“When you give a man a holiday you give him back his body and soul”

It’s the 2nd January and I am back at work!

Oh joys.

Rather than grumbling (or rather, as well as grumbling) about that unwelcome fact, I thought I’d pour my distaste for this whole working business and the whole silly thing we call capitalism and the “free market” by quoting a chunk of typically brilliant Chesterton.

So I give you, Chesterton Gets All Worked Up About Holidays:

“The special emblematic Employer of to-day, especially the Model Employer (who is the worst sort) has in his starved and evil heart a sincere hatred of holidays. I do not mean that he necessarily wants all his workmen to work until they drop; that only occurs when people are stupid as well as wicked… He may treat all men like dirt; but if you want to make money, even out of dirt, you must let it lie fallow by some rotation of rest. He may treat men like dogs, but unless he is a lunatic he will for certain periods let sleeping dogs lie.

“But humane and reasonable hours for labour have nothing whatever to do with the idea of holidays… If the modern employer came to the conclusion, for some reason or other, that he could get most out of his men by working them hard for only two hours a day, his whole mental attitude would still be foreign and hostile to holidays. For his whole mental attitude is that the passive time and the active time are alike useful for him and his business. All is, indeed, grist that comes to his mill, including the millers. His slaves still serve him in unconsciousness, as dogs still hunt in slumber.

Ford Madox Brown, Work, 1852 - 1863 (City Art Gallery, Manchester)

Ford Madox Brown, Work, 1852 – 1863 (City Art Gallery, Manchester)

“Now a holiday has no connection with using a man either by beating him or feeding him. When you give a man a holiday you give him back his body and soul…

“Immortality is a great holiday; and a holiday, like the immortality in old theologies, is a double-edged privilege. But wherever it is genuine it is simply a restoration and completion of the man. If people ever looked at the printed word under their eye, the word “recreation” would be like the word “resurrection”, the blast of a trumpet…All the words dedicated to places of eating and drinking are pure and poetic words. Even the word hotel is the world hospital… [and] the word “restaurant”. There again you have the admission that there is a definite building or statue to “restore”; that ineffaceable image of man that some call the image of God. And that is the holiday; it is the restaurant or restoring thing that, by a blast of a magic, turns man into himself.

“This complete and reconstructed man is the nightmare of the modern capitalist. His whole scheme would crack across like a mirror of Shallot, if once a plain man were ready for his two plain duties – ready to live and ready to die. And that horror of holidays which marks the modern capitalist is very largely a horror of the vision of a whole human being: something that is not a “hand” or a “head for figures”. But an awful creature who has met himself in the wilderness. The employers will give time to eat, time to sleep; they are in terror of a time to think.”

From G. K. Chesterton, VI. The War on Holidays, Utopia of Usurers and Other Essays

Or to put it another way, holidays acknowledge and nurture the integrity of our human nature which is not reducible to economic usefulness or any other kind of usefulness.

We need more holidays, not to be more productive (though that might happen) but to be happier and more human. That is an end in itself.

Aaaand… now my lunch break is over and I need to get back to work.


5 responses to ““When you give a man a holiday you give him back his body and soul”

  1. I love the crazy search terms that are used to link to blogs. My wierdest were ‘eschewed bras’ (searched a worringly 10 times), ‘accidentally kissing la bise’, ‘men touch their lips when faire la bise’ (and a selection of other ‘la bise’ seaches) and ‘arthur weasley escapator’! 😛

    • Eschewed bras? That’s brilliant! (And don’t mind if I do… 😉 But what’s ‘la bise’? I assume it’s French for something? And why are people so concerned with accidently kissing/touching their lips to it… There are indeed some crazy, crazy people out there! 😀

  2. Ha! One of the few area where I have problems with GKC is economics-I don’t think it was his strong suit but, I will admit this excerpt has a point-too many employers are model capitalists in the way he meant.

    • Yes, Chesterton tends to go a little overboard. I’m trying to learn more about his economics and about distributism more generally. It seems to be a via media between unbridled capitalism and socialism that also emphasises the community as the locus for all well-being, rather than the individual. But I could be wrong about all that! 🙂

      • I think you’re pretty close in your assessment. Where he falls down for me is his definition of capitalism which is closer to what we call crony-capitalism or corporatism.

        On the other hand, his theology is spot on. 🙂

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