André Gorz: Freedom, time and work in the post-industrial economy

[Co-authored with Michael Kenny] My article for the journal New Political Economy exploring the intellectual and political legacy of Andre Gorz.

The social theorist and philosopher Andre Gorz died in September 2007 in a suicide pact with his English-born wife Dorine, who had suffered a terminal illness for many years. His final work, Lettre a D.: Histoire d’un Amour, was a remarkable extended love letter to her. Published in 2006, it was a surprise bestseller, and by far the most widely read book he ever wrote.Its success did not engender a wider interest in the rest of his oeuvre, which consisted of a series of heavyweight, theoretical analyses of changes in the nature of contemporary capitalism. But it did mean that his passing was widely and publicly noted. His death elicited an official response from President Nicolas Sarkozy, for whom Gorz was in an illustrious line of French philosophical greats. Obituaries in the British press also described him as a leading ‘French philosopher’.

In this essay, we suggest that such a representation obscures rather than illuminates many aspects of his work. Gorz’s multiple intellectual identities are much harder to pin down than conventional labelling suggests. He was not actually French by birth, nor easily assimilable within its intellectual traditions. In the 1980s some of his more unusual policy ideas, including time banking and the reduction of the working week, brought him to the attention of leftist intellectuals and groups across Europe. But much of the thinking behind them remained obscure. And, although he was influenced by some important philosophical figures and currents, notably mid-twentieth-century existentialism, his work made its most important contributions in the adjacent fields of social theory and political economy – if the latter is understood in its broader, less conventional guises.

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Image: Roosh Inf3ction