The Art Progresses, the Artisan Regresses

From Tocqueville, Democracy in America, Goldhammer Translation.

When an artisan devotes himself constantly and exclusively to the fabrication of a single article, he eventually develops a remarkable dexterity in doing that job. But at the same time he loses the general faculty of applying his mind to the direction of the work. Every day he becomes more skillful and less industrious, and we may say of him that the man is degraded as the workman is perfected.

What should we expect of a man who has spent twenty years of his life making pinheads? And to what can he henceforth apply that powerful human intellect that has often stirred the world, other than the search for the best way of making pinheads?

When a worker has spent a considerable portion of his life this way, his thought invariably revolves around the daily object of his labors. His body acquires certain fixed habits that it cannot shed. In a word, he belongs not to himself any longer but to the occupation he has chosen. It does not matter how much laws and mores have done to break down the barriers surrounding thins man and to open up a thousand varied roads to fortune. An industrial theory more powerful than mores and laws has tied him to a trade and in many cases a location he cannot quit. It has assigned him a certain place in society, from which he cannot exit. In the midst of universal change, it has immobilized him.

As the principle of division of labor is more thoroughly applied, the worker becomes weaker, more limited, and more dependent. The art progresses, the artisan regresses. (pp. 649–650)


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