Thursday, July 10, 2008


I don't know if fainéant is French, but it sure looks French. It means "resistant to exertion and activity," which the French seem to be in light of their 35 hour work week. This is the work week that President Sarkozy allegedly abhors, but can't bring himself to abolish.

I did the math and the French, if they work 35 hours a week and sleep 8 hours a night, have 77 hours a week of leisure. 77 hours! That's more than twice the amount of time they work, and the amount of time they work is less than 25% of the hours in the week. Now, I realize that I am heading into a workaholic profession that is not exactly a picture of what normal should be, but 77 hours of leisure a week? I enjoy my leisure time because I have worked so hard to get it, not the other way around where I've been so leisurely that I have to work a little.

The commandment to Adam and Eve in the garden was to "Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it. Rule over the fish of the sea and the birds of the air and over every living creature that moves on the ground." I could be wrong, but I think that it took more than 25% of their week to get all that done.

Work is a good thing, we were created to produce, and we are most satisfied when we put our hands to the things God created us for, whether that be teaching the law, practicing the law, raising children, etc. You get the picture. Work hard, my friends, play hard, and fulfill your destinies!


Kelly J. Bozanic said...

While I generally agree with you, I would challenge the idea that the French spend those 77 hours on simply leisure. With an increasing percentage of the population consisting of dual-career homes, there are fewer hours to tend to other forms of work, i.e., cooking, cleaning, errand-running, etc. No one would say that a stay at home parent doesn't work. Likewise, 77 hours of non-employment work time, means time to make those wonderful French dinners, do laundry, clean house, and then, of course, savoir la joie de vivre.

Jim Chen said...


I'd side with Kelly on this one. The demands on the typical French wife, in particular, belie the suggestion that the 35-hour workweek is completely la vie douce.

The French do love their short workweek and the nationwide expectation of many, many holidays, plus multiple weeks off for all workers (public and private sector alike), and August as a national month off from serious work.

With regard to the suggestion that the grand charge to humanity in Genesis is one of dominion, that tells at best half the story. I invite you to consider my exposition of the stewardship ethic in Of Agriculture's First Disobedience and Its Fruit.

Take care,
Jim Chen

Alison M. Kilmartin said...

Regarding Kelly's comment that "No one would say that a stay at home parent doesn't work," I whole-heartedly agree and point to my post where I refer to raising children as one of the forms of "work" we may be called to.

I hear and understand, however, the argument that just because you are not working at your formal workplace does not mean that you are not still working. There are plenty of productive works we can do at home or within our communities and so I concede that my post was a broad generalization and not as exact in its expression as it could have been.

Regarding Dean Chen's Vanderbilt law review article about the dual nature of the mandate in Genesis, to take dominion AND replenish (those words are seen specifically in the King James, rather than the New International Version which I quoted from) I say, "AMEN!" The mandate in Genesis is not permission to rape and pillage the earth, far from it, as that is not even in the heart of God. Any command of God, when executed properly, will not run counter to His nature, but will instead reflect the heart and nature of God Himself. I note also that replenishing takes just as much effort as taking dominion, and effort usually implies work. As seen from creation, God worked six days creating the earth, and then rested on the seventh.

All of my talk about work must come with the caveat that REST is essential to fulfilling our destiny in God. Hebrews 4 is full of God beckoning us to enter into His rest. The amazing thing about entering into His rest is that His yoke is easy, His burden is light, and when we pull with Him and not against Him there is a grace, an ease, and a restfulness in the work that must be done to fulfill our destinies.

Zak Kramer said...

This conversation reminds me of sociologist Robert Stebbins' book, Serious Leisure: A Perspective for Our Time (2007). Stebbins argues that leisure activities take various forms and levels of intensity, from routine, casual leisure projects to the projects that people can spend a lifetime trying to master. And he documents the rise of what he calls serious leisure--leisure activities that require extensive time and energy, such as rock cimbing or marathon running. It's an interesting way of thinking about how we work during our time away from the workplace.

