“All of humanity’s problems stem from man’s inability to sit quietly in a room alone.” — Pascal, Pensées 139
“Be still, and know that I am God.” — Psalm 46:10
To paraphrase that great statesman of an earlier national crisis, our long national nightmare has only just begun. Continuing the mood of political nostalgia, I find this latest “moral equivalent of war” leaves my withers (whatever they are) unwrung.
“Keep six feet away” has always been my motto, at least when dealing with Boobus Americanus. Bars closed? Great, I’ll no longer be tempted to pay a 600% markup. Restaurants? Just as Obama boasted of having a pen and a phone, I have a range and a refrigerator, thank you very much. Theaters closed? Oh, how will I get my shekels to the elite that hates me?
Speaking of shekels and hateful elites, the people who seem most worried are the political class. Desperate to save their phony-baloney jobs, they are caught between a rock and a hard place: if people go out, voters will die (not that that has ever been much of a problem for Democrats); if they stay home, the economy will collapse, and the run on water and toilet paper will be replaced by one on torches and pitchforks.
One aspect of this, however, triggered off another burst of nostalgia: the command to stay home if your job isn’t “essential”:
The morning after California laid out the most restrictive measures to combat the virus in the US, NY Gov. Andrew Cuomo on Friday laid out new measures for New York State to combat the coronavirus outbreak, imposing new restrictions like ordering “100% of the workforce” to stay home.
During this time, Cuomo is ordering all businesses in the state that aren’t deemed “essential” to close, and added that though public transit will remain open for people who need it to travel to their ‘essential’ jobs, and to get to places like hospitals and doctors’ offices and grocery stores and pharmacies, he urged New Yorkers to only take the trains if absolutely necessary. Cuomo also clarified that bank ATMs are an ‘essential’ service.
All non-essential businesses must close, Cuomo and NYC Mayor de Blasio have said that the state will find better ways to accommodate essential employees who need childcare or other things. But Cuomo threatened to fine businesses and individuals caught breaking the rules.
“These are not helpful hints. . . they will be enforced. There will be a civil fine and mandatory closure for any business that is not in compliance. Again, your actions can affect my health, that’s where we are. There is a social compact that we have. . . we must make society safe for everyone,” Cuomo said about the executive action that he’s preparing to sign.
Then, in a move sure to delight those on the Dissident Right who have condemned the obsession with n*ggerball:
When it comes to exercise, though gyms will be closed, Cuomo said New Yorkers can engage in ‘solitary’ activities like jogging, but said games of pickup basketball and team sports like that won’t be permitted.
We’ll get back to those “solitary activities” in a bit. For now, let me recall that during my time in what Taki calls “The Big Bagel,” there were about three occasions when mammoth snowstorms hit, leaving the city — or at least Manhattan — completely impassable. As with 9/11, and the pandemic today, the mayor would appear at numerous press conferences, making all kinds of “cover my ass” announcements — the outer boroughs smolder under the reasonable impression that they get the short end of any emergency, especially snow and garbage removal, which has ended more than one mayor’s tenure — including the demand that “non-essential” workers stay home.
When all was “normal” again I would point out in a move that likely did not endear me to employers or co-workers that the logic of the mayor’s tactic — reduce transit and energy usage to the minimum by only conducting “essential” work — surely implied that the vast majority of our jobs were, literally, useless. 
For some reason — just wait for it! — the idea just didn’t sit well, with either bosses or co-workers. And it still doesn’t, as we can see on a national — international! — scale today. Politicians, CEOs, and media hacks all seem either mildly censorious, outright condemnatory, or downright disgusted with the idea of paying people for not working; yet they must,  for otherwise — irony of ironies — the economy itself would implode.
And supplementing this, ingenuous or not, is the idea that they’re just looking out for the peoples’ best interests: the puritanical conservatives, libertarian or trad, mutter about “moral hazard” or smugly observe that “idle hands are the Devil’s playground,” while progs quote Stalin: “The worker is paid for his work, not his needs.” 
