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Political philosophy and economics: freedom and labour

Abstract : The relationship between freedom and labour is a ground for reflection where political philosophy meets economics. A good point of departure in this regard is Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel’s well-known general reflection regarding freedom: “the East knew and to the present day knows only that One is Free; the Greek and Roman world, that some are free; the German World knows that All are free” (Hegel 1837 [2001]: 121). The concept of freedom is understood here in the sense of political freedom, that is, a social status recognized by the state, which allows the person to take part in the decisions concerning the future of the city. The evolution of the concept of political freedom through European history could be summarized as a general transition from what we can call, following Hegel, “freedom for some” to “freedom for all”. This transition is essentially made possible by the recognition of labour as a fundamental dimension of man. In Europe, from the end of the sixteenth century, an increasingly ontological value was conferred on labour, to the point that Karl Marx in 1844 went so far as to say that “[Hegel] thus grasps the essence of labour and comprehends objective man – true, because real man – as the outcome of man’s own labour (als Resultat seinereignen Arbeit)” (1844 [1975]: 332–3). Besides, it is highly significant that the disciples of Claude Henri de Saint-Simon, one of the most powerful thinkers regarding the transformation European society experienced in modern times, characterized the latter as the “reign of labour” (Bazard and Enfantin 1829 [1924]: 96). Further, in 1858, Pierre-Joseph Proudhon wrote that “who works prays” (1858 [1932]: 178), understanding by this that in modern times labour replaces religion. In this entry, a set of concepts will be invoked in order to analyse the transition from ancient Greece up to now. Consequently, it is this specific choice of concepts which dictates the selection of the authors canvassed in the reflections that follow. Such an exercise is not exhaustive, but lays emphasis on the internal consistency of the reasoning and some essential steps in the evolution of the idea. In a world characterized by the first form of freedom, the exclusion of economic activities outside the city is the condition of the political freedom for some. Some men, deprived of freedom, have to work to allow others to be free. However, this exclusive opposition between freedom and labour – or more generally economic activities – evolved over time. Through European history, labour was progressively integrated into the sphere of political freedom. A new representation of freedom emerged progressively and supposed that you could not consider yourself as free in a society where some others were reduced to the rank of simple “animate tools” or simple objects. This new concept of freedom for all requested a positive conception of labour. The progressive integration of economic life into the city constituted, in Europe, a determining element of the conditions of modern freedom or freedom for all. Labour experienced a deep process of rehabilitation.
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Submitted on : Monday, March 26, 2018 - 4:32:27 PM
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Ragip Ege, Herrade Igersheim. Political philosophy and economics: freedom and labour . Handbook on the History of Economic Analysis Volume III, pp.436-451, 2016, 9781849801126. ⟨10.4337/9781785365065⟩. ⟨hal-01743733⟩

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