POSTSCRIPT: THE WORTH OF THE WORK
It will be seen how this matter of the worth of the work affects the inter-connected "problems" of industrialisation and unemployment. Socialists have correctly observed that "an industrialised nation is a unitary nation: every part of it loses its former economic independence and virtual self-sufficiency. At the same time, if unemployment is not to be endemic, it is necessary that those new powers of production should be fully employed. That is impossible unless the products are given away." (Middleton Murry: The Betrayal of Christ by the Churches) They have also seen that, if the "problem" is not to be "solved" by the wholesale destruction of these products in war, it can only be solved by "distributing them among one's own citizens according to need and net according to the money-demand, and truly exchanging (as distinct from selling at a profit) the national superfluity against the superfluity of other nations."(Ibid) So far, so good; the further conclusion is drawn that this rearrangement of social economics calls for a truly Christian love of one's neighbour. But it also calls for a no less truly Christian love of the work; and for a kind of work that shall be lovable by the Christian soul. Profit, and indeed all remuneration beyond the subsistence that enables a man to go on working, is desired because it offers an escape from work into activities more congenial and more generally admired. If the service of the machines remains hateful, men will not serve them for love; so that if the hope of escape no longer offers an inducement to work, the machines will stop, and the former conditions recur, by the inevitable dialectic of their nature. Nor will a Christian love of humanity be encouraged by the multiplication of products whose effect upon the human mind is to debase and pervert it.(This is why the fully industrialised socialist state must resort to forced labour to keep the machines at work) We cannot deal with industrialism or unemployment unless we lift work out of the economic, political and social spheres and consider it also in terms of the work's worth and the love of the work, as being in itself a sacrament and manifestation of man's creative energy.
The attitude of the artist to this question is instructive. It is true that he, like everybody else, derives remuneration from his work (though not, strictly speaking, profit in the financial sense of the word, since what he invests in his work is not money but time and skill, whose returns cannot be calculated in percentages). The remuneration is frequently beyond the amount necessary to enable him to go on working. What is remarkable about him is the way in which he commonly employs the escape-from-work which the extra remuneration allows him. If he is genuinely an artist, you will find him using his escape from-work in order to do what he calls "my own work and nine times out of ten, this means the same work (i.e. the exercise of his art) that he does for money. The peculiar charm of his escape is that he is relieved, not from the work but from the money. His holidays are all busman's holidays.
What distinguishes him here from the man who works to live is, I think, his desire to see the fulfilment of the work. Whether it is possible for a machine-worker to feel creatively about his routine job I do not know; but I suspect that it is, provided and so long as the worker eagerly desires that before all things else the work shall be done. What else causes the armaments worker to labour passionately when he knows that the existence of his country is threatened, but that his heart travels along the endless band with the machine parts and that his imagination beholds the fulfilment of the work in terms, not of money, but of the blazing gun itself, charged with his love and fear. As the author of Ecclesiasticus says, he "watches to finish the work"; for once, that is, he sees the end-product of his toil exactly as the artist always sees it. in a vision of Idea, Energy, and Power. It is unfortunate that so little effort should be made by Church or State to show him the works of peace in the same terms. Is the man, for example, engaged in the mass-production of lavatory cisterns encouraged to bring to his daily monotonous toil the vision splendid of an increasingly hygienic world? I doubt it; yet there is much merit in sanitary plumbing-more, if you come to think of it, than there is in warfare. But if the common man were really to adopt this high-minded and Christian attitude to the worth of his work and the needs of his neighbour, are there not some products which he would refuse at all costs to produce? I think there are; and that many of the machines would stop, unless the art of propagandist deception were carried to even greater lengths than it is at present. And who would issue the propaganda, if profit were no longer a motive? Perhaps some state which, not having enough useful commodities to exchange for necessities, was obliged to specialise in the export of trash. And if nobody would accept the trash? In that case, we could scrap a very great number of the machines, and the "problem" of industrialisation would assume a different aspect; because, in that case, every man in the world would have become an artist after his fashion.
That the artist's attitude to work is quite alien to that of the common-or-business man is a fact generally recognised and (the world being what it is) universally exploited. For example: in times of national crisis, and economic stringency, the writer is often requested by his publisher to accept a reduced royalty on his forthcoming book (particularly if his "message" is held to be of value to the nation), on the ground of "the increased cost of printing". The assumption is that, such is his eagerness to see his work published, he will readily cut his remuneration to the starvation line rather than deprive the world of the fruit of his toil. But it is never suggested to the printer that he should have his wages reduced on account of the educational value of the book he is printing. On the contrary: his wage is increased at the writer's expense, though the increased cost of living affects them both alike. Everybody takes this for granted. It would be irrational to suppose that this is because the printer's work is more valuable to the community than the writer's, since if all the writers stopped writing, the printers would have nothing to print, and their skill would automatically become valueless. The true reason is that the writer is known to live by a set of values which are not purely economic: he beholds the end of the work. As a commonor-business man, he requires payment for his work and is often pretty stiff in his demands; but as an artist, he retains so much of the image of God that he is in love with his creation for its own sake.
