The popular twentieth-century Catholic philosopher Josef Pieper shared much in common with his fellow countryman Ernst Jünger: both served in World War I, though in different capacities; both became successful men of letters who wrote widely and voluminously for decades; both wrote popular philosophical discourses while eschewing many of the stultifying trappings of what Schopenhauer disparagingly referred to as “university professors” (though to be sure Pieper enjoyed a successful academic career as a professor of philosophical anthropology at the University of Münster from 1950 to 1976); and both, for a time, were preoccupied with Jünger’s prognosis of a near-future in which the nineteenth-century concept of the bourgeois individual would be supplanted by the worker, who, neither individual nor mass man, would be the central figure in a technocratic society devoted to total work or mobilization. Although immensely critical of Jünger’s position regarding “the gradual metamorphosis of humanity into a ‘worldwide army of workers,’” Pieper nonetheless regarded that vision as sufficiently close to an emerging post–World War I reality as to represent a real and pressing exigence to the European tradition of liberality and freedom and, more generally, to an undiminished humanity that views the world as an integrative but non-functionalized whole.
Over against this process of transformation, through which perpetual, allencompassing movement comes to realize the progressive idealization of modernity, Pieper reasserts—rather unfashionably—the classical priority of leisure over work. In one of his most well-known works of cultural criticism, Leisure: The Basis of Culture (1948), he employs a traditional metaphysics to promote what he considers genuine forms of human leisure—that is, leisure conceived not as mere free time or amusement, much less a restorative break between two work shifts, but as “a mental and spiritual attitude . . . an attitude of mind, a condition of the soul,” one consisting of inward calm, contemplative celebration, and an openness to suprahuman, life-giving forces.
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