Another Encomium to Josef Pieper

A reader writes:

Thanks for blogging the Pieperian Analysis of Babette’s Feast. I noticed it didn’t generate much discussion, but hopefully a few people read this, and are intrigued by, I think, one of the wisest philosophers of the 20th century. Hopefully, that will inspire some to read his essays.

I think the importance of reading good (ie., truthful, wise) philosophers is that they enable the reader to bring into sharper focus his thoughts and ideas, to tie together his observations of life (either conscious or unconscious), and/or to resolve his perplexities with the world. In otherwords, the philosopher enlightens.

I remember once during the period in the late 90s when the Left in America had cranked up the spin machine to defend Clinton’s perjurious testimony in the Paula Jones sexual harassment trial. In order to keep their man in power, they resorted to a barrage of lies and half-truths in order to keep Clinton’s poll numbers high and Kenneth Starr’s low. Through their spin, they painted a picture of the world that seemed vaguely plausible, yet at the same time decidely unreal. I could sense the spinmmeister’s sophism – the disingenuousness and the obfuscation – yet, I could not see it entirely for what it was. It all became clear to me when I read Josef Pieper’s essay Abuse of Language, Abuse of Power (1974), which in many ways is summed up by these two paragraphs:

And precisely this is one of the lessons recognized by Plato through his own experience with the sophists of his time, a lesson he sets before us as well. This lesson, in a nutshell, says: the abuse of political power is fundamentally connected with the sophistic abuse of the word, indeed, finds in it the fertile soil in which to hide and grow and get ready, so much so that the latent potential of the totalitarian poison can be ascertained, as it were, by observing the symptom of the public abuse of language. The degradation, too, of man through man, alarmingly evident in the acts of physical violence committed by all tyrannies has its beginning, certainly much less alarmingly, at that almost imperceptible moment when the word loses its dignity. The dignity of the word, to be sure consists in this: through the word is accomplished what no other means can accomplish, namely, communication based on reality. Once again it becomes evident that both areas, as has to be expected are connected: the relationship based on mere power, and thus the most miserable decay of human interaction, stands in direct proportion to the most devastating breakdown in orientation toward reality.

What more can I say?


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