Labour Leisure and Economic thought Before the Nineteenth Century, Leisure and Economic thought Before the Nineteenth Century
Explores the ways in which the changing demographics and growing profit economy of fourteenth-century England troubled the author of PPl, fanned society’s apocalyptic fears, and induced the Rising of 1381. After exploring the increasing dissonance between religious tradition and economic life and language, this book examines late medieval expressions of social dissatisfaction, including the actions and communications of the 1381 rebels, L’s moral objections in PPl, and the complaints central to the other “plowman poems” of L’s imitators. After contrasting regenerative agrarian metaphors and apocalyptic visions with eschatological, urban visions of paradise, the author argues that L and the 1381 rebels exhibit “radical nostalgia”–a longing for agrarian Christian roots that projects the traditional social structure of the past onto a renewed, if not millennial, society. The phrase “radical nostalgia” addresses this backwards glance disguised as a vision of the future, this longing for early Christian roots as the basis for social regeneration. Chapter 1, “PPl and the History of Apocalypticism,” examines the importance of apocalyptic thinking to medieval notions of history. In the later Middle Ages, the Church nurtured the urban, eschatological, teleological vision, while the rural imagery that promised the great communal renovatio mundi fell mostly to literary, popular, and sometimes heretical culture. L embraced both views: his restored world and idealized plowman reflect the agricultural, regenerative tradition, while the changes in the individual from “dowel” to “dobet” to “dobest” represent the individual’s salvation and the linear, eschatological view of history. Examining concepts such as redemption and satisfaction as salvific exchanges, chapter 2, entitled “Economics and Salvation: Paying for Sin and Reaping Reward,” discusses the conflated nature of economic and religious ideas in the Middle Ages and explores the relationship between individual and communal salvation. The agricultural signs and metaphors in apocalyptic representations often suggest the proper “work” for salvation, a problem with which L is preoccupied throughout PPl. Chapter 2 also discusses how changes in the administration of the sacrament of penance put additional emphasis on the sinners’ intentions and reflected the growing The significant changes in real wage levels and labor scarcity prior to the industrial revolution had little effect on societal issues and attitudes. Although these changes altered interrelationships between different classes, the priorities of those classes remained the same, along with cultural perceptions of market concepts such as leisure, consumption, and work. Joseph Townsend, writing in 1786 that “it is only hunger which can spur and goad [the poor] on to labour” replicates L’s discourse on the unique ability of hunger to transform idlers and beggars into willing workmen.
Past & Present 160 (August 1998): 64-115.