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Freedom in Work

April 12, 2011

The other day during lecture, while discussing Marx’s and Engel’s The German Ideology, I found Marx’s views on work very interesting. Marx says that “for as soon as labor is distributed, each person has a particular exclusive area of activity which is imposed on him and from which he cannot escape”. Basically work enchains man. Work consumes you, it becomes who you are. In Marx’s ideal communistic society, work creates freedom.

In communist society, where nobody has one exclusive sphere of activity but each can become accomplished in any branch he wishes, society regulates the general production and thus makes it possible for me to do one thing today and another tomorrow, to hunt in the morning, fish in the afternoon, rear cattle in the evening, criticise after dinner, just as I have a mind, without ever becoming hunter, fisherman, herdsman or critic. -Karl Marx

But does work really make you less free? I would tend to disagree with Marx on this point. In any society, you have to work, either to sustain yourself or to make money. In today’s society, people can become consumed with their job. It can become part of their identity. It is commonplace in conversation to ask someone their name, and then what they do for a living. People ask one another “Do you know John, the accountant that works downtown?”. And doctors are always referred to as Doctor so-and-so. In that sense, people are bound by their jobs. They do it everyday and it becomes a part of their identity.

However, the reason that I do not believe that work becomes binding is because of the freedom to choose. I attend the University of Michigan. I decided to study here because I felt as though it would give me the best resources to be successful in any field that I choose. I can choose to study to become a doctor, an accountant, or even a lawyer. Whatever field of work that I choose does not enchain me. What enchains me is my personality and the things that I like to do.

When Marx wrote most of his work, the idea of leisure time was really just beginning to develop. People were beginning to work in more mechanized factories and plants that would allow them to distinguish between when they were clearly working, and when they were clearly relaxing. And much of the work done in the factories was the kind of monotonous, mind-numbing work that was satirized in the clip of the Charlie Chaplin movie that we watched in lecture. In that sense, the work that Marx was describing might have actually caused people to feel as though they were losing their freedom.

But in our modern economy, I can work as a doctor in the morning, play golf in the afternoon, and spend time with my family at night. Freedom is not the ability to do whatever you want and not receive any of those labels. Freedom is the ability to do all the things that I like and receive the appropriate label. I can be a doctor with a wife and two children who enjoys playing golf during my free time. You can also defy typical stereotypes. For example, you can be an accountant with an intriguing personality and a good sense of humor. Work does not enchain us. We are free to choose what we do, and ultimately how we are thought of.

Wootton, David. “Marx and Marxism.” Modern Political Thought: Readings from Machiavelli to Nietzsche. Indianapolis: Hackett Pub., 2008. 775-97. Print.

  1. oakheart347 permalink
    April 12, 2011 6:59 PM

    I think that this is a rather interesting post and I would agree with you that work should create freedom. While we may have to do our job and work with it, we should be able to choose what we want to do. We are all very blessed to have this opportunity and to be able to make the choice of what we want to study and what we want to become.
    I do think it is important to remember in your post that Marx does want to achieve that society in which work does create freedom as you pointed out with your quote and your introduction of it. But it is also only attainable in that perfect, idealistic, communist society. While we may be enslaved by our work today, in some fashion we do choose to that enslavement and we must live with our choice or find a better / more enjoyable job. The only issue with that is that in today’s society money is often the driving factor behind work of any kind for most people. So while we may have choice in our work, we are still enslaved to the $.

  2. April 12, 2011 7:23 PM

    I think that the notion of work creating freedom is very interesting. One thing that you might want to discuss though is how this notion is effected by people of different socio-economic statuses. Yes, you were given the gift of being able to attend college, but not many people in the world are given the same option. Some must work just to survive, which doesn’t perpetuate this notion of freedom. Many people find themselves binded to their occupations with the financial uncertainty of the time. As oakheart suggested in the comment above, many people are binded by money in occupations which can force people to do things that they don’t necessarily want to do. I think your post brings up a very interesting topic that should be explained further.

  3. Kendall Rhode permalink
    April 12, 2011 9:37 PM

    I think your post is interesting, yet I don’t think it holds true to society today. You say if you are a doctor you can be one in the morning, play golf after, and be with your family at night. Maybe for some people this is true, but probably not for most. If you want to become a doctor, your probably going to give up a lot of your freedom and leisure time for med school, or you might drop your dream of becoming a doctor because you cannot deal with the low income you are receiving so you give up on your dream. Also, I think most people become consumed by their jobs because we live in a materialistic society. the 60’s generated a consumer based economy which is still prevalent today. We are always wanting the latest Iphone, the newest cars, the list goes on. In order to achieve these wants, we need to work. Most people don’t end up obtaining their dream job; Americans find whatever job they can get so they can pay for the activities they want to do in their free time.

  4. jamescimina permalink
    April 13, 2011 12:19 AM

    Although I think you pose an interesting argument, I disagree on some fronts. I think that although you can claim to be a doctor in the morning, golfer in the afternoon and be with your family at night, this is not your occupation. Being a doctor in this case is the occupation, and like Kendall explains, most certainly does take away some of your freedoms. Parents coming home late for dinner or perhaps not at all is a common occurrence today. With more two-paretn working homes, there jobs take away certain freedoms such as spending as much time as they can with their family or being able to do leisure acts at will. I disagree with your claim that your job does not consume you, you choose certain labor, and thus must endure whatever schedule’s and sacrifices possible. Look at soldiers, they sacrifice not only their lives, but seeing their family and friends, their safety, and living what most call a “normal” life. Also, as stated by the other comments, work creating freedom must account for different economic status’ of other people and cultures. Some people may not have the same opportunities as others and must work just to keep a roof over their heads. I do agree with you that we have the freedom to choose what we want to do, and thus can quit any job and switch careers if so be it, however there is no doubt that labor constraints our abilities to have certain leisures and freedoms.

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