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Lalchhanhimi Bungsut
Krittika Bhattacharjee
ICT Section 11
October 8th, 2018
In Praise of Idleness by Bertrand Russell: A Critical Analysis
In 1935, in the wake of World War I, Bertrand Russell wrote an article titled In Praise of
Idleness that sought to redefine the common understanding of labor and the necessity for leisure.
In the article, Russell argues that people need to limit work to four hours, increase consumption
with the progress in technology and production, and focus on the things that bring pleasure rather
than placing excessive importance on jobs. Russell’s arguments directly attack the culture that
reveres labor and consequently denounces consumption. They also assume that people live in a
world where work is revered whereas leisure is heavily frowned upon.
The context in which Russell wrote the article greatly influences his arguments. In the
wake of World War I, much of the labor and expenses were directed to war reparations and
preparations. To Russell, the “economical habits” of the common people therefore went into
supporting the Armed Forces and therefore supported war itself. This argument successfully
justifies that people should use their labor and earned money on personal desires instead. To this
however, Russell concedes that when savings are invested in enterprises that succeed, they are
useful and denotes the limitation of his argument. Russell also bases his arguments on his
observation of the technological progress that lead to a significantly more efficient way to
produce things. To Russell, it seems more plausible that people work shorter hours to have more
time for leisure due to the increased productivity of laborers in light of technological advances.
However, he duly notes that people are still forced to work exceedingly long hours while many
are left unemployed. The context in which he focuses his writing clearly warrants the necessity
of his arguments as it proves that people are unnecessarily overworked while others are left
jobless. It also justifies the reverence of labor that arose from such mindsets as labor became
synonymous with success.
The reverence of labor that Russell assumes in his argument based on his context rings
true in contemporary society. Those who work long hours are praised to be hard-working,
whereas those who spend their time consuming and pursuing their creative interests are deemed
lazy. People lack the opportunity for leisure and pursuance of creativity as we live in a society
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that worships hard work that noticeably benefits society and looks down upon those who want to
enrich their lives through consumption and creativity. The existence of such notions in our
society is highlighted by Joe Pinsker in his article ‘Ugh, I’m So Busy’: A Status Symbol for Our
Time. In the article, Pinsker interviews Silvia Bellezza, a professor of marketing, regarding her
research on the symbol of “busyness” as a status. Bellezza’s research found that “in the U.S.,
people think that the busier person must be of higher status” (Pinsker). This finding suggests the
similarity between the context in which Russell writes and our contemporary society,
strengthening the relevance and importance of his message.

Word Count: 500 words


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Works Cited:

Pinsker, Joe. “'Ugh, I'm So Busy': A Status Symbol for Our Time.” The Atlantic, Atlantic Media
Company, 1 Mar. 2017,
www.theatlantic.com/business/archive/2017/03/busyness-status-symbol/518178/.
Russell, Bertrand. In praise of idleness, and other essays. London: G. Allen & Unwin, 1958.

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