Front Page Titles (by Subject) CHAPTER 11.: Industry - The Principles of Ethics, vol. 1
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CHAPTER 11.: Industry - Herbert Spencer, The Principles of Ethics, vol. 1 
The Principles of Ethics, introduction by Tibor R. Machan (Indianapolis: LibertyClassics, 1978). Vol. 1.
Part of: The Principles of Ethics, 2 vols.
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167. If we are to understand the origins and variations of the sentiments, ethical and proethical, which have been entertained in different times and places concerning industry and the absence of industry we must first note certain fundamental distinctions between classes of human activities, and between their relations to the social state.
Industry, as we now understand it, scarcely exists among primitive men–scarcely indeed, can exist before the pastoral and agricultural states have been established. Living on wild products, savages of early types have to expend their energies primarily in gathering and catching these: the obtainment of some, like fruits and roots, being easy and safe, and the obtainment of others, such as beasts of which some are swift and some are large, being difficult and dangerous. After these the remaining activities, more difficult and dangerous than those the chase implies, are implied by warfare with fellow men. Hence the occupations of the utterly uncivilized may be roughly divided into those which demand strength, courage, and skill, in large measure, and those which demand them in but small measure or not at all. And since in most cases the preservation of the tribe is mainly determined by its success in war and the chase, it results that the strength, courage, or skill shown in these, come to be honored both for themselves and for their value to the tribe. Conversely, since the digging up of roots, the gathering of wild fruits, and the collecting of shellfish, do not call for strength, courage, and skill, and do not conspicuously further tribal preservation, these occupations come to be little honored or relatively despised. An implication strengthens the contrast. While the stronger sex is called on to devote itself to the one, the other is left to the weaker sex: sometimes aided by conquered men, or slaves. Hence arises a further reason why in primitive societies, honor is given to the predatory activities while the peaceful activities are held in dishonor. Industry, therefore, or that which at first represents it, is not unnaturally condemned by the proethical sentiment.
The only kinds of activity to be classed as industrial which the warriors of the tribe may enter upon, are those necessitated by the making of weapons and the erection of wigwams or huts: the one, closely associated with war and the chase, demanding also the exercise of skill; and the other demanding both skill and strength–not the moderate strength shown in monotonous labor, but the great strength which has to be suddenly exerted. And these apparent exceptions furnish a verification; for they further show that the occupations held in contempt are those which, demanding relatively little power, physical or intellectual, can be carried on by the inferior.
The contrast thus initiated between the sentiments with which these classes of occupations are regarded, has persisted with but small, though increasing, qualification, throughout the course of human progress; and it has thus persisted because the causes have in the main persisted. While the self-preservation of societies has most conspicuously depended on the activities implied by successful war, such activities have been held in honor; and, by implication, industrial activities have been held contemptible. Only during recent times–only now that national welfare is becoming more and more dependent on superior powers of production, and such superior powers of production are becoming more and more dependent on the higher mental faculties, are other occupations than militant ones rising into respectability; while simultaneously respectability is being acknowledged in the accompanying capacity for persistent and monotonous application.
Carrying this clue with us, we shall be able now to understand better the ethics of labor, as changing from people to people and from age to age.
168. The North American Indians furnish the simplest and clearest illustrations of predatory habits and associated sentiments. Schoolcraft says of the Chippewas:
They have regarded the use of the bow and arrow the war club and spear as the noblest employments of man. . . . To hunt well and to fight well, are the first and the last themes of their hopes and praises of the living and the dead. . . . They have ever looked upon agricultural and mechanical labors as degrading.
Of the Snake Indian, Lewis and Clarke write: “He would consider himself degraded by being compelled to walk any distance.” Of kindred nature is Burton’s account of the Dakotas: “The warrior, considering the chase as an ample share of the labor curse, is so lazy that he will not rise to saddle or unsaddle his pony. . . . Like a wild beast he cannot be broken to work: he would rather die than employ himself in honest industry.” By the more civilized Iroquois, too, the primitive feeling was displayed–"The warrior despised the toil of husbandry, and held all labor beneath him.” Even the unwarlike Esquimaux is said to exhibit a like aversion. “He hunts and fishes, but having brought his booty to land troubles himself no further about it; for it would be a stigma on his character, if he so much as drew a seal out of the water.” There being, perhaps, for this usage a plea like that possessed by the usage of the Chippewayans, among whom, “when the men kill any large beast, the women are always sent to bring it to the tent"–the plea, namely, that the chase, whether on sea or on land, is extremely exhausting.
