On The Human Condition of Hannah Arendt 5

Index to this series


This is a rich reading, hard to summarize, though one might expect it to be easy, since we are now finishing one of the core chapters. Perhaps the main point, brought out in the final section, is that a consumer society is not the paradise it is supposed to be.

Graffiti on Şoför Sokağı, “Chauffeur Street,” in the heights of Beşiktaş, March 12, 2022.

In Turkish, any professional driver is a chauffeur; his passengers (rarely her passengers) could be a busload of schoolchildren.

Gezmek is to walk around, gitmek is to go; the gezici and the gidici are those who do these things, or that which does them: the itinerant and the temporary. Thus the painted words Biz geziciyiz siz gidici say we are the former, and you the latter. But Gezi Park is also the locus of the 2013 protests, which I think were provoked in part by the banning of celebrations of May Day, 1 Mayıs. So the slogan would seem to mean, “We are the people you heard from in Gezi Park; you are on your way out.”

Kaldıraç means lever, one of the simple machines; it is also the name of a leftie group participating in the 2011 Peoples’ Democratic Congress. The verb kaldırmak means to raise, but also to abolish.

In “proper” Turkish, gidici should be gidicisiniz, with the second-person plural ending; the need for the ending is not done away with by use of the second person plural pronoun siz, any more than the the need for the first person plural ending on geziciyiz is done away with by use of the first person plural pronoun biz. For consistency, the slogan could have been Geziciyiz gidicisiniz or (in “crude,” kaba Turkish) Biz gezici siz gidici (like “Me Tarzan You Jane”—Turkish does have the word Tarzanca, “Tarzanish,” for crude speech). However, actual speakers are not obliged to follow rules laid down by grammarians. See also the brief 2014 post, “Graffiti Grammar.”

For me, a key sentence of the present reading of The Human Condition is in the first section (of this reading), at the end of ¶ 15.8 (page 115):

If this painful effort of living and fertility were the true origin of prop­erty, then the privacy of this property would be indeed as world­less as the unequaled privacy of having a body and of experiencing pain.

What would worldlessly private property look like? I suppose it would look like knowledge, which has a kind of privacy that does not entail exclusivity. Apparently I had been thinking about this when preparing a talk called “Euclid Mathematically and Historically,” given in the mathematics department of Bilkent University, Ankara, March 7, 2018. I began my abstract by saying,

Mathematics can save the world, not through a theorem or application, but as an example of an endeavor where

  1. differences can and must be resolved peacefully;
  2. dissent is encouraged; and
  3. wealth has to be shared to be recognized, and then only gains in value.

Nonetheless, in trying to share in the wealth of mathematical knowledge, we have to think historically as well as mathematically, particularly when the wealth comes down to us from Ancients such as Euclid.

I am talking here about mathematical knowledge, which for me is the paradigm of knowledge. This could be like taking touch as the paradigm of sensation; and in this reading, Arendt objects to the philosophers who follow Lucretius in doing this. Let me then just point to my post, “Feminist Epistemology.”

My notes below are going to make use of the opening section, called “The Two Contrasted,” of “Thinking and Feeling,” Chapter VIII of The Principles of Art of Collingwood. I could use more of that section now:

… there is a special kind of privacy about feelings, in contrast with what may be called the publicity of thoughts. A hundred people in the street may all feel cold, but each person’s feeling is private to himself. But if they all think that the thermometer reads 22° Fahrenheit, they are all thinking the same thought: this thought is public to them all. The act of thinking it may or may not be an entirely private act; but a thought in the sense of what we think is not the act of thinking it, and a feeling in the sense of what we feel is not the act of feeling it.

Thoughts can be shared, though the actual thinking of them be private. Again though, we have to recall that thinking is explicitly not what Arendt wants to talk about in The Human Condition; it is only what she wants to do.

Besides Collingwood, in my notes I shall be quoting the following, because (except Collingwood and Lewis) Arendt refers to them:

  • Collingwood, The Principles of Art, The Idea of History;
  • Locke, Second Treatise of Government;
  • Plato: Gorgias, Republic, Theaetetus;
  • Isak Dinesen, “Converse at Night in Copenhagen”;
  • Marx, Economic and Philosophical Manuscripts of 1844;
  • C. S. Lewis, Mere Christianity;
  • Seneca, De tranquillitate animi;
  • Veblen, The Theory of the Leisure Class;
  • Winston Ashley, The Theory of Natural Slavery, according to Aristotle and St. Thomas;
  • Aristotle, Politics;
  • Herodotus;
  • Thomas Aquinas.

Arendt refers to the work of Seneca with animae instead of animi and makes other little mistakes (which I note) in her citations.

I note the relevance of Jean-Marc Moutout (director), Work hard, play hard (French title Violence des échanges en milieu tempéré). I must have seen it in a film festival in Ankara. It currently has no article in the English Wikipedia, and I could not find it on What Is My Movie when I searched on the phrase “French film about company with slogan work hard play hard,” though in retrospect I see it comes up right away with “work hard play hard.”

Summary by sections

  • 15 the privacy of property and wealth There is a paradox, if not a contradiction. Locke sought to justify the privacy of property though the most private thing there is: our own bodies and their labor. But the private property that Locke has in mind has a place in the world and has been taken from others.

    There is discussion of the privacy of pain and of how release from pain is different from not having it at all. Sensations such as tickling may tell us nothing about the world, but other sensations still may, though various philosophers have denied this.

  • 16 the instruments of work and the division of labor Arendt’s distinction between labor and work is important here. Working is making things, and tools may help with this. However, the making of any one thing has an end, and like a biological process, labor has no end; thus thus tools will never eliminate it.

  • 17 a consumers’ society We have emancipated labor, not so much by raising it up as by reducing all other activities to labor or play. A society that only labors can only consume, rather than make things that last. Total elimination of labor would be a fool’s paradise, though actually, since the industrial revolution, we have brought the amount of our labor down only to the historical average.

Five emancipations are named.

  1. Emancipation of labor means work and action are not above it, but are reduced to it. This is bad for making everything that isn’t labor a hobby (¶ 17.1).
  2. Emancipation of laborers means basically they are not slaves. This is good for reducing violence (¶ 17.3);
  3. Emancipation of all of us from labor seems to be “the only strictly utopian element in Marx’s teachings” (¶ 17.4). Simone Weil observed this. A classless, stateless society is not utopian, but was realized in Athens, except for the slavery. Emancipation from labor is utopian, because Marx expects it to lead to:
  4. Emancipation from necessity, which would mean:
  5. Emancipation from consumption.

Arendt seems to suggest that the last two emancipations might somehow be possible. However, they would not be desirable: “not even this utopia could change the essential worldly futility of the life process” (¶ 17.5). We would be stuck with the problem of exhausting ourselves enough to spend all of our time consuming. We are not at all near that point, actually (¶ 17.6).

Summary by paragraphs

  • 15 the privacy of property and wealth
    • ¶ 15.1 The modern is age is concerned not with property as such, but with getting more of it: appropriation. That is a reason why theorists have been able to end up calling for the abolition of property.
    • ¶ 15.2 Locke had to justify making appropriation private.
    • ¶ 15.3 Labor was the key, since we naturally own our laboring bodies.
    • ¶ 15.4 This was supposed to justify, as being natural, the taking of other people’s stuff, at least if it is held in common. Marx too wanted to see growth of wealth as natural.
    • ¶ 15.5 Actually, slave labor is not natural. Relief from pain is the natural private experience sought by Stoicism, Epicureanism, Hedonism.
    • ¶ 15.6 These philosophies confuse relief from pain with absence of pain.
    • ¶ 15.7 Pain and relief do not show us anything in the world; neither does tickling; but that doesn’t mean all senses are useless for this.
    • ¶ 15.8 As the activity corresponding to the worldless experience of pain, labor alone gives us worldless things.
    • ¶ 15.9 Property for Locke was in the world.
    • ¶ 15.10 Accumulation is unbounded only for man as “member of the species” or Gattungswesen, to use Marx’s term.
    • ¶ 15.11 “Marx’s labor philosophy … the evolution and development theories of the nineteenth century … What all these theories … have in common is the concept of proc­ess … the discovery of processes by the natural sciences had coincided with the discovery of introspection in philosophy.”
    • ¶ 15.12 As abundance alone does not establish a common world, Marx was right to expect time off from laboring to be spent on hobbies.
  • 16 the instruments of work and the division of labor
    • ¶ 16.1 All the fertility of labor can do is feed more families. This feeding is still labor, thus not done in freedom.
    • ¶ 16.2 “This worldlessness of the animal laborans” is due, not to a flight from publicity, as in good works, but to “repugnance to futility,” in Veblen’s terminology. Omnis vita servitium est, “All life is a servitude,” as Seneca said.
    • ¶ 16.3 Slave labor was employed, and its inefficiency undiscovered, in the ancient world, because there was interest only in consumption, not production.
    • ¶ 16.4 “For mortals, the ‘easy life of the gods’ would be a lifeless life.”
    • ¶ 16.5 Trust in the reality of the world and of life are different and in conflict. The former needs permanence; the latter, laboring.
    • ¶ 16.6 “Man cannot be free if he does not know that he is subject to necessity, because his freedom is always won in his never wholly successful attempts to liberate himself from necessity.”
    • ¶ 16.7 “Tools and instruments which can ease the effort of labor con­siderably are themselves not a product of labor but of work; they do not belong in the process of consumption but are part and parcel of the world of use objects.”
    • ¶ 16.8 Thus such tools cannot replace the human being.
    • ¶ 16.9 Division of labor is not specialization of work, though both result from action.
    • ¶ 16.10 Undivided or divided, labor is limited on two sides, by capacity to produce and consume.
    • ¶ 16.11 Increasing consumption is the more serious problem (for those who want to accumulate wealth).
    • ¶ 16.12 The solution is to turn work into labor, and products into consumer goods.
    • ¶ 16.13 Repetitiveness helps do this.
    • ¶ 16.14 The stuff we make becomes as perishable as what nature makes.
    • ¶ 16.15 “The ideals of homo faber, the fabricator of the world, which are permanence, stability, and durability, have been sacrificed to abun­dance, the ideal of the animal laborans.”
  • 17 a consumers’ society
    • ¶ 17.1 That we are a consumer society means we are a society of laborers. We have emancipated labor, in the sense that everything we do is either making a living or play.
    • ¶ 17.2 Other civilizations have, with Plato, distinguished the art of making money from the other arts.
    • ¶ 17.3 Emancipation of labor does mean less violence, though perhaps not more freedom.
    • ¶ 17.4 Marx’s teaching of our emancipation seems utopian, the real “opium of the people.”
    • ¶ 17.5 It would lead to the consumption of the whole world.
    • ¶ 17.6 Actually the free time we now have is probably near the historical average.
    • ¶ 17.7 “The spare time of the animal laborans is never spent in anything but consumption.”
    • ¶ 17.8 “Only the animal laborans, and neither the craftsman nor the man of action, has ever demanded to be ‘happy.’ ”
    • ¶ 17.9 A sign of our being on the way to this ideal is our waste economy.
    • ¶ 17.10 Nature is, for animal laborans, to be consumed; for homo faber, to be used to make things.
    • ¶ 17.11 A consumer society may fail to recognize its own futility.

15 the privacy of property and wealth

¶ 15.1

At first glance it must seem strange indeed that a theory which so conclusively ended in the abolition of all property should have taken its departure from the theoretical establishment of private property. This strangeness, however, is somewhat mitigated if we remember the sharply polemical aspect of the modern age’s con­cern with property, whose rights were asserted explicitly against the common realm and against the state. Since no political theory prior to socialism and communism had proposed to establish an entirely propertyless society, and no government prior to the twentieth century had shown serious inclinations to expropriate its citizens, the content of the new theory could not possibly be prompted by the need to protect property rights against possible intrusion of government administration. The point is that then, unlike now when all property theories are obviously on the defen­sive, the economists were not on the defensive at all but on the contrary openly hostile to the whole sphere of government, which [109] at best was considered a “necessary evil” and a “reflection on hu­man nature,”54 at worst a parasite on the otherwise healthy life of society.55 What the modern age so heatedly defended was never property as such but the unhampered pursuit of more property or of appropriation; as against all organs that stood for the “dead” per­manence of a common world, it fought its battles in the name of life, the life of society.

