This Dark Age

A manual for life in the modern world.

By Daniel Schwindt

Subjective and objective purposes of work

Distinctions are important, and since the battle against modern ideology is mainly a battle for lost distinctions, a significant part of our project is the re-introduction of subtlety into the economic framework. This is of particular importance when we are discussing the value of human work, which, unlike purely mechanical “work” as executed by machinery, must be considered from both its subjective and its objective points of view, each of which have a legitimate purpose.

The objective meaning of work is the most familiar to us, and in fact it is often the only meaning which has been retained in the present day. Its meaning is embodied in the command to “subdue the earth” and finds expression in the cultivation of crops, the domestication of animals, and the perfection of technology for the purposes of forming the material powers of creation according to man’s will.[1] The great successes of science and research, fully embraced by the Church within their proper limits, each play a part in the realization of the objective meaning of work.

If we turn now to the concept of work in its subjective sense, we find ourselves in territory that seems a bit more alien to us. And yet, returning to the command to “subdue the earth,” which pertains to the objective meaning of work, we realize that it is only in the subjective sense that we can understand why man is given this command. By what right does he subdue creation? Here we find that the objective meaning presupposes a responsible subject, which is to say a person:

“Man has to subdue the earth and dominate it, because as the ‘image of God’ he is a person, that is to say, a subjective being capable of acting in a planned and rational way, capable of deciding about himself, and with a tendency to self-realization. As a person, man is therefore the subject of work. As a person he works, he performs various actions belonging to the work process; independently of their objective content, these actions must all serve to realize his humanity, to fulfil the calling to be a person that is his by reason of his very humanity.”[2]

The truth that the “sources of the dignity of work are to be sought primarily in the subjective dimension, not in the objective one,”[3] are at the heart of the Christian tradition. We must ask first if the work is human, and only then can we begin to measure its industrial efficiency. Our ignorance of the priority of the subjective element, which is to say the primacy of the person in work, is further evidence of the inversion of principles which takes place once the economistic mentality grips a civilization.

[1] LE, 5.

[2] LE, 6.

[3] Ibid.

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