Monday, December 23, 2019

The Right to be Idle (2011)

Book Review from the October 2011 issue of the Socialist Standard

How to be Idle. By Tom Hodgkinson. Penguin.

Here is a handbook for any would-be socialist wondering what life could really be like in a post-capitalist society. Of course it’s not possible to be living a socialist way of life in a non-socialist world, but this book is full of the pleasures to be had from a way of living totally different from the one we see all around us now. Hodgkinson has an insightful grasp of the iniquities of the capitalist system, its stranglehold on working conditions and its tight control of most areas of our lives. He succinctly identifies many of its outstanding features and, with his own particular brand of humour, hands out lots of good advice for the work-weary, enabling us to open our eyes and see more clearly the life we should be living. Are we to live an onerous life created for us by this current controlling system or should we choose how we build and live our own individual lives? Do we live by our rules or theirs?

One clue to Hodgkinson’s outlook on being an idler is found in a description of his routine: he works in the morning, reading and writing; spends the afternoon in the garden chopping logs and suchlike; and gives the evening over to eating, drinking and talking. ‘When work is freely chosen and creative, then it’s not really work at all.’ He claims not to know much about Marx, but having thought that work was at the centre of his philosophy’ he now says he is beginning to understand that Marx’s motivation came from ‘the boredom and misery caused by the Industrial Revolution and by his own dream to replace that system with something more humane.’  

The first step to being idle is to understand our 250 years of indoctrination into the work ethic – a topic Hodgkinson expands on. Understanding that this work ethic is based on guilt enables us to get rid of that guilt and get on with the dreaming. ‘Dreams are not about money – they are about you and about your quality of life and imagination.’  

Co-founder of the ‘Idler’ magazine ( and the Idler Academy, Hodgkinson has spent nearly twenty years attempting (working hard?) to perfect the art of idling. He draws on the work of a host of writers, poets, philosophers and sociologists to support his ideas:  Paul Lafargue, Bertrand Russell, Nietzsche, Tom Paine, Oscar Wilde and Lao Tzu, to name but a few.
Janet Surman

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