; since its power is not exhausted when its own reproduction has been se­cured, it can be used for the reproduction of more than one life process, but it never “produces” anything but life.20 Through violent oppression in a slave society or exploitation in the capi­talist society of Marx’s own time, it can be channeled in such a way that the labor of some suffices for the life of all.

  1. In his Introduction to the second book of the Wealth of Nations (Every­man’s ed., I, 241 ff.), Adam Smith emphasizes that productivity is due to the division of labor rather than to labor itself.

  2. See Engels’ Introduction to Marx’s “Wage, Labour and Capital” (in Marx and Engels, Selected Works [London, 1950], I, 384), where Marx had introduced the new term with a certain emphasis.

  3. Marx stressed always, and especially in his youth, that the chief function of labor was the “production of life” and therefore saw labor together with procreation (see Deutsche Ideologie, p. 19; also “Wage, Labour and Capital,” p. 77). [88]

  • Work gives us stuff, artefacts.
  • Labor keeps us going, in the crudest, biological sense.
  • Labor power is behind it all, and need not actually stop at our mere maintenance as it does in (other) animals.

¶ 11.11

From this purely social viewpoint, which is the viewpoint of the whole modern age but which received its most coherent and great- [88] est expression in Marx’s work,

  • all laboring is “productive,” and
  • the earlier distinction between
    • the performance of “menial tasks” that leave no trace and
    • the production of things durable enough to be accumulated

    loses its validity.

The social viewpoint is identical, as we saw before, with an interpretation that takes nothing into account but the life process of mankind, and within its frame of reference all things become objects of consumption. Within a com­pletely “socialized mankind,” whose sole purpose would be the entertaining of the life process—and this is the unfortunately quite unutopian ideal that guides Marx’s theories21—the distinction be­tween labor and work would have completely disappeared; all work would have become labor because all things would be under­stood, not in their worldly, objective quality, but as results of living labor power and functions of the life process.22

  1. The terms vergesellschafteter Mensch or gesellschaftliche Menschheit were frequently used by Marx to indicate the goal of socialism (see, for instance, the third volume of Das Kapital, p. 873, and the tenth of the “Theses on Feuerbach”: “The standpoint of the old materialism is ‘civil’ society; the standpoint of the new is human society, or socialized humanity” [Selected Works, II, 367]). It consisted in the elimination of the gap between the individual and social exist­ence of man, so that man “in his most individual being would be at the same time a social being [a Gemeinwesen]” (Jugendschriften, p. 113). Marx frequently calls this social nature of man his Gattungswesen, his being a member of the species, and the famous Marxian “self-alienation” is first of all man’s alienation from being a Gattungswesen (ibid., p. 89: “Eine unmittelbare Konsequenz davon, dass der Mensch dem Produkt seiner Arbeit, seiner Lebenstätigkeit, seinem Gattungs­wesen entfremdet ist, ist die Entfremdung des Menschen von dem Menschen”). The ideal society is a state of affairs where all human activities derive as natu­rally from human “nature” as the secretion of wax by bees for making the honeycomb; to live and to labor for life will have become one and the same, and life will no longer “begin for [the laborer] where [the activity of laboring] ceases” (“Wage, Labour and Capital,” p. 77).

    The eleventh and last of the “Theses On Feuerbach” is the famous one: “Philosophers have hitherto only interpreted the world in various ways; the point is to change it.”

  2. Marx’s original charge against capitalist society was not merely its trans­formation of all objects into commodities, but that “the laborer behaves toward the product of his labor as to an alien object” (“dass der Arbeiter zum Produkt seiner Arbeit als einem fremden Gegenstand sich verhält” [Jugendschriften, p. 83])—in other words, that the things of the world, once they have been pro­duced by men, are to an extent independent of, “alien” to, human life. [89]

Recall from page 70 (¶ 9.6) the “modern discussions of freedom, where freedom is never understood as an objective state of human existence,” because of the supposed “elimination of necessity,” which has kept people from understanding what freedom is in the first place.

¶ 11.12

It is interesting to note that the distinctions

  • between skilled and unskilled and
  • between intellectual and manual work

play no role in either classical political economy or in Marx’s work. Compared [89] with the productivity of labor, they are indeed of secondary im­portance. Every activity requires a certain amount of skill, the activity of cleaning and cooking no less than the writing of a book or the building of a house. The distinction does not apply to dif­ferent activities but notes only certain stages and qualities within each of them. It could acquire a certain importance through the modern division of labor, where tasks formerly assigned to the young and inexperienced were frozen into lifelong occupations. But this consequence of the division of labor, where one activity is divided into so many minute parts that each specialized performer needs but a minimum of skill, tends to abolish skilled labor alto­gether, as Marx rightly predicted. Its result is that what is bought and sold in the labor market is not individual skill but “labor power,” of which each living human being should possess approxi­mately the same amount. Moreover, since unskilled work is a con­tradiction in terms, the distinction itself is valid only for the labor­ing activity, and the attempt to use it as a major frame of reference already indicates that the distinction between labor and work has been abandoned in favor of labor.

More information about work: not only does it make things as on page 88 (¶ 11.10), but uses skill, τέχνη—power that does not come naturally.

¶ 11.13

Quite different is the case of the more popular category of man­ual and intellectual work. Here, the underlying tie between the la­borer of the hand and the laborer of the head is again the laboring process,

  • in one case performed by the head,
  • in the other by some other part of the body.

Thinking, however, which is presumably the activity of the head, though it is in some way like laboring—also a process which probably comes to an end only with life it­self—is even less “productive” than labor; if labor leaves no per­manent trace, thinking leaves nothing tangible at all. By itself, thinking never materializes into any objects. Whenever the intel­lectual worker wishes to manifest his thoughts, he must use his hands and acquire manual skills just like any other worker. In other words, thinking and working are two different activities which never quite coincide; the thinker who wants the world to know the “content” of his thoughts must first of all stop thinking and remember his thoughts. Remembrance in this, as in all other cases, prepares the intangible and the futile for their eventual ma­terialization; it is the beginning of the work process, and like the craftsman’s consideration of the model which will guide his work, [90] its most immaterial stage. The work itself then always requires some material upon which it will be performed and which through fabrication, the activity of homo faber, will be transformed into a worldly object. The specific work quality of intellectual work is no less due to the “work of our hands” than any other kind of work.

Do laboring and working also never quite coincide?

¶ 11.14

It seems plausible and is indeed quite common to connect and justify the modern distinction between intellectual and manual la­bor with the ancient distinction between “liberal” and “servile arts.” Yet the distinguishing mark between liberal and servile arts is not at all “a higher degree of intelligence,” or that the “liberal artist” works with his brain and the “sordid tradesman” with his hands. The ancient criterion is primarily political.

  1. Occupations in­volving prudentia, the capacity for prudent judgment which is the virtue of statesmen, and professions of public relevance (ad ho­minum utilitatem)23 such as architecture, medicine, and agricul­ture,24 are liberal.
  2. All trades, the trade of a scribe no less than that of a carpenter, are “sordid,” unbecoming for a full-fledged citizen, and the worst are those we would deem most useful, such as “fishmongers, butchers, cooks, poulterers and fishermen.”25
  3. But not even these are necessarily sheer laboring. There is still a third category where the toil and effort itself (the operae as distin­guished from the opus, the mere activity as distinguished from the [91] work) is paid, and in these cases “the very wage is a pledge of slavery.”26
  1. For convenience’ sake, I shall follow Cicero’s discussion of liberal and servile occupations in De officiis i. 50–54. The criteria of prudentia and utilitas or utilitas hominum are stated in pars. 151 and 155. (The translation of prudentia as “a higher degree of intelligence” by Walter Miller in the Loeb Classical Li­brary edition seems to me to be misleading.)

    Does prudentia translate φρόνησις?

  2. The classification of agriculture among the liberal arts is, of course, specifically Roman. Ie is not due to any special “usefulness” of farming as we would understand it, but much rather related to the Roman idea of patria, accord­ing to which the ager Romanus and not only the city of Rome is the place occu­pied by the public realm.

