In Praise of Idleness: Bertrand Russell on the Virtues of Leisure
These considerations are of the highest importance. It is not without reason that M. de Tocqueville considers local democracy to be the school as well as the safety-valve of democracy in the state,—the means of training the people to the good use of that power, which, whether prepared for it or not, they will assuredly in a short time be in the full exercise of. There has been much said of late—and truly not a word too much—on the necessity, now that the people are acquiring power, of giving them education, meaning school instruction, to qualify them for its exercise. The importance of school instruction is doubtless great; but it should also be recollected, that what really constitutes education is the formation of habits; and as we do not learn to read or write, to ride or swim, by being merely told how to do it, but by doing it, so it is only by practising popular government on a limited scale, that the people will ever learn how to exercise it on a larger.
Bertrand russell essay in praise of idleness
There are, however, other evils to be contended with, besides those arising from diversity of interest; and granting, that, by the exclusion of one class from the suffrage, something must be given up of the identity of interest between the constituency and the entire community, yet if some purpose of more than equivalent utility be attained by the sacrifice, it may still be advisable. And this, in our author’s opinion, is the case. He proposes that a certain portion of identity of interest should be sacrificed, for the sake of obtaining a higher average degree of intelligence. That this is an object worth attaining at some cost, nobody will deny. A certain measure of intelligence in the electors is manifestly indispensable: a much larger measure would be eminently desirable; and if any test, even an approximative one, could be obtained of its existence, without trenching too much upon the identity of interest, the exclusion from the franchise of all who could not pass that test would add to the securities for good government. But when our author contends that such an approximative test may be found in the possession of a certain amount of property, we can only partially agree with him. It is but fair to quote the passage.
It is not, therefore, without a deep sense of the uncertainty attaching to such predictions, that the wise would hazard an opinion as to the fate of mankind under the new democratic dispensation. But without pretending to judge confidently of remote tendencies, those immediate ones which are already developing themselves require to be dealt with as we treat any of the other circumstances in which we are placed;—by encouraging those which are salutary, and working out the means by which such as are hurtful may be counteracted. To exhort men to this, and to aid them in doing it, is the end for which M. de Tocqueville has written; and in the same spirit we will now venture to make one criticism upon him;—to point out one correction, of which we think his views stand in need; and for want of which they have occasionally an air of over-subtlety and false refinement, exciting the distrust of common readers, and making the opinions themselves appear less true, and less practically important, than, it seems to us, they really are.
In praise of idleness – Lost and Found Books
But, without dwelling upon supposititious cases, there are, in our own day, gross usurpations upon the liberty of private life actually practised, and still greater ones threatened with some expectation of success, and opinions which assert an unlimited right in the public not only to prohibit by law everything which it thinks wrong, but in order to get at what it thinks wrong, to prohibit any number of things which it admits to be innocent.
FREE In Praise of Idleness by Betrand Russell Essay
To imagine another contingency, perhaps more likely to be realized than the one last mentioned. There is confessedly a strong tendency in the modern world towards a democratic constitution of society, accompanied or not by popular political institutions. It is affirmed that in the country where this tendency is most completely realized—where both society and the government are most democratic—the United States—the feeling of the majority, to whom any appearance of a more showy or costly style of living than they can hope to rival is disagreeable, operates as a tolerably effectual sumptuary law, and that in many parts of the Union it is really difficult for a person possessing a very large income, to find any mode of spending it, which will not incur popular disapprobation. Though such statements as these are doubtless much exaggerated as a representation of existing facts, the state of things they describe is not only a conceivable and possible, but a probable result of democratic feeling, combined with the notion that the public has a right to a veto on the manner in which individuals shall spend their incomes. We have only further to suppose a considerable diffusion of Socialist opinions, and it may become infamous in the eyes of the majority to possess more property than some very small amount, or any income not earned by manual labour. Opinions similar in principle to these, already prevail widely among the artizan class, and weigh oppressively on those who are amenable to the opinion chiefly of that class, namely, its own members. It is known that the bad workmen who form the majority of the operatives in many branches of industry, are decidedly of opinion that bad workmen ought to receive the same wages as good, and that no one ought to be allowed, through piecework or otherwise, to earn by superior skill or industry more than others can without it. And they employ a moral police, which occasionally becomes a physical one, to deter skilful workmen from receiving, and employers from giving, a larger remuneration for a more useful service. If the public have any jurisdiction over private concerns, I cannot see that these people are in fault, or that any individual’s particular public can be blamed for asserting the same authority over his individual conduct, which the general public asserts over people in general.