I have put this article off for far too long, so be prepared for a ramble–an elucidating ramble, I hope. Josef Pieper wrote this book to describe the importance of leisure in society. He thought that this an important topic because the value of leisure was eroding in the world of the Cold War due to the emphasis on work and utility. Modern man had become embroiled in a workaday world. The liberal arts, once esteemed over the servile or useful arts, ceased to be viewed as “liberal” or free. Governments made the humanities their servants in proving cultural superiority and science’s importance lay only in the realm of technology. Because of the devaluation of learning for learning’s sake, leisure, the time for study and being human, was viewed as less important than time dedicated to business and production.
But, the emphasis on labor does not comprise the only reason for leisure’s decline. As Pieper writes (and Hillsdale graduates know well), the center of the culture is the cult. And the main activity of the cult is the festival, where the features of the cult are celebrated. As an American, the prime festival of this part of my culture is Independence Day, where we celebrate our Republic of Freedom under God. As a Catholic, my prime festivals are the solemnities and feast days of the year, where God’s salvation of mankind, His Glory, and all the Blessed–God’s saints and angels–are celebrated.
In both parts, God forms the center. People’s moving away from God–the zeitgeist of our times–has produced restlessness and depression, which no longer permits peace in stillness. Therefore, people no longer want to be still. In removing themselves from the Source of life and peace, they need to bury themselves in work and distraction. Otherwise, not having any distraction from the questions of what their life is really for and other important matters, they begin to become depressed and want to die–like the Sybil in Eliot’s The Waste Land.
Ultimately, leisure is for man to fulfill his humanity. What separates us from the animals is reason. And reason may be defined as: “
In some way, all leisure concerns being raised above the self–above our limitations. We seek the sublime, because within the sublime is true joy and wonder. How different from the servile arts, which try to encompass its object and bend it to its use! The attempt to raise the mind above its limits makes leisure ultimately a superhuman endeavor. And, the wonder of those things which are far greater than us should keep bringing us back to contemplating the high ideals. By doing so, we actually become more human.
That concludes my speedy summary of Pieper’s ideas.