paper series

Explorations into culturE and policy: Why transatlantic attitudEs toWard Work and lEisurE arE not that diffErEnt aftEr all
Joseph r. Wood
The German marshall Fund oF The uniTed sTaTes

The Good Life

© 2010 The German Marshall Fund of the United States. All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means without permission in writing from the German Marshall Fund of the United States (GMF). Please direct inquiries to: The German Marshall Fund of the United States 1744 R Street, NW Washington, DC 20009 T 1 202 683 2650 F 1 202 265 1662 E info@gmfus.org This publication can be downloaded for free at http://www.gmfus.org/publications/index.cfm. Limited print copies are also available. To request a copy, send an e-mail to info@gmfus.org. GMF Paper Series The GMF Paper Series presents research on a variety of transatlantic topics by staff, fellows, and partners of the German Marshall Fund of the United States. The views expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the view of GMF. Comments from readers are welcome; reply to the mailing address above or by e-mail to info@gmfus.org. About GMF The German Marshall Fund of the United States (GMF) is a non-partisan American public policy and grant-making institution dedicated to promoting greater cooperation and understanding between North America and Europe. GMF does this by supporting individuals and institutions working on transatlantic issues, by convening leaders to discuss the most pressing transatlantic themes, and by examining ways in which transatlantic cooperation can address a variety of global policy challenges. Founded in 1972 through a gift from Germany as a permanent memorial to Marshall Plan assistance, GMF maintains a strong presence on both sides of the Atlantic. In addition to its headquarters in Washington, DC, GMF has seven offices in Europe: Berlin, Bratislava, Paris, Brussels, Belgrade, Ankara, and Bucharest. About Brussels Forum Brussels Forum is an annual high-level meeting of the most influential American and European political, corporate, and intellectual leaders to address pressing challenges currently facing both sides of the Atlantic. Participants include heads of state, senior officials from the European Union institutions and the members states, U.S. Cabinet officials, Congressional representatives, Parliamentarians, academics, and media. For more information, please visit www.brusselsforum.org.

The Good Life
Explorations into culture and policy: Why transatlantic attitudes toward work and leisure are not that different after all

Brussels Forum Paper Series March 2010 Joseph R. Wood* The German Marshall Fund of the United States

*

Joseph R. Wood is a senior resident fellow with the German Marshall Fund of the United States (GMF). His work covers Europe, Eurasia, and transatlantic relations. From 2005 to November 2008, Mr. Wood was deputy assistant to the vice president for national security affairs at the White House.

What is it to be happy? What is a good life? These two closely related questions have driven human endeavors ranging from philosophical writing to material improvement since the earliest recorded human experience. They dominate, one way or another, the efforts and the results of art, literature, science, sports, and music as well as what we think of as more practical domains such as economics, engineering, architecture, medicine, and, indeed all of the ways of spending time that comprise human activity. For democratic states, or states that exist to serve their citizens rather than the reverse, they provide the context for policy decisions about how to provide the means of happiness and a good life or to permit their citizens to cultivate those means themselves. Waking human activity can be divided into two general categories: work and leisure. In contemporary times, this division often seems to equate to time at the workplace and time not at the workplace, getting and spending, productivity and idleness, labor and fun. But all of these simplifications understate the importance of these essential concepts, work and leisure, which form the basis of all culture and of civilization itself. How one views the nature, purposes, and relationship of work and leisure is central to answering the questions of what it is to be happy and to have a good life. As such, work and leisure are fundamental both to the decisions individuals make for themselves and to the purposes of governments. And, by extension, attitudes about work and leisure will play an important role in shaping public and private values, using “value” literally as what a person, government, or society considers being of importance or valuable. This paper will sketch the intellectual history of the concepts of work and leisure in the European and American, or Western, contexts. It will then explore briefly, in a slightly speculative way, whether and how differing attitudes toward work

