A S usual it is necessary to begin at the beginning. Work, as the dictionary says, is " the exertion of energy, physical or mental." In cornmon speech, however, we distinguish between the exertion of energy for the sake of pleasure or recreation and the
same exertion when it is made for the sake of or as a means to the earning or procuring of the means of living. The former we commonly call play ; the word work " we commonly reserve for those occupations by means of which we get food, clothing and shelter, the necessaries of life.
It is clear therefore that work is a good thing, for that which enables us to live must be good. We must assume that to live is good and that therefore to work is good. And we may freely agree with the Apostle when he says: " If man will not work neither let him eat," for to eat what the labour of others has produced is, unless freely given, a form of robbery and, as the same Apostle says elsewhere: " He that stole, let him now steal no more; but rather let him labour. working with his hands the thing which is good. . ." God has made the world and he has made
roan such that labour, that is to say work, is necessary for life and God cannot have made necessary that which in itself is had.
Moreover, as Solomon inspired by the Holy
Spirit said: " . . nothing is better than for a man to rejoice in his work, and this is
No Necessary Work is Degrading Now it follows from these things that nothing which truly subserves our life can be bad and therefore there con he no form of necessary work which is in itself degrading.
In these latter days we have to be more than usually clear in our minds about this. The idea is prevalent that physical labour is a bad thing, a thing to be avoided, a thing from which we may rightly seek release. Wc cannot discuss the question of work, the question of the factory system, of the machine, of the arts, until we have right notions as to the nature ofphysical labour itself. For there can be nothing made, either for man's service or for his pleasure, which is not, at bottom, dependent upon some amount of physical labour for its existence.
Even in the most highly organised industrial world, with all the necessaries of life made by machines minded by machines, there will have to be at least the makers of machines and the machine overseers, and there will have to be designers of machines and designers of machine products. Further, there will have to be all the army of officials and administrators and all the doctors, lawyers and school teachers, and all these professional persons will be dependent upon a subordinate army of clerks and typists. Then there will be the transport workers of all kinds and in all these occupations there will be a basis of actual physical labour.
Physical Labour Should be Holy
So the question remains as before: is physical labour good or bad? Is it a thing to be reduced to a minimum because it is in itself a bad thing, unworthy of " the mystical mug called man," or is it in itself a good thing and only bad when it is done under bad conditions, conditions physically or hygienically unhealthy or morally bad, or when the product is inferior or unsuitable for human use?
Now. as we have seen. according to Christian doctrine physical labour is not in itself bad, but, on the contrary, because it is necessary for the preservation and continuance of human life, it is in itself good and may be and should be holy and sacred.
We have to start with this doctrine. At every turn our object must be to sanctify rather than to exclude physical labour, to honour it rather than to degrade it, to discover how to make it pleasant rather than onerous, a source of pride rather than of shame. And we have to begin by realising that, in itself and in a Christian society, there is no kind of physical labour, no kind whatsoever, none, which is either derogatory to human beings or incapable of being sanctified and ennobled. There is no kind of physical labour which is at one and the same time truly necessary to human life
and necessarily either unduly onergus or unpleasant.
This is the first thing to grasp and it is perhaps the most difficult to-day. For considering the conditions of industrialised life in Europe and America and according to the special kind of town mind which industrialism has begotten and fostered Of we may thus, though unwillingly, ennoble a mechanism by speaking of it in such terms) there is nothing to be said about physical !about except that it is to be avoided as much as possible.
In sports and pastimes physical exertion is delighted in, but in the things we do to earn our living we regard the elimination of physical exertion as desirable in itself and a mark of good civilisation. We regard physical labour as barbarous. We regard the sight of hundreds of men and girls doing simple repetitive operations requiring the minimum of strength and the minimum of intelligence as a sign of advancement from the primitive life of savages to the full stature of man made in God's image.
We are not concerned in this article to discuss the historical causes of our industrialism, its origin in the greed of manufacturers and merchants and its development under the sway of banks and financiers. The one and only point here is the nature of work in itself and our object is to rebut the common belief, which industrialism must necessarily encourage, that, as an eminent Catholic writer has recently said, " much manual work is, of itself, sub-human drudgery."
This is not only untrue but subversive of the whole Christian doctrine of man. Unfortunately, in the circumstances of our industrial world, nothing could seem more obvious common sense. When we consider the working life of the millions of factory hands, of shop assistants and clerks, of transport workers, and of the agricultural labourers on our degraded farms, it is obvious that much of the work is indeed subhuman drudgery and it cannot but seem a good thing that, by the use of machinery, at least the physical pain has been eliminated.
