Joy in Work, German Work: The National Debate, 1800-1945

Joy in Work, German Work: The National Debate, 1800-1945

by Joan Campbell


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This book analyzes in vivid detail the German debate about the importance and meaning of work as it changed under the impact of industrialization, with special emphasis on the period between the two world wars. A social history of ideas, it covers the writings of such thinkers as Hegel, Marx, and Weber, but also examines contributions made by industrial psychologists, engineers, educators, and others who actively promoted reforms designed to solve the problem of alienation whether by changing the nature of work or by altering worker attitudes. A final section deals with the National Socialists, who promised to reinvigorate the German work ethic, restore joy in work, and reintegrate the German worker into the Volk community. The author draws our attention particularly to the Third Reich's policies and institutions aimed at realizing these Nationalist Socialist objectives concerning the worker. In so doing, Joan Campbell shows how the history of the idea of work deepens our understanding of the origins, nature, and appeal of Nazism. In a broader context, she uses her sources to explore the relationship between social and intellectual change.

Originally published in 1989.

The Princeton Legacy Library uses the latest print-on-demand technology to again make available previously out-of-print books from the distinguished backlist of Princeton University Press. These editions preserve the original texts of these important books while presenting them in durable paperback and hardcover editions. The goal of the Princeton Legacy Library is to vastly increase access to the rich scholarly heritage found in the thousands of books published by Princeton University Press since its founding in 1905.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780691608495
Publisher: Princeton University Press
Publication date: 07/14/2014
Series: Princeton Legacy Library , #1009
Pages: 444
Product dimensions: 6.90(w) x 10.00(h) x 1.00(d)

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Joy in Work, German Work

The National Debate, 1800â"1945

By Joan Campbell


Copyright © 1989 Princeton University Press
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-0-691-05569-5



For the majority of people throughout recorded history, work has been inseparable from existence. Most of those who reflected upon work regarded it as a burden, a necessary evil to be avoided or at least kept to a minimum by employing slaves, women, beasts, or machines to carry out the labor needed to supply their wants. Furthermore, the rewards for hard, manual work have everywhere tended to be low, providing a firm basis in everyday life for the negative valuation of work. This "common sense" view was elegantly formulated by the classical poets and philosophers. The Greeks regarded manual labor as incompatible with full citizenship because leisure was deemed the prerequisite for the cultivation of the human spirit. While classical authors on occasion sang the praises of agricultural labor, they did not honor work for its own sake, much less place it at the core of human existence. For them, it had merit only to the extent that it created the economic basis for civilized living.

The Judea-Christian tradition substantially modified the classical position by giving manual labor a limited but hallowed place in God's plan. Adam, even in Eden, was enjoined to cultivate his garden in imitation of his creator. When he was cast out, work accompanied him, attended by sorrow and suffering as punishment for his disobedience. Christianity stressed that hard labor was the lot of human beings because of Adam's sin, but it also maintained that work was a potential source of merit, if it was done with love for God and one's fellow human being. St. Paul not only maintained that all must work; extending the concept of work beyond manual labor, he decreed that the maxim "he who will not work, neither shall he eat" applied to rich and poor, clerics and laymen. In Christian theory from the time of St. Paul on all work was honorable if done in a spirit of Christian service. To this St. Augustine and the other Church fathers added the notion of work as a continuation of God's act of creation and so a positive good even after the Fall.

The Christian emphasis on work found notable expression in medieval monasticism, but it was the Protestant Reformation, centered in Germany and Switzerland, which gave it resonance in the wider community. Luther, Zwingli, and Calvin all proclaimed work's value as a safeguard against idleness and sin and deemed pursuit of a calling as a major expression of faith, a form of worship in no way inferior to contemplation and prayer. In its most extreme Puritan version, Protestantism produced an ethic of work characterized by asceticism and the notion of vocation (in German, Beruf), an ethic that could easily reconcile itself with, if it did not give rise to, capitalism.

From the time of the Reformation, Catholics as well as Protestants regarded hard work as both important and meritorious, but it was only in the eighteenth century that the Augustinian notion of work as a positive good resurfaced as a significant element of the Christian tradition. The agent of this transformation was Pietism, a movement within German Protestantism which propagated the idea of work as a spiritual and a psychological necessity. The Pietists put work on a level with prayer as a means to the soul's salvation, or even promoted it as a surrogate for prayer; they maintained that work performed in conscious fulfillment of God's injunction to help one's neighbor could be expected to give rise to a sense of blessedness, a feeling of joy. But although Pietists stressed the significance of work for the individual psyche, they never valued it because of its contribution to human happiness. Salvation in the world to come rather than happiness in this life remained the Christian's goal; at its best, therefore, work constituted a means of salvation, not an end in itself.

