Andrew Carnegie's Gospel of Leisure

When A.B. Farquhar, a Pennsylvania businessman, boasted that he was in his office every morning “by seven in the morning” and was the last one to leave in the evening, Carnegie laughed at him.  “You must be a lazy man if it takes you ten hours to do a day’s work. . . .  What I do . . . is to get good men, and I never give them orders.   My directions seldom go beyond suggestions.  Here in the morning I get reports from them.  Within an hour I have disposed of everything, sent out all of my suggestions, the day’s work is done, and I am ready to go out and enjoy myself.”

Andrew Carnegie had learned, early in his business career, that no individual was indispensable nor irreplaceable.   The corporate model was a wondrous creation.  Its successful operation required a firm division of labors.   Success depended on the effective delegation and coordination of leadership functions and responsibilities.

Carnegie never apologized for his success as a businessman nor for the millions upon millions he had made.  Business was not for him the highest calling a man might answer.   Carnegie loathed being referred to or honored as primarily a businessman.   He had left Pittsburgh at age thirty-four to escape a city that was too intent on business for New York City, the cultural and literary capital of the nation.   He intended to use his leisure to educate himself, to make the acquaintance and learn from the premier intellects of his day: from Mark Twain, Herbert Spencer, Matthew Arnold, to attend lectures, to become an intellectual, a wise man, and an author.

His gospel of leisure enjoined him—and others outside the realm of wage slavery—to behave as free men ought to.    The wage slave had no choice but to dedicate his life to work and hope that there might be time left over for leisure.   But Carnegie—and Rockefeller—chose to order their lives such that large portions of their waking hours might be dedicated to leisure, not as an escape or alternative to work, but as an end in itself.   The rich man could afford to depart from the everyday world of work and business for something far more exalted, the world of leisure.

The irony of ironies was that, instead of moving forward into this brave new world of leisure, as Carnegie had, too many businessman, in Carnegie’s day and in our own, have voluntarily imprisoned themselves in the work world as if they too were wage slaves with no alternative but to work their lives away.

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