  3. It is this usefulness for sheer living which Cicero calls mediocris utilitas (par. 151) and eliminates from liberal arts. The translation again seems to me to miss the point; these are not “professions … from which no small benefit to society is derived,” but occupations which, in clear opposition to those men­tioned before, transcend the vulgar usefulness of consumer goods. [91]

  4. The Romans deemed the difference between opus and operae to be so de­cisive that they had two different forms of contract, the locatio operis and the locatio operarum, of which the latter played an insignificant role because most laboring was done by slaves (see Edgar Loening, in Handwörterbuch der Staats­wissenschaften [1890], 1, 742 ff.).

Does the third category include waiters and prostitutes? Are they “Adam Smith’s ‘menial servants’” as in the next paragraph?

Don’t pat yourself on the back for being an intellectual worker or for reading the Great Books unless you are actually serving the public—albeit not in a servile way! And if you are serving the public and thus doing good work, you should forget about it, as on page 74 (¶ 10.3). See the next paragraph.

¶ 11.15

The distinction between manual and intellectual work, though its origin can be traced back to the Middle Ages,27 is modern and has two quite different causes, both of which, however, are equally characteristic of the general climate of the modern age.

  1. Since under modern conditions every occupation had to prove its “usefulness” for society at large, and since the usefulness of the intellectual oc­cupations had become more than doubtful because of the modern glorification of labor, it was only natural that intellectuals, too, should desire to be counted among the working population.

  2. At the same time, however, and only in seeming contradiction to this de­velopment, the need and esteem of this society for certain “intel­lectual” performances rose to a degree unprecedented in our his­tory except in the centuries of the decline of the Roman Empire.

It may be well to remember in this context that throughout ancient history the “intellectual” services of the scribes, whether they served the needs of the public or the private realm, were performed by slaves and rated accordingly. Only the bureaucratization of the Roman Empire and the concomitant social and political rise of the Emperors brought a re-evaluation of “intellectual” services.28 In so [92] far as the intellectual is indeed not a “worker”—who like all other workers, from the humblest craftsman to the greatest artist, is engaged in adding one more, if possible durable, thing to the human artifice—he resembles perhaps nobody so much as Adam Smith’s “menial servant,” although his function is less to keep the life process intact and provide for its regeneration than to care for the upkeep of the various gigantic bureaucratic machines whose proc­esses consume their services and devour their products as quickly and mercilessly as the biological life process itself.29

  1. The opera liberalia were identified with intellectual or rather spiritual work in the Middle Ages (see Otto Neurath, “Beiträge zur Geschichte der Opera Servilia,” Archiv für Sozialwissenschaft und Sozialpolitik, Vol. XLI [1915], No. 2).

  2. H. Wallon describes this process under the rule of Diocletian: “… les fonc­tions jadis serviles se trouvèrent anoblies, élevées au premier rang de l’État. Cette haute considération qui de l’empereur se répandait sur les premiers serviteurs du palais, sur les plus hauts dignitaires de l’empire, descendait à tous les degrés des fonctions publiques … ; le service public devint un office public.” “Les charges les plus serviles, … les noms que nous avons cités aux fonctions de l’esclavage, sont revêtus de l’éclat qui rejaillit de la personne du prince” (His­toire de l’esclavage dans l’antiquité [1847], III, 126 and 131). Before this elevation of the services, the scribes had been classified with the watchmen of public buildings or even with the men who led the prize fighters down to the arena [92] (ibid., p. 171). It seems noteworthy that the elevation of the “intellectuals” coincided with the establishment of a bureaucracy.

  3. “The labour of some of the most respectable orders in the society is, like that of menial servants, unproductive of any value,” says Adam Smith and ranks among them “the whole army and navy,” the “servants of the public,” and the liberal professions, such as “churchmen, lawyers, physicians, men of letters of all kinds.” Their work, “like the declamation of the actors, the harangue of the orator, or the tune of the musician … perishes in the very instant of its pro­duction” (op. cit., I, 295–96). Obviously, Smith would not have had any diffi­culty classifying our “white-collar jobs.”

12 the thing-character of the world

¶ 12.1

  • The contempt for labor in ancient theory and
  • its glorification in modern theory

both take their bearing from the subjective attitude or activity of the laborer,

  • mistrusting his painful effort or
  • praising his productivity.

The subjectivity of the approach may be more obvious in the distinction between easy and hard work, but we saw that

  • at least in the case of Marx—who, as the greatest of modern labor theorists, necessarily provides a kind of touchstone in these discussions—labor’s productivity is measured and gauged against the requirements of the life process for its own reproduction; it resides in the potential surplus inherent in human labor power, not in the quality or character of the things it produces.
  • Similarly, Greek opinion, which ranked painters higher than sculptors, cer­tainly did not rest upon a higher regard for paintings.30

It seems [93] that the distinction between labor and work, which our theorists have so obstinately neglected and our languages so stubbornly pre­served, indeed becomes merely a difference in degree if the worldly character of the produced thing—its location, function, and length of stay in the world—is not taken into account. The distinction between

  • a bread, whose “life expectancy” in the world is hardly more than a day, and
  • a table, which may easily survive generations of men,

is certainly much more obvious and decisive than the dif­ference between

  • a baker and
  • a carpenter.
  1. On the contrary, it is doubtful whether any painting was ever as much admired as Phidias’ statue of Zeus at Olympia, whose magical power was cred- [93] ited to make one forget all trouble and sorrow; whoever had not seen it had lived in vain, etc. [94]

There is a key antithesis of the subjective and the objective. Here I try to gather all uses so far of “objectiv-” and “subjectiv-.”

  • First reading, page 9 (¶ 1.6):

    The objectivity of the world—its object- or thing-character—and the human condition supplement each other; because human existence is conditioned existence, it would be impossible without things, and things would be a heap of unrelated articles, a non-world, if they were not the conditioners of human existence.

  • Second reading, page 31 (¶ 5.6):

    This freedom is the essential condi­tion of what the Greeks called felicity, eudaimonia, which was an objective status depending first of all upon wealth and health. To be poor or to be in ill health meant to be subject to physical neces­sity, and to be a slave meant to be subject, in addition, to man­made violence. This twofold and doubled “unhappiness” of slavery is quite independent of the actual subjective well-being of the slave.

    Page 39 (¶ 6.3):

    The intimacy of the heart, unlike the private household, has no objective tangible place in the world, nor can the society against which it protests and asserts itself be localized with the same cer­tainty as the public space. To Rousseau, both the intimate and the social were, rather, subjective modes of human existence, and in his case, it was as though Jean-Jacques rebelled against a man called Rousseau. The modern individual and his endless conflicts, his inability either to be at home in society or to live outside it altogether, his ever-changing moods and the radical subjectivism of his emotional life, was born in this rebellion of the heart.

    Page 49, note 40 (¶ 6.20):

    Homer’s much quoted thought that Zeus takes away half of a man’s excel­lence (aretē) when the day of slavery catches him … is put into the mouth of Eumaios, a slave himself, and meant as an objective state­ment, not a criticism or a moral judgment.

  • Third reading, page 50 (¶ 7.2):

    while the intimacy of a fully developed private life, such as had never been known before the rise of the modern age and the concomitant decline of the public realm, will always greatly intensify and enrich the whole scale of subjective emotions and private feelings, this intensification will always come to pass at the expense of the assurance of the reality of the world and men.

    Page 51 (¶ 7.3): Under body pain,

    There seems to be no bridge from the most radical subjec­tivity, in which I am no longer “recognizable,” to the outer world of life … Pain, in other words … is so subjective and removed from the world of things and men that it cannot assume an appearance at all. [Note 43:] On the subjectivity of pain and its relevance for all variations of hedonism and sensualism, see §§ 15 and 43.

    Page 56 (¶ 7.12):

    And since the need for food has its demonstrable basis of reality in the life process itself, it is also obvious that the entirely subjective pangs of hunger are more real than “vainglory,” as Hobbes used to call the need for public admiration … The futility of public admiration … is such that monetary reward, one of the most futile things there is, can become more “objective” and more real.