So too, the artist has two meanings for the concept of property. When he says, "This is my top-hat, my bathroom, my motor-car," he means merely that he possesses these things; but when he says, "this is my work", he means that, no matter who now possesses it, he made it. The Communist makes it a great point that the worker should own the tools of his trade; but few people in a machine age think much whether it matters that a man should feel the accomplished work to be his own. Yet this is what underlies the delight of a man in his work. True, it is not for every man-not even for every artistto say of a work: "This is all mine, from the first conception in the brain to the last detail made with hands." The novelist may say it if he disregards the work of printer and binder; the maker of a gem-ring may say it if he disregards the work of the miner; but the playwright may not say it, nor the actor, still less the stonemason who carves the capitals for a great cathedral; yet all of them in some degree may say it if they look to the end of the work. "The ring is mine, though I may not wear it", "the Cathedral is ours, though we no more possess it than the humblest of all who worship in it". But what of the factory hand, endlessly pushing a pin into a slot? How far does he feel of the far-off end-product of his task, "This thing is mine?" And if he does, how often does the contemplation of it afford food for the soul?
This "problem" of unemployment admits of no simple solution. As some one has truly observed, "there is no unemployment in Dartmoor Prison"-nor, indeed, is there any "problem" of the insecurity of the means of livelihood or of an over-mechanised industry. In hardness of condition and lack of liberty there is little to choose between Dartmoor and a Trappist monastery, and the looker-on might readily suppose that in both the "problem of work" had been "solved" in the same way. "Poverty, obedience, chastity" is the rule of life in both; and the convict might appear to have the advantage, since he is far likelier than the monk to return to the world some day and in the meantime enjoys a good deal more freedom of speech. Yet between the employed and the employed, between the secure and the secure, between the bound and the bound there is a difference too great to be seen in the schedules of employment.
So, too, between the worker and the worker, between the insecure and the insecure. No one is more insecure than the creative artist; in daring to dedicate himself to his work, he takes his life in his hand. If a writer loses his health or his market, he cannot look to national insurance to help him out; the cash value of his commodity is subject to every wind and whim of the public fancy; if he works slowly or badly, he has no trade-union to ensure that he shall be paid at the same rate as better workers, nor, if his publisher suddenly decides to have done with him can he bring a summons against him for wrongful dismissal; he is treated with ferocious injustice by the Treasury: for if lie spends six years in writing a book and at the end of the time receives a payment representing an advance on the next two years' sales, that sum which represents eight years' earnings is taxed as one year's income; generally speaking, in fact, he is treated by the State as though he were an enemy and a parasite. And if he has not a trade-union of his own, is it not his own fault? It is; but the trade-union is intolerable in his eyes, because it might prevent him from working as fast and as well and as many hours a day as he can. The trade-union is conceived in terms of employment and not in terms of the end of the work, so that the artist's adherence to it can never be whole-hearted.
It is not, of course, only the artist who thus lives dangerously out of regard for the integrity of his work. "There are not a few good farmers," says Viscount Leamington, "who have gone bankrupt for the sake of the land rather than farm badly."( Art. in Sunday Times, 1.12.40.) Wherever such an attitude is found, there is the artist's way of life. Yet the integrity of the work-the stipulation that it shall be both worth doing and well done-rarely figures in any scheme for an ordered society, whether issued by Labour or by Capital.
(It is, however, only right to add that the leaders of
the Churches in Britain have, in their Manifesto of 21 December 1940,
distinguished themselves by incorporating among their additions to the Pope's
"Five Points" the following pronouncement:
The sense of a Divine vocation must be restored to man's daily work. This is offered as one of the "five standards by which economic situations and proposals may be tested". The signatories to this Manifesto are the Roman Catholic Archbishop of Westminster, the Anglican Archbishops of Canterbury and York, and the Moderator of the Free Church Federal Council.)
If any one is found to insist on the integrity of the work, he is usually countered by a plausible argument: that all the works of men are subordinate to the needs of humanity, and that the artist's devotion to the work is devotion to a kind of abstraction-a luxury which merits consideration only after human needs have been met. If, as I maintain, the activity of creation is a primary human need, the argument answers itself. What, in any case, is a human need? It is not necessarily the same thing as a public demand. If a universal kindliness (which is what most people mean by the love of one's neighbour) is to set up the satisfaction of public demand as the worker's only goal, then the work will proceed from corruption to corruption-unless public demand can be made identical with the human need for a divine perfection in work. But this is to argue in a circle, since this identification cannot take place unless all men are made so far artists as to desire the integrity of the work.
Here we come up against the deep gulf fixed between love and kindness. "There is kindness in Love: but Love and kindness are not coterminous, and when kindness . . . is separated from the other elements of Love, it involves a certain fundamental indifference to its object, and even something like contempt of it. . . . Kindness, merely as such, cares not whether its object becomes good or bad, provided only "that it escapes suffering.... It is for people whom we care nothing about that we demand happiness on any terms: with our friends, our lovers, our children, we are exacting and would rather see them suffer much than be happy in contemptible and estranging modes." (C. S. Lewis: The Problem of Pain.)
The sterner side of love is, as we have seen, (Ch. 9) powerfully present in the artist's attitude to his work; and it is equally present in the attitude of the lovers of mankind. It is a short and sordid view of life that will do injury to the work in the kind hope of satisfying a public demand; for the seed of corruption introduced into the work will take root in those who receive it, and in due season bring forth its fearful harvest.
That the eyes of all workers should behold the integrity of the work is the sole means to make that work good in itself and so good for mankind. This is only another way of saying that the work must be measured by the standard of eternity; or that it must be done for God first and foremost; or that the Energy must faithfully manifest forth the Idea; or, theologically, that the Son does the will of the Father.
|Chapter 11||Table of Contents||Appendix 1|