Chesterton on Holidays vs. Rest

In his book The Utopia of Usurers, G.K. Chesterton has a fascinating essay on the difference between holidays and rest. In the chapter The War On Holidays, he lays out the distinction:

The general proposition, not always easy to define exhaustively, that the reign of the capitalist will be the reign of the cad—that is, of the unlicked type that is neither the citizen nor the gentleman—can be excellently studied in its attitude towards 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 he happens to be stupid as well as wicked. I do not mean to say that he is necessarily unwilling to grant what he would call “decent hours of labour.” He may treat 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 as 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. It is not even a question of ten hours day and eight-hours day; it is not a question of cutting down leisure to the space necessary for food, sleep and exercise. 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. His grist is ground not only by the sounding wheels of iron, but by the soundless wheel of blood and brain. His sacks are still filling silently when the doors are shut on the streets and the sound of the grinding is low.

(Important to remember is that in Chesterton’s time, “capitalism” did not mean “not communism” as it has come to mean after the Cold War, but rather a theory that men should stop aiming at virtue and instead aim at greed, but harness greed to do the work of virtue. This is rather unlike the more modern idea of aligning incentives so as to support men being virtuous rather than mis-aligning incentives so as to tempt them.)

A holiday, he goes on to say in a less direct route, is about a man directing himself to higher things than work or more generally the maintenance of the body. A holiday is about remembering that the world is really about God, not about itself.

I’m actually not much concerned with Chesterton’s remarks on employers, here, because the exact same attitude applies to the men themselves. If one regards Christmas as being about family and Sundays are about watching football, the man who regards them this way only rests, he has no holidays. In effect, a holiday is only a holiday when it is a holy day.

What Chesterton doesn’t describe in this essay, but which is true none the less, is that a man will have no holidays if he thinks that the purpose of leisure is leisure just as much as if he thinks that the purpose of leisure is work.

One thought on “Chesterton on Holidays vs. Rest

  1. Mary

    A capitalist is not someone who believes in capitalism but someone who owns capital and hates capitalism because it interferes with his ability to hamstring competition through unjust laws.


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