  1. The writers of the modern age are all agreed that

    • the “good” and “pro­ductive” side of human nature is reflected in society, while
    • its wickedness makes government necessary.
    • As Thomas Paine stated it: “Society is produced by our wants, and government by our wickedness; the former promotes our happiness positively by uniting our affections, the latter negatively by restraining our vices. … Society in every state is a blessing, but government, even in the best state, a necessary evil” (Common Sense, 1776).
    • Or Madison: “But what is gov­ernment itself but the greatest of all reflections on human nature? If men were angels, no government would be necessary. If angels were to govern men, neither external or internal controls would be necessary” (The Federalist [Modern Li­brary ed.], p. 337).
  2. This was the opinion of Adam Smith, for instance, who was very indig­nant about “the public extravagance of government”: “The whole, or almost the whole public revenue, is in most countries employed in maintaining unproduc­tive hands” (op. cit., I, 306).

If the theorists of private property were not concerned about losing it to the state, does that mean they were concerned with taking it from other people? That’s what the ensuing paragraph suggests.

Government is mentioned but twice more in this reading, the fifth. In the third reading, Arendt ridiculed the notion that government’s job was only to protect private property. She observes

  • on page 60 (¶ 8.3), speaking of “the Christian and socialist viewpoints,”

    What is impossible to perceive from either point of view is that Marx’s “withering away of the state” had been preceded by a withering away of the public realm, or rather by its transformation into a very restricted sphere of government

  • on page 69 (¶ 9.3),

    The obvious contradiction in this modern concept of government, where the only thing people have in common is their private interests, need no longer bother us as it still bothered Marx, since we know that the contradiction between private and public, typical of the initial stages of the modern age, has been a temporary phenomenon which introduced the utter extinction of the very difference be­tween the private and public realms, the submersion of both in the sphere of the social.

¶ 15.2

There is no doubt that,

  • as the natural process of life is located in the body,
  • there is no more immediately life-bound activity than laboring.

Locke could

  • neither remain satisfied with the traditional explanation of labor, according to which it is the natural and in­evitable consequence of poverty and never a means of its abolition,
  • nor with the traditional explanation of the origin of property through acquisition, conquest, or an original division of the com­mon world.56

  • What he actually was concerned with was appropria- [110] tion and
  • what he had to find was a world-appropriating activity whose privacy at the same time must be beyond doubt and dispute.
  1. No doubt, “before 1690 no one understood that a man had a natural right to property created by his labour; after 1690 the idea came to be an axiom of social science” (Richard Schlatter, Private Property: The History of an Idea [1951], p. 156).

    • The concept of labor and property was even mutually exclusive, where­as
    • labor and poverty (ponos and penia, Arbeit and Armut) belonged together in the sense that the activity corresponding to the status of poverty was laboring.

    Plato, therefore, who held that laboring slaves were “bad” because they were not masters of the animal part within them, said almost the same about the status of poverty. The poor man is “not master of himself” (penēs ōn kai heautou mē kratōn (Seventh Letter 351A]). None of the classical writers ever thought of labor as a possible source of wealth. According to Cicero—and he probably only sums [110] up contemporary opinion—property comes about either through

    • ancient con­quest or
    • victory or
    • legal division

    (aut vetere occupatione aut victoria aut lege [De officiis i. 21]).

Locke’s Two Treatises of Government were dated 1690. In my own notes, I shall try to quote the whole sections of the Second Treatise that Arendt selects from. I shall use the 1764 edition by Hollis, as digitized by the Online Library of Liberty; it is also available at John Locke dot net, but I cannot tell who is responsible for that website. Hannah Arendt’s numerical references can be off by one.

From πένομαι “to exert oneself, toil, work, prepare, provide” come

  • ἡ πενία “poverty, lack,”
  • ὁ πόνος “(hard) labor, effort, struggle, sorrow, pain.”

I would ask whether Locke’s theory, like Darwin’s, depends on two principles, one of which is inheritance. In the struggle for existence,

  • the fittest organisms survive and pass along to their descendents their traits;
  • the fittest humans stake out land with their labor and pass it along to their descendents.

The inheritors of land may go on working it, but here they benefit also from a “world,” created by work, that they inherit: tools, house, an clearing of trees, and so on. See pages 134–5 (¶17.10) below.

Arendt mentions Darwin later (page 116, ¶ 15.11) as being what Marx is for history, according to Engels. I think he also needs a third principle, whereby inheritance is not always pure, but there is random variation in acquired characteristics.

As Arendt says in the next paragraph, labor appropriates land; keeping it private is something else.

The Platonic idea in note 56 that slaves do not master their animal part will be repeated on page 118 (¶ 16.1) with a citation of the Republic.

¶ 15.3

Nothing, to be sure, is more private than the bodily functions of the life process, its fertility not excluded, and it is quite note­worthy that the few instances where even a “socialized mankind” respects and imposes strict privacy concern precisely such “activi­ties” as are imposed by the life process itself. Of these, labor, be­cause it is an activity and not merely a function, is the least pri­vate, so to speak, the only one we feel need not be hidden; yet it is still close enough to the life process to make plausible the argu­ment for the privacy of appropriation as distinguished from the very different argument for the privacy of property.57 Locke founded private property on the most privately owned thing there is, “the property [of man] in his own person,” that is, in his own body.58 “The labour of our body and the work of our hands” become one and the same, because both are the “means” to “ap­propriate” what “God … hath given … to men in common.” And these means, body and hands and mouth, are the natural ap­propriators because they do not “belong to mankind in common” but are given to each man for his private use.59

  1. See § 8 above.
  2. op. cit., sec. 26.
  3. Ibid., sec. 25.

Arendt refers to § 8, but this from § 9 (p. 73, ¶ 9.9) is also relevant:

the few remnants of strict privacy even in our own civilization relate to “necessities” in the original sense of being necessitated by having a body.

The several quotations of Locke seem to be from §§ 26 and 27 of the Second Treatise:

§. 26. God, who hath given the world to men in common, hath also given them reason to make use of it to the best advantage of life, and convenience. The earth, and all that is therein, is given to men for the support and comfort of their being. And tho’ all the fruits it naturally produces, and beasts it feeds, belong to mankind in common, as they are produced by the spontaneous hand of nature; and no body has originally a private dominion, exclusive of the rest of mankind, in any of them, as they are thus in their natural state: yet being given for the use of men, there must of necessity be a means to appropriate them some way or other, before they can be of any use, or at all beneficial to any particular man. The fruit, or venison, which nourishes the wild Indian, who knows no inclosure, and is still a tenant in common, must be his, and so his, i. e. a part of him, that another can no longer have any right to it, before it can do him any good for the support of his life.

§ 27. Though the earth, and all inferior creatures, be common to all men, yet every man has a property in his own person: this no body has any right to but himself. The labour of his body, and the work of his hands, we may say, are properly his. Whatsoever then he removes out of the state that nature hath provided, and left it in, he hath mixed his labour with, and joined to it something [217] that is his own, and thereby makes it his property. It being by him removed from the common state nature hath placed it in, it hath by this labour something annexed to it, that excludes the common right of other men: for this labour being the unquestionable property of the labourer, no man but he can have a right to what that is once joined to, at least where there is enough, and as good, left in common for others.

¶ 15.4

  • Just as Marx had to introduce a natural force, the “labor power” of the body, to account for labor’s productivity and a progressing process of growing wealth,
  • Locke, albeit less explicitly, had to trace property to a natural origin of appropriation in order to force open those stable, worldly boundaries that “enclose” each person’s privately owned share of the world “from the common.”60

What Marx still had in common with Locke was that he wished to see the process of growing wealth as a natural process, automatically following its own laws and beyond wilful decisions and purposes. If any human activity was to be involved in the process at all, it could only be a bodily “activity” whose natural functioning could not be checked even if one wanted to do so. To check these “activi- [111] ties” is indeed to destroy nature, and for the whole modern age, whether it holds fast to the institution of private property or con­siders it to be an impediment to the growth of wealth, a check or control of the process of wealth was equivalent to an attempt to destroy the very life of society.

  1. Ibid., sec. 31. [111]

The Locke is here:

§ 32. But the chief matter of property being now not the fruits of the earth, and the beasts that subsist on it, but the earth itself; as that which takes in and carries with it all the rest; I think it is plain, that property in that too is acquired as the former. As much land as a man tills, plants, improves, cultivates, and can use the product of, so much is his property. He by his labour does, as it were, inclose it from the common. Nor will it invalidate his right, to say every body else has an equal title to it; and therefore he cannot appropriate, he cannot inclose, without the consent of all his fellow-commoners, all mankind. God, when he gave the world in common to all mankind, commanded man also to labour, and the penury of his condition required it of him. God and his reason commanded him to subdue the earth, i. e. improve it for the benefit of life, and therein lay out something upon it that was his own, his labour. He that in obedience to this command of God, subdued, tilled and sowed any part of it, thereby annexed to it something that was his property, which another had no title to, nor could without injury take from him.

What is the forcing open of the boundaries? It might be

  • taking individuals’ lands, perhaps through foreclosure as the result of mortgage loans;
  • taking common land through enclosure.

These are instances of appropriation.

¶ 15.5

  • The development of the modern age and the rise of society, where the most private of all human activities, laboring, has be­come public and been permitted to establish its own common realm, may make it doubtful whether the very existence of prop­erty as a privately held place within the world can withstand the relentless process of growing wealth.
  • But it is true, nevertheless, that the very privacy of one’s holdings, that is, their complete inde­pendence “from the common,” could not be better guaranteed than
    • by the transformation of property into appropriation or
    • by an in­terpretation of the “enclosure from the common” which sees it as the result, the “product,” of bodily activity.

In this aspect, the body becomes indeed the quintessence of all property because it is the only thing one could not share even if one wanted to. Nothing, in fact, is less common and less communicable, and therefore more securely shielded against the visibility and audibility of the public realm, than what goes on within the confines of the body, its pleasures and its pains, its laboring and consuming. Nothing, by the same token, ejects one more radically from the world than exclusive concentration upon the body’s life, a concentration forced upon man

  • in slavery or
  • in the extremity of unbearable pain.

Who­ever wishes, for whatever reason, to make human existence en­tirely “private,” independent of the world and aware only of its own being alive, must rest his arguments on these experiences; and since the relentless drudgery of slave labor is not “natural” but man-made and in contradiction to the natural fertility of the animal laborans, whose strength is not exhausted and whose time is not consumed when it has reproduced his own life, the “natural” ex­perience underlying the Stoic as well as the Epicurean independ­ence of the world is not labor or slavery but pain. The happiness achieved in isolation from the world and enjoyed within the con­fines of one’s own private existence can never be anything but the famous “absence of pain,” a definition on which all variations of consistent sensualism must agree. Hedonism, the doctrine that [112] only bodily sensations are real, is but the most radical form of a non-political, totally private way of life, the true fulfilment of Epicurus’ lathe biōsas kai mē politeuesthai (“live in hiding and do not care about the world”).

What is the opening antithesis? Appropriation means making something one’s own, that is, making it private. If this is what everybody is engaged in, then everybody’s property is threatened by everybody else.

The idea that “what goes on within the confines of the body” is “shielded against the visibility and audibility of the public realm” makes no sense, since for example certain sounds associated with our digestive system are considered a public embarrassment.

The ensuing remarks about ejection from the world make sense to me, since for example the calming effects of alcohol, as during an airplane flight, are achieved also by illness.

If hedonism indeed be “the doctrine that only bodily sensations are real,” then in particular the good can only be a bodily sensation, and the standard name for that sensation would seem to be “pleasure,” which in Greek is ἡ ἡδονή, which is the root of the word “hedonism.”

Socrates proves that the docrine is incoherent in the Gorgias, when Callicles admits to it at 495a:

ἀλλ᾽ ἔτι καὶ νῦν λέγε πότερον φῂς εἶναι τὸ αὐτὸ ἡδὺ καὶ ἀγαθόν, ἢ εἶναί τι τῶν ἡδέων ὃ οὐκ ἔστιν ἀγαθόν;
But come, try again now and tell me whether you say that pleasant and good are the same thing, or that there is some pleasure which is not good.
ἵνα δή μοι μὴ ἀνομολογούμενος ᾖ ὁ λόγος, ἐὰν ἕτερον φήσω εἶναι, τὸ αὐτό φημι εἶναι.
Then, so that my statement may not be inconsistent through my saying they are different, I say they are the same.

