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    Leisure: The Basis of Culture {Chapter 4}

    October 13, 2009 by Brandy Vencel

    I think that this time around I’m going to try to write an in-depth outline to help myself visualize some of Pieper’s arguments. I, once again, read both translations, and let me just says that Malsbary is inferior to Dru. If you have the book on a wishlist out there, you might want to specify your translator.

    1. We begin with a reminder.

      Leisure, it must be remembered, is not a Sunday afternoon idyll, but the preserve of freedom, of education and culture, and of that undiminished humanity which views the world as a whole.

      Do you see? Four chapters in and we finally have a concise statement on the nature of leisure! Viewing the world as a whole is something we talk about a lot here on the microhomestead. If Christ is the Logos, and we know that He is, then He is that which is behind and underpins all things, nothing exists outside of His reach, and everything is tied up in Him. Therefore we have a Person Who makes all of our existence understandable.

      One of the things I have been learning lately is that sin fractured the world, the whole wide world. This is why the traditional task of education was to, in a sense, put humanity back together again. Only humanity wasn’t the same as Humpty Dumpty, and it was actually possible. Modern education {in both public and private, including many Christian schools}, however {and we will get back to this because Pieper discusses it later on}, reinforces the fractures. It studies “subjects” and it encourages specialization. The result is disintegrated persons rather than whole human beings.

    2. Which brings us to the question Pieper is trying to answer in this section:

      [I]s it going to be possible to save men from becoming officials and functionaries and ‘workers’ to the exclusion of all else?

      Even though our own culture is dominated by a quest for entertainment, there is a subtext of work throughout. If we think of it, from their first day of school, our children are trained to think of themselves, first and foremost, as future workers in our great economy. They write essays on what they want to be when they grow up, and saying “be a mommy” or even “be a farmer” is unacceptable. Why is saying “be a mommy” taboo? I’m not just harping on this because I want at least forty grandchildren. The answer is because being a mommy is an occupation that exists outside of the industrial economy. Contributing to the economy is what we mean when we ask a child what they want to be.

      Has anyone ever heard of a kindergarten teacher asking her students what sort of person they want to be, in a way that includes the whole person, all parts of life, integrated together? No! It is always about one thing: what sort of work are you going to do?

      And so we allow work to begin to define our children.

      And now there is talk of having high schoolers pick a major {which is pushing the industrial economy downward in grades and invading childhood}. I have heard of second-graders learning to give PowerPoint presentations. All of this is reinforcing the idea that we see education not in the sense of expanding or growing a soul, but of building a machine: a worker for the Great Society.

      We are more German that we think.

      We even have kindergarten.

    3. In Pieper’s day {during the German rebuilding period}, there seemed to be three main attempts to stave off the encroachment of Total Labor:
      1. An appeal to tradition or classical antiquity {depending on your translator ahem}
      2. A struggle to retain classics in the schools, which Malsbary calls “the battle of the Gymnasium [the academic high school]”
      3. The character of the universities
      4. This begs a question for me, for the character of the German university eludes me. What does he mean by this “character of the university”? I know that my own “university” education was actually, for the most part, a multiversity education. For it was not all things being brought together into One, as at certain other schools, but rather a place at which one could pursue a portion of specialized knowledge–a fracture, if you will. {However, I will note here that because the university was Christian and all students were required 30 units of Bible courses, there was more tying it all together–and all the students together–than at most other schools in the country.}

    4. Next, Pieper says we need to discuss what is meant by proletarian. This is not a word we Americans use with great regularity. For instance, the Random House dictionary uses a very shallow definition: {in ancient Rome} belonging to the lowest or poorest class of the people. An etymological dictionary gives more detail, for the characteristics of this “poorest class” were what has caused the word to be carried on into current usage: they were a property-less class who paid no taxes and gave no military service, whose primary service to the state was having babies. They were the poor workers and slaves who produced more poor workers and slaves.

      Here I must contend that most schools in the United States, both public and private, both religious and secular, are in the business of producing just such a proletarian class. Now, I will skip ahead a bit in the reading, for Pieper makes an interesting point that goes along with this contention:

      [A] proletarian and a poor man are not the same. A man may be poor without being a proletarian…Equally a proletarian is not necessarily poor: a mechanic, a ‘specialist’ or a ‘technician’ in ‘totalitarian work state’ is certainly a proletarian…[T]he negative aspect of the notion of ‘proletariat’, the thing to be got rid of, does not consist in the fact that it is a condition limited to a particular stratum of society.


