Leisure, the Basis of Culture
(a short review of the book)
By Josef Pieper

In 1952, Josef Pieper was introduced to the English speaking world with the publication of "Leisure, the Basis of Culture", a translation of two essays which had appeared originally in German in 1948. In a "Preface," Pieper himself explained the decision to join the two essays: "Their common origin or foundation might be stated in the following words: "Culture depends for its very existence on leisure, and leisure, in its turn, is not possible unless it has a durable and consequently living link with a church community and with divine worship."

Pieper now has many more books in English, but Leisure has remained his most famous; it came to be regarded as a classic precisely because it so freshly articulated a classic notion of philosophy. In attempting to recover a sense of leisure that is not a state of idleness but an occasion for activity beyond the field of servile work.

Pieper's modest volume reaffirmed the timelessness of the traditional Platonic and Aristotelian understanding of the value of philosophical reflection, and the reasonableness of the Augustinian and Thomistic understanding of the relationship between philosophy and theology. The book should be required reading, especially in a liberal arts curriculum, and now once again it can be, thanks to two new and affordable editions.

Liberty Fund has reset the contents of the 1952 edition: the translation by Alexander Dru, together with the introductory essay by T. S. Eliot. 

St. Augustine's Press replaces Eliotís words with a new, brief introduction by Roger Scruton, and offers a new translation by Gerald Malsbary. Druís original translation did not need replacing, but Malsbaryís English, is perhaps more literal, and is a worthy rival. 

Both new editions perpetuate a misquotation in the 1952 edition, where a passage from John Henry Newman replaces "terminate" with its near opposite, "seminate." Liberty Fund's edition displays a polish characteristic of the press, and is available in handsome hardcover. St. Augustine's Press offers its paperback edition among the first of many more volumes of Pieper's writings it plans to publish, many of them for the first time in English. 

With its edition of Leisure, St. Augustine's Press also offers some additional material that Liberty Fund does not: an index, some supplementary citations, and an appended "Retrospective of Reviews" consisting of editorial reactions to the 1952 publication, reprinted from such periodicals as the (London) Spectator, the Times Literary Supplement, the New York Times Book Review, Commonweal, and the Nation. It is thanks to this appendix that we can read Allen Tate praise Pieper's wisdom as helpful for understanding the "blight" of American democracy. It is thanks to both of these publishers that Pieper's wisdom will be available to another generation.

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