The pleasant and the good cannot be the same, because drinking is a pleasure only when accompanied by the pain of thirst, and as Socrates will have got Callicles to admit at 496c,

ἐὰν εὕρωμεν ἄρα ἄττα ὧν ἅμα τε ἀπαλλάττεται ἄνθρωπος καὶ ἅμα ἔχει, δῆλον ὅτι ταῦτά γε οὐκ ἂν εἴη τό τε ἀγαθὸν καὶ τὸ κακόν.
Then if we find any things that a man puts off and retains at one and the same moment, clearly these cannot be the good and the bad.

I neglected this part of the argument when I took up the Gorgias in “Doing and Suffering.” I passed over to Callicles’s effective retraction of his earlier admission, at 499b:

ὡς δὴ σὺ οἴει ἐμὲ ἢ καὶ ἄλλον ὁντινοῦν ἀνθρώπων οὐχ ἡγεῖσθαι τὰς μὲν βελτίους ἡδονάς, τὰς δὲ χείρους.
So you suppose that I or anybody else in the world does not regard some pleasures as better, and others worse!

We have to think about whether (or how) something is good or bad, and our thinking may itself be good or bad. Thinking is thus “bipolar,” in a way that feeling is not; and pleasure is a feeling. As Collingwood puts it in The Principles of Art (p. 157):

there is a special kind of simplicity about feeling, in contrast with what may be called the bipolarity of thought. Whenever we think we are more or less conscious of a distinction between

  • thinking well and thinking ill,
  • doing the job of thinking successfully or unsuccessfully.

The distinctions between

  • right and wrong,
  • good and bad,
  • true and false,

are special cases of this bipolarity; it is plain that none of them could arise except in the experience of a thinking being. This is not merely because they are distinctions; nor even merely because they are oppositions. Distinctions and even oppositions can arise in feeling as such: for example

  • the distinction between red and blue,
  • the opposition between hot and cold or pleasant and painful.

The distinction or opposition in virtue of which I speak of thought as bipolar is of a quite different kind from these. There is nothing in the case of feeling to correspond with what, in the case of thinking, may be called mis-thinking or thinking wrong. The most general name for this thing is failure.

¶ 15.6

Normally, absence of pain is no more than the bodily condition for experiencing the world; only if the body is not irritated and, through irritation, thrown back upon itself, can our bodily senses function normally, receive what is given to them. Absence of pain is usually “felt” only in the short intermediate stage between pain and non-pain, and the sensation which corresponds to the sen­sualists’ concept of happiness is release from pain rather than its absence. The intensity of this sensation is beyond doubt; it is, in­deed, matched only by the sensation of pain itself.61 The mental effort required by philosophies which for various reasons wish to “liberate” man from the world is always an act of imagination in which the mere absence of pain is experienced and actualized into a feeling of being released from it.62

  1. It seems to me that certain types of mild and rather frequent drug addic­tions, which usually are blamed upon the habit-forming properties of drugs, might perhaps be due to the desire to repeat the once experienced pleasure of relief from pain with its intense feeling of euphoria.

    • The phenomenon itself was well known in antiquity, whereas
    • in modern literature I found the only support for my assumption in Isak Dinesen’s “Converse at Night in Copenhagen” (Last Tales [1957], pp. 338 ff.), where she counts “cessation from pain” among the “three kinds of perfect happiness.”

    Plato already argues against those who “when drawn away from pain firmly believe that they have reached the goal of … pleasure” (Republic 585A), but concedes that these “mixed pleasures” which follow pain or privation are more intense than the pure pleasures, such as smelling an exquisite aroma or contemplating geometrical figures. Curiously enough, it was the hedonists who confused the issue and did not want to admit that the pleasure of release from pain is greater in intensity than “pure pleasure,” let alone mere absence of pain. Thus Cicero accused Epicurus of having confused mere absence of pain with the pleasure of release from it (see V. Brochard, Études de philosophie ancienne et de philosophie moderne [1912], pp. 252 ff.). And Lucretius exclaimed: “Do you not see that nature is clamouring for two things only, a body free from pain, a mind released from worry …?” (The Nature of the Universe [Penguin ed.], p. 60).

  2. Brochard (op. cit.) gives an excellent summary of the philosophers of late antiquity, especially of Epicurus. The way to unshaken sensual happiness lies in the soul’s capacity “to escape into a happier world which it creates, so that [113] with the help of imagination it can always persuade the body to experience the same pleasure which it once has known” (pp. 278 and 294 ff.).

This paragraph would seem to be a parenthesis, according to the beginning of the next one: “In any event.”

In note 61, Arendt refers to the “once experienced pleasure of relief from pain,” as if you never experience this pleasure again, though it is what you seek as you go on taking the drug that gave it to you. However, is not Arendt, as an habitual smoker, relieved of pain, every time she lights up? I have thought that people wanted to have an addiction, so that they would always have a goal in life that was easily achieved, namely the satisfaction of their craving.

In the Dinesen story, the three kinds of perfect happiness are

  • “to feel in oneself an excess of strength”;
  • “to know for certain that you are fulfilling the will of God”;
  • “The cessation of pain.”

In the Republic, one may look earlier, at 583c–e:

“Tell me,” I said, “don’t we say pain is the opposite of pleasure?”

“Quite so.”

“Don’t we also say that being affected by neither joy nor pain is something?”

“We do indeed say that it is.”

“Is it in the middle between these two, a certain repose of the soul with respect to them? Or don’t you say it’s that way?”

“Just so,” he said.

“Don’t you remember,” I said, “the words of sick men, spoken when they are sick?”

“What words?”

“That after all nothing is more pleasant than being healthy, but before they were sick it had escaped them that it is most pleasant.”

“I do remember,” he said.

“And don’t you also hear those who are undergoing some intense suffering saying that nothing is more pleasant than the cessation of suffering?”

“I do hear them.”

“And I suppose you are aware of many other similar circumstances in which human beings, while they are in pain, extol as most pleasant not enjoyment but rather the absence of pain and repose from it.

“For,” he said, “at that time repose perhaps becomes pleasant and enough to content them.”

“And when a man’s enjoyment ceases,” I said, “then the repose from pleasure will be painful.”

“Perhaps,” he said.

“Therefore, what we were just saying is between the two—repose—will at times be both, pain and pleasure.”

One should look also at the jars in the Gorgias: see “Doing and Suffering.”

¶ 15.7

In any event, pain and the concomitant experience of release from pain are the only sense experiences that are so independent from the world that they do not contain the experience of any worldly object. The pain caused by a sword or the tickling caused by a feather indeed tells me nothing whatsoever of the quality or even the worldly existence of a sword or a feather.63 Only an ir­resistible distrust in the capacity of human senses for an adequate experience of the world—and this distrust is the origin of all specifically modern philosophycan explain the strange and even [114] absurd choice that uses phenomena which, like pain or tickling, obviously prevent our senses’ functioning normally, as examples of all sense experience, and can derive from them the subjectivity of “secondary” and even “primary” qualities. If we had no other sense perceptions than these in which the body senses itself, the reality of the outer world would not only be open to doubt, we would not even possess any notion of a world at all.

  1. It is characteristic of all theories that argue against the world-giving capacity of the senses that they remove vision from its position as the highest and most noble of the senses and substitute touch or taste, which are indeed the most private senses, that is, those in which the body primarily senses itself while perceiving an object. All thinkers who deny the reality of the outer world would have agreed with Lucretius, who said: “For touch and nothing but touch (by all that men call holy) is the essence of all our bodily sensations” (op. cit., p. 72). This, however, is not enough; touch or taste in a non-irritated body still give too much of the reality of the world: when I eat a dish of strawberries, I taste strawberries and not the taste itself, or, to take an example from Galileo, when “I pass a hand, first over a marble statue, then over a living man,” I am aware of marble and a living body, and not primarily of my own hand that touches them. Galileo, therefore, when he wishes to demonstrate that the sec­ondary qualities, such as colors, tastes, odors, are “nothing else than mere names [having] their residence solely in the sensitive body,” has to give up his own example and introduce the sensation of being tickled by a feather, whereupon he concludes: “Of precisely a similar and not greater existence do I believe these various qualities to be possessed, which are attributed to natural bodies, such as tastes, odours, colours and others” (Il Saggiatore, in Opere, IV, 333 ff.; translation quoted from E. A. Burtt, Metaphysical Foundations of Modern Science [1932]).

    This argument can base itself only upon sense experiences in which the body is clearly thrown back upon itself and therefore, as it were, ejected from the world in which it normally moves. The stronger the inner bodily sensation, the more plausible becomes the argument. Descartes in the same line of argument says as follows: “The motion merely of a sword cutting a part of our skin causes pain but does not on that account make us aware of the motion or the figure of the sword. And it is certain that this sensation of pain is not less different from the motion that causes it … than are the sensation we have of colour, sound, odour, or taste” (Principles, Part 4; translated by Haldane and Ross, Philosophical Works [1911]). [114]

For Lucretius, touch would seem to be “the essence of all our bodily sensations” because all sensation is supposed to result from being touched by the atoms given off by things.

¶ 15.8

The only activity which corresponds strictly to the experience of worldlessness, or rather to the loss of world that occurs in pain, is laboring, where the human body, its activity notwithstanding, is also thrown back upon itself, concentrates upon nothing but its own being alive, and remains imprisoned in its metabolism with nature without ever transcending or freeing itself from the re­curring cycle of its own functioning. We mentioned before the twofold pain connected with the life process for which language has but one word and which according to the Bible was imposed upon the life of man together, the painful effort involved in the reproduction of

  • one’s own life and
  • the life of the species.

If this painful effort of living and fertility were the true origin of prop­erty, then the privacy of this property would be indeed as world­less as the unequaled privacy of having a body and of experiencing pain.

Is the first sentence true by definition or by implication? Is it analytic or synthetic?

In the last sentence, what would worldless privacy of property be? I propose an answer: it would be like knowledge.

¶ 15.9

This privacy, however, while it is essentially the privacy of ap­propriation, is by no means what Locke, whose concepts were still essentially those of the premodern tradition, understood by private property. No matter what its origin, this property was to him still an “enclosure from the common,” that is, primarily a place in the world where that which is private can be hidden and protected against the public realm. As such, it remained in contact with the common world even at a time when growing wealth and appropria­tion began to threaten the common world with extinction. Prop­erty does not strengthen but rather mitigates the unrelatedness to the world of the laboring process, because of its own worldly se­curity. By the same token, the process character of laboring, the relentlessness with which labor is urged and driven by the life process itself, is checked by the acquisition of property. In a so­ciety of property-owners, as distinguished from a society of la- [115] borers or jobholders, it is still the world, and neither natural abundance nor the sheer necessity of life, which stands at the center of human care and worry.

Is the point just this, that the kind of private property of interest to Locke is of the kind that, unlike knowledge, cannot be shared without diminution?

¶ 15.10

The matter becomes altogether different if the leading interest is no longer property but the growth of wealth and the process of accumulation as such. This process can be as infinite as the life process of the species, and its very infinity is constantly challenged and interrupted by the inconvenient fact that private individuals do not live forever and have no infinite time before them. Only if the life of society as a whole, instead of the limited lives of individual men, is considered to be the gigantic subject of the accumulation process can this process go on in full freedom and at full speed, unhampered by limitations imposed by the individual life-span and individually held property. Only when man no longer acts as an individual, concerned only with his own survival, but as a “member of the species,” a Gattungswesen as Marx used to say, only when the reproduction of individual life is absorbed into the life process of man-kind, can the collective life process of a “socialized man­kind” follow its own “necessity,” that is, its automatic course of fertility in the twofold sense of multiplication of lives and the increasing abundance of goods needed by them.

We are a member of the human species, whether we like it or not. Does this not mean we always act as a Gattungswesen?