and leisure might shape diverging and converging contemporary policy choices in Europe and the United States. It is important to establish that this paper is not mainly about the generally held perception that Americans work harder and spend less time on holiday than Europeans do. To the degree that such an assertion is true, it is a relatively new phenomenon reflecting recent policies rather than deeply based transatlantic cultural fissures. In a study sponsored by the National Bureau for Economic Research, Alberto F. Alesina, Edward L. Glaeser, and Bruce Sacerdote conclude: Until World War I, work hours per employee were actually lower in the United States than in most European countries, including France and Germany (Huberman 2004). Work hours per employee started to fall a bit more rapidly in Europe than in the United States, but up until the late 1960s, work hours per employee were about the same in the United States and Europe, including Germany and France (Huberman 2003).1 These authors equate “leisure” with time away from work, a useful measure for economists but different from the more ancient concept of leisure that will be used here. That said, the two concepts of leisure may be linked in ways not immediately obvious. The same authors also conclude: Legally mandated holidays can explain 80 percent of the difference in weeks worked (among the employed) between the United States and Europe and 30 percent of the difference in total labor supply between the two regions. …The effect of generous pension systems, which reduced participation
Alberto F. Alesina, Edward L. Glaeser and Bruce Sacerdote (2006).“Work and Leisure in the U.S. and Europe: Why So Different?” National Bureau of Economic Research, p. 3.
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How one views the nature, purpose, and relationship of work and leisure is central to answering the questions of what it is to be happy and to have a good life. As such, work and leisure are fundamental both to the decisions individuals make for themselves and to the purposes of governments.

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rates among the elderly for older workers, is also strong. Widely reported gaps between U.S. and European productivity are also a fairly recent phenomenon, growing more pronounced only since the mid 1990s. Some analysts attribute this recent trend to Europe’s slower adoption of a knowledge economy rather than to worker habits or mores.2 When measured on an hourly rather than annual basis, some European countries’ rates of productivity have exceeded American rates in recent years. Could some policies have a cultural basis involving the intellectual history of the relationship between work and leisure? Can transatlantic differences and, at least as important, similarities on a broader level be traced to underlying ideas about the value of each? Work and leisure: A brief intellectual history As with almost all interesting questions, vocabulary is important at the outset. The distinguished political philosopher Michael Oakeshott wrote in an essay published posthumously in 1995: My main point has been to suggest that, apart from “work,” the activity of using the world to satisfy human wants, mankind has devised or stumbled upon other activities and attitudes towards the world, the activities I have grouped together as “play.” It is in these activities that human beings have believed themselves to enjoy a freedom and an illumination that the satisfaction of wants can never supply. It is not Homo sapiens and Homo laborans, the clever users of the resources of the world, but Homo ludens, the

one who engages in the activities of “play,” who is the civilized one.3 Oakeshott describes human beings as “creatures of wants. This world—the whole of it, all its components without exception—he is disposed to think of as material for satisfying his wants. It is something to be used. It is something upon which he may impose his own purposes. It is something to be subjected to himself. It is almost an enemy to be conquered, and, having been conquered, to be exploited.” This conquest and exploitation fall into the category of work. On the other hand, play and leisure are endeavors that do not aim to satisfy wants or serve practical purposes. Aristotle used “play” to mean recreation or refreshment; activities that were essential for laborers to continue to work effectively and thus to be counted in the domain of work rather than leisure. As such, play was purposeful as an enabling activity for work. Where Oakeshott uses the word “play” to describe activities beyond work with its aim of satisfying wants, Aristotle and others have used the word “leisure.” To trace the development of work and leisure in the West, we can return to two of the basic sources of Western thinking, classical Greece and Judeo-Christian tradition, or in shorthand, Athens and Jerusalem. Aristotle wrote extensively on the relationship of work and leisure. The Greek word for leisure, schole, is the origin of the Latin, German, and English words for “school.”4 In other words, throughout the West, the word for “place of learning” is directly related to the Greek idea of
Michael Oakeshott (1995). “Work and Play.” First Things, Jun./ Jul. 1995.
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To trace the development of work and leisure in the West, we can return to two of the basic sources of Western thinking, classical Greece and JudeoChristian tradition, or in shorthand, Athens and Jerusalem.

