Get the exclusive (almost) Weekly Digest.

    Leisure: The Basis of Culture {Part 2, Chapter 1}

    November 12, 2009 by Brandy Vencel

    The reason why the philosopher can be compared to the poet is that both are concerned with wonder.

    -St. Thomas Aquinas

    Thus begins the first chapter of the second half of Leisure: The Basis of Culture, aptly titled The Philosophical Act. From scanning this portion, I’d say that the key idea throughout is going to be that the philosophical act {philosophizing?} is the ultimate act of leisure, which is why the two parts are joined together. They are one thought: humans need leisure, and philosophizing is the ultimate form of leisure, at least according to Pieper.

    This is my guess based on scanning, as I said. Only time will tell if I’m actually correct.

    Now, to dig into chapter one a bit. I’d give a summary, but Mystie does a far superior job at that, so I’m voting for her to do it. I will just pick a few quotes and discuss them.

    But First, Why This Section Makes Me Tense

    I’m feeling torn again, and I think that Pieper might be the one doing the tearing. He is back to where he was the last time he made me uneasy, which I believe was in Chapter 4, where I thought he went a little gnostic on us.

    My problem is probably rooted in the fact that I still cannot wrap my mind around what it was like for Pieper to live within a culture dominated by technopoly and Total Work. I, after all, spend my days in a world where leisure and work tend to hold hands, flowing seamlessly together. Or, at least, ideally they do this. When they don’t, it tends to be my own attitude which is the obstacle, not Total Work.

    When I read Pieper, I cannot help but think that he is simply fighting for a place for leisure within the technopoly. I am the type of person who wants to dispose of the technopoly altogether. I think that work can be leisurely, but not most post-Industrial computer and factory-type work. If leisure is essential to being human, then we must call these things dehumanizing and eliminate them from the culture.

    After all, our goal in teaching humanities to our children is to humanize them, to make them more human, not less. Why allow less-than-human processes to dominate our culture?

    Here is an classic example of this leisure/work dichotomy from the text:

    [T]o philosophize is to act in such a way that one steps out of of the world of work in which man earns his bread by the sweat of his brow.

    Having just finished reading two very agrarian books, I cannot help but ask what money has to do with it? My guess is that Pieper is imagining work within the context of Nazi Germany, a sanitized, isolated world of total work. However, I think of a farmer, plowing a field — horse-drawn or tractor, it makes only slight difference — and there he is, out in Creation. On a tractor, he can tackle the problems of the world or on the farm. On a horse-drawn plow, he can hear well enough to listen to Creation, or even a child, come to visit Daddy.

    There exists in the world a type of work which is human, where community is built through the work itself, where minds are not so tethered to the work that they cannot soar to the heavens if they like. This is why I have trouble with Pieper sometimes. It is not that I disagree with him — I agree that contemplation is a necessary part of being human. Where I disagree is in feeling the need to stop working in order to start philosophizing.

    If we can recapture a culture in which work and leisure fit together more neatly, rather than vie for primacy in our lives, this would be altogether a Good Thing.

    This Bears Repeating

    I’ve heard this preached more than once, but I thought it was well said, and worthy of consideration:

    It is possible to pray in such a way that one does not transcend the world, in such a way that the divine is degraded to a functional part of the workaday world. Religion can be debased into magic. Then it is no longer devotion to the divine, but an attempt to master it. Prayer can be perverted in this way, into a sort of technique whereby life under the dome is feasible.

    It is not that we do not approach God with the cares of our lives so much as we do not consider Him a genie and prayer the power of the lamp.

    Functionality and Art

    Then again, there is a pseudo-art and a spurious poetry which, instead of bursting through the dome, merely paints and decorates its inner surface, as it were, either in a private or in a political capacity. These shams produce a poetry and an art that are ‘useful’ to the workaday world: the sort of poetry that never pierces the dome…

    Well, folks, our own president takes advantage of the inability of modern artists to “pierce the dome” as it were. Not long ago, audiotapes of a controversial phone call were revealed. These tapes contained details concerning the Obama administration’s attempt to harness the National Endowment of the Arts and have it plow the field for their radical political agenda:

    [T]he President has a clear arts agenda and has been very supportive of using art and supporting art in creative ways to talk about some issues that we face here in our country, but also to engage people. And I think all of us who are on this phone call, you know, were selected for a reason.


    And so I’m hoping that through this group, and the goal of all this, and the goal of this phone call, is through this group we can create a stronger community amongst ourselves to get involved in things we’re passionate about as we did during the campaign. But to continue to get involved in those things, to support some of the President’s initiatives, but also to do things that we are passionate about and to push the President and push his administration…

    –voice of Michael Skolnick

    I think this was mainly controversial because it was a secretive attempt to do something that hasn’t, as far as we know, been done in this country before, which is an attempt not to use art to propagandize, but to use The Arts to propagandize. It is a fine line, but the Obama administration definitely crossed it.