Deriving the term from Feuerbach, Marx introduced it in the Economic and Philosophical Manuscripts of 1844, in the section called “Estranged Labor”:

Man is a species-being, not only because in practice and in theory he adopts the species (his own as well as those of other things) as his object, but—and this is only another way of expressing it—also because he treats himself as the actual, living species; because he treats himself as a universal and therefore a free being.

¶ 15.11

The coincidence of Marx’s labor philosophy with the evolution and development theories of the nineteenth century—the natural evolution of a single life process from the lowest forms of organic life to the emergence of the human animal and the historical devel­opment of a life process of mankind as a whole—is striking and was early observed by Engels, who called Marx “the Darwin of his­tory.” What all these theories in the various sciences—economics, history, biology, geology—have in common is the concept of proc­ess, which was virtually unknown prior to the modern age. Since the discovery of processes by the natural sciences had coincided with the discovery of introspection in philosophy, it is only natural that the biological process within ourselves should eventually be­come the very model of the new concept; within the framework of experiences given to introspection, we know of no other process but the life process within our bodies, and the only activity into which we can translate it and which corresponds to it is labor. [116] Hence, it may seem almost inevitable that the equation of produc­tivity with fertility in the labor philosophy of the modern age should have been succeeded by the different varieties of life phi­losophy which rest on the same equation.64 The difference between the earlier labor theories and the later life philosophies is chiefly that the latter have lost sight of the only activity necessary to sus­tain the life process. Yet even this loss seems to correspond to the factual historical development which made labor more effortless than ever before and therefore even more similar to the automati­cally functioning life process. If at the turn of the century (with Nietzsche and Bergson) life and not labor was proclaimed to be “the creator of all values,” this glorification of the sheer dynamism of the life process excluded that minimum of initiative present even in those activities which, like laboring and begetting, are urged upon man by necessity.

  1. This connection was dimly perceived by Bergson’s pupils in France (see esp. Édouard Berth, Les méfaits des intellectuels (1914), ch. 1, and Georges Sorel, D’Aristote a Marx [1935]). In the same school belongs the work of the Italian scholar Adriano Tilgher (op. cit.) who emphasizes that the idea of labor is central and constitutes the key to the new concept and image of life (English ed., p. 55). The school of Bergson, like its master, idealizes labor by equating it with work and fabrication. Yet the similarity between the motor of biological life and Bergson’s élan vital is striking. [117]

I don’t know whether Arendt’s reference to introspection is an allusion to phenomenology, “founded in the early years of the 20th century by Edmund Husserl”; but Wikipedia points out that introspection is found in Plato, Theaetetus, 154e–5a:

… νῦν δὲ ἅτε ἰδιῶται πρῶτον βουλησόμεθα θεάσασθαι αὐτὰ πρὸς αὑτὰ τί ποτ᾽ ἐστὶν ἃ διανοούμεθα, πότερον ἡμῖν ἀλλήλοις συμφωνεῖ ἢ οὐδ᾽ ὁπωστιοῦν.
… But, as it is, since we are ordinary people, we shall wish in the first place to look into the real essence of our thoughts and see whether they harmonize with one another or not at all.
πάνυ μὲν οὖν ἔγωγε τοῦτ᾽ ἂν βουλοίμην.
Certainly that is what I should like.
καὶ μὴν ἐγώ. ὅτε δ᾽ οὕτως ἔχει, ἄλλο τι ἢ ἠρέμα, ὡς πάνυ πολλὴν σχολὴν ἄγοντες, πάλιν ἐπανασκεψόμεθα, οὐ δυσκολαίνοντες ἀλλὰ τῷ ὄντι ἡμᾶς αὐτοὺς ἐξετάζοντες, ἅττα ποτ᾽ ἐστὶ ταῦτα τὰ φάσματα ἐν ἡμῖν;
And so should I. But since this is the case, and we have plenty of time, shall we not quietly, without any impatience, but truly examining ourselves, consider again the nature of these appearances within us?

In the present reading, the word “initiative” is used only the once, in the current paragraph. In earlier readings, it occurred three times:

  • Page 9 (¶ 1.5). Initiative is the capacity of acting:

    … of the three, action has the closest connection with the hu­man condition of natality; the new beginning inherent in birth can make itself felt in the world only because the newcomer possesses the capacity of beginning something anew, that is, of acting. In this sense of initiative, an element of action, and therefore of natality, is inherent in all human activities.

  • Page 42, note 35 (¶ 6.8). Initiative is unpredictable and thus not amenable to science:

    Classical economics assumed that man, in so far as he is an active being, acts exclusively from self-interest and is driven by only one desire, the desire for acquisition. Adam Smith’s introduction of an “invisible hand to promote an end which was no part of [anybody’s] intention” proves that even this minimum of action with its uniform motivation still con­tains too much unpredictable initiative for the establishment of a science.

  • Pages 70–1 (¶ 9.6). Loss of initiative threatens the wealthy:

    The same necessity that, from the standpoint of the public realm, shows only its negative aspect as a deprivation of freedom pos­sesses a driving force whose urgency is unmatched by the so-called higher desires and aspirations of man; not only will it always be the first among man’s needs and worries, it will also prevent the apathy and disappearance of initiative which so obviously threatens all overly wealthy communities.

Now Arendt points out that even laboring takes initiative.

The study of humanity as possessed of initiative would seem to be what history is, as distinct from natural science, by the account of Collingwood in The Idea of History, Part V, § 6, “History and Freedom” (pp. 316–7):

The rational activity which historians have to study is never free from compulsion: the compulsion to face the facts of its own situation.

The freedom that there is in history consists in the fact that this compulsion is imposed upon the activity of human reason not by anything else, but by itself. The situation, its master, oracle, and god, is a situation it has itself created … All history is the history of thought; and when an historian says that a man is in a situation this is the same as saying that he thinks he is in a situation. The hard facts of the situation, which it is so important for him to face, are the hard facts of the way in which he conceives the situation.

I talked about some of this in “Freedom” and elsewhere. Collingwood alludes to the poem “Invictus,” by William Ernest Henley, which ends with

I am the master of my fate,
I am the captain of my soul.

This sense could be what rich people may lose, by Arendt’s account; however, Collingwood warns that it is not what he is talking about:

Henley’s rhyme does no more than utter the fantasy of a sick child who has discovered that he can stop himself crying for the moon by making believe that he has got it.

If somebody has this fantasy though, the historian may study what he or she does about it, as a person whose thoughts include the fantasy:

It makes no difference to the historian, as an historian, that there should be no food in a poor man’s house; though it may and must make a difference to him as a man with feelings for his fel­low-creatures; and though as an historian he may be intensely concerned with the shifts by which other men have contrived to bring about this state of things in order that they should be rich and the men who take wages from them poor; and equally concerned with the action to which the poor man may be led not by the fact of his children’s unsatisfied hunger, the fact, the physiological fact of empty bellies and wizened limbs, but by his thought of that fact.

Speaking of fantasy, in Mere Christianity, C. S. Lewis has a criticism of the philosophy of Bergson, namely

the In between view called Life-Force philosophy, or Creative Evolution, or Emergent Evolution. The wittiest expositions of it come in the works of Bernard Shaw, but the most profound ones in those of Bergson. People who hold this view say that the small variations by which life on this planet “evolved” from the lowest forms to Man were not due to chance but to the “striving” or “purposiveness” of a Life-Force.

When people say this we must ask them whether by Life-Force they mean something with a mind or not. If they do, then “a mind bringing life into existence and leading it to perfection” is really a God, and their view is thus identical with the Religious. If they do not, then what is the sense in saying that something without a mind “strives” or has “purposes”? This seems to me fatal to their view. One reason why many people find Creative Evolution so attractive is that it gives one much of the emotional comfort of believing in God and none of the less pleasant consequences.

When you are feeling fit and the sun is shining and you do not want to believe that the whole universe is a mere mechanical dance of atoms, it is nice to be able to think of this great mysterious Force rolling on through the centuries and carrying you on its crest. If, on the other hand, you want to do something rather shabby, the Life-Force, being only a blind force, with no morals and no mind, will never interfere with you like that troublesome God we learned about when we were children. The Life-Force is a sort of tame God. You can switch it on when you want, but it will not bother you. All the thrills of religion and none of the cost. Is the Life-Force the greatest achievement of wishful thinking the world has yet seen?

¶ 15.12

However, neither the enormous increase in fertility nor the so­cialization of the process, that is, the substitution of society or col­lective man-kind for individual men as its subject, can eliminate the character of strict and even cruel privacy from the experience of bodily processes in which life manifests itself, or from the activity of laboring itself.

  • Neither abundance of goods nor the shortening of the time actually spent in laboring are likely to result in the estab­lishment of a common world, and
  • the expropriated animal laborans becomes no less private because he has been deprived of a private place of his own to hide and be protected from the common realm.

Marx predicted correctly, though with an unjustified glee, “the withering away” of the public realm under conditions of unham­pered development of the “productive forces of society,” and he was equally right, that is, consistent with his conception of man as an animal laborans, when he foresaw that “socialized men” would [117] spend their freedom from laboring in those strictly private and es­sentially worldless activities that we now call “hobbies.”65

  1. In communist or socialist society, all professions would, as it were, be­come hobbies: there would be no painters but only people who among other things spend their time also on painting; people, that is, who “do this today and that tomorrow, who hunt in the morning, go fishing in the afternoon, raise cattle in the evening, are critics after dinner, as they see fit, without for that matter ever becoming hunters, fisherman, shepherds or critics” (Deutsche Ideologie, pp. 22 and 373).

Are we reading Arendt as a hobby?

16 the instruments of work and the division of labor

¶ 16.1

Unfortunately, it seems to be in the nature of the conditions of life as it has been given to man that the only possible advantage of the fertility of human labor power lies in its ability to procure the necessities of life for more than one man or one family. Labor’s products, the products of man’s metabolism with nature, do not stay in the world long enough to become a part of it, and the labor­ing activity itself, concentrated exclusively on life and its main­tenance, is oblivious of the world to the point of worldlessness. The animal laborans, driven by the needs of its body, does not use this body freely as homo faber uses his hands, his primordial tools, which is why Plato suggested that laborers and slaves were not only subject to necessity and incapable of freedom but also unable to rule the “animal” part within them.66 A mass society of la­borers, such as Marx had in mind when he spoke of “socialized mankind,” consists of worldless specimens of the species man­kind, whether they are

  • household slaves, driven into their predica­ment by the violence of others, or
  • free, performing their functions willingly.
  1. Republic 590C. [118]

The institution of slavery requires the fertility of labor; but then is the master, as such, not a laborer? Arendt seems to suggest at the end that the master could also be a laborer, since in a mass society of laborers, there could still be slaves. But the point is not clear, and we may find that we can be slavish, at least, without human masters. See the Seneca quote in the next paragraph.

The Republic reference is in Book IX, in the discussion of the new metaphor of the human being as a combination of three figures: a many-headed beast, a lion, and—a human being.

“And why do you suppose mechanical and manual art bring reproach? Or shall we say that this is because of anything else than when the form of the best is by nature so weak in a man that he isn’t capable of ruling the beasts in himself, but only of serving them, and is capable of learning only the things that flatter them?”

“So it seems,” he said.

“In order that such a man also be ruled by something similar to what rules the best man, don’t we say that he must be the slave of that best man who has the divine rule in himself? It’s not that we suppose the slave must be ruled to his own detriment, as Thrasymachus supposed about the ruled; but that it’s better for all to be ruled by what is divine and prudent, especially when one has it as his own within himself; but, if not, set over one from outside, so that insofar as possible all will be alike and friends, piloted by the same thing.”

¶ 16.2

This worldlessness of the animal laborans, to be sure, is entirely different from the active flight from the publicity of the world which we found inherent in the activity of “good works.” The animal laborans does not flee the world but is ejected from it in so far as he is imprisoned in the privacy of his own body, caught in the [118] fulfilment of needs in which nobody can share and which nobody can fully communicate. The fact that slavery and banishment into the household was, by and large, the social condition of all laborers prior to the modern age is primarily due to the human condition itself; life, which for all other animal species is the very essence of their being, becomes a burden to man because of his innate “re­pugnance to futility.”67 This burden is all the heavier since none of the so-called “loftier desires”

  • has the same urgency,
  • is actually forced upon man by necessity,

as the elementary needs of life. Slavery became the social condition of the laboring classes because it was felt that it was the natural condition of life itself. Omnis vita servitium est.68

  1. Veblen, op. cit., p. 33.
  2. Seneca De tranquillitate animae ii. 3.

Our innate, natural repugnance to the futility of a merely animal life leads us to make slaves carry on that life. Do we then excuse this as natural? Near Arendt’s quote of him, Seneca says, “those who have bound others have also been bound.”