    Page 57 (¶ 7.13):

    As distinguished from this “objectivity,” whose only basis is money as a common denominator for the fulfilment of all needs, the reality of the public realm relies on the simultaneous presence of innumerable perspectives and aspects … The subjectivity of privacy can be prolonged and multiplied in a family, it can even become so strong that its weight is felt in the public realm; but this family “world” can never replace the reality rising out of the sum total of aspects presented by one object to a multitude of spectators.

    Page 58 (¶ 7.14): Under radical isolation or mass hysteria, men

    are all imprisoned in the subjec­tivity of their own singular experience, which does not cease to be singular if the same experience is multiplied innumerable times.

    (¶ 8.1):

    To live an entirely private life means above all … to be deprived of the reality that comes from being seen and heard by others, to be deprived of an “objective” relationship with them that comes from being related to and separated from them through the intermediary of a common world of things …

    (¶ 8.2):

    Under modern circumstances, this deprivation of “objective” relationships to others and of a reality guaranteed through them has become the mass phenomenon of loneliness …

    Page 69 (¶ 9.4):

    … the modern discovery of intimacy seems a flight from the whole outer world into the inner subjec­tivity of the individual, which formerly had been sheltered and protected by the private realm.

    Page 71 (¶ 9.6):

    Modern discussions of freedom, where freedom is never understood as an objective state of human existence but either presents an unsolvable problem of subjectivity, of an entirely undetermined or determined will, or develops out of necessity, all point to the fact that the objective, tangible differ­ence between being free and being forced by necessity is no longer perceived.

    (¶ 9.7):

    A life spent entirely in public, in the presence of others, becomes, as we would say, shallow. While it retains its visibility, it loses the quality of rising into sight from some darker ground which must remain hidden if it is not to lose its depth in a very real, non-subjective sense.

  • Fourth reading (this one), page 89 (¶ 11.11):

    Within a com­pletely “socialized mankind” … all work would have become labor because all things would be under­stood, not in their worldly, objective quality, but as results of living labor power and functions of the life process.

    Page 93 (¶ 12.1), right now: Ancient contempt and modern glorification of labor

    both take their bearing from the subjective attitude or activity of the laborer.

    Page 94 (¶ 12.2):

    The curious discrepancy between language and theory … turns out to be a discrepancy between

    • the world-oriented, “objective” language we speak and
    • the man-oriented, subjective theories we use in our attempts at understand­ing.

    Page 102 (¶ 14.2)

    … even Marx … had to admit that productivity of labor … begins only with reification (Vergegenständlichung), with “the erection of an objective world of things.”

I have long been suspicious of the usage of “subjective” and “objective.” I recall being troubled by a high-school assignment to write two essays, one “subjective,” the other “objective.”

People call opinions “subjective” by way of dismissing them, while whatever is “objective” must be agreed to by anybody who wants to be considered scientific or rational. I think this is the sense of Orwell’s parodical translation from Ecclesiastes:

Objective consideration of contemporary phenomena compels the conclusion that success or failure in competitive activities exhibits no tendency to be commensurate with innate capacity, but that a considerable element of the unpredictable must invariably be taken into account.

Perhaps males of most species are “objectively” more beautiful than females, but if we say this is false for humans, that is “subjective.”

Here are the definitions from the Concise Oxford Dictionary, sixth edition (1976):

belonging to, of, due to, the consciousness or thinking or perceiving subject or ego as opp. real or external things; due to one’s own feelings or capacities rather than being actually existent; imaginary.
Belonging not to the consciousness or the perceiving or thinking subject, but to what is presented to this, external to the mind, real.

The first parts may be fine:

  • the subjective belongs to our consciousness,
  • the objective is what we are conscious of.


  • feelings actually exist;
  • what we are conscious of may be imaginary.

Collingwood argues more or less this way in the disclaimer or explainer in the Preface of Speculum Mentis (1924):

But I may here call attention to one or two words which, though I think my use of them is natural and correct, may be a stumbling-block to others beside the malicious.

  • When I call a thing subjective I mean that it is or pertains to a subject or conscious mind.
  • When I call it objective, I mean that it is or pertains to an object of which such a mind is conscious.

I do not call

  • a real rose objective and an imaginary one subjective, or
  • the rose objective and its colour subjective,
  • or the molecules in it objective and the beauty of it subjective.

A real rose I call real, and an imaginary rose I call imaginary; and I call them both objective because they are the objects of a perceiving and an imagining mind respectively. Similarly, the molecules are objective to a scientist and the beauty to an artist.

Collingwood’s culminating use of the terminology is in his final chapter, “Speculum Speculi” (p. 311):

But in abolishing the notion of an external world other than the mind we do not assert any of the silly nonsense usually described by unintelligent critics as idealism. We do not assert that the trees and hills and people of our world are ‘unreal’, or ‘mere ideas in my mind’, still less that matter is nothing but a swarm of mind-particles. The very essence of trees and hills and people is that they should be not myself but my objects in perception: they are not subjective but objective, not states of myself but facts that I know. None the less, my knowing them is organic to them: it is because they are what they are that I can know them, because I know them that they can be what to me they really are. They and I alike are members of one whole, a whole which the destruction of one part would in a sense destroy throughout, as the death of our dearest friend darkens for us the very light of the sun.

This seems concordant with Arendt’s usage. See the next paragraph.

¶ 12.2

The curious discrepancy between language and theory which we noted at the outset therefore turns out to be a discrepancy between

  • the world-oriented, “objective” language we speak and
  • the man-oriented, subjective theories we use in our attempts at understand­ing.

It is language, and the fundamental human experiences under­lying it, rather than theory, that teaches us that the things of the world, among which the vita activa spends itself, are of a very dif­ferent nature and produced by quite different kinds of activities. Viewed as part of the world, the products of work—and not the products of labor—guarantee the permanence and durability with­out which a world would not be possible at all. It is within this world of durable things that we find the consumer goods through which life assures the means of its own survival. Needed by our bodies and produced by its laboring, but without stability of their own, these things for incessant consumption appear and disappear in an environment of things that are not consumed but used, and to which, as we use them, we become used and accustomed. As such, they give rise to the familiarity of the world, its customs and habits of intercourse between men and things as well as between men and men. What consumer goods are for the life of man, use objects are for his world. From them, consumer goods derive their thing-char­acter; and language, which does not permit the laboring activity to form anything so solid and non-verbal as a noun, hints at the strong probability that we would not even know what a thing is without having before us “the work of our hands.”

Now “use object” becomes an important term. I suppose it is whatever has, or even is, a “use value” in Marx’s terminology. The following is from Vol. 1, Part 1, Ch. 1, § 1 of Capital (and note the quotation of Locke in the footnote):

A commodity is, in the first place, an object outside us, a thing that by its properties satisfies human wants of some sort or another …

Every useful thing, as iron, paper, &c., may be looked at from the two points of view of quality and quantity. It is an assemblage of many properties, and may therefore be of use in various ways. To discover the various uses of things is the work of history …

The utility of a thing makes it a use value.* But this utility is not a thing of air. Being limited by the physical properties of the commodity, it has no existence apart from that commodity. A commodity, such as iron, corn, or a diamond, is therefore, so far as it is a material thing, a use value, something useful. This property of a commodity is independent of the amount of labour required to appropriate its useful qualities …

* “The natural worth of anything consists in its fitness to supply the necessities, or serve the conveniencies of human life.” (John Locke, “Some Considerations on the Consequences of the Lowering of Interest, 1691,” in Works Edit. Lond., 1777, Vol. II., p. 28.) In English writers of the 17th century we frequently find “worth” in the sense of value in use, and “value” in the sense of exchange value. This is quite in accordance with the spirit of a language that likes to use a Teutonic word for the actual thing, and a Romance word for its reflexion.

¶ 12.3

Distinguished from both, consumer goods and use objects, there [94] are finally the “products” of action and speech, which together constitute the fabric of human relationships and affairs. Left to themselves, they lack not only the tangibility of other things, but are even less durable and more futile than what we produce for consumption. Their reality depends entirely upon human plurality, upon the constant presence of others who can see and hear and therefore testify to their existence. Acting and speaking are still outward manifestations of human life, which knows only one ac­tivity that, though related to the exterior world in many ways, is not necessarily manifest in it and needs neither to be seen nor heard nor used nor consumed in order to be real: the activity of thought.