See Bart van Ark, Mary O’Mahoney, and Marcel P. Timmer (2008). “The Productivity Gap between Europe and the United States: Trends and Causes,” Journal of Economic Perspectives, Winter, Vol. 22, No. 1, p. 25.
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For an excellent discussion of this origin and much of the intellectual history recounted here, see Josef Pieper’s Leisure, The Basis of Culture.
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leisure. Moreover, the Greek and Latin languages used words roughly translated as “not-at-leisure,” negative opposites of leisure, to denote work, rather than positive words suggesting that work existed as a good to itself. For Aristotle, leisure was not simply recreation as a moment necessary to rest in order to continue to work for practical purposes, nor was it idleness. Leisure was the purpose of a good life, the activity of the cultivation of knowledge for its own sake, for the sake of truth and beauty, for philosophy. He wrote, “… it is the power to use leisure rightly … which is the basis of all our life. It is true that both occupation and leisure are necessary; but it is also true that leisure is higher than occupation, and is the end to which occupation is directed.” Work, then, is not an end unto itself, but a means to allow and serve the higher purpose of leisure. Aristotle argued that governments should aim at providing their citizens the possibility of this kind of leisure. In describing the purposes of education, he wrote, “It is true that the citizens of our state must be able to lead a life of action and war; but they must be even more able to lead a life of leisure and peace. It is true, again, that they must be able to do necessary or useful acts; but they must be even more able to do good acts.” He originates an important distinction between “liberal” and “servile” arts, the latter serving practical purposes while the former do not. The liberal arts are worth pursuing for their own sakes. “…[T]here is a kind of education in which parents should have their sons trained not because it is necessary, or because it is useful, but simply because it is liberal and something good in itself. …To aim at utility everywhere is utterly unbecoming to high-minded and liberal spirits.” He continues: In support of the view that the legislator should make leisure and peace the cardinal aims of all legislation bearing on war—or,

indeed, for that matter, on anything else—we may cite the evidence of actual fact. Most of the states which make war their aim are safe only while they are fighting. They collapse as soon as they have established an empire, and lose the edge of their temper, like an unused sword, in time of peace. The legislator is to blame for having provided no training for the proper use of leisure. Encompassed within Aristotle’s discussion of leisure are the virtues necessary to use it properly, in order to achieve its high purposes. The final end of men is the same whether they are acting individually or acting collectively; and the standard followed by the best individual is thus the same as the standard followed by the best political constitution. It is therefore evident that the qualities required for the use of leisure must belong to the state as well as to the individual; for [these are the qualities which particularly matter, and], as we have repeatedly argued, peace is the final end of war, and leisure the final end of occupation. The qualities required for the use of leisure and the cultivation of the mind are twofold. Some of them are operative in and during the activity of leisure itself; some are operative in and during the activity of occupation. This is why a state must possess the quality of temperance, and why, again, it must possess the quality of courage and endurance. …The quality of courage and endurance is required for the activities of occupation; wisdom is required for those of leisure: temperance and justice are qualities required at both times and under both heads [government and individual].

For Aristotle, leisure was not simply recreation as a moment necessary to rest in order to continue to work for practical purposes, nor was it idleness. Leisure was the purpose of a good life, the activity of cultivation of knowledge for its own sake, for the sake of truth and beauty, for philosophy.

