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“In Praise of Idleness” by Bertrand Russell Essay

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Updated: Sep 11th, 2021

The first section of the story

In the story titled “In Praise of Idleness” Bertrand Russell raises the issues of idleness and overwork. Russell starts his article with the story about lazy people and notes that the belief in hard work causes immense harm. Further, Russell discusses the difference between spending and investment. He notes that people forget that what a man earns is usually spent, and his spending gives employment. The author makes an assumption that the net result of economic habits is to fund the armed forces of the country because people lend savings to the government. Further, investment into industrial enterprises is vain because most companies fail to produce something useful.

Idleness and Privileges of rich people

The next section of the story is devoted to definition of work, idleness and privileges of rich people, Industrial Revolution, and modern techniques. Russell notes that from the ancient times and till present day, a man is required to produce more than is necessary for subsistence of himself and his family. Moreover, historically the surplus is not left to those who produce it, but is appropriated by other people.

The author writes that leisure is essential to civilization, however, it is rendered possible by the labor of others. The special attention is paid to the morality of the Slave State in historical and modern setting. For example, an idea that poor should have leisure is shocking to the rich. In nineteenth century England a man was expected to work fifteen hours a day. Russell continues with the discussion of the work ethics.

Russell devotes a long section to labor practices in Russia. He notes that wise use of leisure is the product of education and civilization. He hypothesizes that a man who worked all his life will become bored if he suddenly has leisure time. Russell writes that Russian governing classes promote the dignity of labor (“honest poor”). A comparison between the feminism movements and manual work propaganda in Russia is drawn.

In particular, Russell writes that for ages rich people have praised the simple life and tried to make poor believe in some special nobility of poverty. The author notes that there is difference between Western world and Russia on issue of idleness and labor. He assumes that in the West a large percentage of the working population is kept idle because other people are willing to overwork. Russia is characterized by more economic justice and central control over production. Thus, the elementary necessaries are provided for all.

Section about issue of leisure

The final section deals with the issue of leisure. Russell notes that men would not know what to do if they had only four hours of work. People work for the profit, while the social purpose of the work lies in the consumption of what is produced by people. The argument is made that four hours’ work a day entitles a person to the necessities of life and the rest of the time should be spent as the person might see fit. Historically, there was a large working class and a small leisure class. The leisure class enjoys the benefits for which there is no basis in social justice. The methods of leisure class are wasteful because none of member of this class is taught to be industrious.

The article is concluded with the note that work should be enough to make leisure enjoyable but not enough to produce exhaustion. Finally, the modern methods of production give people the possible of ease for all, while the community has chosen an overwork for some and poverty for others.

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IvyPanda. 2021. "“In Praise of Idleness” by Bertrand Russell." September 11, 2021. https://ivypanda.com/essays/in-praise-of-idleness-by-bertrand-russell/.

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IvyPanda. (2021) '“In Praise of Idleness” by Bertrand Russell'. 11 September.

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