Challenging the Protestant Ethic

I have always felt uncomfortable around people who brag about how hard they work. Of course to proclaim my discomfort would brand me as some sort of anti-American freeloader so I tend to keep those thoughts to myself. To me work has always been a means to an end. I want to enjoy it, do it well, please my superiors, be paid fairly, etc. However, it is but one aspect of my life that I balance with the other things that I value such as family, friends, travel, hobbies, etc.

I see it in Canada to a degree but not nearly as much as in America. Though Americans profess their love of family life and certainly know how to have a good time. Why, in the richest country on earth, is hard work such an obsession?

Deresiewicz at the American Scholar has similar questions:

To every age its virtue. For the Greeks, courage; the Romans, duty; the Middle Ages, piety. Our virtue is industriousness, in the industrial age. (It is one that would have been incomprehensible to other times. The Greeks had a word for people who worked harder than anyone else: slaves.) It is the Protestant ethic, in other words, made general by the Victorians as the factories rose. That it is a virtue, not merely a value, is proved by the aura of righteousness that surrounds it. A virtue is not just a personal excellence, it is something that is felt to call down blessings upon the community, that wins the gods’ approval, that possesses not just practical but metaphysical worth. We’re in a panic, as a nation, that we don’t work hard enough, and blame this iniquity for our “decline.” God—the one who blesses America—is withdrawing his favor. Hence the sanctimoniousness with which the topic of work is approached. If you don’t work as hard as people think you should, you’re not just morally inferior, you’re committing a kind of spiritual treason. And if you deny the value of work as a matter of principle, you’re treated like a heretic.

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