It seems clear that worker and boss both see themselves as living in a world of work, a world of “total work.” Work is the default position, leavened and seasoned by a minimal amount of rest, leisure, “time off,” so as to tune-up the worker for further work.
Why and whence the angst over work, or rather, the lack thereof? Maybe the lockdown is just the time we need to stop and think — as we’ll see, two related concepts.
We can take our bearings from an earlier, perhaps analogous period. Writing in 1947 Europe — specifically, the former Germany — when reconstruction and getting back to business as usual were on everyone’s mind, and with the implicit victory of the American-style capitalist system over a formerly Classical/Christian Europe, Josef Pieper dared to question the world of “total work.” 
To call a worldview into question requires some kind of alternative, and Pieper has one ready to hand in what was, in fact, the traditional worldview of the Classical period and its continuation in the Catholic Middle Ages.
Since the modern view has reached the point of becoming totalitarian, conceiving of even knowledge as the province of an “intellectual worker,” Pieper starts from there, the extreme and most characteristic development.
In the traditional view knowledge involved both active reasoning (ratio) and passive contemplation (intellectus). For the modern, as we see perhaps first and most clearly in Kant, knowledge is solely the product of action, in fact, a struggle — it is hard work; and moreover, the hardness thereof is even a sign or guarantee of its validity.  In the third place, it is purely a social function, the “intellectual worker” is just another functionary, the value of his work derived purely from its usefulness to society.
From this, we can distill the general characteristics of work: effort, sacrifice (the value of the difficult as such), and usefulness. Now, the traditional view of knowledge dissents from each of these factors: it is passive, receptive, like a gift, an opening up to reality; it is justified by its success in reaching the reality of things; and it is an end in itself — thus free (as in “liberal arts”), the knowledge of a gentleman rather than the training of a functionary;  even, dare one say it, useless.  From this, we can deduce that for the traditional view, the central concept is not work, but. . . leisure. 
Now we’re talking! So what is this leisure, anyway?
Compared with the exclusive ideal of work as activity, leisure implies (in the first place) an attitude of non-activity, of inward calm, of silence; it means not being “busy,” but letting things happen.
Compared with the exclusive ideal of work as [sacrifice], leisure appears (secondly) in its character as an attitude of contemplative “celebration” . . . Leisure is possible only on the premise that man consents to his own true nature and abides in concord with the meaning of the universe. . .
And thirdly, leisure stands opposed to the exclusive ideal of work qua social function. A break in one’s work. . . is still part of the world of work. It is a link in the chain of utilitarian functions. The pause is made for the sake of work and in order to work, and a man is not only refreshed from work but for work. Leisure is an altogether different matter; it is no longer on the same plane; it runs at right angles to work — just as it could be said that intuition [the aforesaid intellectus] is not the prolongation or continuation, as it were, of the work of the ratio, but cuts right across it, vertically. 
The point and the justification of leisure are not that the functionary should function faultlessly and without a breakdown, but that the functionary should continue to be a man — and that means that he should not be wholly absorbed in the clear-cut milieu of his strictly limited function; the point is also that he should retain the faculty of grasping the world as a whole and realizing his full potentialities as an entity meant to reach Wholeness.
Because Wholeness is what man strives for, the power to achieve leisure is one of the fundamental powers of the human soul. Like the gift for contemplative absorption in the things that are, and like the capacity of the spirit to soar in festive celebration, the power to know leisure is the power to overstep the boundaries of the workaday world and reach out to superhuman, life-giving existential forces that refresh and renew us before we turn back to our daily work.
[The] truly human values are saved and preserved because leisure is the means whereby the sphere of the “specifically human” [the world of work] can, over and again, be left behind.
I hope that at last, the relevance of this discussion to our situation is coming into focus; leisure is that uniquely human faculty whereby one can remove oneself from the tedious world that is too much with us, and also (among other things) provide the perspective that allows it to be critiqued; in fact, leisure is itself that ideal, utopian, effectively superhuman state whose opposite is the workday world.