Three of the four uses of “repugnance” by Veblen are in the paragraph on pages 32–4 (cut and pasted from Project Gutenberg):

Besides this, the power conferred by wealth also affords a motive to accumulation. That propensity for purposeful activity and that repugnance to all futility of effort which belong to man by virtue of his character as an agent do not desert him when he emerges from the naive communal culture where the dominant note of life is the unanalysed and undifferentiated solidarity of the individual with the group with which his life is bound up. When he enters upon the predatory stage, where self-seeking in the narrower sense becomes the dominant note, this propensity goes with him still, as the pervasive trait that shapes his scheme of life. The propensity for achievement and the repugnance to futility remain the underlying economic motive. The propensity changes only in the form of its expression and in the proximate objects to which it directs the man’s activity. Under the regime of individual ownership the most available means of visibly achieving a purpose is that afforded by the acquisition and accumulation of goods; and as the self-regarding antithesis between man and man reaches fuller consciousness, the propensity for achievement—the instinct of workmanship—tends more and more to shape itself into a straining to excel others in pecuniary achievement. Relative success, tested by an invidious pecuniary comparison with other men, becomes the conventional end of action. The currently accepted legitimate end of effort becomes the achievement of a favourable comparison with other men; and therefore the repugnance to futility to a good extent coalesces with the incentive of emulation. It acts to accentuate the struggle for pecuniary reputability by visiting with a sharper disapproval all shortcoming and all evidence of shortcoming in point of pecuniary success. Purposeful effort comes to mean, primarily, effort directed to or resulting in a more creditable showing of accumulated wealth. Among the motives which lead men to accumulate wealth, the primacy, both in scope and intensity, therefore, continues to belong to this motive of pecuniary emulation.

The fourth instance is in the paragraph on pages 37–8:

The archaic theoretical distinction between the base and the honourable in the manner of a man’s life retains very much of its ancient force even today. So much so that there are few of the better class who are not possessed of an instinctive repugnance for the vulgar forms of labour. We have a realising sense of ceremonial uncleanness attaching in an especial degree to the occupations which are associated in our habits of thought with menial service. It is felt by all persons of refined taste that a spiritual contamination is inseparable from certain offices that are conventionally required of servants. Vulgar surroundings, mean (that is to say, inexpensive) habitations, and vulgarly productive occupations are unhesitatingly condemned and avoided. They are incompatible with life on a satisfactory spiritual plane—with “high thinking”. From the days of the Greek philosophers to the present, a degree of leisure and of exemption from contact with such industrial processes as serve the immediate everyday purposes of human life has ever been recognised by thoughtful men as a prerequisite to a worthy or beautiful, or even a blameless, human life. In itself and in its consequences the life of leisure is beautiful and ennobling in all civilised men’s eyes.

Arendt seems to have her Seneca reference wrong:

  • The work is De tranquillitate animi, with the genitive of animus “mind” rather than of anima “soul.”
  • The quote, “All life is a servitude,” is in chapter 10, section 4.

The passage is on pages 250–1 of Seneca Vol. II (Moral Essays) in the Loeb Classical Library, LCL 254; but the Internet Archive has confused this with the second of the three volumes of epistles; today this is Vol. V (Epistles LXVI–XCII).

Here is the Loeb translation of sections 2–4, by John W. Basore:

On no score has Nature more deserved our thanks, who, since she knew to what sorrows we were born, invented habit as an alleviation for disasters, and thus quickly accustoms us to the most serious ills. No one could endure adversity if, while it continued, it kept the same violence that its first blows had.

All of us are chained to Fortune. Some are bound by a loose and golden chain, others by a tight chain of baser metal; but what difference does it make? The same captivity holds all men in its toils, those who have bound others have also been bound—unless perhaps you think that a chain on the left hand is a lighter one. Some are chained by public office, others by wealth; some carry the burden of high birth, some of low birth; some bow beneath another’s empire, some beneath their own; some are kept in one place by exile, others by priesthoods.

All life is a servitude. And so a man must become reconciled to his lot, must complain of it as little as possible, and must lay hold of whatever good it may have; no state is so bitter that a calm mind cannot find in it some consolation. Even small spaces by skilful planning often reveal many uses; and arrangement will make habitable a place of ever so small dimensions. Apply reason to difficulties; it is possible to soften what is hard, to widen what is narrow, and burdens will press less heavily upon those who bear them skilfully.

¶ 16.3

The burden of biological life, weighing down and consuming the specifically human life-span between birth and death, can be elimi­nated only by the use of servants, and the chief function of ancient slaves was rather to carry the burden of consumption in the house­hold than to produce for society at large.69 The reason

  • why slave labor could play such an enormous role in ancient societies and
  • why its wastefulness and unproductivity were not discovered

is that the ancient city-state was primarily a “consumption center,” unlike medieval cities which were chiefly production centers.70 The price for the elimination of life’s burden from the shoulders of all citizens was enormous and by no means consisted only in the violent injustice of forcing one part of humanity into the darkness of pain and necessity. Since this darkness is natural, inherent in the human condition—only the act of violence, when one group of men tries to rid itself of the shackles binding all of us to pain and neces­sity, is man-made—the price for absolute freedom from necessity [119] is, in a sense, life itself, or rather the substitution of vicarious life for real life. Under the conditions of slavery, the great of the earth could even use their senses vicariously, could “see and hear through their slaves,” as the Greek idiom used by Herodotus expressed it.71

  1. See the excellent analysis in Winston Ashley, The Theory of Natural Slavery, according to Aristotle and St. Thomas (Dissertation, University of Notre Dame [1941], ch. 5), who rightly emphasizes: “It would be wholly to miss Aristotle’s argument, therefore, to believe that he considered slaves as universally necessary merely as productive tools. He emphasizes rather their necessity for consumption.”

  2. Max Weber, “Agrarverhälmisse im Altertum,” in Gesammelte Aufsätze sur Sozial- und Wirtschaftsgeschichte (1924), p. 13. [119]

  3. Herodotus i. 113 for instance: eide te dia toutōn, and passim. A similar expression occurs in Plinius, Naturalis historia xxix. 19: alienis pedibus ambulamus; alienis oculis agnoscimus; aliena memoria salutamus; aliena vivimus opera (quoted from R. H. Barrow, Slavery in the Roman Empire [1928], p. 26). “We walk with alien feet; we see with alien eyes, we recognize and greet people with an alien memory; we live from alien labor.” [120]

The website Christus Liberat, apparently a project of the Sovereign Military Order of Malta against slavery and trafficking, has a page with Ashley’s dissertation as a pdf image. The sentence that Arendt quotes is on page 56.

When Arendt refers to “the burden of consumption in the house­hold,” it seems two burdens could be meant:

  1. Producing what the household consumes.
  2. Consuming what the household produces.

The former would seem to be meant here. Ashley continues beyond what Arendt quotes:

The slave is required to carry out all those tasks of using property which are necessary parts of domestic life. Our own economic notions make this difficult to grasp. We would say that if the slave is a cook he contributes to the production of food, or if he is a gardner that he “produces” it. Aristotle however confines production to the process of increasing the wealth of the family by adding new property or to the strictly manufacturing arts. If we regard cooking not in it technical aspect but as an execution of a prudential decision of the master then we see it as active rather than factive.

On those terms active and factive, Ashley has quoted Aquinas:

[Aristotle] makes a second division of instruments. For the instruments of the arts are called factive instruments; but property which is the instrument of the household is an active instrument.

The first division is between lifeless and living. Aristotle takes up both divisions in the Politics, book I, chapter 4 (1253b23–4a18), from which Arendt herself will quote on page 122 (¶ 16.8). The Online Library of Liberty has the Jowett translation of 1885, which is used in McKeon (ed.), The Basic Works of Aristotle (1941); Project Gutenberg has the William Ellis translation of 1912:

Since then a subsistence is necessary in every family, the means of procuring it certainly makes up part of the management of a family, for without necessaries it is impossible to live, and to live well. As in all arts which are brought to perfection it is necessary that they should have their proper instruments if they would complete their works, so is it in the art of managing a family: now of instruments

  • some of them are alive,
  • others inanimate;

thus with respect to the pilot of the ship, the tiller is without life, the sailor is alive; for a servant is as an instrument in many arts. Thus property is as an instrument to living; an estate is a multitude of instruments; so a slave is an animated instrument, but every one that can minister of himself is more valuable than any other instrument; for if every instrument, at command, or from a preconception of its master’s will, could accomplish its work (as the story goes of the statues of Daedalus; or what the poet tells us of the tripods of Vulcan, “that they moved of their own accord into the assembly of the gods”), the shuttle would then weave, and the lyre play of itself; nor would the architect want servants, or the [1254a] master slaves. Now

  • what are generally called instruments are the efficients of something else, but
  • possessions are what we simply use:

thus with a shuttle we make something else for our use; but we only use a coat, or a bed: since then making and using differ from each other in species, and they both require their instruments, it is necessary that these should be different from each other. Now life is itself what we use, and not what we employ as the efficient of something else; for which reason the services of a slave are for use. A possession may be considered in the same nature as a part of anything; now a part is not only a part of something, but also is nothing else; so is a possession; therefore a master is only the master of the slave, but no part of him; but the slave is not only the slave of the master, but nothing else but that. This fully explains what is the nature of a slave, and what are his capacities; for that being who by nature is nothing of himself, but totally another’s, and is a man, is a slave by nature; and that man who is the property of another, is his mere chattel, though he continues a man; but a chattel is an instrument for use, separate from the body.

In the Herodotus reference, dreams cause Astyages, king of Media (i.73), to fear the offspring of his daughter Mandane (i.107). He marries her to Cambyses, a Persian; then he orders Harpagus to kill Mandane’s newborn son (i.108). Harpagus tells the cowherd Mithrates to expose the baby (i. 110). The cowherd’s wife—Cyno in Greek, Spako in Median—has had a stillbirth, and she proposes the obvious trade (i.112). The cowherd takes the dead baby to to the house of Harpagus, and (i.113):

πέμψας δὲ ὅ Ἅρπαγος τῶν ἑωυτοῦ δορυφόρων τοὺς πιστοτάτους
εἶδέ τε διὰ τούτων καὶ ἔθαψε τοῦ βουκόλου τὸ παιδίον.
Harpagus sent the most trusted of his bodyguard,
and these saw for him and buried the cowherd’s child.

I have given the Loeb translation of Godley, and in the Strassler edition is similar:

Harpagos sent men from among his most trustworthy bodyguards,
and it was they who, on his behalf, saw and buried the child of the herdsman.

Apparently the literal translation was thought too strange:

sending the most trusted of his bodyguard, Harpagus
through them saw and buried the cowherd’s child.

The child would grow up to be Cyrus. His kingly nature comes out in the next chapter:

Now when the boy was ten years old, the truth about him was revealed in some such way as this. He was playing in the village where these herdsmen’s quarters were, playing in the road with others of his age. The boys while playing chose to be their king this one who was supposed to be the son of the cowherd. Then he assigned some of them to the building of houses, some to be his bodyguard, one doubtless to be the King’s Eye (ὀφθαλμὸν βασιλέος); to another he gave the right of bringing him messages; to each he gave his proper work.

¶ 16.4

On its most elementary level

  • the “toil and trouble” of obtaining and
  • the pleasures of “incorporating”

the necessities of life are so closely bound together in the biological life cycle, whose recurrent rhythm conditions human life in its unique and unilinear move­ment, that the perfect elimination of the pain and effort of labor would not only

  • rob biological life of its most natural pleasures but
  • deprive the specifically human life of its very liveliness and vital­ity.

The human condition is such that pain and effort are not just symptoms which can be removed without changing life itself; they are rather the modes in which life itself, together with the necessity to which it is bound, makes itself felt. For mortals, the “easy life of the gods” would be a lifeless life.

