In honor of Labor Day, here is Josef Pieper on the foundational value of leisure:

Leisure is not justified in making the functionary [i.e., the worker or laborer] as 'trouble-free' in operation as possible, with minimum 'downtime,' but rather in keeping the functionary human ... and this means that the human being does not disappear into function, but instead remains capable of taking in the world as a whole, and thereby to realize himself as a being who is oriented toward the whole of existence.

For Pieper, leisure is not mere idleness; it is "a form of stillness that is the necessary preparation for accepting reality; only the person who is still can hear, and whoever is not still, cannot hear." He goes on:

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 ... In such silent openness of the soul, it may be granted for only an instant to know 'what the world / holds in its innermost.'"

Pieper ends Leisure: the Basis of Culture (1948)with thishope for a mankind "'born to labor'": "to be taken from the toil of the work-day, to an endless day of celebration; to be rapt from the confines of the working environment into the very center of the world." What a beautiful--and, given our own culture's fetishization of work, timely--thought.

Anthony Domestico is chair of the English and Global Literatures Department at Purchase College, and a frequent contributor to Commonweal. His book Poetry and Theology in the Modernist Period is available from Johns Hopkins University Press.

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