Perhaps the most direct connection of Pieper’s discussion to our current situation is in one of his most remarkable passages, where he distinguishes leisure from idleness; indeed, in the traditional understanding of the Deadly Sin of acedia, idleness is the inability to rest in, and give thanks for, what one is — and this inability to have leisure is the restlessness that is the root of both obsessive work and our frenetic “leisure activities” (a gross oxymoron that Pieper never had to deal with), both of which have been taken from us. 
Another neologism he might have appreciated, if not approved, of is “bugman,” and this description of the bugman shows how almost startlingly up to date Pieper’s account is:
While he may carry himself with an air of intellectual and moral superiority, the bugman has stopped asking the big questions. He can distantly recall the sense of awe he felt as a child, those times looking up at the stars and the moon; those times reflecting on his ancestry, where he came from, the history and traditions of mankind and the wild beauty of Earth. Now his mind is so distracted by pixelated inanity, trash culture and his ridiculous job that he cannot, for the love of God, simply sit and think. He can no longer be at peace or derive joy from nature and blissful simplicity. He feels frustration over his powerlessness to bring an end to the mysterious forces chipping away at his soul day by day, but does nothing about it. And so he remains, indefinitely and emphatically, a small-souled bugman. 
And just a few days ago Fenek Solère discussed Albert Camus’ novel The Plague (also 1947!) and quoted this description of the proper citizens of the “ugly and smug little port town” of Oran:
Our citizens work hard, but solely with the object of getting rich. Their chief interest is in commerce, and their chief aim in life is, as they call it, “doing business.” Naturally they don’t eschew such simpler pleasures as love-making, sea-bathing, going to the pictures. But, very sensibly, they reserve these pastimes for Saturday afternoons and Sundays and employ the rest of the week in making money, as much as possible.
“Pieper’s message for us is plain,” wrote Allen Tate in his New York Times review,  and I hope I have conveyed some of that here as well; if not — and even if so — I urge you to read Pieper for yourself. He has a real gift for conveying the most rarified ideas of classical and medieval thought in everyday language (even if translated from German!). 
But as Pieper addresses the needs of a time of reconstruction, let us return to our current situation.
Counter-culture writers, along with most of the Dissident Right, are quick and insistent in pointing out how this plague is the result of globalization: open borders, immigration, diversity, outsourcing manufacturing (of masks or medicine), anti-racism (“Hug an Asian!”), etc.
But whether designed by them or not, our elites plan to use the plague as an excuse or cover for many of their least popular ideas, such as a cashless, all-digital economy (here in Stars Hollow, even food trucks no longer accept cash — filthy lucre!) The Democrats’ “Put a Bird on It” recovery proposal is stuffed with all their hobby horses and patent medicines — want a bailout? Freeze executive salaries and put a tranny on the board! Borders that couldn’t be closed to immigrants and refugees are being sealed against citizens leaving. The government “needs” access to everyone’s cell phone data to follow up on positive tests.
All of which is premised on the idea that people are so spooked and desperate as to be willing to accept anything that promises a return to “the way things were,” or at least a cleaned-up simulacrum thereof that’s “just as good, and even better, if you really think about it.” It assumes, in short, we are mired in idleness, incapable of having leisure, of being still, and desperate for the return of work and “leisure activities.”
Is there an alternative? A recent viral (sic venia verbo) video showed someone supposedly shouting “flatten the curve!” at fellow citizens daring to “violate” the lockdown. I say “supposedly” because, through several decades in the Big Bagel, I never heard — or heard of — anyone shouting demands from their windows; people only think it’s a thing because of the movie Network.
I don’t have to tell you things are bad. Everybody knows things are bad. It’s a depression. Everybody’s out of work or scared of losing their job. The dollar buys a nickel’s worth, banks are going bust, shopkeepers keep a gun under the counter. Punks are running wild in the street and there’s nobody anywhere who seems to know what to do, and there’s no end to it. We know the air is unfit to breathe and our food is unfit to eat, and we sit watching our TVs while some local newscaster tells us that today we had fifteen homicides and sixty-three violent crimes, as if that’s the way it’s supposed to be. We know things are bad – worse than bad. They’re crazy. It’s like everything everywhere is going crazy, so we don’t go out anymore. We sit in the house, and slowly the world we are living in is getting smaller, and all we say is, ‘Please, at least leave us alone in our living rooms. Let me have my toaster and my TV and my steel-belted radials and I won’t say anything. Just leave us alone.’