      [T]he proletarian is the man who is fettered to the process of work.

      If I could sum up Pieper here, it is that the proletarian is a man of utility. His worth is wrapped up in his work, and he is defined by his work. He is, as Dana said last week, a functionary. We don’t want to view ourselves this way, and yet a culture which is willing to kill their unborn while warehousing their young, their disabled, their sick, and their elderly is essentially measuring and valuing people in terms of their functionality.

    5. Pieper then explains that there are two competing solutions to the problem of the distinctions between those who are proletarian and those who are not. He fears that, in his day, the reigning solution is to make everyone proletarian! His argument hinges on the idea of intellectual work. He says:

      [A] modern German dictionary…maintains…that the relatively modern terms ‘intellectual work’, ‘intellectual worker’ are valuable because ‘they do away with the age-old distinction still further emphasized in modern times, between the manual worker and the educated man.’

      The idea is that instead of elevating the proletariat, they lower the educated man to being himself a functionary. Dewey would have loved this, as, by his definition, education is not even a gaining of knowledge, but rather an acting out of the Darwinian process whereby the student is an organism learning to adapt itself to a changing environment. All of education, in Dewey’s brave new world, was functional.

    6. Pieper suggests the opposite, for he desires nothing more than the complete abolition of the proletariat. But first, let’s list out Pieper’s theories on how the proletariat ends up being…proletarian:
      1. Lack of property:

        Everyone who is a propertyless wage-earner is a proletarian, everyone who ‘owns nothing but his power to work’, and who is consequently compelled to sell his capacity to work, is a proletarian.

      2. The dictate of the total-working State:

        [I]n this case, everyone {whether he owns property or not} who is utterly subjected ‘to the necessities of an absolute economic process of production,’ by outside forces, which means that he is entirely subject to economic forces, is a proletarian.

      3. The inner impoverishment of the individual:

        [E]veryone whose life is completely filled by his work {in the special sense of the word work} is a proletarian because his life has shrunk inwardly, and contracted, with the result that he can no longer act significantly outside his work and perhaps can no longer conceive of such a thing.

      Pieper says that the last two {totalitarian working state and internal impoverishment} feed on each other, for the totalitarian state requires a “spiritually impoverished functionary” while an impoverished, functionary soul is inclined to be attracted to the totalitarian working state. It’s cyclic in nature.

    7. “Ripe and ready?” This is where Pieper explains something that I have attempted to discuss here on the blog — the idea that our educational methodology is precisely what has led to a people who are attracted to Big Government, industrial global economies, and the like:

      [T]he inner chains which fetter us to ‘work’, prompts a further question: ‘proletarianism’ thus understood, is perhaps a symptomatic state of mind common to all levels of society and by no means confined to the ‘proletariat’, to the ‘worker’, a general symptom…; so that it might be asked whether we are not all of us proletarians and all of us, consequently, ripe and ready to fall into the hands of some collective labour State and be at its disposal as functionaries.

    8. At this point, Pieper practices a bit of antithesis. He contrasts the liberal and servile arts, and also the concepts of honorarium and the wage. Frankly, the latter was much more helpful for me, and I think part of that was simply due to its novelty, as I’ve given a good deal of thought to liberal arts and am already convinced of their value to producing a mature humanity.

      Have you ever been paid or paid an honorarium? Are you familiar with the term? I had forgotten the term, but I found Pieper’s definition to be concise and accurate:

      [H]onorarium means a contribution towards the cost of living, whereas a wage…means payment for a particular piece of work, with no reference to the needs of the individual concerned.

      This reminds me of something Larry Burkett discussed in Business By The Book many years ago. Burkett was the first to introduce me to the concept of a living wage in a way that did not require an enslaving of the populace {i.e., socialism and communism}. He contended that business owners must be aware of the humanity {though he didn’t put it in those terms exactly} of the people they were hiring, and that if they could not afford to hire a man and support his family, then they should be hiring a college kid or a teenager, for men should be paid in a way that allows them to support their families. Of course, these days the government has laws against such things, bringing us back to Pieper’s point above that the totalitarian State is constantly reinforcing the existence of a proletariat.

    Before I finish up here, I feel compelled to point out that Malsbary has a chapter five, while Dru seems to go on to the end here. However, I feel this is enough to think about so I’m going to stop, and we’ll just see where that leaves everyone else. Hope I don’t end up behind!