Passing to South America we meet with facts of kindred meaning. Men of the Guiana tribes take no share in industry, save in making clearance for the growing of food: each lies “indolently in his hammock until necessitated to fish, or use the more violent exercise of the chase, to provide for the wants of his family,” And then of the Araucanians, warlike but agricultural (apparently because there is but little scope for the chase), we are told that “the ‘lord and master’ does little but eat, sleep, and ride about.”
In the wording of this last statement, as by implication in the other statements, we may see that in early stages the egoism of men, unqualified by the altruism which amicable social intercourse generates, leads them to devolve on women all exertions which, unaccompanied by the pleasures of achievement, are monotonous and wearisome. “The lord and master” does what he likes; and he likes to make the woman (or his woman as the case may be) do all the dull and hard work. Proofs of this are multitudinous. America furnishes instances in the accounts of the Chippewayans, Creeks, Tupis, Patagonians; as witness these extracts:
“This laborious task [dragging the sledges] falls most heavily on the women: nothing can more shock the feelings of a person, accustomed to civilized life, than to witness the state of their degradation.”
“The women perform all the labor, both in the house and field, and are, in fact, but slaves to the men.”
“When they removed, the women were the beasts of burthen, and carried the hammocks, pots, wooden pestles and mortars, and all their other household stock.”
The lives of the Patagonian women are “one continued scene of labor. . . . They do everything, except hunting and fighting.”
Here, again, are testimonies given by travelers in Africa concerning the Hottentots, Bechuanas, Kaffirs, Ashantis, people of Fernando Po and the Lower Niger:
The wife “is doomed to all the toil of getting and dressing provisions for” her husband, “herself and children. . . . and to all the care and drudgery within doors, with a share of the fatigue in tending the cattle.”
“The women build the houses; plant and reap the corn; fetch water and fuel; and cook the food. It is very rarely that the men are seen helping the women, even in the most laborious work.”
“Besides her domestic duties, the woman has to perform all the hard work; she is her husband’s ox, as a Kafir once said to me–she has been bought, he argued, and must therefore labor.”
“It may be remarked, that the weightiest duties generally devolve upon the wife, who is to be found ‘grinding at the mill,’ transacting business in the market, or cultivating the plantation.”
“The females in Fernando Po have a fair portion of work assigned to them, such as planting and collecting the yam . . . but they are certainly treated with greater consideration and kindness than in any part of Africa we visited.”
On the lower Niger, “women are commonly employed in the petty retail trade about the country; they also do a great deal of hard work, especially in the cultivation of the land.”
Of which extracts it may be remarked that the latter ones, which concern races of more advanced kinds, carrying on more settled industries, show that with them the slavery of women is less pronounced.
Beyond that dishonorableness which, in early stages, attaches to labor because it can be performed by women, who in most cases are incapable, or considered to be incapable, of war and the chase; there is the further dishonorableness which attaches to it because, as above pointed out, it is carried on also by conquered men or slaves–by men, that is, proved in one or other way to be inferior. In very early stages we sometimes find slaves thus used for the nonpredatory occupations which their masters find irksome. Even of the Chinooks we read that “slaves do all the laborious work”; and they are often associated with the women in this function. Says Andersson: “The Damaras are idle creatures. What is not done by the women is left to the slaves, who are either the descendants of impoverished members of their own tribe or . . . captured Bushmen.” Describing the people of Embomma on the Congo, Tuckey writes: “The cultivation of the ground is entirely the business of slaves and women, the King’s daughters and princes’ wives being constantly thus employed.” Burton tells us that in Dahomey “agriculture is despised, because slaves are employed in it”; but a great deal of it seems to be done by women. And similarly of the Mishmis in Asia, we read that “the women and slaves do all the cultivation.”
Naturally then, and, indeed, we may say necessarily there grows up in these early stages a profound prejudice against labor–a proethical sentiment condemnatory of it. How this proethical sentiment, having the sanction of ancestral usages, assumes this or that special character according to the habits which the environment determines, we are variously shown. Thus we read that the Bushmen “are sworn enemies to the pastoral life. Some of their maxims are, to live on hunting and plunder”; “The genuine Arabs disdain husbandry, as an employment by which they would be degraded.” In which examples, as in many already given, we may see how a mode of life long pursued, determines a congruous set of feelings and ideas. And the strength of the prejudices which maintain inherited customs of this class, is shown by sundry anomalous cases. Livingstone tells us of the East Africans that where there are cattle, the women till the land, plant the corn, and build the huts. The men stay at home to sew, spin, weave, and talk, and milk the cows.”
Still more strange is the settled division of labor between the sexes in Abyssinia. According to Bruce, “It is infamy for a man to go to market to buy anything. He cannot carry water or bake bread; but he must wash the clothes belonging to both sexes, and, in this function, the women cannot help him.” In Cieza’s account of certain ancient Peruvians, the Cañaris, we find a kindred system:
[The women] are great laborers, for it is they who dig the land, sow the crops, and reap the harvests, while their husbands remain in the houses sewing and weaving, adorning their clothes, and performing other feminine offices. . . . Some Indians say that this arises from the dearth of men and the great abundance of women.