Howard Beale, the “mad prophet of the airwaves,” has a proposed solution, of an equally desperate sort:
Well, I’m not gonna leave you alone. I want you to get mad! I don’t want you to protest. I don’t want you to riot – I don’t want you to write to your congressman because I wouldn’t know what to tell you to write. I don’t know what to do about the depression and the inflation and the Russians and the crime in the street. All I know is that first you’ve got to get mad. You’ve got to say, ‘I’m a HUMAN BEING, God damn it! My life has VALUE!’
Well, Pieper would agree that we need to rediscover, accept, and reassert our God-given value as human beings. But for Pieper, this requires, and produces, quiet contemplation, stillness, and mutual celebration — whether religious ritual or family dinner. Ultimately, Beale’s solution — jumping up and shouting from the windows — is no solution, only more restless, frenetic activity. Ned Beatty’s Mr. Jensen, CEO, arrives, gives an even more Biblical speech about the inevitable and irresistible and adorable nature of Globalism, and easily intimidates Beale into becoming a shill for the Establishment. 
Other solutions? By purest coincidence, I suppose, the beginning of this end occurs around the time of Ernst Jünger’s birthday (March 29). He had another solution: if the world of Total Work is inevitable, can it be détourned into a means for our transcendence? John Morgan has described Jünger’s 1932 book Der Arbeiter (The Worker; only recently translated into English) as an attempt at proposing a way forward within the world of total work, thus:
He did not use the concept of “the Worker” in a Marxist, classist sense, but rather as an archetype: the Worker is man engaged in any sort of productive or creative endeavor. [One must imagine this “creative workers” being Pieper’s “intellectual worker.”] Jünger believed that the industrial processes which had shaped and supported the impersonal killing fields of the First World War were soon to be implemented across the world, in all fields, and that the individual was doomed to be swallowed up in the processes of collectivization. For Jünger, this would be a world dominated entirely by impersonal forces in which all traditional values would be destroyed in favor of the value of material goods: mass production and consumption. In short, it would be a world made up of nothing but numbers. However, Jünger did see a possible upside to this disturbing vision: he also predicted the rise of a new race of Worker-Titans, Faustian men who would use these new powers as a means of achieving superhuman aims. Humanity as we know it would be destroyed, but the Titans of the future might give rise to something new and more powerful, attaining god-like status.
In other words, ride the tiger to new glory! (Julius Evola, in fact, devoted a whole big book, as yet untranslated, to Der Arbeiter). Jünger’s Worker seems pretty popular among the Nouvelle Droiters, especially Venner and De Benoist (who might even be described as obsessed with it for a time); but Heidegger dismissed it as no better than the nihilism it purported to supplant. 
Personally, I — and I think most people — have heard quite enough of the whole “rice of super pipple” talk,  from Nietzsche to Transhumanists, for a while now; like most postwar Germans, Josef Pieper certainly had heard enough. Jünger’s Worker, in fact, is cited by Pieper at the start as the kind of “conception of ‘man’” or “archetype,” as Morgan says, that he will be examining; later his notion of “seeing as ‘an act of aggression’” will be compared unfavorably to the traditional valorizing of contemplation; yet again, even his prose style will be derided as part of the problem, not the solution.  Jünger is, for Pieper, a very Bad Hombre.
But to get back to Beale; perhaps getting mad is the solution, after all. But a different kind of madness, a different kind of expression than shouting: the madness that Plato characterized as philosophy. In the accompanying essay, “The Philosophical Act,” a meditation on the “divine madness” Plato discerned in both poetry and philosophy, Pieper asks:
But all the same, just try to imagine that all of a sudden, among the myriad voices in the factories and on the market square (Where can we get this, that or the other?) — that all of a sudden among those familiar voices and questions another voice were to be raised, asking: “Why, after all, should there be such a thing as being? Why not just nothing?”– the age-old, philosophical cry of wonder that Heidegger calls the basic metaphysical question!  Is it really necessary to emphasize how incommensurable philosophical inquiry and the world of work are? Anyone who asked that question without warning in the company of people whose minds hinge on necessities and material success would most likely be regarded as crazy. 
