Thinking as a Christian with Josef Pieper | Matthew Anger | HPR
In an age when society is again becoming highly polarized, it is important to remember that the lack of real communication causes a breakdown in civility, and an increase in ignorance.
During his long lifetime, Josef Pieper (1904-1997) was known as a leading member of the neo-Thomist movement. When his most famous work, Leisure: The Basis of Culture (1952), appeared in English, a reviewer at the Chicago Tribune wrote: “Pieper has subjects involved in everyone’s life; he has theses that are so counter to the prevailing trends as to be sensational; and he has a style that is memorably clear and direct.” The German philosopher can be easily ranked alongside Jacques Maritain and Etienne Gilson as one of the important Catholic thinkers of the postwar period. He made the theories of high academia approachable to the educated layman, and for many decades Pieper’s works were widely disseminated by both mainstream and religious institutions. Fortunately, many of them remain in print.
The first thing to note is Pieper’s unique style. Anyone sampling his writing will find it highly economical: there is no wasted thought or verbiage. Few of his books—most of which are long essays—are more than a hundred pages in length, and many are even shorter. But one should not be misled by his brevity. Within each of these studies is a mass of highly condensed thought and weighty considerations which span the millennia, from the pre-Socratic Greeks to the insights of 20th century intellects. Some of his works can be read in an hour or two. But they are studies that can last a lifetime.
The second consideration for the reader is the author’s highly integrated and harmonized outlook. There are many recurring themes—for example, his views on the meaning of philosophical dialogue, the idea of the incarnated soul, or the human capacity for leisure. For this reason, I will not approach his thought in terms of individual titles, which would result in a somewhat tedious and confusing list of books. Instead, I will treat each major theme systematically, and provide a bibliography for readers who want to pursue his major writings further.