Thought is real, as Descartes discovered.

¶ 12.4

Viewed, however, in their worldliness, action, speech, and thought have much more in common than any one of them has with work or labor. They themselves do not “produce,” bring forth anything, they are as futile as life itself. In order to become worldly things, that is, deeds and facts and events and patterns of thoughts or ideas, they must

  • first be seen, heard, and remembered and
  • then transformed, reified as it were, into things—into sayings of poetry, the written page or the printed book, into paintings or sculpture, into all sorts of records, documents, and monuments.

The whole factual world of human affairs depends for its reality and its continued existence,

  • first, upon the presence of others who have seen and heard and will remember, and,
  • second, on the trans­formation of the intangible into the tangibility of things.

  • Without remembrance and
  • without the reification which remembrance needs for its own fulfilment and which makes it, indeed, as the Greeks held, the mother of all arts,

the living activities of action, speech, and thought would lose their reality at the end of each process and disappear as though they never had been. The ma­terialization they have to undergo in order to remain in the world at all is paid for in that always the “dead letter” replaces some­thing which grew out of and for a fleeting moment indeed existed as the “living spirit.” They must pay this price because they them­selves are of an entirely unworldly nature and therefore need the help of an activity of an altogether different nature; they depend for their reality and materialization upon the same workmanship that builds the other things in the human artifice.

How do action, speech, and thought exist or make sense at all without this materialization or reification?

¶ 12.5

The reality and reliability of the human world rest primarily on [95] the fact that we are surrounded by things

  • more permanent than the activity by which they were produced, and
  • potentially even more permanent than the lives of their authors.

Human life, in so far as it is world-building, is engaged in a constant process of reification, and the degree of worldliness of produced things, which all to­gether form the human artifice, depends upon their greater or lesser permanence in the world itself.

13 labor and life

¶ 13.1

The least durable of tangible things are those needed for the life process itself. Their consumption barely survives the act of their production; in the words of Locke, all those “good things” which are “really useful to the life of man,” to the “necessity of sub­sisting,” are “generally of short duration, such as—if they are not consumed by use—will decay and perish by themselves.”31 After a brief stay in the world, they return into the natural process which yielded them either through absorption into the life process of the human animal or through decay; in their man-made shape, through which they acquired their ephemeral place in the world of man­made things, they disappear more quickly than any other part of the world. Considered in their worldliness, they are the least worldly and at the same time the most natural of all things. Al­though they are man-made, they come and go, are produced and consumed, in accordance with the ever-recurrent cyclical move­ment of nature. Cyclical, too, is the movement of the living or­ganism, the human body not excluded, as long as it can withstand the process that permeates its being and makes it alive. Life is a process that everywhere uses up durability, wears it down, makes it disappear, until eventually dead matter, the result of small, single, cyclical, life processes, returns into the over-all gigantic circle of nature herself, where no beginning and no end exist and where all natural things swing in changeless, deathless repetition.

  1. Locke, op. cit., sec. 46. [96]

It seems to be an accident that “work” and “world” have the same first three letters. For the AHD, the Indo-European root of

  • “wor-” in “world” is *wī-ro- (which via Latin gives us words like “virtue”);
  • “work” is *werg- (which also the root of τὸ ἔργον and τὸ ὄργανον—Beekes is skeptical that τὰ ὄργια is another derivative).

However, Arendt connects the two words implicitly. Recall from page 7 (¶ 1.3), “Work provides an ‘artificial’ world of things … The human condition of work is worldliness.”

¶ 13.2

Nature and the cyclical movement into which she forces all liv­ing things know neither birth nor death as we understand them. The birth and death of human beings are not simple natural oc- [96] currences, but are related to a world into which single individuals, unique, unexchangeable, and unrepeatable entities, appear and from which they depart. Birth and death presuppose a world which is not in constant movement, but whose durability and relative per­manence makes appearance and disappearance possible, which ex­isted before any one individual appeared into it and will survive his eventual departure. Without a world into which men are born and from which they die, there would be nothing but changeless eternal recurrence, the deathless everlastingness of the human as of all other animal species. A philosophy of life that does not arrive, as did Nietzsche, at the affirmation of “eternal recurrence” (ewige Wiederkehr) as the highest principle of all being, simply does not know what it is talking about.

Arendt alluded to eternal recurrence on page 18 (¶ 3.2): “Against this back­ground of nature’s ever-recurring life and the gods’ deathless and ageless lives stood mortal men, the only mortals in an immortal but not eternal universe, confronted with the immortal lives of their gods but not under the rule of an eternal God.”

Whose philosophy of life is Arendt denigrating?

¶ 13.3

The word “life,” however, has an altogether different meaning if it is related to the world and meant to designate the time interval between birth and death. Limited by a beginning and an end, that is, by the two supreme events of appearance and disappearance within the world, it follows a strictly linear movement whose very motion nevertheless is driven by the motor of biological life which man shares with other living things and which forever retains the cyclical movement of nature. The chief characteristic of this spe­cifically human life, whose appearance and disappearance consti­tute worldly events, is that it is itself always full of events which ultimately can be told as a story, establish a biography; it is of this life, bios as distinguished from mere zōē, that Aristotle said that it “somehow is a kind of praxis.32 For action and speech, which, as we saw before, belonged close together in the Greek understanding of politics, are indeed the two activities whose end result will al­ways be a story with enough coherence to be told, no matter how accidental or haphazard the single events and their causation may appear to be.

  1. Politics 1254a7. [97]

Is ὁ βίος going to be to ἡ ζωή as work is to labor?

¶ 13.4

It is only within the human world that nature’s cyclical move­ment manifests itself as growth and decay. Like birth and death, they, too, are not natural occurrences, properly speaking; they have no place in the unceasing, indefatigable cycle in which the whole household of nature swings perpetually. Only when they enter the man-made world can nature’s processes be characterized [97] by growth and decay; only if we consider nature’s products, this tree or this dog, as individual things, thereby already removing them from their “natural” surroundings and putting them into our world, do they begin to grow and to decay. While nature manifests itself in human existence through the circular movement of our bodily functions, she makes her presence felt in the man-made world through the constant threat of overgrowing or decaying it. The common characteristic of both,

  • the biological process in man and
  • the process of growth and decay in the world,

is that they are part of the cyclical movement of nature and therefore endlessly repetitive; all human activities which arise out of the necessity to cope with them are bound to the recurring cycles of nature and have in themselves no beginning and no end, properly speaking; unlike working, whose end has come when the object is finished, ready to be added to the common world of things, laboring always moves in the same circle, which is prescribed by the biological process of the living organism and the end of its “toil and trouble” comes only with the death of this organism.33

  1. In the earlier literature on labor up to the last third of the nineteenth cen­tury, it was not uncommon to insist on the connection between labor and the cyclical movement of the life process. Thus, Schulze-Delitzsch, in a lecture Die Arbeit (Leipzig, 1863), begins with a description of the cycle of desire-effort-satisfaction—“Beim letzten Bissen fängt schon die Verdauung an.” However, in the huge post-Marxian literature on the labor problem, the only author who emphasizes and theorizes about this most elementary aspect of the laboring activity is Pierre Naville, whose La vie de travail et ses problémes (1954) is one of the most interesting and perhaps the most original recent contribution. Dis­cussing the particular traits of the workday as distinguished from other measure­ment of labor time, he says as follows: “Le trait principal est son caractère cyclique ou rythmique. Ce caractère est lié a la fois à l’esprit naturel et cosmolo­gique de la journée … et au caractère des fonctions physiologiques de l’ếtre humain, qu’il a en commun avec les espèces animales supérieures… . Il est évi­dent que le travail devait être de prime abord lié à des rythmes et fonctions naturels.” From this follows the cyclical character in the expenditure and re­production of labor power that determines the time unit of the workday. Naville’s most important insight is that the time character of human life, inas­much as it is not merely part of the life of the species, stands in stark contrast to the cyclical time character of the workday. “Les limites naturelles supérieures de la vie … ne sont pas dictées, comme celle de la journée, par la nécessité et la possibilité de se reproduire, mais au contraire, par l’impossibilité de se renouveler, [98] sinon a l’échelle de l’espèce. Le cycle s’accomplit en une fois, et ne se renouvelle pas” (pp. 19–24).