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This division of virtues bears emphasizing: work (or occupation), lower than leisure, demands courage and endurance; temperance and wisdom are required for both the lower pursuit of work and the higher pursuit of leisure; and wisdom is required for the pursuit of leisure. An individual and a government need all these virtues, but the hierarchy of value for Aristotle is clear. Aristotle’s view of work and leisure represents the most comprehensive thought on the subject from one source of the Western tradition, classical Athens. Another source, Jerusalem, offers a view as well. The creation story of Genesis describes a divine relationship between work and leisure, seen in the six days of creation followed by the day of leisure, or contemplation of creation. This day of leisure might be compared to Aristotle’s notion of leisure, in that it served no functional or practical purpose; it was simply God contemplating his own good work for its own sake. But the book of Genesis also introduces Aristotle’s notion of work, or servile arts. After the sin of the fall, Adam is told, “…in toil you shall eat of it, all the days of your life. … In the sweat of your face you shall eat bread… .” For God, labor produces the opportunity for the higher activity of leisure. For man, in the Old Testament, work is a burden to be borne, for the practical purpose of survival and satisfaction of wants. But the Old Testament raises the possibility of leisure, in order to allow contemplation of the good, for man as well. Psalm 46 admonishes man to “Be still, and know that I am God.” Some translations give this as “Be at leisure and know that I am God.” This can be seen as both a command to take leisure and a command on what to do in leisure. The theme recurs throughout the Psalms: “One thing have I asked of the Lord, that will I seek after; that I may dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life, to behold the beauty of the Lord, and to inquire in his temple. (Psalm 27).” For Aristotle,

the purpose of leisure was to seek truth and beauty. For the Old Testament, the purpose is the same, but truth and beauty are captured in God, the creator. Christian teaching retains this perspective. Many of the most important moments in the story of Jesus’ life occur during times of leisure: teaching in the Temple (resembling the Greek schole), dinners, the Sabbath day of rest, wedding feasts, prayer in isolation, and others. The story of Mary and Martha, where Jesus rebuked Martha for her worry about the work of domestic tasks, is usually interpreted to suggest the “better way” of Mary’s more contemplative and leisurely gestures of listening and worshipping. These views of Greek and Judeo-Christian tradition mingled and mixed in the work of early Christian thinkers such as Augustine, who brought Platonic thought into Christian doctrine. Their hierarchy of work and leisure carried into medieval Europe, especially in monasteries and scholastic centers of learning. In his masterful book, The Love of Learning and the Desire for God, where the title aptly makes the point, Jean Leclerque quotes the 12th century educator Conrad of Hirsau: There is no greater happiness in this world than to be nourished by God’s word; the soul who believes, who hopes for rest after labor, buries deep within him, at the beginning of his pilgrimage, the word of God as if it were “the repository of his hope,” and through that very fact, the soul is already drawing close to its homeland. Therefore we should continually cultivate the philosophical disciplines, meaning those which consist of realities and not merely words. Thomas Aquinas, much of whose effort consisted in integrating Aristotelian and Christian thinking, brought forward the distinction between practical and liberal arts: “Every art is called liberal which

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is ordered to knowing; those which are ordered to some utility to be attained through action are called servile arts.”5 In some form, these notions of a higher goal than work persisted throughout Europe well beyond the medieval era. Chronicling a life of leisurely conversation in Life of Johnson, James Boswell recounts Sir Joshua Reynolds’ 1773 defense of the acting profession, “I do not perceive why the profession of player should be despised; for the great and ultimate end of all the employments of mankind is to produce amusement.”6 Such a thought would be widely considered flippant in modern times. While many “lifestyle coaches” would argue for a balance of work and leisure, there has been a shift in prevalent attitudes about the hierarchy of work and leisure and about the proper aims of leisure. What has changed? There is a widespread sense that industrialization and technology, beginning especially in the 18th century, accelerated the pace of work and, in so doing, reduced the opportunity for leisure. And there is some historical basis for this sense. Thomas Anderson explains: In Medieval Europe, holidays, holy days, took up one-third of the year in England, almost five months of the year in Spain—even for peasants. Although work was from sunrise to sunset, it was casual, able to be interrupted for a chat with a friend, a long lunch, a visit to the pub or the fishing hole—none of which a modern factory worker dare do. The fact is that American workers of the mid-twentieth
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century with their 40 hour week were just catching up with medieval counterparts; and American workers at the end of this century have fallen behind their medieval ancestors! Our incredible growth in technology has not resulted in a corresponding increase in leisure.7 Twentieth-century philosophers noted and struggled with this sense. One example is the controversial thinker Martin Heidegger: “It is enough to say, as Heidegger does, that we have been thrown (geworfen) into the technological world and, as a result, we invariably fall prey to its assumptions and habits, with its emphasis on speed, efficiency, usefulness, and productivity. As a result, we have become fettered to busy-ness.”8 Oakeshott describes the changing patterns beginning some four centuries ago as follows: First, it came to be believed that “work” (this activity of exploiting the natural resources of the world for the satisfaction of human wants…) was not only typical of mankind but was our proper attitude and occupation. Indeed, it came to be believed that this ought to be the exclusive attitude and engagement to which all else should be subordinated. This belief, that human activity ought to be directed [exclusively] towards promoting what John Locke called “the advantages and conveniences of life,”…is a moral belief, that is, it is a belief about how we ought to spend our lives. …Now this moral belief began to be partnered, [also] about four centuries ago, by a second belief of a different sort—namely, an
Thomas C. Anderson (1997).“Technology and the Decline of Leisure,” Proceedings of the American Catholic Philosophical Association, Vol. 70, p. 1. Kevin Aho (2007). “Recovering Play: On the Relationship between Leisure and Authenticity on Heideger’s Thought,” Janus Head, 10(1), p. 217.
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There is a widespread sense that industrialization and technology, beginning especially in the 18th century, accelerated the pace of work and, in so doing, reduced the opportunity for leisure.

