From the Shelf
OF TIME, WORK AND LEISURE by Sebastian de Grazia; Twentieth Century Fund, New York, 1962; 559 pp. $6.00 THE OTHER AMERICA by Michael Harrington; Macmillan, New York, 1962; 191 pp. $4.00
The title only suggests the pretentious heights toward which de Grazia's essay rambles. The author's outlook, according to the jacket, "is Mediterranean in the classic style" (i.e., his book is larded with references to the Greeks). But his style is anything but classic. Consider the following:
The sixteenth century rolls around... A chancellor of Henry VIII's takes a step. He creates a land, Utopia, where no one works more than six hours a day. The shorter work week has arrived. But there is a catch...
De Grazia seems more interested in the semantics than in the sociology of leisure. His sense of etymology is stronger than his sense of history, and he lapses into rather silly generalizations:
There have always been restraints to work, moral and legal brakes that have tried to prevent runaways at smash-up speed from destroying things people set store by ...
(No, this book has not been translated from the Greek that De Grazia must think in. He is an American political scientist and just happens to write terribly.)
There have always been well-accepted cannons of what work should not do to a man. It should not ruin his health...
Well-accepted by whom? Somehow De Grazia's preoccupation with the continuity of leisure--from Aristotle's good life through tomorrow's leisure society--prevents his seeing the sweatshops in between. Time, Work and Leisure is therefore a totally apolitical book. It pokes at the concept of leisure without considering how society might be organized to insure men of free time and the substantive skills to use it creatively.
Education is perhaps the most important component in the transforming of free time into leisure. But DeGrazia never examines the existing educational system in America (or anywhere else) to show how it might be geared toward training men and women capable of fulfilling the potential of leisure. In trying to dismiss the social realities of the present and jump to the "musing" that he admittedly loves, DeGrazia makes some remarkably thoughtless assertions:
Various studies have portrayed the unemployed man as confused, panicky, prone to suicide, mayhem and revolt. Totalitarian regimes seem to know what unemployment can mean: they never permit it.
Have we really reached the stage where our jobless rate can be cited as proof of our democratic tolerance? Hopefully not. Michael Harrington's study of poverty in America does not raise the traditional spectre of the potentially revolutionary poor. Instead it describes the humiliation, despair and voicelessness of American poverty, and appeals to the nation's conscience instead of playing upon its fears.
A former editor of the Catholic Worker and a sincere social democrat, Harrington sees America as so self-satisfied that it missed the eloquence and the sarcasm in Galbraith's Affluent Society. Harrington considers Galbraith "one of the first to understand that there are enough poor people in the United States to constitute a subculture of misery, but not enough of them to challenge the conscience and the imagination of the nation."
The other America, according to Harrington, may encompass forty to fifty million citizens but remains invisible because it is old, young, Negro, unskilled, jobless, itinerant and irrelevant. Unlike the poor of the thirties, the other Americans do not characterize the economic state of the nation. Indeed their suffering is a noncomitant of prosperity, since they have been rendered useless by the very machines that are raising America's rate of productivity. The poor form a huge but politically fragmented and mute group. It thus falls to the socially responsible intellectuals to remind affluent America of their presence.
From time to time Harrington skips into the realm of political suggestion (usually to regret that the conservatives have hampered the Kennedy Administration). He provides no critique, however, of the New Deal responses to poverty and their current applicability. Nostalgic references to bygone CIO militance indicate Harrington's hope that revitalized trade unionism can defend the economic rights of American labor. But in a section on the Packinghouse Workers, he fails to show why a strong and honest union could not prevent the implementation of automation at human expense.
When Harrington's real compassion is marred by a style that resembles bad Murray Kempton, he sounds like a self-conscious tourist compiling a diary: today I worked in the Bowery; today I walked through Harlem; today my friends introduced me to some migrant workers. But despite its stylistic lapses, The Other America is written by a man of conscience, feeling, and responsibility. Harrington is trying to come to grips with a problem that many refuse to recognize in any but cold, statistical terms. Ultimately, his personal tone is legitimate and effective.