¶ 16.5

For our trust

  • in the reality of life and
  • in the reality of the world

is not the same.

  • The latter derives primarily from the permanence and durability of the world, which is far superior to that of mortal life. If one knew that the world would come to an end with or soon after his own death, it would lose all its reality, as it did for the early Christians as long as they were convinced of the immediate fulfilment of their eschatological expectations.
  • Trust in the reality of life, on the contrary, depends almost exclusively on the intensity with which life is felt, on the impact with which it makes itself felt. This intensity is so great and its force so elementary that wherever it prevails, in bliss or sorrow, it blacks out all other worldly real­ity.

That the life of the rich loses in vitality, in closeness to the “good things” of nature, what it gains in refinement, in sensitivity to the beautiful things in the world, has often been noted. The fact is that

  • the human capacity for life in the world always implies an [120] ability to transcend and to be alienated from the processes of life itself, while
  • vitality and liveliness can be conserved only to the extent that men are willing to take the burden, the toil and trouble of life, upon themselves.

So there is a trade-off. Does Arendt agree or disagree with Seneca’s assertion that the master is only another kind of slave? Perhaps she disagrees generally; she will say on page 130 in note 81 (¶ 17.3), “the late Stoic generalization that all men are slaves rested on the development of the Roman Empire, where the old freedom was gradually abolished by the imperial govern­ment …”

The “human capacity for life in the world”: can we call this initiative, mentioned above on page 117 (¶ 15.11)? But then Arendt did say there that laboring takes initiative, this is a worldless activity (“The only activity which corresponds strictly to the experience of worldlessness, or rather to the loss of world that occurs in pain, is laboring,” p. 115, ¶ 15.8).

What is the connection between work and the permanance of the world? Belief in permanance may make work seem worthwhile, and then the results of work encourage belief in permanence. Perhaps Arendt will go into this in the next chapter.

¶ 16.6

It is true that the enormous improvement in our labor tools—

  • the mute robots with which homo faber has come to the help of the animal laborans, as distinguished from
  • the human, speaking instru­ments (the instrumentum vocale, as the slaves in ancient house­holds were called) whom the man of action had to rule and oppress when he wanted to liberate the animal laborans from its bondage

—has made the twofold labor of life,

  • the effort of its sustenance and
  • the pain of giving birth,

easier and less painful than it has ever been. This, of course, has not eliminated compulsion from the la­boring activity or the condition of being subject to need and neces­sity from human life. But, in distinction from slave society, where the “curse” of necessity remained a vivid reality because the life of a slave testified daily to the fact that “life is slavery,” this condi­tion is no longer fully manifest and its lack of appearance has made it much more difficult to notice and remember. The danger here is obvious. Man cannot be free if he does not know that he is subject to necessity, because his freedom is always won in his never wholly successful attempts to liberate himself from necessity. And while it may be true that his strongest impulse toward this liberation comes from his “repugnance to futility,” it is also likely that the impulse may grow weaker as this “futility” appears easier, as it requires less effort. For it is still probable that the enormous changes of the industrial revolution behind us and the even greater changes of the atomic revolution before us will remain changes of the world, and not changes in the basic condition of human life on earth.

See Collingwood’s remarks on freedom that I quoted under ¶ 15.11, whereby the freedom studied by history is the freedom to face the facts.

“Life is slavery” is a translation of the Seneca quote on page 119 (¶ 16.2), Omnis vita servitium est.

¶ 16.7

Tools and instruments which can ease the effort of labor con­siderably are themselves not a product of labor but of work; they do not belong in the process of consumption but are part and parcel of the world of use objects. Their role, no matter how great it may be in the labor of any given civilization, can never attain the fundamental importance of tools for all kinds of work. No work can be produced without tools, and the birth of homo faber and the coming into being of a man-made world of things are actually coeval with the discovery of tools and instruments. From the [121] standpoint of labor, tools strengthen and multiply human strength to the point of almost replacing it, as in all cases where natural forces, such as tame animals or water power or electricity, and not mere material things, are brought under a human master. By the same token, they increase the natural fertility of the animal laborans and provide an abundance of consumer goods. But all these changes are of a quantitative order, whereas the very quality of fabricated things, from the simplest use object to the masterwork of art, depends intimately on the existence of adequate instruments.

This is the first real discussion of work in this reading (not to mention this section, called “the instruments of work and the division of labor”).

¶ 16.8

Moreover, the limitations of instruments in the casing of life’s labor—the simple fact that the services of one servant can never be fully replaced by a hundred gadgets in the kitchen and half a dozen robots in the cellar—are of a fundamental nature. A curious and unexpected testimony to this is that it could be predicted thousands of years before the fabulous modern development of tools and ma­chines had taken place. In a half-fanciful, half-ironical mood, Aris­totle once imagined what has long since become a reality, namely that “every tool could perform its own work when ordered … like the statues of Daedalus or the tripods of Hephaestus, which, says the poet, ‘of their own accord entered the assembly of the gods.’ ” Then, “the shuttle would weave and the plectrum touch the lyre without a hand to guide them.” This, he goes on to say, would indeed mean that the craftsman would no longer need human assistants, but it would not mean that household slaves could be dispensed with. For slaves are not instruments of making things or of production, but of living, which constantly consumes their serv­ices.72 The process of making a thing is limited and the function of the instrument comes to a predictable, controllable end with the finished product; the process of life that requires laboring is an endless activity and the only “instrument” equal to it would have to be a perpetuum mobile, that is, the instrumentum vocale which is as alive and “active” as the living organism which it serves. It is precisely because from “the instruments of the household nothing else results except the use of the possession itself” that they cannot be replaced by tools and instruments of workmanship “from which results something more than the mere use of the instrument.”73 [122]

  1. Aristotle Politics 1253b30–1254a18.
  2. Winston Ashley, op. cit., ch. 5. [122]

I quoted the Aristotle above for ¶ 16.3, where Ashley’s dissertation first came up. What Arendt quotes now, imprecisely, from the dissertation are words not of Ashley himself, but of Aquinas, concerning the difference between active and factive instruments:

And he proves this division by two reasons: First because factive instruments are said to be those from which results something more than mere use of the instrument. And we see this in the proper instruments of art, as for example from the shuttle which textile workers use something more than mere use results, namely cloth. But from property which is the instrument of the household, nothing else results except the use of the possession itself, as from clothing and bed nothing results except the use of them. Therefore those instruments are not factive, as are the instruments of the arts.

Arendt then is implicitly likening the slave to clothing, as distinct from the loom where it is woven. If you want clothing, the loom itself is no substitute. Even if it is mechanized, you have to make it run. If it runs itself, so to speak, in the sense of detecting when you need clothing and responding accordingly, still it had to be made with this feature, and you had to decide to use it.

Gadgets do not replace the human being; but do they not allow ourselves to do what the servant would have done otherwise?

¶ 16.9

While tools and instruments, designed to produce more and something altogether different from their mere use, are of second­ary importance for laboring, the same is not true for the other great principle in the human labor process, the division of labor. Division of labor indeed grows directly out of the laboring process and should not be mistaken for the apparently similar principle of spe­cialization which prevails in working processes and with which it is usually equated. Specialization of work and division of labor have in common only the general principle of organization, which itself has nothing to do with either work or labor but owes its origin to the strictly political sphere of life, to the fact of man’s capacity to act and to act together and in concert. Only within the framework of political organization, where men not merely live, but act, together, can specialization of work and division of labor take place.

Arendt has separated labor, work, and action in theory, but action is never absent from human practice.

¶ 16.10

Yet, while

  • specialization of work is essentially guided by the finished product itself, whose nature it is to require different skills which then are pooled and organized together,
  • division of labor, on the contrary, presupposes the qualitative equivalence of all single activities for which no special skill is required, and these activities have no end in themselves, but actually represent only certain amounts of labor power which are added together in a purely quan­titative way.

Division of labor is based on the fact that two men can put their labor power together and “behave toward each other as though they were one.”74 This one-ness is the exact opposite of co-operation, it indicates the unity of the species with regard to which every single member is the same and exchangeable. (The formation of a labor collective where the laborers are socially or­ganized in accordance with this principle of common and divisible labor power is the very opposite of the various workmen’s or­ganizations, from the old guilds and corporations to certain types of modern trade unions, whose members are bound together by the skills and specializations that distinguish them from others.) Since [123] none of the activities into which the process is divided has an end in itself, their “natural” end is exactly the same as in the case of “undivided” labor: either

  • the simple reproduction of the means of subsistence, that is, the capacity for consumption of the laborers, or
  • the exhaustion of human labor power.

Neither of these two limi­tations, however, is final; exhaustion is part of the individual’s, not of the collective’s, life process, and the subject of the laboring process under the conditions of division of labor is a collective labor force, not individual labor power. The inexhaustibility of this labor force corresponds exactly to the deathlessness of the species, whose life process as a whole is also not interrupted by the individual births and deaths of its members.

  1. See Viktor von Weizsäcker, “Zum Begriff der Arbeit,” in Festschrift für Alfred Weber (1948), p. 739. The essay is noteworthy for certain scattered ob­servations, but on the whole unfortunately useless, since Weizsäcker further obscures the concept of labor by the rather gratuitous assumption that the sick human being has to “perform labor” in order to get well. [123]

Would a “labor collective” be formed to get a job done, or rather to be ready to do whatever jobs come up, while the “workmen’s organization” protects its members, the way property-owners protect theirs?

The twofold “natural end” being discussed seems to be a bound more on rate than on time. In a given time, there is only so much that we

  • can do,
  • need do.

Division of labor may increase the former, but not indefinitely. The next paragraph takes up the latter.

¶ 16.11

More serious, it seems, is the limitation imposed by the capacity to consume, which remains bound to the individual even when a collective labor force has replaced individual labor power. The progress of accumulation of wealth may be limitless in a “social­ized mankind” which has rid itself of the limitations of individual property and overcome the limitation of individual appropriation by dissolving all stable wealth, the possession of “heaped up” and “stored away” things, into money to spend and consume. We al­ready live in a society where wealth is reckoned in terms of earn­ing and spending power, which are only modifications of the two­fold metabolism of the human body. The problem therefore is how to attune individual consumption to an unlimited accumulation of wealth.

Whose problem is that?

¶ 16.12

Since mankind as a whole is still very far from having reached the limit of abundance, the mode in which society may overcome this natural limitation of its own fertility can be perceived only tentatively and on a national scale. There, the solution seems to be simple enough. It consists in treating all use objects as though they were consumer goods, so that a chair or a table is now consumed as rapidly as a dress and a dress used up almost as quickly as food. This mode of intercourse with the things of the world, moreover, is perfectly adequate to the way they are produced. The industrial revolution has replaced all workmanship with labor, and the result has been that the things of the modern world have become labor products whose natural fate is to be consumed, instead of work products which are there to be used.

  • Just as tools and instruments, [124] though originating from work, were always employed in labor processes as well,
  • so the division of labor, entirely appropriate and attuned to the laboring process, has become one of the chief char­acteristics of modern work processes, that is, of the fabrication and production of use objects.

Division of labor rather than increased mechanization has replaced the rigorous specialization formerly required for all workmanship. Workmanship is required only for the design and fabrication of models before they go into mass pro­duction, which also depends on tools and machinery. But mass production would, in addition, be altogether impossible without the replacement of workmen and specialization with laborers and the division of labor.

The problem is how to get richer, and one solution is to get people to buy the same stuff as before, at the same price, but in a less durable condition. But this still doesn’t really work without exploitation of the laborers doing the producing, does it?

¶ 16.13

  • Tools and instruments ease pain and effort and thereby change the modes in which the urgent necessity inherent in labor once was manifest to all. They do not change the necessity itself; they only serve to hide it from our senses.
  • Something similar is true of labor’s products, which do not become more durable through abundance.

The case is altogether different in the corresponding modern trans­formation of the work process by the introduction of the principle of division of labor. Here the very nature of work is changed and the production process, although it by no means produces objects for consumption, assumes the character of labor. Although ma­chines have forced us into an infinitely quicker rhythm of repeti­tion than the cycle of natural processes prescribed—and this spe­cifically modern acceleration is only too apt to make us disregard the repetitive character of all laboring—the repetition and the end­lessness of the process itself put the unmistakable mark of laboring upon it. This is even more evident in the use objects produced by these techniques of laboring. Their very abundance transforms them into consumer goods.