What we need to do is the use this time — no work, no school, no sports, no bars and restaurants (even those lovely ethnic ones) — for our own purposes; to turn away from the workaday world, the dream world of news, weather, and sports, and regain that contemplative approach to the world that alone makes us fully, or really, human, and on that basis able to mount an effective resistance.
 An idea later canonized as “Bullshit Jobs.” Ironically, critics have pointed out that the viral original article, subsequently blown up into the inevitable book, is mostly just a bunch of anecdotes; thus, it is itself, bullshit.
 Ro-Man: I cannot – yet I must. How do you calculate that? At what point on the graph do “must” and “cannot” meet? Yet I must – but I cannot! Robot Monster (Phil Tucker, 1953).
 Josef Pieper, Leisure, The Basis of Culture (Pantheon, 1948); new translation by Gerald Malsbary with an Introduction by Roger Scruton (South Bend, Ind.: St. Augustine’s Press, 1998). I’m quoting from the original 1948 translation, not only because it’s the one I have from school, but in a stroke of technological irony, it’s the one available on Kindle, hence easier to cite here.
 On the Dissident Right, we see this in the IQ fetishists and HBD nerds. Looking at the dangerous disarray of academia, they attribute this to “soft” liberal arts and counsel turning things over to “hard” STEM graduates. They actually despise the liberal arts, supposedly because they require less IQ. That this is exactly what produced the corruption of the liberal arts and social sciences seems to escape them, as does the contradiction involved in believing that “only hard sciences matter” while bemoaning the effects on society of the Frankfurted academia. It’s morbidly amusing to seem them squeal as diversity and wokeness are gradually imposed on their STEM faculties (James Watson, for example). The same mentality is found among wignats who welcome immigrants as long as they are “high IQ” STEM students and workers. Pieper’s discussion of the essential role of the liberal arts (whose very name, artes liberales, derives from this traditional concept of knowledge), is worth study on its own.
 Chapter 3 of Richard Weaver’s Ideas Have Consequences (also 1948), “Fragmentation and Obsession,” gives an excellent account of the original notion of a liberal education — what Cardinal Newman called “the education of a gentleman” — and would be a useful prolegomenon to Pieper; see my review here.
 Although it may be true, as Aquinas says, that it is good for society that some devote themselves to contemplation, that is not the goal of contemplation.
 As Pieper notes right at the start, the Greeks and Romans knew not work and leisure but leisure and “not-leisure” (a-skolia from skolia [hence, as we’ve seen, “school”) and neg–otium).
 One might call it a kind of “madness,” as we’ll see.
 In the linguistic terms we just saw, there is leisure and non-leisure; the latter encompasses both “work” and restless activities that we fill our “non-working” hours with.
 Ex Ignum Sapientiae, The Alt-Right-Hand Path (Kindle, 2018); see my review here. Of course, this similarity is not surprising, as Pieper is a prominent and frequently quoted source of Sap’s doctrines.
 Back in the days when real scholars reviewed real books in the Times, rather than woke scholars riding the latest diversity hobbyhorses.
 As I’ve mentioned before, Pieper’s little book was the sole text in my Introduction to Philosophy class, taught by a Thomist Texan, the rather Peter O’Toolish John Underwood Lewis. A search on Academia.edu shows that even now it shows up as a text in similar classes at similar small, provincial colleges, although they likely do not have Prof. Lewis’s luxury — due to the eccentric organization of Canadian higher learning at the time — of devoting two entire semesters to it. Prof. Lewis even refused to join a faculty strike, on the Pieperian grounds that “I’m not a working man.”