    Of course, most Americans already knew that the NEA sunk to the bottom of the artistic pool in at least the 1980s, but if the only purpose they can find for themselves is to stay tucked away well inside the dome pushing socialist agendas, I’m thinking they better consider self-funding instead of public funding. When art serves the public good, the idea is the piercing-of-the-dome Pieper speaks of, not pushing poor economic and social policies.

    Of course, we can blame this on the President, but the fact remains that the arts in this country are wandering aimlessly, hence their feeling of importance when The Flatterer tells them how they can “help” the President.

    This isn’t the first time that the President has shown poor taste in all things art. Do any of you recall the inaugural poem? This was a public display of spurious poetry. Read it and weep at the state of the arts. Poet Elizabeth Alexander basically lists off details of life inside the dome, and then suggests that some vague sense of love might make life here on Earth more tolerable, love which is nebulous, love which cannot be defined except to say what it is not.

    Sallie was Right

    I was unable to locate the old post over at A Quiet Simple Life but I think I’m recollecting correctly. I vaguely remember Sallie getting upset over a Home Economics program that was highlighted in an article about some college somewhere here in the States. She suggested that women learn to cook elsewhere and take theology classes instead. I didn’t completely understand the problem with the courses at the time, but I think I see more clearly now. Let’s start with some Pieper:

    In a dialogue of Plato, Socrates asks the sophist Protagoras just what he teaches the youth who flock to see him? And the answer is, “I teach them good planning, both in their own affairs, such as how one should best manage his own household, and in public affairs, how one can best speak and act in the city-state.” That is the classic program of “Philosophy as Professional Training” — a seeming philosophy only, with no transcendence.

    I am only beginning to understand that the vast majority of college degrees handed out today have absolutely nothing in common with university education as it was once known. I’m not talking about the dumbing-down, which of course has been done. I am talking about job training. I see this everywhere. There is a particular Christian university that has a branch in our city. Their advertisements lately for their Masters of Arts in Education is that “schools hire our graduates.”

    I am not kidding.

    Talk about keeping it inside the dome.

    Today’s universities, with rare exceptions, are nothing more than trade schools for white collar workers. Remember the hierarchical nature of learning? The idea was that college study took a student up the ladder.

    And there was only one ladder.


    The idea was not job training but the formation of a man of virtue and a virtuous culture in general. Our educational processes in this country are so inside-the-dome, should we really be surprised at the growing number of new atheists?

    Perhaps Pieper said it best when he said:

    The totalitarian demands of the working world have conquered the realm of the university.

    Understanding What Is

    In order to end on a brighter note, let’s think for a moment about what Pieper says is the goal of philosophy, which is quite close to the goal of a true education:

    [T]rue philosophy rests upon the belief that the real wealth of man lies not in the satisfaction of his necessities, nor, again, in “becoming lords and masters of nature,” but rather in being able to understand what is — the whole of what is. Ancient philosophy says that this is the utmost fulfillment to which we can attain: that the whole order of real things be registered in our soul–a conception which in the Christian tradition was taken up into the concept of the beatific vision: “What do they not see, who look upon Him, Who sees all?”

    Get the (almost) weekly digest!

    Weekly encouragement, direct to your inbox, (almost) every Saturday.

    Powered by ConvertKit


  • Reply Dominion Family November 17, 2009 at 5:20 pm

    Ok, so now that I have read what you wrote I have the impetus to go read the chapter even though I am completely overwhelmed with things I SHOULD be doing. Whenever I get overwhelmed like this I usually end up playing some sort of computer game or hanging out of Facebook. About the only time I am on FB is when I should be doing something else. But I am going to log off and go read Pieper. Thanks for the motivation.

  • Reply Mystie November 14, 2009 at 4:54 am

    But I’ve got two other posts in my head waiting to be published, and I can’t produce a quality post every single day like OTHER people I know. 🙂

    I understand on the agrarian thing. My intuition would easily lead me there, too, but every time I start leaning down that path, my husband reigns me back in. He is a technology guy. 🙂

  • Reply Brandy Afterthoughts November 13, 2009 at 10:41 pm


    I can totally see how a programmer could be more akin to a craftsman!

    I will be perfectly honest and tell you that a lot of my agrarian-type leanings have more to do with intuition than anything else: I am inherently uncomfortable with a technology-driven society, and inherently more comfortable with a village-type culture.

    But do I have really good solid reasons that I can write out to you right now?



    Oh. And I can’t believe you haven’t read the chapter. Who shall summarize for us? All of creation groans for a summary! 😉

  • Reply Mystie November 13, 2009 at 10:34 pm

    Brandy, I get what you’re saying, especially the factory worker v. craftsman distinction. The technology aspects are much more difficult. My husband is a software programmer, but most of what he works on wouldn’t be there if the government were in its proper place. When he most enjoys his job, though, is when he is given a problem, and he solves someone’s problem by making them a program or fixing their current program or webpage. Or, when he designs and completes something start to finish. In those types of projects, he says it’s more of his personality going into it; more of a craftsman approach, I guess.