Adherents of the traditional Christian view of work might be inspired to look for less onerous ways to produce goods, but the idea of humanizing work and raising the quality of working life is largely predicated on the post-Christian assumption that individual happiness in this world is of prime importance. Christian concern did lead to denunciations of the evils attributable to greed and exploitation and to injunctions that one should work towards ends pleasing to God. Sometimes it also inspired a search for more equitable ways to distribute the proceeds of labor. But only after Christianity itself began to be called into question was work perceived as a "problem" requiring urgent solution. Serious efforts to give individuals satisfaction in and through work were inspired by the ideals of the Enlightenment, which played a critical role in the evolution of Western thinking about work. The "age of reason" defined work in an essentially positive way, as the instrument of human mastery over nature, the basis of culture, the creator of community and the source of social progress. At the same time, by proclaiming individual happiness in this life to be a legitimate goal of human endeavor, it made possible a conception of joy through work, or even joy in work that went far beyond anything in the Christian tradition.

Because advancing secularization introduced new ways of conceiving the relationship between human beings and the natural world, it can be called on to explain why Arbeitsfreude emerged as a major theme near the start of the German debate about work. Yet concern with the topic would probably not have reached the level it did in the nineteenth century had the character of work not undergone a transformation. How secularization and industrialization were linked has never been satisfactorily resolved; nor has it been established which of these processes was primarily responsible for altering the way western Europeans thought about work. In the German case, however, it seems certain that the new attitude to work emerged well before the industrial revolution had significantly changed the mode of production. The men of letters, poets, and philosophers whose speculations were to influence thinking about work in and outside Germany as industrial capitalism came to dominate economic life were the products of an essentially "pre-industrial" society. Their contributions were those shaped by Enlightenment and early Romantic re-evaluations of the human situation rather than by personal experience or observation of a radically altered world of work.

J. G. Herder, a leading spokesman of the German Enlightenment, reflected the new mood:

Work, you wise ones of the people, further your own joy and that of the masses! Where dwells true tranquillity? Where the blessing of a loving God? Only in work!

Herder still thought of work in Christian terms, as a means to keep from idleness and sin and distract oneself from the miseries of this world, but he added the secular idea of diligent effort in the service of humanity as a source of individual happiness. Similarly, the jurist Justus Moser wrote of work as "the source of all true joy," and the poet Johann Andreas Cramer insisted that "work is not slavery, but the joy of humanity."

The most eloquent and frequently quoted statement of the new outlook was Friedrich Schiller's "The Bell" which praised the human capacity to respond with the heart to what the hand creates and proclaimed that "Work is the Burger's honor, blessedness his labor's wage." Goethe, too, contributed to the exaltation of work when he declared that nothing is more benighted than a man without work and praised the labor of the craftsman as the source of all art. Indeed, Goethe's Faust has come to symbolize the Western drive to create and to seek joy, freedom, and immortality in productive labor. At a more prosaic level, an instructional manual of l798 urged young Germans not to think of work as something oppressive. Instead, it promised that the development of good work habits would teach them how to derive great pleasure from labor, to the point where they would no longer wish to live without it.

The German idealist philosophers did most to shape the new ethos of work. Admittedly, the founder of German idealism, Immanuel Kant (l724–1804), had little to say on the subject, and his moral philosophy reinforced the Christian concept of work as duty (Pflicht) instead of encouraging contemporaries to regard it as a source of human happiness. Nor did his disciple Fichte (1762–1814) accept the equation of productive labor with happiness. Instead, he valued work as a source of material progress, which would make possible the leisure to make individuals truly free. Nonetheless, Fichte did help to shape the secular modern work ethic, for he insisted that free, purposeful activity, especially intellectual work, both shaped man as an individual and produced the moral order:

You are not in this world for contemplation nor for introspective examination of your spiritual state — no, you are here to act, and your activity ... alone determines your worth.

In sum, Fichte rejected both the inwardness of the Romantics and the preference for a life of contemplation over one of action that had led many Christians to a quietist position. Influenced by classical humanism, he argued for a balanced existence in which work would be done by choice, although in moderation, so as to benefit society and to lay the economic basis for the free spiritual and intellectual growth of the individual.

It was Hegel (1770–1831), representing the apogee of Germany's idealist tradition, who incorporated into his system the theoretically most extreme positive valuation of work. But even while giving Arbeit the highest possible status, Hegel, like Herder and Fichte, generally used the term to denote a type of activity far removed from the realm of ordinary labor or from economic life. In his abstract philosophizing work is variously described as the defining characteristic of humanity, the means used by Spirit to master matter, and a progressive force related to the will of God. Seen in this light, all work becomes honorable, even that of slaves who, as Hegel maintained, through work become the masters of their non-laboring masters. Work, and only work, is the source of the highest good, freedom. From this it was just a short step to the glorification of the worker as the "father of mankind." Thus one of Hegel's disciples could argue that human beings create themselves as human through work, and that all work has value insofar as it allows people to develop themselves physically and mentally, to subject nature to human purposes, and to ennoble humanity.

