Because most philosophies that frown on reproduction don't survive.

Saturday, August 13, 2016

Work and Wages, Servile and Liberal

I brought Josef Pieper's Leisure The Basis of Culture along as a vacations read. It's one of those books which I'd always heard that I should read but had never got around to. My ideas of what it was about were a bit vague, and mostly inspired by the title, and so actually reading it has been interesting. In some ways, I strikes me as very much a work of a specific time. Pieper wrote it in post war Germany (it was originally published in 1952) and to a great extent he's writing it to argue against a Marxism which utterly materialistic, measuring the value of work and workers according to the economic output produced. Many were apparently trying to justify the existence of the intellectual life in a worker-based society by redefining philosophy, art, etc. as 'intellectual work' and thus those working in the liberal arts as proletarians of the intellect.

The distinctions between 'servile work' and the liberal arts, the need not to see everything as having value only to the extent of its industrial or economic 'value', seem just as important today, but the contexts in which these are argued are often very different. This makes some portions of the essay a bit odd going. Here, however, is one of the sections which struck me, in which he talks about a servile versus human approach to work and wage.

To take an example: the distinction between the liberal arts and the servile arts runs put parallel with the terms: honorarium and wage properly. Properly speaking, the liberal arts receive an honorarium, while servile work receives a wage. The existence of these words implies that in the first instance there exists some incommensurability between the performance and the reward and that the performance cannot, rightly speaking, be paid for. A 'wage', on the contrary (understood in the contradistinction to honorarium) implies payment for good work, and that the performance can be valued in terms of money: work and wage are not incommensurable. Furthermore honorarium means a contribution towards the cost of living, whereas a wage (in the above narrower sense) means payment for a particular piece of work, with no reference to the needs of the individual concerned. Now it is very significant that the extreme Marxist type of intelligence does not recognize the difference between honorarium and wage: all payment is in the form of a wage. In a sort of manifesto on the situation of the author in society today, in which literature is proclaimed a 'social function', Jean-Paul Sartre announces that the writer, who has in the past so seldom 'established a relation between his work and his material recompense', must learn to regard himself as 'a worker who receives the reward of his effort'. There, the incommensurability between the achievement and the reward, as it is implied and expressed in an 'honorarium', is declared non-existent even in the field of philosophy and poetry which are, on the contrary, simply 'intellectual work'. By contrast a social doctrine steeped in the tradition of Christian Europe would not only hold firm to the distinction between an honorarium and a wage, it would not only hesitate regard every reward as a wage; it would go further and would even maintain that there is no such thing as a recompense for a thing done which did not retain in some degree the character (whether much or little) of an honorarium, for even 'servile' work cannot be entirely equated with the material recompense because it is a 'human' action, so that it always retains something incommensurable with the recompense -- just like the liberal arts.

So it comes about, paradoxical though it may seem, that the proletarian dictator Stalin should say: 'The worker must be paid according to the work done and not according to his needs,' and that the Encyclical Quadragesimo Anno which has for one of its principal aims the 'deproletarianizing' of the masses, should assert that 'in the first place the worker has the right to a wage sufficient to support himself and his family.' On the one hand, there is an attempt to restrict and even to extirpate the liberal arts: it is alleged that only useful 'paying' work makes sense; on the other hand, there is an attempt to extend the character of 'liberal art' deep down into every human action, even the humblest 'servile work'. The former aims at making all men into proletarians, the latter at 'deproletarianizing' the masses.
Leisure, the Basis of Culture, pages 41-42

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