Thomas Aquinas. Commentary on Aristotle’s Metaphysics, I, p.3.

Quoted in James V. Schall, On the Unseriousness of Human Affairs, p. 100. Like Pieper’s book mentioned above, this book is an excellent general discussion of work and leisure.

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Both Europe and the United States grew from the same cultural and intellectual traditions. So, one would expect many similarities between European and American attitudes on work and leisure, or at least a similar set of questions to be decided about them.

immense optimism about the success of this enterprise of compelling the natural world to satisfy human wants. …[I]f we bent all our energies and intelligence to it, …the human race in a relatively short time would actually achieve… the sort of happiness that is to be had from the satisfaction of wants. A full account of this combination of changes is well beyond the scope of this paper. But some brief speculation on its causes and effects, at the level of pop intellectual history, is potentially useful. Three of the great intellectual movements or moments in Western history contributed to the change. The first was the Renaissance. Although the notion of the Renaissance as an abrupt and clearly distinguishable break from the “dark ages” no longer holds much scholarly sway, the period of the 14th through 16th centuries saw, in the words of Helen Gardner, “a slow turning away from the ideas and values of a supernatural orientation to those concerned with the natural world and the life of man. The meaning of the world and of human life came to be couched in terms not exclusively religious.”9 In the intellectual patterns of religion, the Reformation had several effects. Most notably, it rejected the idea of a central authority over the church and increased the emphasis on the individual conscience as the final source of moral decisions. This freed individuals to choose their own view of good and their own relationship to it. Intellectually, the Renaissance gave way to the Enlightenment. This phase saw the growth of skepticism of authoritative institutions and a greater emphasis on human reason. That emphasis, in turn, opened possibilities for scientific advancement that were based on the empirical measurement
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of nature and the exploitation of the knowledge that grew from that measurement, including industrialization, rapid transportation and communications, and, ultimately, the information technologies of recent decades. Together, these three movements or episodes produced the profound shifts that Heidegger, Oakeshott, and others noticed. Increasingly, the West became focused more on the use of reason to satisfy wants, the process of work, and less on what had been the ultimate purpose of work, the leisure to contemplate truth, beauty, and God. The transatlantic perspective Both Europe and the United States grew from the same cultural and intellectual traditions. So, one would expect many similarities between European and American attitudes on work and leisure, or at least a similar set of questions to be decided about them. And that is in fact the case, at least at the broadest level. Europeans and Americans generally accept that the market economy, in some form, is the best way to organize a society’s work, both for the purpose of maximizing wealth and standard of living (as measured empirically and quantitatively), and for the purpose of permitting individuals to choose their own goods, in the form of products and types of occupation. This fundamental agreement has enabled the development of a massive financial and trade relationship, the largest in the world (over $1.5 trillion on the current account balance in 2008)10 with widespread economic, political, and social ramifications for all countries involved. It has also opened possibilities for policy cooperation in multilateral fora such as the G7. This very basic and very powerful consensus on the organization of work at the broadest level overshadows any number of lesser differences.
William H.Cooper (2009). “EU-U.S.Economic Ties: Framework, Scope, and Magnitude.” Congressional Research Service, Mar. p. 2.
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Helen Gardner. Art Through the Ages, p. 396.

