Leisure: The Basis of Culture – Josef Pieper
This is one of the most insightful philosophical texts to be published in the twentieth century. The late Germany philosopher, Joseph Pieper, wrote this title during the post-WWII period. This was probably after he had observed that the twentieth century population in the West was so much engulfed in work, and had no time to “live.” This is what led him to write this book, and remind humanity about leisure, and its benefits. This book is even more relevant today than it was back in its initial years. Many people can relate to Pieper’s observations in this book, as work has robbed people of their life, including their leisure time. I would therefore, recommend this book to all people who live to work and do not work to live. This will challenge them to take a break, and ponder on the beauty of life, which is not found in their work, but in meaningful leisure.
I agree with all the claims made by Pieper in this book, as these are instances I experience every day, happening to me and to the people around me. Today, there is hardly time for leisure, as most people use every bit of their time in moneymaking activities, in order to live a comfortable life, which they have prioritized. Pieper does not condone this kind of lifestyle, but instead argues that people should find value in life by setting aside time for leisure, as it is also an important component of living.
When talking about leisure and emphasizing its importance, Pieper was not portraying himself as a hedonist, as he talked about a different kind of leisure, and not what most people, especially the youth know about leisure. I agree with Pieper’s view of a different kind of leisure. Today, when someone mentions the word “leisure,” what rings in the minds of most young people is drinking, partying, dancing, watching television, and going for holidays, among other such entertainment. Pieper considers leisure to be that peaceful time a person has rest and finds time to pray, time to appreciate nature and all existence, time to make scientific discoveries, time to write music and literature, time to study a favourite topic, and time to produce art work. According to Pieper’s definition of leisure, one might understand that leisure is doing what a person loves doing most. However, these activities must add value to a person’s being. As opposed to entertainment, such as dancing, the real leisure does not lead to exhaustion or monotony. Pieper was right on this. From my personal experience, I can attest to this. I love reading educational and inspirational literature. Every time I am free, I love getting my alone time, reading this literature. I can do this and never get tired, and when I am finally done, I feel a transformation, rejuvenation, as if I have suddenly gained more strength and drive in life. This is for sure the true meaning of leisure. Dancing wears a person out, drinking leaves one with headaches and irritation, sleeping too much makes one too tired; therefore, these do not qualify as the real definition of leisure.
As this book’s title suggests, Pieper believed that leisure is the basis or foundation of all cultures. With regard to Pieper’s perception of leisure, the term leisure gets a brand new meaning, to refer to an attitude in the mind and a state of one’s soul, where it is possible for one to comprehend the realities of the world. According to him, “Leisure has been, and always will be, the first foundation of any culture,” further “Leisure is not the attitude of the one who intervenes but of the one who opens himself; not of someone who seizes but of one who lets go, who lets himself go (Pieper, 32). Therefore, leisure is more spiritual and less physical, as it reconnects us with our inner self, and makes us comprehend the most important life questions about our origin, the present, and our destiny. This is true, as most of the time I am alone, sited in a quiet place, my mind tends to wander to faraway places, and I keep asking myself who I am, from where I came from, and where I am going. Therefore, true leisure gives us freedom to realize our life purpose and pursue it. This is unlike entertainment, which makes us do whatever we want to do.
Pieper also compares leisure in the Medieval Greek and leisure as it is was in the 20th Century, and today. During the Medieval period, the Greek valued leisure and it was part of their culture. Arguably, “The value we set on work and on leisure is very far from being the same as that of the Greek and Roman world, or of the Middle Ages, for that matter—so very different that the men of the past would have been incapable of understanding the modern conception of work, just as we are unable to understand their notion of leisure simply and directly, without an effort of thought” (Pieper 22). However, today, humans have adopted an education and philosophy that denies them the opportunity to be receptive and contemplative in nature. People adore and worship their jobs, as they cannot survive without them. They use any extra time they have to engage in alternative moneymaking activities. This has made society lose touch with true philosophy, with existence, and spirituality. Today, a walk around the streets with “philosophical” eyes will reveal a population that is enslaved to money and other material things. This kind of lifestyle makes people risk losing their souls in the personal and cultural context. Pieper suggests that people should find time for themselves, to contemplate the infinite.
According to Pieper, leisure serves to unite us with God. He believes that human beings were made to be in union with God at all times. This can only be achieved through leisure, and not work. Working is an end in itself, and therefore, serves no function of connecting humans with the supernatural being. Therefore, the only way human beings today can remain in contact with their existence, is to reconcile the classical worldview into the contemporary worldview. As Plato had begun before, today’s philosophy must be married with theology to ensure humanity’s cultural and spiritual survival. This message by Pieper is correct and applies to the contemporary generation that is driven by the wrong pleasure, which is characterized by meaningless and negative entertainment, and obsession with material gains. Adopting this will see the world today a more peaceful place, devoid of all the restlessness that is experienced in every corner of the world due to different worries, which sometimes are not worth the restlessness.
Pieper ties true leisure to spiritual worship. “The celebration of divine worship, then, is the deepest of the springs by which leisure is fed and continues to be vital—though it must be remembered that leisure embraces everything which, without being merely useful, is an essential part of a full human existence” (Pieper 60). Therefore, only humans who participate in divine worship know the true meaning of leisure, as worship is a process that links people with their self, with existence, and with the supernatural being. He suggests that more people should experience leisure through this way. However, in as much as Pieper encourages people to embrace leisure, this should be sought after in the most appropriate ways. “Leisure cannot be achieved at all when it is sought as a means to an end, even though that end be “the salvation of Western civilization” (Pieper 62).
In conclusion, Pieper did a great job sharing this knowledge with the world. All the things he addresses in this book are real, and it is unfortunate that this is getting worse each day. These are revelations of what really is eating the society, although no one has ever stopped and thought about this. Both materialism and busy work schedules rob human beings of their sense of self. People today have neglected their spiritual sides and focused on physical enrichment only. This lack of balance between the physical and spiritual parts of human beings has resulted in the spiritual and psychological enslavement of human beings today. Pieper hoped that this could be resolved, if more people would pay, heed to the advice in this book. However, he warned that since leisure is the basis of culture, if humans continue to neglect leisure, they risk destroying their cultures. Nonetheless, I believe humans can avoid this by changing from their busy lives and giving a little focus to their existence. However, this might be challenging, considering the global economy and financial climate in the world today. If the heat in these cools down, people will have a little more time to indulge in meaningful leisure for the good of their body and soul.
Pieper, Josef. “Leisure: The Basis of Culture: Including the Philosophical ACT.” Trans.
Alexander Dru. London: Ignatius Press, 2009.
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