  • The endlessness of the laboring process is guaranteed by the ever-recurrent needs of consumption;
  • the end­lessness of production can be assured only if its products lose their use character and become more and more objects of consumption, or if, to put it in another way, the rate of use is so tremendously accelerated that the objective difference between use and consump­tion, between the relative durability of use objects and the swift coming and going of consumer goods, dwindles to insignificance.

This is about how work gets changed into labor, notably when specialization of work is replaced with division of labor. I suppose the distinction is between

  • getting each thing done by an expert in that thing,
  • getting each thing done separately, because switching between things costs time and effort.

In any case, will Arendt talk in the next chapter about how labor got changed into work, when we became more than animals?

¶ 16.14

In our need for more and more rapid replacement of the worldly [125] things around us, we can no longer afford to use them, to respect and preserve their inherent durability; we must consume, devour, as it were, our houses and furniture and cars as though they were the “good things” of nature which spoil uselessly if they are not drawn swiftly into the never-ending cycle of man’s metabolism with nature. It is as though we had forced open the distinguishing boundaries which protected the world, the human artifice, from nature, the biological process which goes on in its very midst as well as the natural cyclical processes which surround it, deliver­ing and abandoning to them the always threatened stability of a human world.

Capitalism has already been seen to force open boundaries between humans. Now is forces open the boundary between us and our natural origins, as if we are reverting to the simple beasts we once were.

¶ 16.15

The ideals of homo faber, the fabricator of the world, which are permanence, stability, and durability, have been sacrificed to abun­dance, the ideal of the animal laborans. We live in a laborers’ society because only laboring, with its inherent fertility, is likely to bring about abundance; and we have changed work into laboring, broken it up into its minute particles until it has lent itself to division where the common denominator of the simplest performance is reached in order to eliminate from the path of human labor power—which is part of nature and perhaps even the most powerful of all natural forces—the obstacle of the “unnatural” and purely worldly stability of the human artifice.

So the ideal of the capitalist is the same as of the laborer?

17 a consumers’ society

¶ 17.1

It is frequently said that we live in a consumers’ society, and since, as we saw, labor and consumption are but two stages of the same process, imposed upon man by the necessity of life, this is only another way of saying that we live in a society of laborers. This society did not come about through the emancipation of the labor­ing classes but by the emancipation of the laboring activity itself, which preceded by centuries the political emancipation of laborers. The point is

  • not that for the first time in history laborers were ad­mitted and given equal rights in the public realm,
  • but that we have almost succeeded in leveling all human activities to the common denominator of securing the necessities of life and providing for their abundance.

Whatever we do, we are supposed to do for the [126] sake of “making a living”; such is the verdict of society, and the number of people, especially in the professions who might chal­lenge it, has decreased rapidly. The only exception society is willing to grant is the artist, who, strictly speaking, is the only “worker” left in a laboring society. The same trend to level down all serious activities to the status of making a living is manifest in present-day labor theories, which almost unanimously define labor as the opposite of play. As a result, all serious activities, irrespec­tive of their fruits, are called labor, and every activity which is not necessary either for the life of the individual or for the life process of society is subsumed under playfulness.75 In these theories, [127] which by echoing the current estimate of a laboring society on the theoretical level sharpen it and drive it into its inherent extreme, not even the “work” of the artist is left; it is dissolved into play and has lost its worldly meaning. The playfulness of the artist is felt to fulfil the same function in the laboring life process of society as the playing of tennis or the pursuit of a hobby fulfils in the life of the individual. The emancipation of labor has not resulted in an equality of this activity with the other activities of the vita activa, but in its almost undisputed predominance. From the standpoint of “making a living,” every activity unconnected with labor becomes a “hobby.”76

  1. Although this labor-play category appears at first glance to be so general as to be meaningless, it is characteristic in another respect: the real opposite underlying it is the opposition of necessity and freedom, and it is indeed remark­able to see how plausible it is for modern thinking to consider playfulness to be the source of freedom. Aside from this generalization, the modern idealizations of labor may be said to fall roughly into the following categories: (1) Labor is a means to attain a higher end. This is generally the Catholic position, which has the great merit of not being able to escape from reality altogether, so that the intimate connections between labor and life and between labor and pain are usually at least mentioned. One outstanding representative is Jacques Leclercq of Louvain, especially his discussion of labor and property in Leçons de droit naturel (1946), Vol. IV, Part 2. (2) Labor is an act of shaping in which “a given struc­ture is transformed into another, higher structure.” This is the central thesis of the famous work by Otto Lipman, Grundriss der Arbeitswissenschaft (1926). (3) Labor in a laboring society is pure pleasure or “can be made fully as satisfy­ing as leisure-time activities” (see Glen W. Cleeton, Making Work Human [1949]). This position is taken today by Corrado Gini in his Ecconomica Lavoris­ta (1954), who considers the United States to be a “laboring society” (società lavorista) where “labor is a pleasure and where all men want to labor.” (For a summary of his position in German see Zeitschrift für die gesamte Staatswissen­schaft, CIX [1953] and CX [1954].) This theory, incidentally, is less new than it seems. It was first formulated by F, Nitti (“Le travail humain et ses lois,” Revue internationale de sociologie [1895]), who even then maintained that the “idea that labor is painful is a psychological rather than a physiological fact,” so that pain will disappear in a society where everybody works. (4) Labor, finally, is man’s confirmation of himself against nature, which is brought under his domination through labor. This is the assumption which underlies—explicitly or implicitly—the new, especially French trend of a humanism of labor. Its best-known representative is Georges Friedmann.

    After all these theories and academic discussions, it is rather refreshing to learn that a large majority of workers, if asked “why does man work?” answer [127] simply “in order to be able to live” or “to make money” (see Helmut Schelsky, Arbeiterjugend Gestern und Heute (1955), whose publications are remarkably free of prejudices and idealizations).

  2. The role of the hobby in modern labor society is quite striking and may be the root of experience in the labor-play theories. What is especially note­worthy in this context is that Marx, who had no inkling of this development, expected that in his utopian, laborless society all activities would be performed in a manner which very closely resembles the manner of hobby activities.

See Jean-Marc Moutout (director), Work hard, play hard (French title Violence des échanges en milieu tempéré), named (as I recall) for the slogan of a consulting firm whose job is putting other people out of work.

Recall from page 71 (¶ 9.6) that “the objective, tangible difference between being free and being forced by necessity is no longer perceived.”

¶ 17.2

In order to dispel the plausibility of this self-interpretation of modern man, it may be well to remember that all civilizations prior to our own would rather have agreed with Plato that the “art of earning money” (technē mistharnētikē) is entirely unconnected with the actual content even of such arts as medicine, navigation, or architecture, which were attended by monetary rewards. It was in order to explain this monetary reward, which obviously is of an altogether different nature from health, the object of medicine, or the erection of buildings, the object of architecture, that Plato in­troduced one more art to accompany them all. This additional art is by no means understood as the element of labor in the otherwise free arts, but, on the contrary, the one art through which the “artist,” the professional worker, as we would say, keeps himself free from the necessity to labor.77 This art is in the same category [128] with the art required of the master of a household who must know how to exert authority and use violence in his rule over slaves. Its aim is to remain free from having “to make a living,” and the aims of the other arts are even farther removed from this elementary necessity.

  1. Republic 346. Therefore, “the art of acquisition wards off poverty as medicine wards off disease” (Gorgias 478). Since payment for their services was voluntary (Loening, op. cit.), the liberal professions must indeed have attained a remarkable perfection in the “art of making money.” [128]

How does one learn the art of earning money? Is it necessarily as ignoble as the art of being a slave-driver?

¶ 17.3

The emancipation of labor and the concomitant emancipation of the laboring classes from oppression and exploitation

  • certainly meant progress in the direction of non-violence.
  • It is much less cer­tain that it was also progress in the direction of freedom.

No man-exerted violence, except the violence used in torture, can match the natural force with which necessity itself compels. It is for this reason that the Greeks derived their word for torture from neces­sity, calling it anagkai, and not from bia, used for violence as ex­erted by man over man, just as this is the reason for the historical fact that throughout occidental antiquity torture, the “necessity no man can withstand,” could be applied only to slaves, who were subject to necessity anyhow.78 It was the arts of violence, the arts of war, piracy, and ultimately absolute rule, which brought the defeated into the services of the victors and thereby held necessity in abeyance for the longer period of recorded history.79 The mod­ern age, much more markedly than Christianity, has brought about—together with its glorification of labor—

  • a tremendous degrada­tion in the estimation of these arts and
  • a less great but not less im­portant actual decrease in the use of the instruments of violence in [129] human affairs generally.80

The elevation of labor and the necessity inherent in the laboring metabolism with nature appear to be inti­mately connected with the downgrading of all activities which either

  • spring directly from violence, as the use of force in human relations, or
  • harbor an element of violence within themselves, which, as we shall see, is the case for all workmanship.

It is as though the growing elimination of violence throughout the modern age almost automatically opened the doors for the re-entry of ne­cessity on its most elementary level. What already happened once in our history, in the centuries of the declining Roman Empire, may be happening again. Even then, labor became an occupation of the free classes, “only to bring to them the obligations of the servile classes.”81

  1. The current modern explanation of this custom which was characteristic of the whole of Greek and Latin antiquity—that its origin is to be found in “the belief that the slave is unable to tell the truth except on the rack” (Barrow, op. cit., p. 31)—is quite erroneous. The belief, on the contrary, is that nobody can invent a lie under torture: “On croyait recueillir la voix même de la nature dans les cris de la douleur. Plus la douleur pénétrait avant, plus intime et plus vrai sembla être ce témoignage de la chair et du sang” (Wallon, op. cit., I, 325). Ancient psychology was much more aware than we are of the element of free­dom, of free invention, in telling lies. The “necessities” of torture were sup­posed to destroy this freedom and therefore could not be applied to free citizens.

  2. The older of the Greek words for slaves, douloi and dmōes, still signify the defeated enemy. About wars and the sale of prisoners of war as the chief source of slavery in antiquity, see W. L. Westermann, “Sklaverei,” in Pauly-Wissowa. [129]

  3. Today, because of the new developments of instruments of war and de­struction, we are likely to overlook this rather important trend in the modern age. As a matter of fact, the nineteenth century was one of the most peaceful centuries in history.

  4. Wallon, op. cit., III, 265. Wallon shows brilliantly how the late Stoic generalization that all men are slaves rested on the development of the Roman Empire, where the old freedom was gradually abolished by the imperial govern­ment, so that eventually nobody was free and everybody had his master. The turning point is when first Caligula and then Trajan consented to being called dominus, a word formerly used only for the master of the household. The so­called slave morality of late antiquity and its assumption that no real difference existed between the life of a slave and that of a free man had a very realistic background. Now the slave could indeed tell his master: Nobody is free, every­body has a master. In the words of Wallon: “Les condamnés aux mines ont pour confrères, à un moindre degré de peine, les condamnés aux moulins, aux boulan­geries, aux relais publics, à tout autre travail faisant l’objet d’une corporation particuliére” (p. 216). “C’est le droit de l’esclavage qui gouverne maintenant le citoyen; et nous avons retrouvé toute la législation propre aux esclaves dans les règlements qui concernent sa personne, sa famille ou ses biens” (pp. 219-20). [130]

The opening question about freedom is taken up next. Does Arendt really mean to suggest that liberating the slaves has made all of us no better than slaves?

¶ 17.4

The danger that the modern age’s emancipation of labor will not only fail to usher in an age of freedom for all but will result, on the contrary, in forcing all mankind for the first time under the yoke of necessity, was already clearly perceived by Marx when he in­sisted that the aim of a revolution

  • could not possibly be the al­ready-accomplished emancipation of the laboring classes,
  • but must consist in the emancipation of man from labor.

At first glance, this aim seems utopian, and the only strictly utopian element in Marx’s [130] teachings.82 Emancipation from labor, in Marx’s own terms, is emancipation from necessity, and this would ultimately mean emancipation from consumption as well, that is, from the metabo­lism with nature which is the very condition of human life.83 Yet the developments of the last decade, and especially the possibilities opened up through the further development of automation, give us reason to wonder whether the utopia of yesterday will not turn into the reality of tomorrow, so that eventually only the effort of consumption will be left of “the toil and trouble” inherent in the biological cycle to whose motor human life is bound.