Everything in nature is somehow circling, but there is no up or down unless we distinguish it. This tree may be growing, but that one has become a rotting log, and nature does not distinguish them—I guess!

¶ 13.5

When Marx defined labor as “man’s metabolism with nature,” [98] in whose process “nature’s material [is] adapted by a change of form to the wants of man,” so that “labour has incorporated itself with its subject,” he indicated clearly that he was “speaking physiologically” and that labor and consumption are but two stages of the ever-recurring cycle of biological life.34 This cycle needs to be sustained through consumption, and the activity which provides the means of consumption is laboring.35 Whatever labor produces is meant to be fed into the human life process almost immediately, and this consumption, regenerating the life process, produces—or rather, reproduces—new “labor power,” needed for the further sustenance of the body.36 From the viewpoint of the exigencies of [99] the life process itself, the “necessity of subsisting,” as Locke put it, laboring and consuming follow each other so closely that they almost constitute one and the same movement, which is hardly ended when it must be started all over again. The “necessity of subsisting” rules over both labor and consumption, and labor, when it incorporates, “gathers,” and bodily “mixes with” the things pro­vided by nature,37 does actively what the body does even more intimately when it consumes its nourishment. Both are devouring processes that seize and destroy matter, and the “work” done by labor upon its material is only the preparation for its eventual destruction.

  1. Capital (Modern Library ed.), p. 201. This formula is frequent in Marx’s work and always repeated almost verbatim: Labor is the eternal natural necessity to effect the metabolism between man and nature. (See, for instance, Das Kapital, Vol. I, Part 1, ch. 1, sec. 2, and Part 3, ch. 5. The standard English translation, Modern Library ed., pp. 50, 205, falls short of Marx’s precision.) We find almost the same formulation in Vol. Ill of Das Kapital, p. 872. Obviously, when Marx speaks as he frequently does of the “life process of society,” he is not thinking in metaphors.

  2. Marx called labor “productive consumption” (Capital [Modern Library ed.], p. 204) and never lost sight of its being a physiological condition.

  3. Marx’s whole theory hinges on the early insight that the laborer first of all reproduces his own life by producing his means of subsistence. In his early writings he thought “that men begin to distinguish themselves from animals when they begin to produce their means of subsistence” (Deutsche Ideologie, p. 10). This indeed is the very content of the definition of man as animal laborans. It is all the more noteworthy that in other passages Marx is not satisfied with this definition because it does not distinguish man sharply enough from animals. “A spider conducts operations that resemble those of a weaver, and a bee puts to shame many an architect in the construction of her cells. But what distinguishes the worst architect from the best of bees is this, that the architect raises his struc­ture in imagination before he erects it in reality. At the end of every labour-process, we get a result that already existed in the imagination of the labourer at its commencement” (Capital [Modern Library ed.], p. 198). Obviously, Marx no longer speaks of labor, but of work—with which he is not concerned; and the best proof of this is that the apparently all-important element of “imagination” plays no role whatsoever in his labor theory. In the third volume of Das Kapital he repeats that surplus labor beyond immediate needs serves the “progressive extension of the reproduction process” (pp. 872, 278). Despite occasional hesi- [99] tations, Marx remained convinced that “Milton produced Paradise Lost for the same reason a silk worm produces silk” (Theories of Surplus Value [London, 1951], p. 186).

  4. Locke, op. cit., secs. 46, 26, and 27, respectively.

Though the word “imagination” seems to be used about a dozen other times in the text, the index refers only to note 36 here and the final chapter, where “the ancients had relied upon imagination and memory … to convince themselves of their happiness.”

How do we know the bee does not imagine the comb ahead of time? The bee would seem always to follow the same plan, so to speak. The architect may do that, but can also create something new. He or she may do this creating in imagination, before any actual building is done; but not every artist works that way.

¶ 13.6

This destructive, devouring aspect of the laboring activity, to be sure, is visible only from the standpoint of the world and in distinc­tion from work, which does not prepare matter for incorporation but changes it into material in order to work upon it and use the finished product. From the viewpoint of nature, it is work rather than labor that is destructive, since the work process takes matter out of nature’s hands without giving it back to her in the swift course of the natural metabolism of the living body.

¶ 13.7

Equally bound up with the recurring cycles of natural move­ments, but not quite so urgently imposed upon man by “the condi­tion of human life” itself,38 is the second task of laboring—its con­stant, unending fight against the processes of growth and decay through which nature forever invades the human artifice, threat­ening the durability of the world and its fitness for human use. The protection and preservation of the world against natural processes are among the toils which need the monotonous perform­ance of daily repeated chores. This laboring fight, as distinguished from the essentially peaceful fulfilment in which labor obeys the orders of immediate bodily needs, although it may be even less “productive” than man’s direct metabolism with nature, has a much closer connection with the world, which it defends against [100] nature. In old tales and mythological stories it has often assumed the grandeur of heroic fights against overwhelming odds, as in the account of Hercules, whose cleaning of the Augean stables is among the twelve heroic “labors.” A similar connotation of heroic deeds requiring great strength and courage and performed in a fighting spirit is manifest in the medieval use of the word: labor, travail, arebeit. However, the daily fight in which the human body is engaged to keep the world clean and prevent its decay bears little resemblance to heroic deeds; the endurance it needs to repair every day anew the waste of yesterday is not courage, and what makes the effort painful is not danger but its relentless repetition. The Herculean “labors” share with all great deeds that they are unique; but unfortunately it is only the mythological Augean stable that will remain clean once the effort is made and the task achieved.

  1. Ibid., sec. 34. [100]

So mopping the floor is a different kind of labor from baking bread. Did Arendt spend much time engaged in either of these?

14 labor and fertility

¶ 14.1

The sudden, spectacular rise of labor from the lowest, most de­spised position to the highest rank, as the most esteemed of all human activities,

  1. began when Locke discovered that labor is the source of all property. It
  2. followed its course when Adam Smith asserted that labor was the source of all wealth and
  3. found its cli­max in Marx’s “system of labor,”39 where labor became the source of all productivity and the expression of the very humanity of man.

Of the three, however, only

  • Marx was interested in labor as such;
  • Locke was concerned with the institution of private prop­erty as the root of society and
  • Smith wished to explain and to se­cure the unhampered progress of a limitless accumulation of wealth.

But all three, though Marx with greatest force and con­sistency, held that labor was considered to be the supreme world-building capacity of man, and since labor actually is the most nat­ural and least worldly of man’s activities, each of them, and again none more than Marx, found himself in the grip of certain genuine contradictions. It seems to lie in the very nature of this matter that [101] the most obvious solution of these contradictions, or rather the most obvious reason why these great authors should have remained unaware of them is their equation of work with labor, so that labor is endowed by them with certain faculties which only work pos­sesses. This equation always leads into patent absurdities, though they usually are not so neatly manifest as in the following sentence of Veblen: “The lasting evidence of productive labor is its mate­rial product—commonly some article of consumption,”40 where the “lasting evidence” with which he begins, because he needs it for the alleged productivity of labor, is immediately destroyed by the “consumption” of the product with which he ends, forced, as it were, by the factual evidence of the phenomenon itself.

  1. The expression is Karl Dunkmann’s (Soziologie der Arbeit [1933], p. 71), who rightly remarks that the title of Marx’s great work is a misnomer and should better have been called System der Arbeit. [101]

  2. The curious formulation occurs in Thorstein Veblen, The Theory of the Leisure Class (1917), p. 44.

Did Locke, Smith, Marx, and Veblen equate work with labor, or fail to distinguish them?