Possibly such anomalies as these have arisen in cases where surrounding conditions, causing decrease of predatory activities while the labors of women continued to suffice for purposes of production, left the men to lead idle lives or lives filled with easy occupations. We may safely infer that among barbarous peoples, the men did not take to hard and monotonous labor until they were obliged.
169. But where chronic militancy did not effectually keep down population, increase of it made peremptory the devotion of men to food production; and with this change in social life there was initiated a change in the proethical sentiments respecting labor. The Khonds furnish an example. They “consider it beneath their dignity to barter or traffic, and . . . regard as base and plebeian all who are not either warriors or tillers of the soil.” So of the Javans we are told that “they have a contempt for trade, and those of higher rank esteem it disgraceful to be engaged in it; but the common people are ever ready to engage in the labors of agriculture, and the chiefs to honor and encourage agricultural industry.” From various sources we learn that the Germanic tribes, both in their original habitats and in those which they usurped, became reconciled to husbandry as an alternative to hunting and marauding: doubtless because by no other occupation could adequate sustenance be obtained.
Concerning these and kindred transitional states, two passing remarks may be ventured. One is that since industry chiefly agricultural, is at first carried on by slaves and women, working under authority it results that when freemen are forced by want of food to labor, they have a strong prejudice against laboring for others, that is, laboring for hire; since working under authority by contract, too much resembles working under authority by compulsion. While Schomburgk characterizes the Caribs as the most industrious race in Guiana, he says that only the extremest need can induce a Carib so far to lower his dignity as to work for wages for a European. This feeling is shown with equal or greater strength by some peaceful peoples to whom subordination is unfamiliar or unknown. Speaking of southeast India, Lewin says: “Among the hill tribes labor cannot be hired; the people work each one for himself. In 1865, in this district, a road had to be cut; but although fabulous wages were offered, the hill population steadily refused to work.” And still more decided is the aversion to working under orders shown by the otherwise industrious Sonthal:
The Sonthal will take service with no one, he will perform no work except for himself or his family, and should any attempt be made to coerce him, he flies the country or penetrates into the thickest jungle, where unknown and unsought, he commences clearing a patch of ground and erecting his log hut.
The other remark is that the scorn for trade which, as above shown, at first coexists with the honoring of agriculture, is possibly due to the fact that it was originally carried on chiefly by unsettled classes, who were detached, untrustworthy members of a community in which most men had fixed positions. But the growth of trade slowly brought a changed estimate. As, in hunting tribes, agriculture, relatively unessential, was despised, but became respectable when it became an indispensable means to maintenance of life; so trade, at first relatively unessential (since essential things were mostly made at home), similarly lacked the sanction of necessity and of ancestral custom, but in course of time, while growing into importance, gradually ceased to excite that proethical sentiment which vents itself in contempt.
170. With the growth of populous societies and the more and more imperative need for agriculture, the honorableness for labor does not for long periods obtain recognition, for the reasons indicated at the outset: it is carried on by slaves, or by serfs, or in later days by men more or less inferior in body or mind. A strong association in thought is thus established; and the natural repugnance to work is enforced by the belief that engagement in it is a confession of a low nature.
Though, in the literatures of ancient civilized societies, we find the duty of laboring insisted on, it seems mostly to be the duty of subject men. The injunction contained in the Code of Manu–"Daily perform thine own appointed work unweariedly,” refers by implication to men under authority: “appointed” work implies a master. So, too, according to the Book of the Dead (cxxv), the Egyptian, when questioned after death, had to declare, “I have not been idle,” and, “I have not made delays, or dawdled.” From the phrasing of the last sentence we may fairly infer that the work diligently performed was work commanded. Of the Hebrews the same may be concluded. Remembering that, being originally pastoral, they long continued to regard the care of cattle as relatively honorable (like the existing Arabs among whom, when the men are not raiding, their only fit occupation is herding); we may similarly gather that the obligation to work was mostly the obligation imposed on servants or slaves: slaves being usually the proper word. Though the third commandment applies to masters as well as to servants, yet, even supposing the Commandments were indigenous, the fact that the life was still mainly pastoral, implies that the work spoken of was pastoral work, not manual labor. It is true that in the legend of Adam’s condemnation, the curse of labor is imposed on all his descendants; but we have, in the first place, good reason for regarding this legend as of Babylonian origin, and we have, in the second place, the inference suggested by recent researches, that the Adami, a dark race, were slaves, and that the eating of the forbidden fruit reserved for the superior race, was a punishable transgression; just as was, in ancient Peru, the eating of coca, similarly reserved for the Inca class. So that possibly among the Hebrews also, the duty of working was imposed on inferior men rather than on men as such. In Persian literature we do, indeed, meet with more distinct recognition of the virtuousness of labor irrespective of conditions. Thus it is said–"A sower of seeds is as great in the eyes of Ormusd, as if he had given existence to a thousand creatures.” And in The Parsees, by Dosabhoy Framjee, we read that “the Zoroastrian is taught by his religion to earn his bread by the sweat of his brow.”
