Work: A Modern Crisis

By Horalek, Jan | The New Presence: The Prague Journal of Central European Affairs, Summer 2009 | Go to article overview

Work: A Modern Crisis


Horalek, Jan, The New Presence: The Prague Journal of Central European Affairs


Human life is full of crisis whether individual or social. In simplistic terms, a crisis is a decisive or significant moment (e.g., an illness). In literature or in a dramatic work, a crisis represents a plot's climax, the peak in conflict which significantly influences all the actors. But we also use the term to refer to complicated and difficult situations. In this respect we speak more frequently of a crisis in wider society.

The Czech Question

More than a hundred years ago, the first president of Czechoslovakia, Tomas Garrigue Masaryk, draft ed a study about the major political and cultural crisis of his day, and entitled it The Czech Question. Though it specifically related to the development of Czech identity, history has rendered his questons and conjecturing timeless and also rather "Czechless." Masaryk's "question" applies for any and every nation seeking to understand its past, present, and future: What defines a nation? How does a nation self-identify?

His question is also just as relevant to contemporary Czech society as it was to the Czech nation in 1895. The Czech relationship to national self-determination is still not secure even after experiencing decades of "Czechness." We continue to struggle with who we are and what defines us. But today our existential crisis is one of labour, or in other words, how we approach the concept and practice of work.

Work Under National Socialism and Communism

Today we oft en refer to historical conditions to explain society's modern approach to work. During the first half of the twentieth century, German National Socialism imbued work with moral value; after the war, communism emphasized this same moral value as the focal point of the "working class." In the Czech Republic, this idea is clearly seen in the common communist greeting "cest praci" [honor work]. Ironically, but perhaps logically, by imbuing work with oppressive value, the communists rendered it into a punishment rather than a source of honor or duty or privilege.

Thus, one aspect of our modern crisis is that Czech society has ceased to take pride in or value employment and work. But is historical structuralism really the culprit in depreciating work's value? Perhaps the real culprit is actually democratic development. …

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