¶ 14.2

Thus Locke, in order to save labor from its manifest disgrace of producing only “things of short duration,” had to introduce money—a “lasting thing which men may keep without spoiling”—a kind of deus ex machina without which the laboring body, in its obedience to the life process, could never have become the origin of anything so permanent and lasting as property, because there are no “du­rable things” to be kept to survive the activity of the laboring proc­ess. And even Marx, who actually defined man as an animal laborans, had to admit that productivity of labor, properly speak­ing, begins only with reification (Vergegenständlichung), with “the erection of an objective world of things” (Erzeugung einer ge­genständlichen Welt).41 But the effort of labor never frees the labor- [102] ing animal from repeating it all over again and remains therefore an “eternal necessity imposed by nature.”42 When Marx insists that the labor “process comes to its end in the product,”43 he forgets his own definition of this process as the “metabolism between man and nature” into which the product is immediately “incorporated,” consumed, and annihilated by the body’s life process.

  1. The term vergegenständlichen occurs not very frequently in Marx, but al­ways in a crucial context. Cf. Jugendschriften, p. 88: “Das praktische Erzeugen einer gegenständlichen Welt, die Bearbeitung der unorganischen Natur ist die Bewährung des Menschen als eines bewussten Gattungswesens. … [Das Tier] produziert unter der Herrschaft des unmittelbaren Bedürfnisses, wahrend der Mensch selbst frei vom physischen Bedürfnis produziert und erst wahrhaft produziert in der Freiheit von demselben.” Here, as in the passage from Capital quoted in note 36, Marx obviously introduces an altogether different concept of labor, that is, speaks about work and fabrication. The same reification is mentioned in Das Kapital (Vol. I, Part 3, ch. 5), though somewhat equivocally: “[Die Arbeit] ist vergegenständlicht und der Gegenstand ist verarbeitet.” The play on words with the term Gegenstand obscures what actually happens in the process: through reification, a new thing has been produced, but the “object” that this process transformed into a thing is, from the viewpoint of the process, [102] only material and not a thing. (The Engish translation, Modern Library ed., p. 201, misses the meaning of the German text and therefore escapes the equivo­cality.)

  2. This is a recurrent formulation in Marx’s works. See, for instance, Das Kapital, Vol. 1 (Modern Library ed., p. 50) and Vol. II, pp. 873–74.

  3. “Des Prozess erlischt im Produkt” (Das Kapital, Vol. 1, Part 3, ch. 5).

¶ 14.3

Since neither Locke nor Smith is concerned with labor as such, they can afford to admit certain distinctions which actually would amount to a distinction in principle between labor and work, if it were not for an interpretation that treats of the genuine traits of laboring as merely irrelevant. Thus, Smith calls “unproductive labor” all activities connected with consumption, as though this were a negligible and accidental trait of something whose true nature was to be productive. The very contempt with which he describes how “menial tasks and services generally perish in the instant of their performance and seldom leave any trace or value behind them”44 is much more closely related to premodern opinion on this matter than to its modern glorification. Smith and Locke were still quite aware of the fact that not every kind of labor “puts the difference of value on everything”45 and that there exists a kind of activity which adds nothing “to the value of the materials which [it] works upon.”46 To be sure, labor, too, joins to nature something of man’s own, but the proportion between what nature gives—the “good things”—and what man adds is the very opposite in the products of labor and the products of work. The “good things” for consumption never lose their naturalness altogether, and the grain never quite disappears in the bread as the tree has disappeared in the table. Thus, Locke, although he paid little attention to his own distinction between “the labour of our body and the work of our [103] hands,” had to acknowledge the distinction between things “of short duration” and those “lasting” long enough “that men might keep them without spoiling.”47 The difficulty for Smith and Locke was the same; their “products” had to stay long enough in the world of tangible things to become “valuable,” whereby it is im­material whether value is defined

  • by Locke as something which can be kept and becomes property or
  • by Smith as something which lasts long enough to be exchangeable for something else.
  1. Adam Smith, op. cit., I, 295.

  2. Locke, op. cit., sec. 40.

  3. Adam Smith, op. cit., 1, 294. [103]

  4. Op. cit., secs. 46 and 47.

¶ 14.4

These certainly are minor points if compared with the funda­mental contradiction which runs like a red thread through the whole of Marx’s thought, and is present no less in the third volume of Capital than in the writings of the young Marx. Marx’s attitude toward labor, and that is toward the very center of his thought, has never ceased to be equivocal.48 While

  • it was
    • an “eternal neces­sity imposed by nature” and
    • the most human and productive of man’s activities,
  • the revolution, according to Marx, has not the task of emancipating the laboring classes but of emancipating man from labor;

only when labor is abolished can the “realm of free­dom” supplant the “realm of necessity.” For “the realm of freedom begins only where labor determined through want and external utility ceases,” where “the rule of immediate physical needs” ends.49 Such fundamental and flagrant contradictions rarely occur [104] in second-rate writers; in the work of the great authors they lead into the very center of their work. In the case of Marx, whose loyalty and integrity in describing phenomena as they presented themselves to his view cannot be doubted, the important discrep­ancies in his work, noted by all Marx scholars, can neither be blamed upon the difference “between the scientific point of view of the historian and the moral point of view of the prophet”50 nor on a dialectical movement which needs the negative, or evil, to produce the positive, or good. The fact remains that in all stages of his work he

  • defines man as an animal laborans and then
  • leads him into a society in which this greatest and most human power is no longer necessary.

We are left with the rather distressing alternative be­tween

  • productive slavery and
  • unproductive freedom.
  1. Jules Vuillemin’s L’être et le travail (1949) is a good example of what happens if one tries to resolve the central contradictions and equivocalities of Marx’s thoughts. This is possible only if one abandons the phenomenal evidence altogether and begins to treat Marx’s concepts as though they constituted in themselves a complicated jigsaw puzzle of abstractions. Thus, labor “springs apparently from necessity” but “actually realizes the work of liberty and affirms our power”; in labor “necessity expresses [for man] a hidden freedom” (pp. 15, 16). Against these attempts at a sophisticated vulgarization, one may remember Marx’s own sovereign attitude toward his work as Kautsky reports it in the following anecdote: Kautsky asked Marx in 1881 if he did not contemplate an edition of his complete works, whereupon Marx replied: “These works must first be written” (Kautsky, Aus der Frühzeit des Marxmismus [1935], p. 5 3).

  2. Das Kapital, 111, 873. In the Deutsche Ideologie Marx states that “die kom­munistische Revolution … die Arbeit beseitigt” (p. 59), after having stated some pages earlier (p. 10) that only through labor does man distinguish himself from animals. [104]

  3. The formulation is Edmund Wilson’s in To the Finland Station (Anchor ed., 1953), but this criticism is familiar in Marxian literature.

What other “fundamental and flagrant contradictions” has Arendt got in mind? I recall somebody’s accusation of Maugham that he could not decide whether he admired or despised humanity; but the critic thought this conflict kept Maugham from being first-rate. There is also the opening of Descartes’s Discourse on Method—here are the original and a translation:

Le bon sens est la chose du monde la mieux partagée; car chacun pense en être si bien pourvu, que ceux même qui sont les plus difficiles à contenter en toute autre chose n’ont point coutume d’en désirer plus qu’ils en ont. En quoi il n’est pas vraisemblable que tous se trompent: mais plutôt cela témoigne que la puissance de bien juger et distinguer le vrai d’avec le faux, qui est proprement ce qu’on nomme le bon sens ou la raison, est naturellement égale en tous les hommes; et ainsi que la diversité de nos opinions ne vient pas de ce que les uns sont plus raisonnables que les autres, mais seulement de ce que nous conduisons nos pensées par diverses voies, et ne considérons pas les mêmes choses. Car ce n’est pas assez d’avoir l’esprit bon, mais le principal est de l’appliquer bien. Les plus grandes âmes sont capables des plus grands vices aussi bien que des plus grandes vertus; et ceux qui ne marchent que fort lentement peuvent avancer beaucoup davantage, s’ils suivent toujours le droit chemin, que ne font ceux qui courent et qui s’en éloignent. The most widely shared thing in the world is good sense, for everyone thinks he is so well provided with it that even those who are the most difficult to satisfy in everything else do not usually desire to have more good sense than they have. In this matter it is not likely that everyone is mistaken. But this is rather a testimony to the fact that the power of judging well and distinguishing what is true from what is false, which is really what we call good sense or reason, is naturally equal in all men, and thus the diversity of our opinions does not arise because some people are more reasonable than others, but only because we conduct our thoughts by different routes and do not consider the same things. For it is not enough to have a good mind. The main thing is to apply it well. The greatest minds are capable of the greatest vices as well as the greatest virtues, and those who proceed only very slowly, if they always stay on the right road, are capable of advancing a great deal further than those who rush along and wander away from it.

