Bourgeois Freedom in the Secular City

The freedom with which [humanity] is concerned must not be confused with the individual autonomy bestowed on us by the industrial society; a society in which the field of obligation has been reduced to that of work.  A man must do what he is told during his work time, but in his leisure (non-work) he is free to do, believe, worship, read, what he likes.  It is only in so far as these activities touch on the work relationship that they are restricted.  This autonomy represents a new kind of society by comparison with the feudal one it replaced.  It is the bourgeois secular city; the society in which the ‘city’ takes no official notice of anything except secular work-relationships and professes indifference to how its citizens play or paint or love or pray or speak with each other.  All such ‘sacred’ activities are free.  (I call them ‘sacred’ in so far as they transcend the profane world which is more or less strictly regulated by social utility.)  In the secular city a man is very nearly completely collectivised during his work time and very nearly a completely autonomous individual for the rest of the time.  ‘The modern subjectivity in which we today experience ourselves as individuals and personal human beings, is a result of the disburdening of social intercourse by reducing it to terms of practical affairs.’  Progress in the bourgeois society essentially consists in diminishing as far as possible, by such means as automation, the proportion of man’s life that is spent in the slavery of work.  This liberal society is not yet a society of freedom in the christian sense.  Freedom fundamentally means being able to give oneself and thereby realise oneself; a free society is a set of media in which people are able to be open to each other, to love each other without fear. (156-158)

Herbert McCabe | Law, Love and Language


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