    I’m just not sure there is anything wrong with work that is not agrarian-lifestyle-based. What is a problem is when your paycheck job becomes your life. It seems like having a balance between a job, even if it’s a Total Work sort of deal, and a life is acceptable.

    I haven’t read the chapter yet.

  • Reply Brandy Afterthoughts November 13, 2009 at 7:55 pm




    No, and if my family depended on our ability to grow food, we wouldn’t be doing very well because our backyard soil is so very bad that it’ll take me a decade to repair it, most likely.

    I suppose I’m thinking of cultural trends. What I was focused on in my mind was two things: computer work in general, and also factory jobs in comparison with traditional craftsmen. With the latter, we may have the same end result (a toy train), but one is produced in a way that the producer can be more human in many ways, not just in the area of leisure.

    Computer work is a mixed bag. I (obviously) am not against blogs or the Internet. But I have worked in a number of environments where there were so many minions working on computers doing jobs that were technically not necessary. Everywhere we go, there are jobs using computers which exist only to fulfill government mandates. This is a complete tangent, I know. Sorry about that. There are so many paper-pushing/computer jobs, though, that would not exist if we got rid of all the governmental red tape that exists at every single level of power. So when we think of these jobs as necessary, they are only necessary within the culture that we have built.

    With that said, I was thinking about how writing is like that: total work. At some point, even for folks like me who write in their heads while doing something else, you have to sit down and put it on paper or it isn’t writing, and when I do that, it is Total Work, I think, at least for the time (though I don’t earn much income from it, so I wonder if it is work after all?)…


    Part of this also comes from my opinion that sustenance farming, when it dominates a culture (think like 80% of citizens engaged in it in some way) tends to bring about a healthier, richer culture. When families left farms for factories, they experienced a decrease in culture.

    Of course, in saying this, I tend to eschew technological excess. My phone is attached to my wall, not my pocket, and I refuse to join Facebook.

    I know I’m a weirdo. 😉

  • Reply Mystie November 13, 2009 at 7:36 pm

    But without those jobs that aren’t outdoors & connected with philosophy or nature, you don’t get your computer or a blog or a cell phone….are you sure you want to go there? Even police or soldiers or firefighters aren’t “leisure”-friendly careers.

    Are we all supposed to be sustenance farmers?

  • Reply Brandy Afterthoughts November 13, 2009 at 4:39 pm

    Rachel, You got me there! 🙂

    So, yes, I must agree with you (and Scripture!) and say that it is totally appropriate to set aside time for just leisure, and no work at all.

    I have a concern for our society, though, in that the types of work in which most of our citizens engage does not allow for reflection. When we couple this with an entertainment/TV culture, we end up with folks who perhaps may only think on weekends, if that.

    Maybe a better way to say it, then, is that it would be nice if much more of our work included leisure, though of course we should have weekly time where leisure does not include work. In this, we would reach the antithesis of what Pieper was talking about: instead of Total Work, we’d have just about Total Leisure.

  • Reply Rachel R. November 13, 2009 at 2:37 pm

    So far, at least, I think I still hold that leisure = non-work, and that this is a completely biblical concept.

    You said: “However, I think of a farmer, plowing a field–horse-drawn or tractor, it makes only slight difference–and there he is, out in Creation. On a tractor, he can tackle the problems of the world or on the farm. On a horse-drawn plow, he can hear well enough to listen to Creation, or even a child, come to visit Daddy.” True as this is, God still found reason enough to tell him to not do this, one day out of seven. Clearly, according to our Creator, there is an important distinction between laboring and not laboring.

    Then again, I guess your point is that non-work is not necessary for philosophizing, so philosophizing cannot be the reason for leisure?

  • Reply Brandy Afterthoughts November 13, 2009 at 6:12 am


    You can thank CiRCE for that rather than me. I’m just regurgitating the lectures I’ve been listening to. 😉


    So glad you’re in! I know what you mean about the dome imagery–I had really thought I’d just skim the end, since I’ve been challenging myself to actually finish what I start, but he drew me in with that. I look forward to your post!

  • Reply Lynn B. November 13, 2009 at 4:46 am

    The dome– wow, yes. I wasn’t entirely sure I was going to read Part 2, as my reading stack is toppling toward ludicrous, but when I got to Pieper’s bit about the dome, my spark plugs started sizzling. So I’m in.

  • Reply dawn November 13, 2009 at 1:59 am

    You know, I’m not sure I’d have gotten nearly this much out of Pieper reading it myself. I love the picture of breaking the dome and using the ladder of education (for wisdom/virtue/eloquence) to get there. And then applying it to modern education; we aren’t even so well educating our populace that they understand how much our “artists” are underperforming. Thanks.

  • Leave a Reply