The conflict in the Veblen quote on page 102 (¶ 14.1) seemed clear enough; but in Marx, is it anything other than the conflict of

  • the real and the ideal (though I guess those are loaded terms for Marx),
  • “what you are, [and] what you’re meant to be” (John Perry Barlow and Bob Weir),
  • the human and the humane (there was only one word before the 18th century)?

¶ 14.5

Thus, the question arises why Locke and all his successors, their own insights notwithstanding, clung so obstinately to labor as the origin of property, of wealth, of all values and, finally, of the very humanity of man. Or, to put it another way, what were the experi­ences inherent in the laboring activity that proved of such great importance to the modern age?

¶ 14.6

Historically, political theorists from the seventeenth century onward were confronted with a hitherto unheard-of process of

  • growing wealth,
  • growing property,
  • growing acquisition.

In the at­tempt to account for this steady growth, their attention was natu­rally drawn to the phenomenon of a progressing process itself, so that, for reasons we shall have to discuss later,51 the concept of process became the very key term of the new age as well as the sciences, historical and natural, developed by it. From its begin­ning, this process, because of its apparent endlessness, was under­stood as a natural process and more specifically in the image of the life process itself. The crudest superstition of the modern age—that “money begets money”—as well as its sharpest political in­sight—that power generates power—owes its plausibility to the underlying metaphor of the natural fertility of life. Of all human activities, only labor, and neither action nor work, is unending, [105] progressing automatically in accordance with life itself and outside the range of wilful decisions or humanly meaningful purposes.

  1. See ch. vi, § 42, below. [105]

So we have the following (faulty) syllogism?

  • Economic growth will never end.
  • Labor never ends.
  • Therefore everything comes from labor.

¶ 14.7

Perhaps nothing indicates more clearly the level of Marx’s thought and the faithfulness of his descriptions to phenomenal real­ity than that he based his whole theory on the understanding of laboring and begetting as two modes of the same fertile life proc­ess.

  • Labor was to him the “reproduction of one’s own life” which assured the survival of the individual, and
  • begetting was the pro­duction “of foreign life” which assured the survival of the spe­cies.52

This insight is chronologically the never-forgotten origin of his theory, which he then elaborated by substituting for “abstract labor” the labor power of a living organism and by understanding labor’s surplus as that amount of labor power still extant after the means for the laborer’s own reproduction have been produced. With it, he sounded a depth of experience reached by none of his predecessors—to whom he otherwise owed almost all his decisive inspirations—and none of his successors. He squared his theory, the theory of the modern age, with the oldest and most persistent insights into the nature of labor, which, according to the Hebrew as well as the classical tradition, was as intimately bound up with life as giving birth. By the same token, the true meaning of labor’s newly discovered productivity becomes manifest only in Marx’s work, where it rests on the equation of productivity with fertility, so that the famous development of mankind’s “productive forces” into a society of an abundance of “good things” actually obeys no other law and is subject to no other necessity than the aboriginal command, “Be ye fruitful and multiply,” in which it is as though the voice of nature herself speaks to us.

  1. Deutsche Ideologie, p. 17. [106]

A command in an old book is like the voice of nature?

¶ 14.8

The fertility of the human metabolism with nature, growing out of the natural redundancy of labor power, still partakes of the superabundance we see everywhere in nature’s household. The “blessing or the joy” of labor is the human way to experience the sheer bliss of being alive which we share with all living creatures, and it is even the only way men, too, can remain and swing con­tentedly in nature’s prescribed cycle, toiling and resting, laboring and consuming, with the same happy and purposeless regularity with which day and night and life and death follow each other. [106] The reward of toil and trouble lies in nature’s fertility, in the quiet confidence that he who in “toil and trouble” has done his part, re­mains a part of nature in the future of his children and his children’s children. The Old Testament, which, unlike classical antiquity, held life to be sacred and therefore neither death nor labor to be an evil (and least of all an argument against life),53 shows in the stories of the patriarchs how unconcerned about death their lives were, how they needed

  • neither an individual, earthly immortality nor
  • an assurance of the eternity of their souls,

how death came to them in the familiar shape of night and quiet and eternal rest “in a good old age and full of years.”

  1. Nowhere in the Old Testament is death “the wage of sin.” Nor did the curse by which man was expelled from paradise punish him with labor and birth; it only made labor harsh and birth full of sorrow. According to Genesis, man (adam) had been created to take care and watch over the soil (adamah), as even his name, the masculine form of “soil,” indicates (see Gen. 2:5, 15). “And Adam was not to till adamah … and He, God, created Adam of the dust of adamah. … He, God, took Adam and put him into the garden of Eden to till and to watch it” (I follow the translation of Martin Buber and Franz Rosen­zweig, Die Schrift [Berlin, n.d.]). The word for “tilling” which later became the word for laboring in Hebrew, leawod, has the connotation of “to serve.” The curse (3: 17–19) does not mention this word, but the meaning is clear: the serv­ice for which man was created now became servitude. The current popular mis­understanding of the curse is due to an unconscious interpretation of the Old Testament in the light of Greek thinking. The misunderstanding is usually avoid­ed by Catholic writers. See, for instance, Jacques Leclercq, Leçons de droit naturel, Vol. IV, Part 2, “Travail, Propriété,” (1946), p. 31: “La peine du travail est le résultat du péché original. … L’homme non déchu eût travaillé dans la joie, mais il eût travaillé”; or J. Chr. Nattermann, Die moderne Arbeit, soziologisch und theologisch betrachtet (1953), p. 9. It is interesting in this context to compare the curse of the Old Testament with the seemingly similar explanation of the harsh­ness of labor in Hesiod. Hesiod reports that the gods, in order to punish man, hid life from him (see n. 8) so that he had to search for it, while before, he apparently did not have to do anything but pluck the fruits of the earth from fields and trees. Here the curse consists not only in the harshness of labor but in labor itself. [107]

From Genesis, apparently we are to infer:

  • The woman’s sorrows are multiplied, and thus she already has some sorrow.
  • That ground is cursed that Adam was already going to be tilling.
  • The pair have not eaten of the Tree of Life, so they are not losing immortality; they were always going to die.

Perhaps this not all entirely clear. Here are verses of Genesis 2 and Genesis 3 in the King James Version:

15 And the Lord God took the man, and put him into the garden of Eden to dress it and to keep it.
16 And the Lord God commanded the man, saying, Of every tree of the garden thou mayest freely eat:
17 But of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, thou shalt not eat of it: for in the day that thou eatest thereof thou shalt surely die.
18 And the Lord God said, It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make him an help meet for him.

14 And the Lord God said unto the serpent, Because thou hast done this, thou art cursed above all cattle, and above every beast of the field; upon thy belly shalt thou go, and dust shalt thou eat all the days of thy life:
15 And I will put enmity between thee and the woman, and between thy seed and her seed; it shall bruise thy head, and thou shalt bruise his heel.
16 Unto the woman he said, I will greatly multiply thy sorrow and thy conception; in sorrow thou shalt bring forth children; and thy desire shall be to thy husband, and he shall rule over thee.
17 And unto Adam he said, Because thou hast hearkened unto the voice of thy wife, and hast eaten of the tree, of which I commanded thee, saying, Thou shalt not eat of it: cursed is the ground for thy sake; in sorrow shalt thou eat of it all the days of thy life;
18 Thorns also and thistles shall it bring forth to thee; and thou shalt eat the herb of the field;
19 In the sweat of thy face shalt thou eat bread, till thou return unto the ground; for out of it wast thou taken: for dust thou art, and unto dust shalt thou return.
20 And Adam called his wife’s name Eve; because she was the mother of all living.
21 Unto Adam also and to his wife did the Lord God make coats of skins, and clothed them.
22 And the Lord God said, Behold, the man is become as one of us, to know good and evil: and now, lest he put forth his hand, and take also of the tree of life, and eat, and live for ever:
23 Therefore the Lord God sent him forth from the garden of Eden, to till the ground from whence he was taken.
24 So he drove out the man; and he placed at the east of the garden of Eden Cherubims, and a flaming sword which turned every way, to keep the way of the tree of life.