The New York Crank said...

"Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it. Rule over the fish of the sea and the birds of the air and over every living creature that moves on the ground."

Well, we've done a hell of a job, Brownies, in that department. The fish are becoming extinct. The birds and other living creatures that move are also vanishing at an alarming rate. The earth is so subdued that there are vast acres where nothing grows any more. And the more we fruitfully increase in number, the worse it gets.

I propose that everybody take the day off. No, come to think of it, make that the next five years.

Yours crankily
The New York Crank

Anonymous said...

As an American visitng Spain in 2002, I was struck by how late Madrilaneos get going in the morning. A few days on, having gone quickly native, I observed that their rising bore a proportional relationship to what time they go to bed at night (when indeed they can be bothered to do so).

Verily, the Europeans take it easier than we do. Indeed, they make take it easier because we take it harder. But leisure, perhaps unexpectedly, is a great engine of achievement. It is what allowed Gibbon to write the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire (a useful text for us, the modern day Romans) and innumerable English Gentlemen (read: no job) to advance science. If Allison is right and the French are spending their hours, say, being fruitful but not multiplying, then they are a nation of libertines (and I am late for a visit); which of course is not the case. The graveyards are crowded with headless corpses lamenting that Robbespierre did not incline more to recline.

Alison M. Kilmartin said...

All this talk of being fruitful and multiplying got me thinking about demographics.

According to the CIA World Factbook, generally, Africa, the Middle East, and parts of Asia are multiplying. The Americas are holding steady, hovering just around the replacement rate (2.33). Europe and the other parts of Asia are disappearing, failing to replace themselves.

From a purely demographic perspective, western civilization is on the wane.

Anonymous said...

That's true, but may not be an inexorable trend. It seems that economic advancement and reduced family size are strongly, and negatively, correlated (i.e. the more of the former, the smaller the latter).

And that could mean the birthrate of the places you mention may come to resemble that of the West generally as the standard of living increases there.

It is not altogether clear what specifically about economic advancement induces folks to reduce the number of children they have. For example, it could be fewer infant deaths brought about by better medical care reduces the need to hedge your bets by pumping out a brood; could be migration from an agrarian economy to a modern one- which turns kids from a farm hand into a tuition bill- is the motivation. Likely, the explanation includes these two possibilities and many other besides.

A caveat on Russia: not a Western country but a modern one, seems to be dying for reasons in addition to the type of explanations offered above. Alcoholism, AIDS, TB, and other unpleasantries are ravaging that country, and have reduced its life expectancy for both men and women to levels redolent of the Middle Ages. Hopefully it turns around. It seems the government is attacking the problem by encouraging (really doing everything but smacking nude couples together)citizens to have children. Fair enough; but they can't breed their way out of what ails them.

Alison M. Kilmartin said...

Interesting about Russia. As for the other countries, I think there is a direct correlation between women working (an aspect of economic advanacement) and fertility rates. The more women work, the less they have children and the less children they have.

I will use myself as an example. I babysat every weekend growing up, was a nanny, and love children. But here I am, 31, a rising 3L in law school, and just embarking on my career. My interest and entrance into the workplace directly impacts how many children I will have (plus my husband who has set a limit of two).

The more women work (1) the less time they have in their day to devote to children and (2) the later in life they start to have children, which decreases the number of children they ultimately produce. Usually, the later you start, the less you have = lower fertility rates.

Anonymous said...

That's true; and suggests not so much that economic advancement causes lower birthrates as that the prospect of it trumps the value of a large family in the judgment of many folks, who then act accordingly.

All well and good. And having only one or two children may explain the mania of overactive parenting: in the good old days your could plan to write one or two of your kids off as 'not of my loins', as my father was fond of saying. Now all the kids have to be good kids and cannot disappoint.

Alison M. Kilmartin said...

Whoever you are, anonymous, I enjoy hearing your insights. Have a nice weekend.