The Absurd Contradiction of Sport So it has come about that we have come to believe that physical labour is in itself bad. We seek to reduce it to 4 minimum and we look to our leisure time for all enjoyable exercise of our human bodies. We do not notice the contradiction. For if physical labour is a thing rightly to be eliminated from work because it is derogatory then it should rightly be eliminated from play also; which is absurd.
It should be obvious that it is not the physical labour which is bad but the proletarianism by which men and women have become simply " hands," simply instruments for die snaking of money by those who own the 'newts of production, distribution and exchange. And those who argue in favour of the still further elimination of physical labour on the ground that much manual work is, of itself. sub-human drudgery are either playing into the hands of those for whose profit the niechanical organisation of industry has been de, relived, or they are playing into the hands of the Conmiunists and others who look to the Leisure State as the summum bonufh.
We must return again and again to the simple doctrine: physical labour, manual work, is not in itself bad. It is the necessary basis of all human production and, in the most strict sense of the words, physical labour directed to the production of things needed for human life is 'both honourable and holy. And we must remember that there arc no exceptions.
Industrialism Puts the Wrong Finger on It
It is frequently said in extenuation of industrialism that, for instance, modern sanitary engineering has not only lessened the danger of disease but has done away with much unpleasant and degrading labour in the disposal of sewage. It is said that with sawing and lifting machinery we have done away with the unduly arduous; that with the power-loom we have done away with the slave labour of the old weavers. And in the domestic world we claim to have released the housewife and the mother from many or all of those labours known as " domestic drudgery," thus setting them free for " higher things."
In all these cases we forget that we had first of all, by the conditions of town-life or commercial exploitation, so degraded these various kinds of labours that they were no longer capable of being viewed as pleasant and still less as sacred. And having thus degraded labour, making men and women into mere " hands " and beasts of burden. instruments of profit-making, having anowed.and even encouraged the growth of the monstrous conglomerations we still call towns and cities, we turn round and curse the very idea of labour. To use the body, our arms and legs and backs, is now held to be derogatory to our human dignity. This then is the first thing, and it is at the very base of the Christian reform for which we stand, that we return to the honouring of bodily labour.
In the Fine Arts
We have said nothing about the spiritual and creative and personal side of human work. Greatly as we have dishonoured and corrupted and destroyed the arts and crafts of men, reducing the workman to a " subhuman condition of intellectual irresponsibility," the root of the matter is in the dishonouring of physical work, and until we have eradicated the prevailing notion that some kinds of work are, of their nature, sub.
human drudgery all discussion of human labour is futile.
But it is relevant to note that in what are generally agreed to be the " highest " forms of human production, " the fine arts," those of painting and sculpture for example, physical labour is still honoured.
In spite of the tendency in recent centuries for sculptors to relegate the actual job of stone carving to hired labourers, and among painters thc grinding of pigments and the preparing of the material to be painted on is now generally done in factories by machinery, nevertheless it is still recognised that if the thing to be made is to be as good as it can be, the artist himself must use his own hands to do the work.
With regard to this the supporters of industrialism say of course that in the fine arts the thing made depends for its quality upon the actual personality of its maker while in ordinary objects of human use this is not so. But apart from the fact that in a normal society " the artist is .not a special kind of man, but every man is a special kind of artist " and that, therefore, there is no such hard distinction between the tine arts and others, the point here is this: that certain kinds of work which in other circumstances we regard as drudgery, which could be done by machinery if we so chose, arc not so done.
Lack of Imagination—a Cause
In fact when the nature of the work demands it we willingly endure what our mechanistically-minded reformers find derogatory to human dignity and even delight in it and honour it, and it is only dullness of mind and lack of imagination
which prevents the said reformers from seeing that all things made could be and should be regarded as we regard the products of " artists."
It is impossible in a short article to show how these contentions apply throughout the whole world of labour. We can but repeat that in all those cases where it seems that mechanisation has brought release from " sub-human drudgery," the drudgery is not inherent in the nature of the work, " of itself," but in the sub-human conditions consequent upon commercialism, industrialism and the abnormal growth of cities. Whether or no we continue the present mechanistic trend or decide to deliberately restrict machinery (though the possibility of so doing is doubtful) depends ultimately upon the line we take with regard to the ownership of land and workshops.
In a later article we shall see how the ownership of property is the chief means to the resuscitation of the dignity of physical labour and also of the quality of things made.