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A second area of increasing agreement is that the output of work, or the fruits of labor, should be measured more broadly than in the past. There is a growing sense that a focus on Gross Domestic Product (GDP) as a proper, exclusive measure of the work a nation accomplishes is incomplete and distorts the broader aims of work. This movement reflects the basic notion that work and its practical results are only one part of a good life. One example of this trend is the Legatum Institute’s Prosperity Index, an attempt to look beyond GDP at more full descriptions of happiness that include political freedom and quality of governance, strength of communities, and domestic and international security. Legatum’s 2008 report includes the famous quotation from Robert Kennedy that “…the Gross National Product does not allow for the health of our children, the quality of their education or the joy of their play. It does not include the beauty of our poetry or the strength of our marriages, the intelligence of our public debate or the integrity of our public officials… it measures everything, in short, except that which makes life worthwhile.” The Legatum data suggests that the material product of work does not produce happiness, but some level of economic prosperity is essential in order to permit people to engage in more fulfilling, non-economic pursuits. Contemporary social science thus supports the broad conclusion that work is essential for practical reasons, but something beyond work—leisure in some form, profound or shallow—is essential to what most people on either side of the Atlantic consider to be a happy, prosperous existence. There is no surprise in that. Of course, no society has ever focused exclusively on GDP to measure itself. Perhaps the closest any nation ever came to such pure materialism were those who took the disastrous detour into the totalitarian traps of national socialism and communism. But even those regimes, with their

relentless drive for material progress (including catastrophic exploitation of natural resources and efforts at genetic engineering to improve the gene stock), attempted to motivate their populations by appeals to values beyond the better economic lifestyle that they failed to produce. So there is much transatlantic common ground in attitudes about work and leisure. But there are lesser differences as well, and it is worth exploring how varying perceptions of work and leisure might in part drive those differences. To begin this experiment, we might posit some generalizations or tendency statements about Europeans and Americans. First, European states emerged into democracy from a history of divine right royal rule. The United States began its history in revolution against such autocracy. The result has been a tendency toward egalitarianism in the United States as against a tendency toward greater respect for elites and their wisdom in Europe. As with all tendency statements, this one is far from universally or absolutely true. Americans are to some degree guided by elites, and Europeans are often skeptical of their elites. And this is not the same as suggesting that Europeans or Americans are more or less respectful of authority. Rather, the questions are where each group tends to locate authority and whether such authority proceeds “from the bottom up” (in America) based on talent and work, or whether it derives “from the top down” (as in Europe) based on greater respect for tradition, social station, intellectual merit as measured empirically through tests or other factors. Second, Americans tend to believe that the role of government is to assure equality of opportunity. The results of that opportunity are left to the effort and skill of the individual, as well as to chance. Thus, the United States was early to the provision of public education and large-scale university availability, later offering a more limited

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Europeans thus seem more inclined to turn to the state to provide greater support both for the equal distribution of the material fruits of work and for guidance and support for leisure.

welfare apparatus to provide a minimum level of sustenance for the poorest who had missed the best of available opportunities. This ethic in the United States stems in part from the fact that America is a nation of immigrants, populated by those who undertook (or whose ancestors undertook on their behalf) substantial risk and discomfort in search of a better opportunity. One outcome of this in America may be that work is seen as rightly and justly determinative of economic and material outcomes, including the possibilities of social mobility. Work allows the American to decide his or her own place and role in society, at least in theory and according to the prevalent norms of the nation, however imperfectly those norms may obtain in practice. As such, both the value and prominence of work itself, not just as an enabler of leisure but as a useful end to itself, may be greater in American society. Europe, on the other hand, tends to place a greater emphasis on the importance of equality of outcome. At least in the second half of the 20th century, this view permitted the development of a substantial welfare state with higher rates of taxation and income redistribution. It also suggests a greater role for government in all aspects of work and leisure. The European Commission and most European governments include a cabinet-level minister for culture (sometimes combined with sports or education), which could actually be called a “ministry of leisure.” Although the United States has national endowments for the arts and the humanities, and a National Science Foundation, these agencies are seen as mainly supporting private arts and science efforts, often in collaboration (and sometimes competition) with private foundations. Europeans thus seem more inclined to turn to the state to provide greater support both for the equal distribution of the material fruits of work and for guidance and support for leisure. For the latter, Americans turn more frequently to two institutions,