    There is a lot to think about here, and yet I myself think the best thing to do is focus on my own area of influence. Right now, I am a wife, a mother, a teacher. I consider, first and foremost, my five little students. I can ask the question: What is the nature of redeemed man? and teach them accordingly, raising them up as the heirs of the Kingdom that they are.

    With that said, I cannot leave off without a last swipe at the Greeks and Romans. Pieper quotes Plato:

    Now this, O Theodorus, is the way of each one individually: the one whom you call a philosopher, is truly brought up in freedom and leisure, and goes unpunished though he seems simple and useless when it is a matter of menial offices, even though he should not, for instance, know how to tie up a parcel that has to be sent on, or how to prepare a tasty dish.

    There was such asceticism at the time, that grown men frowned upon something menial…like tying their own shoe. And so we see a man that can think but is incapable when it comes to the use of his hands.

    This is the part where I resist such a form of gnosticism.

    A man is, once again, whole man. We live in a culture that is apt to define a man by the work of his hands and deny any significance in regard to the soul. However, comma, we must always guard against denying the real, physical work that God has given us to do. God, in His Word, does not seem to equate work with slavery, when work is defined strictly {here I do not speak of Total Work}. It is possible to be a free man and tie your own shoe at the same time.

    Read More:

    -More book club entries over at Cindy’s.
    -Online version of Leisure: the Basis of Culture

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  • Reply Dominion Family October 15, 2009 at 2:07 pm

    I am so far behind I haven’t even looked at the online version. I am supposed to read 2 whole chapter of Corbett’s Rhetoric for the Circe apprenticeship by next Thursday. But enough of my excuses, I do like reading your quotes.

    I also was struck by the idea of ownership being tied to anti-proletarianism. I find that interesting because the way we finance houses today almost insures that most people are not really property owners. Refinancing keeps them from it and I am guilty as charged here also.

  • Reply Brandy Afterthoughts October 14, 2009 at 3:40 pm


    I have only recently been able to read books online…before that, i couldn’t bear it. I just got to the point where our budget couldn’t keep up with all of the things I wanted to read, and I found so many books on my list at Google Books at the same time. Now, I only buy the best books for our library, which is probably just as well since we are also limited on space. But I totally understand wanting a real book in your hands!

    It does seem like we are thinking the same things, and it is probably because we are working through a lot of the same knowledge base right now..


    Yes, actually, I have been thinking about your doctors-as-functionaries statement! When you said that last week, I felt like something clicked in my brain. I have recently become familiar with a couple doctors in our area that do not take any type of insurance at all because they want to be able to do what they think needs to be done without hassling over it.

    With that said, we have some friends who recently returned to California after living in Scotland for three years. We had them over within a month of Si getting out of the hospital, and as we were talking through things, they shared some of their “socialized medicine” experiences, which weren’t too traumatic as they are healthy 30-somethings. However, they informed us that they firmly believe Si would likely have died over there because they do not have the ability to make decisions fast enough to save a life in that sort of situation.

    What would be interesting would be to compare TTP-HUS survival rates in the US with elsewhere and see what I get, but I don’t know how to do that. What I DO know is that the death rate here was 90% until some doctor in the 70s decided to experiment with plasmapheresis, which is very, very expensive. The result was that he turned the rates upside down, and now the death rate is only 10%.

    Within a socialized state, I am not sure there is any room for a doctor to experiment with an expensive treatment in order to get to the point where it becomes “standard” practice. The place in between requires thought and creativity, which doesn’t fit beaurocratic “best practices”.

  • Reply Dana October 14, 2009 at 12:02 am

    Sounds like you have a good grip on Pieper’s concepts, Brandy. It reallly does help to read both translations and make an outline.

    BTW have you given any more thought to my declarative that *Doctors are not functionaries*?

    The healthcare debate parlays right into Piper’s argument, as true care (comfort) requires freedom and an independent mind in order to evaluate the evidence in a patient’s ailment(s).

    My prayer is that DH will be able to *function* outside the system, especially if we go to a one-payer system.

    I know you and yours just went through a harrowing experience, so perhaps this issue too personal to discuss.

  • Reply Mystie October 13, 2009 at 10:50 pm

    I am getting frustrated with a poor translation, but not yet enough to go to the time and trouble of reading the online version. 🙂 All the quotes from Dru are much more clear, though.

    Sounds like we’re thinking the same things. 🙂

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