December 7, 2022


William Godwin’s ethic of leisure and the riddle of social justice

In An Enquiry Regarding Political Justice (1793) William Godwin declared, “the item, within the current state of society, is to multiply labour; in one other state, it will likely be to simplify it.”

In The Enquirer (1797), he affirmed, “[t]he real wealth of man is leisure, when it meets with a disposition to enhance it. All different riches are of petty and inconsiderable worth. Is there not a state of society practicable,” he requested in conclusion, “wherein leisure shall be made the inheritance of each one among its members?”

In Ideas on Man (1831), Godwin repeatedly emphasised the proposition that, “each human creature is endowed with skills, which, if rightly directed, would shew him to be apt, adroit, clever and acute, within the stroll for which his organisation particularly fitted him.” Leisure was indispensable to fulfilling that endowment in that “occupation, which arises contingently” was “typically not much less earnest and intent in its pursuits” than the “prescribed” occupation of a commerce or career. 

Given Godwin’s Calvinist upbringing, theological coaching, and self-professed lifelong “vocation as a missionary,” it’s believable to construe Godwin’s consecration of leisure as a critique and reformulation of Calvin’s doctrine of the worldly calling, the doctrine crudely handed right down to posterity because the Protestant work ethic. Including consequence and mystique to Godwin’s leisure ethic is its hitherto neglected affect on Karl Marx’s evaluation of surplus worth within the Grundrisse by the middleman of an “nameless” 1821 pamphlet, The Supply and Treatment of the Nationwide Difficulties.

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