One of the oldest rules of political science is that (1) human beings come together to keep alive. (2) Then they stay together to live a good life. In the United States people have never budged from number one. As a society, they still behave as if they had a wilderness to conquer. A motto found on an ancient Roman sun dial: Horas non numero nisi serenas; the hours don’t count unless they are serene. Western society rejects leisure, mistaking it for free time, but it rejects what it doesn’t understand. Leisure cannot exist when people don’t know what it is, and it is not recreation—not movies, not TV shows, not rock concerts, not water skiing. In his Politics Aristotle pointed out that the Spartans were secure so long as they were at war, but collapsed when they acquired an empire. They didn’t know how to use leisure with their peace. They didn’t understand that war is waged to gain peace, which in turn is used for leisure. In his Nichomachean Ethics Aristotle argued that wisdom is a virtue that can only be obtained in leisure. Scholé is Greek for leisure, whence the English word scholar, as well as school. For the Greeks scholé implied freedom, both freedom from and freedom to. From: it meant that one did not have daily struggles and worries over food, shelter, and clothing. To: that this security enabled him to develop himself. Aristotle would disagree with modern materialistic society on the truly valuable. He would not regard anything useful as the highest good. Utility merely provides a means to gain something else. The highest good does not point to anything beyond itself. It is a good for its own sake. Happiness is not useful. It is a good unto itself. People want to be happy. Full stop. It is a highest good and as such has no utility in it. For Aristotle, happiness can only appear in leisure. The happy person looks upon the world with no schemes, no intrigues. The unhappy person engages in work in order to avoid boredom. The happy person is not bored. With the advent of Christianity, the view toward leisure changed because the idea of work altered. Work became a means of self-purification, of repentance, and through it one had hope to enter the kingdom of heaven. Max Weber’s (1864-1920) classic The Protestant Ethic and The Spirit of Capitalism helped explain religion as an engine of the Industrial Revolution and a free market society.
These are just some random thoughts, and I jot them down as a reminder to myself and readers of what we already know—as a reminder because we make our way in a world that remains largely ignorant of the values within the thoughts.
Labels: Aristotle, Capitalism, Happiness, Leisure, Max Weber, Nichomachean Ethics