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Labor and Democracy: The Homo Faber and The Self-Governing Citizen in Ancient Greece

Wang Donni ()
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Wang Donni: Shanghai University, Shanghai, China

Man and the Economy, 2017, vol. 4, issue 2, 19

Abstract: Is there a way of performing labor and doing work – a central activity that has so far occupied humans – that aligns with or even amplifies the core dynamics of a democratic society? This article answers in the affirmative by introducing a model of labor named homo faber based on a group of highly influential texts from ancient Greece, the birth place of the world’s first democracy. This ancient Greek ideal of homo faber conceives human nature as desirous of imparting meaning through modifying the natural surroundings. A combination of conditions is imperative for materializing this paradigm: full control and mastery over one’s work, absence of compulsion and scarcity, group solidarity and individual pride, and direct and free interaction with the public, among others. The homo faber is essential to the Greek democratic vision because it mirrors aspects of the ideal citizenry that takes matter into its own hands: both roles flourish through egalitarian, horizontal, and mutually satisfying exchange that is free of covetousness and coercion. However, the historical reality of Classical Greece at the height of its civilization in the fifth and fourth centuries is a bitter lesson: the homo faber model began to wither amidst the rise of slavery, rentierism, and imperialism. While these betrayals severely marred the legacy of ancient Greece, the aspirations of homo faber nevertheless help us deliberate what kind of configuration of work and what sort of considerations for workers best serve democratic goals.

Keywords: labor; democracy; ancient greece; autonomy; peer-to-peer exchange (search for similar items in EconPapers)
Date: 2017
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DOI: 10.1515/me-2017-0005

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