the church and private associations. Reliable data on religious belief and practice are difficult to obtain, and of course within Europe there are wide variations in religious praxis. But the best available data suggests that in the United States, some 60 percent of Americans agreed that religion plays a “very important role” in their lives, compared to 21 percent in Europe. Around 40 percent of Americans reported some form of weekly church attendance, compared to below 20 percent on average in Europe (and one suspects that the difference between the number of occasional church goers on the two continents is even greater).11 Thus, Americans are more inclined to use their leisure for some form of contemplation of the divine in a formal setting, and to believe that such use of leisure plays an important part in their lives. It is important to note here that, while the “Protestant work ethic,” which is often cited as a decisive factor in American culture may be real and even significant, it is far from comprehensive as an explanation of transatlantic differences. In his book, From Dawn to Decadence: 500 Years of Western Cultural Life, Jacques Barzun writes: The sociologist Max Weber and the socialist R. H. Tawney wrote quasi-classic books that gave complementary accounts of this supposed cultural connection [between Protestantism and entrepreneurial capitalism]. …Weber and Tawney based their thesis on social and psychological grounds: Protestantism, by leaving the believer in doubt about his salvation, yet holding out the chance of grace, encourages him to act as if already elect—sober, earnest, hardworking. His moral code makes him calculating at every turn, the ideal man of business. … The Catholic, by comparison, is easy-going,
Philip Jenkins. God’s Continent: Christianity, Islam, and Europe’s Religious Crisis, pp. 27–28.
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pays his way spiritually by symbolic “works,” most of which have no practical effects on earth. Far from praising real work, he sees it as Adam’s curse. But neither Weber’s nor Tawney’s somewhat different demonstrations has stood up to criticism. For example, Weber’s notion of Puritan “asceticism” is an exaggeration, both verbal and actual; and more important, Capitalism long antedates the Protestant revolution and hence must have had a “spirit” at that earlier time.12 Beyond their religious leanings, Americans are also more likely to rely on small groups or people with similar interests as ways of spending leisure time. Alexis de Tocqueville considered these “voluntary associations,” as well as religion, to be essential to the American form of free society and government, and he contrasted them with the state-supported religions of Europe and the more state-centered prevailing views there. Both of these generalizations, on the relative importance of elites and the relative importance of the state to perspectives on work and leisure, were never absolutely true, and to the degree they were true at one time, they were probably more accurate as descriptions of society in the 19th and early 20th centuries than today. But they do provide the outlines of basic cultural differences on work and leisure that remain influential. Work, leisure, culture, and policy In the realm of economic and financial policy, differing attitudes to work and leisure are fairly well acknowledged as affecting policy choices ranging from higher numbers of vacation days in Europe, to more extensive work and health benefits in Europe, to greater European acceptance of financial regulation (at least until the 2008 financial crisis,
Jacques Barzun. From Dawn to Decadence: 500 Years of Western Cultural Life, pp. 36–37.
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when Americans became more open to such regulation). But how might different attitudes on work and leisure affect other policy choices in less obvious ways? Two highly speculative examples provide food for thought. The controversy over genetically modified organisms (GMOs) has pitted American agricultural firms against European regulators. Europe has been highly resistant (despite World Trade Organization rulings) to permit American seeds and crops that have been genetically engineered to carry a variety of advantages such as resistance to disease. Objective observers agree that no scientific basis exists to suggest that the new crops are a health hazard. But Europe has seen a risk in these crops that seems to transcend laboratory results. While some attribute European policy simply to a desire to avoid agricultural competition, there is also genuine concern at a very fundamental level. It is at least imaginable that part of this concern relates to the traditional role that food plays in leisure. It is not just imagination that spending a long and unhurried evening or lunch in a European restaurant is more pleasant than facing the “hurry up” tactics of American restaurants aimed at getting as many customers to their tables and out their doors as possible. But this difference could carry into higher order decisions such as GMO restrictions. Americans eat to live; if genetically modified foods better support work and are scientifically shown to be healthy, they are good, or at least acceptable. Europeans live to eat, not just for material pleasure. Food provides an ancient means to enjoy leisure and a link to a cultural past and tradition that viewed the feast as the great manifestation of leisure, often as part of divine worship. Food is not lightly to be tampered with for cultural as well as scientific risk reasons. Interestingly, views on human genetic engineering run in the opposite direction. While the Obama administration has revoked some of the restrictions