It seems possible that Adam and Eve were eating of the Tree of Life, since it was not forbidden in chapter 2; so they could have been immortal, had they remained in Eden. If it had been an important point though, Moses might have made it clearer.

Aquinas thinks it is clear, in the Summa, First Part, Question 97, Article 1; but he relies on Paul:

It is written (Rom. 5:12): “By sin death came into the world.” Therefore man was immortal before sin.

In Article 4, Aquinas implies that this immortality had not come from the tree, though would have been continued by it:

It is written (Gn. 3:22): “Lest perhaps he put forth his hand, and take of the tree of life, and eat, and live for ever.” Further, Augustine says (QQ. Vet. et Nov. Test. qu. 19 [*Work of an anonymous author, among the supposititious works of St. Augustine]): “A taste of the tree of life warded off corruption of the body; and even after sin man would have remained immortal, had he been allowed to eat of the tree of life.”

Arendt alludes to the last verse of Romans 6; earlier verses are relevant for the discussion of being a “servant” or rather slave, ὁ δοῦλος. Here again is the KJV:

14 For sin shall not have dominion over you: for ye are not under the law, but under grace.
15 What then? shall we sin, because we are not under the law, but under grace? God forbid.
16 Know ye not, that to whom ye yield yourselves servants to obey, his servants ye are to whom ye obey; whether of sin unto death, or of obedience unto righteousness?
17 But God be thanked, that ye were the servants of sin, but ye have obeyed from the heart that form of doctrine which was delivered you.
18 Being then made free from sin, ye became the servants of righteousness.
19 I speak after the manner of men because of the infirmity of your flesh: for as ye have yielded your members servants to uncleanness and to iniquity unto iniquity; even so now yield your members servants to righteousness unto holiness.
20 For when ye were the servants of sin, ye were free from righteousness.
21 What fruit had ye then in those things whereof ye are now ashamed? for the end of those things is death.
22 But now being made free from sin, and become servants to God, ye have your fruit unto holiness, and the end everlasting life.
23 For the wages of sin is death; but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.

Does Arendt object to the idea that we have always been slaves, whether to sin or to God? Apparently so, if being a slave is necessarily an evil.

In Hesiod, Arendt now alludes to Works and Days, lines 42–6:

κρύψαντες γὰρ ἔχουσι θεοὶ βίον ἀνθρώποισιν·
ῥηιδίως γάρ κεν καὶ ἐπ᾽ ἤματι ἐργάσσαιο,
ὥστε σε κεἰς ἐνιαυτὸν ἔχειν καὶ ἀεργὸν ἐόντα·
αἶψά κε πηδάλιον μὲν ὑπὲρ καπνοῦ καταθεῖο,
ἔργα βοῶν δ᾽ ἀπόλοιτο καὶ ἡμιόνων ταλαεργῶν.

For the gods keep the means of life concealed from human beings. Otherwise you would easily be able to work in just one day so as to have enough for a whole year even without working, and quickly you would store the rudder above the smoke, and the work of the cattle and of the hard-working mules would be ended.

¶ 14.9

The blessing of life as a whole, inherent in labor, can never be found in work and should not be mistaken for the inevitably brief spell of relief and joy which follows accomplishment and attends achievement. The blessing of labor is that effort and gratification follow each other as closely as producing and consuming the means [107] of subsistence, so that

  • happiness is a concomitant of the process it­self, just as
  • pleasure is a concomitant of the functioning of a healthy body.

The “happiness of the greatest number,” into which we have generalized and vulgarized the felicity with which earthly life has always been blessed, conceptualized into an “ideal” the fundamental reality of a laboring humanity. The right to the pur­suit of this happiness is indeed as undeniable as the right to life; it is even identical with it. But it has nothing in common with good fortune, which is rare and never lasts and cannot be pursued, be­cause fortune depends on luck and what chance gives and takes, although most people in their “pursuit of happiness” run after good fortune and make themselves unhappy even when it befalls them, because they want to keep and enjoy luck as though it were an inexhaustible abundance of “good things.” There is no lasting hap­piness outside the prescribed cycle of painful exhaustion and pleas­urable regeneration, and whatever throws this cycle out of balance

  • poverty and misery where exhaustion is followed by wretched­ness instead of regeneration, or
  • great riches and an entirely effort­less life where boredom takes the place of exhaustion and where the mills of necessity, of consumption and digestion, grind an im­potent human body mercilessly and barrenly to death

ruins the elemental happiness that comes from being alive.

How much is Arendt speaking for herself?

Compare Collingwood, Speculum Mentis, Prologue (pages 23, 25). Beyond not distinguishing work from labor, Collingwood may differ by talking of doing one’s best work:

But the very tendency to level downwards, the very narrowness of medieval institutionalism, secured one great benefit, namely the happiness of those humble ordinary men and women who ask not for adventure or excitement, but for a place in the world where they shall feel themselves usefully and congenially employed.

Now there is no truer and more abiding happiness than the knowledge that one is free to go on doing, day by day, the best work one can do, in the kind one likes best, and that this work is absorbed by a steady market and thus supports one’s own life. The man who is rich enough to work unnoticed and unrewarded is by comparison a savage; the man who can only do his own work by stealth when he has won his daily bread elsewhere is a slave. Perfect freedom is reserved for the man who lives by his own work and in that work does what he wants to do. But this freedom and happiness were in principle at least the lot of every one in the middle ages.

¶ 14.10

The force of life is fertility. The living organism is not ex­hausted when it has provided for its own reproduction, and its “surplus” lies in its potential multiplication. Marx’s consistent naturalism discovered “labor power” as the specifically human mode of the life force which is as capable of creating a “surplus” as nature herself. Since he was almost exclusively interested in this process itself, the process of the “productive forces of society,” in whose life, as in the life of every animal species, production and consumption always strike a balance, the question of a separate existence of worldly things, whose durability will survive and withstand the devouring processes of life, does not occur to him at all. From the viewpoint of the life of the species, all activities in­deed find their common denominator in laboring, and the only dis­tinguishing criterion left is the abundance or scarcity of the goods to be fed into the life process. When every thing has become an object for consumption, the fact that labor’s surplus does not [108] change the nature, the “short duration,” of the products them­selves loses all importance, and this loss is manifest in Marx’s work in the contempt with which he treats the belabored distinc­tions of his predecessors between productive and unproductive, or skilled and unskilled labor.

¶ 14.11

The reason why Marx’s predecessors were not able to rid them­selves of these distinctions, which essentially are equivalent to the more fundamental distinction between work and labor, was not that they were less “scientific” but that they were still writing on the assumption of private property, or at least individual appropria­tion of national wealth. For the establishment of property, mere abundance can never be enough; labor’s products do not become more durable by their abundance and cannot be “heaped up” and stored away to become part of a man’s property; on the contrary, they are only too likely to disappear in the process of appropria­tion or to “perish uselessly” if they are not consumed “before they spoil.”

So it is a failure,

  • not that Marx did not recognize the distinction between work and labor,
  • but that Locke and Smith did not understand it properly?

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  1. […] §§ 11–14 […]

  2. By Creativity « Polytropy on June 6, 2022 at 6:27 am

    […] 302–3, in the twelfth and last of the readings that have been taken up on this blog. For the fourth reading, I made some notes on the etymology of τέχνη and related words in English. Arendt remarks […]

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