Josef Pieper

Selected by Bradley J. Birzer

Justice is the principle which makes our civil social order possible: and Dr. Pieper’s piercing essay is designed to refresh this generation’s memory of the meaning of that great word. “To each his own”; this classical definition remains the best expression of the concept. Relating the idea of justice to our modern disputes, Pieper—a German philosopher whose Leisure, the Basis of Culture, The End of Timeand Fortitude and Temperancealready are widely read in America—evokes the ideas of Plato and St. Thomas Aquinas to contend against the envy, egoism and false expectations that have been at work in our century with a dreadful power. To the utilitarian, justice is only what the state decrees. To the guardian of tradition like Pieper, justice is an eternal principle in human affairs, never wholly triumphant here below, but serving as a standard by which all governments and all men may be measured. Justices is realized more through the workings of the ideal of justice upon private minds and consciences them through positive law and institution. Therefore the great aim of education is ethical: “forming the young generation, especially those called to leadership, into just men.”

Pieper’s chapter “The Justice of Government” does more to improve our understanding of natural rights and their corresponding duties than does the whole mass of books and press–releases about “civil liberties” that have been pouring from our university presses and our foundation–subsidies this past decade. For Josef Pieper, in a very little space, goes straight to the essence of things; and, quoting Aquinas, he reminds us that “mercy without justice is the mother of dissolution.”

–Russell Kirk, “Eternal Standard,” National Review (August 25, 1956), 21.

Books on or by Dr. Kirk and Josef Pieper may be found in The Imaginative Conservative Bookstore. Essays on or by Dr. Kirk may be found here.  

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