The Good Life: Explorations into culture and policy Why transatlantic attitudes toward work and leisure are not that different after all

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on embryionic stem cell research, it has done so cautiously and in the face of criticism from those who see the dangers of eugenics. Europeans seem less concerned with these dangers. Another issue where views on work and leisure may have an effect is climate change. Europeans view Americans as reluctant to part with their gas-guzzling cars despite what Europe sees as overwhelming evidence that the planet faces disaster in the absence of immediate action to curb carbon emissions. Americans tend to view the scientific evidence in this case as more uncertain and, even if the data is persuasive, the crisis is seen as less urgently demanding of drastic action. Many factors play into this difference. One factor might be differing views of work and leisure. The American celebration of work and the view that exploitation of the earth for material gain is a good contrast with a greater European tendency to value the environment not just for its practical value in survival, but as part of a world that is to be enjoyed beyond the realm of work, in the realm of leisure, and should be preserved accordingly. The danger in America is that work will prove selfdestructive by degrading the environment in which work must necessarily transpire and on which both the satisfaction of wants and leisure depend. The danger in Europe is that the environment is elevated into a divine entity placed above both human wants and the best purposes of leisure. Again, views of work and leisure do not determine all policies on unemployment, science, and climate. But they may have an effect on these policies beneath the surface in ways that could help explain why Europe and America so often seem to look across the Atlantic with bewilderment. Attention to how work and leisure are arranged in the values of each society (and in different societies within Europe) could help reduce confusion, smooth cooperation, and allow policymakers to understand their and others’ constituencies a bit more completely than they do now.

Leisure—not as simple as it seems The desire to get the relationship between work and leisure “right” has been a key aspect of Western history both as a matter of philosophical and theological teaching and as a matter for governments and policymakers. The importance of this relationship in culture is hard to overestimate, but it is far more complex than a simple question of an annual number of days of vacation or productivity numbers. To conclude with Jacques Barzun, as he described the artistic and scientific flowering of the 16th and 17th centuries: The prerequisite for these activities was leisure. Nobles and their kept artists, not being workers captive to the nine-to-five, enjoyed freedom not at stated times but in scattered fragments throughout the day. … But leisure is not the simple thing it seems. The people who supported 16th century culture were embroiled in politics, love intrigues, and vendettas; they fought wars, and bore the usual burden of managing their estates and adding to them by complicated marriages and long-drawn-out negotiations. They were not idlers or free of worries. Yet they did things that appear impossible without casual far niente. The paradox has only one explanation: leisure is a state of mind, and one that the modes of society must favor and approve. When common routines and public approval foster only Work, leisure becomes the exception, an escape to be contrived over and over. It is then an individual’s privilege, not a custom, and it breeds the specialized recreations and addictions of our time.13 This caution is well worth remembering on both sides of the Atlantic as we work our way into the future.
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When common routines and public approval foster only Work, leisure becomes the exception, an escape to be contrived over and over. It is then an individual’s privilege, not a custom, and it breeds the specialized recreations and addictions of our time.

Ibid, pp. 80–81.

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