Arthur Jensen: You have meddled with the primal forces of nature, Mr. Beale, and I won’t have it! Is that clear? You think you’ve merely stopped a business deal. That is not the case! The Arabs have taken billions of dollars out of this country, and now they must put it back! It is ebb and flow, tidal gravity! It is ecological balance! You are an old man who thinks in terms of nations and peoples. There are no nations. There are no peoples. There are no Russians. There are no Arabs. There are no third worlds. There is no West. There is only one holistic system of systems, one vast and immane, interwoven, interacting, multivariate, multinational dominion of dollars. Petro-dollars, electro-dollars, multi-dollars, reichsmarks, rins, rubles, pounds, and shekels. It is the international system of currency which determines the totality of life on this planet. That is the natural order of things today. That is the atomic and subatomic and galactic structure of things today! And YOU have meddled with the primal forces of nature, and YOU. . . WILL. . . ATONE! Am I getting through to you, Mr. Beale? You get up on your little twenty-one-inch screen and howl about America and democracy. There is no America. There is no democracy. There is only IBM, and ITT, and AT&T, and DuPont, Dow, Union Carbide, and Exxon. Those are the nations of the world today. What do you think the Russians talk about in their councils of state, Karl Marx? They get out their linear programming charts, statistical decision theories, minimax solutions, and compute the price-cost probabilities of their transactions and investments, just like we do. We no longer live in a world of nations and ideologies, Mr. Beale. The world is a college of corporations, inexorably determined by the immutable bylaws of business. The world is a business, Mr. Beale. It has been since man crawled out of the slime. And our children will live, Mr. Beale, to see that. . . perfect world. . . in which there’s no war or famine, oppression or brutality. One vast and ecumenical holding company, for whom all men will work to serve a common profit, in which all men will hold a share of stock. All necessities provided, all anxieties tranquilized, all boredom amused. And I have chosen you, Mr. Beale, to preach this evangel.
Howard Beale: Why me?
Arthur Jensen: Because you’re on television, dummy. Sixty million people watch you every night of the week, Monday through Friday.
Howard Beale: I have seen the face of God.
Arthur Jensen: You just might be right, Mr. Beale.
 “In advocating a techno-economic mobilization against the bourgeois order for the sake of overcoming its atomizing differentiations, Martin Heidegger, for one, thought Der Arbeiter’s technological orientation was just another example of the nihilism that had issued from World War I. Venner, by contrast, argues that the book can be read as a defiance of nihilism, to the degree it sought to turn nihilism’s technological arms against itself.” Michael O’Meara, “Another European Destiny: Dominique Venner’s Ernst Jünger: Un autre destin européen.”
 A pet peeve of Mike Nelson, from MST3k’s 1993 take on Lugosi’s original (Bride of the Monster) to the Rifftrax version of Island of Dr. Moreau in 2006 (for more on Brando’s performance, see my review of The Color Out of Space).
 “[The] characteristically precise style and thought of Ernst Jünger, with his fanaticism for the truth — who really seems to tear the mystery out of a thing, coldly and boldly, and then lay it out, neatly dissected, all ready to view. His passion for tidy formulae ‘is surely the very reverse of contemplative, and yet there is something idle in it, idleness concealed within the sublime exactitude of thought – as opposed to the true idleness which lets God and the world and things go, and gives them time. . .!’” (Quoting Konrad Weiss, the poet).
 Martin Heidegger, Introduction to Metaphysics, tran. G. Fried and R. Polt (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2000), 1. “This question of Being is admittedly an impossible one: In the hundred volumes of Heidegger’s collected work, he never actually answers it.” Michael O’Meara, “Liberalism as the Ideology of Consummate Meaninglessness, Part 1.”
 In a similar vein, “Hollywood lets dangerous truths appear on screen, but only in the mouths of monsters.” Trevor Lynch, reviewing The Dark Knight; reprinted in Trevor Lynch’s White Nationalist Guide to the Movies; Foreword by Kevin MacDonald; edited by Greg Johnson (San Francisco: Counter-Currents, 2012).
 Actually, they are. Not intended as medical advice.
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