171. The peoples of Europe from early days down to our own, illustrate this relation between the kind of social activity and the prevailing sentiment about labor.
We have first the evidence which the Greeks furnish. Plato, showing his feeling towards traders by saying that the legislator passes them over, while for agriculturists he shows such respect as is implied by giving them laws, shows more fully in the Republic how degraded he holds to be all producers and distributors: comparing them to the basest parts of the individual nature. Similar is the belief expressed, and feeling manifested, by Aristotle, who says, “It is impossible for one who lives the life of a mechanic or hired servant to practice a life of virtue.”
Nor has it been otherwise further West. In the Roman world, along with persistent and active militancy, there went an increasing degradation of the nonmilitant class–slaves and freedmen. And throughout “the dark ages,” which collapse of the brutal civilization of Rome left behind, as well as throughout those ages during which perpetually recurring wars at length established large and stable kingdoms, this contempt for industry, both bodily and mental, continued; so that not only unskilled labor and the skilled labor of the craftsman, but also the intellectual labor of the educated man, were treated with contempt. Only in proportion as fighting ceased to be the exclusive business of life with all but the subject classes, and only as the subject classes, simultaneously growing larger, gained a larger share in the formation of opinion did the honorableness of industry become in some measure recognized: any praise of it previously given by the governing classes, being due to the consciousness that it conduced to their welfare.
In modern days, especially among ourselves and the Americans, the industrial part of society has so greatly outgrown the militant part, and has come to be so much more operative in forming the sentiments and ideas concerning industry, that these are almost reversed. Though unskilled labor is still regarded with something like contempt, as implying inferiority of capacity and of social position; and though the labor of the artisan, more respected because of the higher mental power it implies, is little respected because of its class associations; yet intellectual labor has in recent times acquired an honorable status. But the fact chiefly to be noted is that along with the advance of industrialism towards social supremacy, there has arisen the almost universal feeling that some kind of useful occupation is imperative. Condemnations of the “idle rich” are nowadays uttered by the rich themselves.
It may be noted, however, that even still, among those who represent the ancient regime–the military and naval officers–the old feeling survives; with the result that those among them who possess the highest culture–the medical officers, both military and naval, and the engineer officers–are regarded as standing on a lower level than the rest, and are treated with less consideration by the authorities.
172. Thus as in all the preceding chapters, so in this chapter, we see that the ethical conceptions, or rather the proethical conceptions, are determined by the forms of the social activities. Toward such activities as are most conspicuously conducive to the welfare of the society sentiments of approbation are called forth, and conversely; the result being that the idea of right comes to be associated with the presence of them and wrong with the absence of them.
Hence the general contrast shown from the earliest stages down to the latest, between the disgracefulness of labor in societies exclusively warlike, and the honorableness of labor in peaceful societies, or in societies relatively peaceful. This contrast is significantly indicated by the contrast between the ceremonies at the inauguration of a ruler. Among uncivilized militant peoples, in the formal act of making or crowning a chief or king, weapons always figure: here he is raised on a shield above the shoulders of his followers, and there the sword is girded on or the spear handed to him. And since, in most cases, relatively peaceful societies have preserved in their traditions the ceremonies used in their exclusively militant days, it rarely happens that the inauguration of a ruler is free from symbols of this kind. But one significant case of freedom from them is supplied by that tribe in Africa, the Manansas, already named, who, driven by warlike tribes around into a hill country, have devoted themselves to agriculture, and who say: “We want not the blood of the beasts, much less do we thirst for the blood of men!” for among them, according to Holub, a new sovereign receives as tokens, some sand, stones, and a hammer, “symbolizing industry and labor.”
There is one remaining fact to be named and emphasized. Out of the proethical sentiments which yield sanction to industry and make it honorable, there eventually emerges the ethical sentiment proper. This does not enjoin labor for its own sake, but enjoins it as implied by the duty of selfsustentation instead of sustentation by others. The virtue of work consists essentially in the performance of such actions as suffice to meet the cost of maintaining self and dependents and discharging social duties; while the disgracefulness of idleness essentially consists in the taking from the common stock the means of living, while doing nothing either to add to it or otherwise to further men’s happiness.