By assigning work a central role in the development of both the individual and society, German idealist philosophers at once reflected and provided theoretical justification for the Enlightenment's faith in the progress of humanity towards the goal of freedom. Work remained a means to an end, but the fulfillment of humanity's potential within the historical process rather than salvation in the life to come was now the goal. Yet German idealism, while giving work an exalted status beyond anything proposed earlier, also drew attention to its problematic nature. Compared with the free, creative, intellectually stimulating, socially useful, personally fulfilling "work" praised by the philosophers and the humanist poets, most labor in the real world was bound to appear unsatisfactory: impersonal, mechanical, deadening, and destructive of higher values.

Unlike Fichte, who preferred not to dwell on the gulf between ideal and reality, Hegel, at least in his early writing, showed himself to be keenly aware of the discrepancy between the "is" and the "ought" of work. His Jena lectures of 1805/6 contained an analysis of the problem of work that stressed the devastating effects of industrial labor on the individual and on society. Basing his indictment of modern work largely on Adam Smith's famous account of specialized labor in a pin factory in The Wealth of Nations (1776), Hegel foretold the development of a factory proletariat. Increasing mechanization and division of labor would create a class of workers deprived of their skills, whose work would consequently be devalued and ill-rewarded, and who would depend for their livelihood on the caprice of impersonal market forces.

Having formulated the problem of modern work as part of a critique of industrialism, Hegel withdrew once more into the realm of abstraction. His Phenomenology of the Spirit of the following year still deplored alienation and reification, but these were now described as inescapable features of human progress rather than as related to specific — and therefore potentially remediable — contemporary developments. Indeed, at no time did Hegel make an effort to move from analysis to prescription when dealing with the problem of work. Evading the issue, he argued that productive labor, the source of human alienation, would itself, in dialectical fashion, become the means to overcome alienation. When combined with the abstract nature of his argumentation, this approach rendered Hegel's treatment of the problem of work virtually useless to the social critic or would-be reformer.

Hegel turned to the topic of work for a third and last time in his Philosophy of Right (1821). By then he had abandoned the effort to clarify contemporary trends by juxtaposing the ideal with reality. Instead, he sought to do away with the entire problem by reconciling his theoretical conception of unalienated spiritual or intellectual labor with the circumstances of economic life. Thus he argued that human beings not only create themselves and their culture through work, but that productive labor could be regarded as "culturally educative" because it accustomed people to be busy and to take the will of others into account. In other words, the habit of work freed the civilized human being from the laziness and subjective individualism of the barbarian. What is more, Hegel, who had condemned the process of mechanization in his Jena lectures, now claimed that the machine, by forcing workers to a higher level of abstraction, contributed to their spiritual and ethical elevation. Having thus "solved" the problem of work at the speculative level, Hegel henceforth gave little thought to the hardships endured by his laboring contemporaries, although he did grant the state a limited role in the alleviation of economic distress through the regulation of foreign trade and the institution of poor relief.

Romanticism was the third strand of thought that in combination with classical humanism and philosophical idealism helped to create the intellectual context within which Germans addressed the problems of society in the early nineteenth century. Usually conservative in their outlook, German romantics compared the modern world unfavorably with the organic, Christian community of the Middle Ages. By painting an idealized picture of medieval artist-craftsmen and their guilds, romantic writers added a persistent element to the critique of modern work and contributed to the positive ideal of Arbeitsfreude. Nevertheless, it would be a mistake to equate belief in the possibility of joyful work with romantic conservatism. Hegel's acknowledgement that work had deteriorated from an earlier state of rich complexity did not make him a romantic, nor did it induce him to join the reactionaries in advocating a return to earlier modes of production. Likewise Schiller (1759–1805), following in Rousseau's footsteps, joined the romantics in complaining that the advance of culture had "made a breach between state and church, laws and customs, and separated enjoyment from work, means from ends, effort from its reward." But instead of demanding the restoration of the old order, he argued that humanity must move forward to a time when all would be able to engage in free, joyful, activity. Thus, although the ideal of Arbeitsfreude was generally accompanied by nostalgia, it could also inspire longing for a new and better society. Romanticism and socialism proved to be just as compatible as romanticism and conservatism.

It is also significant that not all who thought of themselves as romantics adopted the idea of joy in work. The more conservative among them emphasized the importance of Christian community, and were therefore firmly opposed to an ethic based on individual gratification. Typically, Adam Muller (1779–1829), a leading voice of German conservatism, did not base his preference for a stable agricultural and artisan economy on the belief that these modes of production were particularly conducive to joyful work. Concerned that ethical values be placed above material ones, Muller looked forward to the day when human beings and their work would once more be firmly rooted in a society that valued honor, duty, and Christian love above riches. At most, the dogma of joyful labor gave conservative romantics one more weapon with which to combat the industrial capitalism that was associated in their minds with an atheistic, materialistic, and rational-utilitarian ethos destructive of the Christian organic world view.


Excerpted from Joy in Work, German Work by Joan Campbell. Copyright © 1989 Princeton University Press. Excerpted by permission of PRINCETON UNIVERSITY PRESS.
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Table of Contents

  • FrontMatter, pg. i
  • CONTENTS, pg. v
  • PREFACE, pg. vii
  • XV. JOY IN WORK, GERMAN WORK?, pg. 376
  • INDEX, pg. 411

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