  1. The classless and stateless society of Marx is not utopian. Quite apart from the fact that modern developments have an unmistakable tendency to do away with class distinctions in society and to replace government by that “ad­ministration of things” which according to Engels was to be the hallmark of socialist society, these ideals in Marx himself were obviously conceived in accordance with Athenian democracy, except that in communist society the privileges of the free citizens were to be extended to all.

  2. It is perhaps no exaggeration to say that Simone Weil’s La condition ouvrière (1951) is the only book in the huge literature on the labor question which deals with the problem without prejudice and sentimentality. She chose as the motto for her diary, relating from day to day her experiences in a factory, the line from Homer: poll’ aekadzomenē, kraterē d’epikeiset’ anagkē (“much against your own will, since necessity lies more mightily upon you”), and concludes that the hope for an eventual liberation from labor and necessity is the only utopian element of Marxism and at the same time the actual motor of all Marx-inspired revolutionary labor movements. It is the “opium of the people” which Marx had believed religion to be.

¶ 17.5

However, not even this utopia could change the essential worldly futility of the life process. The two stages through which the ever-recurrent cycle of biological life must pass, the stages of labor and consumption, may change their proportion even to the point where nearly all human “labor power” is spent in consuming, with the concomitant serious social problem of leisure, that is, essentially the problem of how to provide enough opportunity for daily exhaustion to keep the capacity for consumption intact.84 [131] Painless and effortless consumption would not change but would only increase the devouring character of biological life until a man­kind altogether “liberated” from the shackles of pain and effort would be free to “consume” the whole world and to reproduce daily all things it wished to consume. How many things would appear and disappear daily and hourly in the life process of such a society would at best be immaterial for the world, if the world and its thing-character could withstand the reckless dynamism of a wholly motorized life process at all. The danger of future automa­tion is less the much deplored mechanization and artificialization of natural life than that, its artificiality notwithstanding, all human productivity would be sucked into an enormously intensified life process and would follow automatically, without pain or effort, its ever-recurrent natural cycle. The rhythm of machines would mag­nify and intensify the natural rhythm of life enormously, but it would not change, only make more deadly, life’s chief character with respect to the world, which is to wear down durability.

  1. This leisure, needless to say, is not at all the same, as current opinion has it, as the skholē of antiquity, which was not a phenomenon of consumption, “conspicuous” or not, and did not come about through the emergence of “spare time” saved from laboring, but was on the contrary a conscious “abstention from” all activities connected with mere being alive, the consuming activity no less than the laboring. The touchstone of this skholē, as distinguished from the [131] modern ideal of leisure, is the well-known and frequently described frugality of Greek life in the classical period. Thus, it is characteristic that the maritime trade, which more than anything else was responsible for wealth in Athens, was felt to be suspect, so that Plato, following Hesiod, recommended the founda­tion of new city-states far away from the sea.

Does Arendt not recognize that consuming the whole world will make it uninhabitable, thus ending the consumption? Look at the ancient cities that are now empty ruins because the land was consumed to exhaustion. See ¶ 17.7 below.

¶ 17.6

It is a long way from the gradual decrease of working hours, which has progressed steadily for nearly a century, to this utopia. The progress, moreover, has been rather overrated, because it was measured against the quite exceptionally inhuman conditions of exploitation prevailing during the early stages of capitalism. If we think in somewhat longer periods, the total yearly amount of indi­vidual free time enjoyed at present appears less an achievement of modernity than a belated approximation to normality.85 In this as [132] in other respects, the specter of a true consumers’ society is more alarming as an ideal of present-day society than as an already exist­ing reality. The ideal is not new; it was clearly indicated in the unquestioned assumption of classical political economy that the ultimate goal of the vita activa is growing wealth, abundance, and the “happiness of the greatest number.” And what else, finally, is this ideal of modern society but the age-old dream of the poor and destitute, which can have a charm of its own so long as it is a dream, but turns into a fool’s paradise as soon as it is realized.

  1. During the Middle Ages, it is estimated that one hardly worked more than half of the days of the year. Official holidays numbered 141 days (see Le­vasseur, op. cit., p. 329; see also Liesse, Le Travail [1899], p. 253, for the num­ber of working days in France before the Revolution). The monstrous extension of the working day is characteristic of the beginning of the industrial revolu­tion, when the laborers had to compete with newly introduced machines. Before that, the length of the working day amounted to eleven or twelve hours in fif­teenth-century England and to ten hours in the seventeenth (see H. Herkner, “Arbeitszeit,” in Handwörterbuch für die Staatswissenschaft [1923], 1, 889 ff.). In [132] brief, “les travailleurs ont connu, pendant la première moitié du 19e siècle, des conditions d’existences pires que celles subies auparavant par les plus infortunés” (Edouard Dolléans, Histoire du travail en France [1953]). The extent of progress achieved in our time is generally overrated, since we measure it against a very “dark age” indeed. It may, for instance, be that the life expectancy of the most highly civilized countries today corresponds only to the life expectancy in cer­tain centuries of antiquity. We do not know, of course, but a reflection upon the age of death in the biographies of famous people invites this suspicion, [133]

¶ 17.7

The hope that inspired Marx and the best men of the various workers’ movements—that free time eventually will emancipate men from necessity and make the animal laborans productive—rests on the illusion of a mechanistic philosophy which assumes that labor power, like any other energy, can never be lost, so that if it is not spent and exhausted in the drudgery of life it will automatically nourish other, “higher,” activities. The guiding model of this hope in Marx was doubtless the Athens of Pericles which, in the future, with the help of the vastly increased productivity of human labor, would need no slaves to sustain itself but would become a reality for all. A hundred years after Marx we know the fallacy of this reasoning; the spare time of the animal laborans is never spent in anything but consumption, and the more time left to him, the greedier and more craving his appetites. That these appetites be­come more sophisticated, so that consumption is no longer re­stricted to the necessities but, on the contrary, mainly concen­trates on the superfluities of life, does not change the character of this society, but harbors the grave danger that eventually no object of the world will be safe from consumption and annihilation through consumption.

Ostensibly for the sake of giving us an easier life, we have “emancipated” labor, but in the sense of making us all laborers; but laborers as such do not make a world worth living in. But how exactly does this corruption work? What of examples such as Einstein and Wallace Stevens? Read on …

¶ 17.8

The rather uncomfortable truth of the matter is that the triumph [133] the modern world has achieved over necessity is due to the emanci­pation of labor, that is, to the fact that the animal laborans was per­mitted to occupy the public realm; and yet, as long as the animal laborans remains in possession of it, there can be no true public realm, but only private activities displayed in the open. The out­come is what is euphemistically called mass culture, and its deep-rooted trouble is a universal unhappiness, due on one side to the troubled balance between laboring and consumption and, on the other, to the persistent demands of the animal laborans to obtain a happiness which can be achieved only where life’s processes of exhaustion and regeneration, of pain and release from pain, strike a perfect balance. The universal demand for happiness and the wide­spread unhappiness in our society (and these are but two sides of the same coin) are among the most persuasive signs that we have begun to live in a labor society which lacks enough laboring to keep it contented. For only the animal laborans, and neither the craftsman nor the man of action, has ever demanded to be “happy” or thought that mortal men could be happy.

Is Arendt going to explain later what the craftsman and man of action demand?

¶ 17.9

One of the obvious danger signs that we may be on our way to bring into existence the ideal of the animal laborans is the extent to which our whole economy has become a waste economy, in which things must be almost as quickly devoured and discarded as they have appeared in the world, if the process itself is not to come to a sudden catastrophic end. But if the ideal were already in existence and we were truly nothing but members of a consumers’ society, we would no longer live in a world at all but simply be driven by a process in whose ever-recurring cycles things appear and dis­appear, manifest themselves and vanish, never to last long enough to surround the life process in their midst.

We would no long live in a world; or perhaps we would no longer live at all. In any case, the earth would have gone back to a natural condition.

¶ 17.10

The world, the man-made home erected on earth and made of the material which earthly nature delivers into human hands, con­sists not of things that are consumed but of things that are used.

  • If nature and the earth generally constitute the condition of human life,
  • then the world and the things of the world constitute the condi­tion under which this specifically human life can be at home on earth.

Nature seen through the eyes of the animal laborans is the great provider of all “good things,” which belong equally to all her children, who “take [them] out of [her] hands” and “mix with” [134] them in labor and consumption.86 The same nature seen through the eyes of homo faber, the builder of the world, “furnishes only the almost worthless materials as in themselves,” whose whole value lies in the work performed upon them.87

  • Without taking things out of nature’s hands and consuming them, and without defending him­self against the natural processes of growth and decay, the animal laborans could never survive. But
  • without being at home in the midst of things whose durability makes them fit for use and for erecting a world whose very permanence stands in direct contrast to life, this life would never be human.
  1. Locke, op. cit., sec. 28.
  2. Ibid., sec. 43.

Back to talk of conditions.

In Locke, the mixing is in § 27 (also quoted earlier); the taking from the hands of nature, § 29; the worthless materials, indeed in § 43.

§ 27. Though the earth, and all inferior creatures, be common to all men, yet every man has a property in his own person: this no body has any right to but himself. The labour of his body, and the work of his hands, we may say, are properly his. Whatsoever then he removes out of the state that nature hath provided, and left it in, he hath mixed his labour with, and joined to it something that is his own, and thereby makes it his property. It being by him removed from the common state nature hath placed it in, it hath by this labour something annexed to it, that excludes the common right of other men: for this labour being the unquestionable property of the labourer, no man but he can have a right to what that is once joined to, at least where there is enough, and as good, left in common for others.

§ 29. By making an explicit consent of every commoner, necessary to any one’s appropriating to himself any part of what is given in common, children or servants could not cut the meat, which their father or master had provided for them in common, without assigning to every one his peculiar part. Though the water running in the fountain be every one’s, yet who can doubt, but that in the pitcher is his only who drew it out? His labour hath taken it out of the hands of nature, where it was common, and belonged equally to all her children, and hath thereby appropriated it to himself.

§. 43. An acre of land, that bears here twenty bushels of wheat, and another in America, which, with the same husbandry, would do the like, are, without doubt, of the same natural intrinsic value: but yet the benefit mankind receives from the one in a year, is worth 5 l. and from the other possibly not worth a penny, if all the profit an Indian received from it were to be valued, and sold here; at least, I may truly say, not one thousandth. It is labour then which puts the greatest part of value upon land, without which it would scarcely be worth any thing: it is to that we owe the greatest part of all its useful products; for all that the straw, bran, bread, of that acre of wheat, is more [232] worth than the product of an acre of as good land, which lies waste, is all the effect of labour: for it is not barely the plough-man’s pains, the reaper’s and thresher’s toil, and the baker’s sweat, is to be counted into the bread we eat; the labour of those who broke the oxen, who digged and wrought the iron and stones, who felled and framed the timber employed about the plough, mill, oven, or any other utensils, which are a vast number, requisite to this corn, from its being seed to be sown to its being made bread, must all be charged on the account of labour, and received as an effect of that: nature and the earth furnished only the almost worthless materials, as in themselves. It would be a strange catalogue of things, that industry provided and made use of, about every loaf of bread, before it came to our use, if we could trace them; iron, wood, leather, bark, timber, stone, bricks, coals, lime, cloth, dying drugs, pitch, tar, masts, ropes, and all the materials made use of in the ship, that brought any of the commodities made use of by any of the workmen, to any part of the work; all which it would be almost impossible, at least too long, to reckon up.

¶ 17.11

The easier that life has become in a consumers’ or laborers’ so­ciety, the more difficult it will be to remain aware of the urges of necessity by which it is driven, even when pain and effort, the outward manifestations of necessity, are hardly noticeable at all. The danger is that such a society, dazzled by the abundance of its growing fertility and caught in the smooth functioning of a never-ending process, would no longer be able to recognize its own futil­ity—the futility of a life which “does not fix or realize itself in any permanent subject which endures after [its] labour is past.”88 [135]

  1. Adam Smith, op. cit., I, 295. [135]

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