The Dignity of the Word

The degradation, too, of man through man, alarmingly evident in the acts of physical violence committed by all tyrannies (concentration camps, torture), 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 to reality. (33)

Josef Pieper | Abuse of Language, Abuse of Power


Flattery & Power

This underlying design makes the message a flattery, even in the popular meaning of the word.  The other, whom I try to influence with what he likes to hear, ceases to be my partner; he is no longer a fellow subject.  Rather, he has become for me an object to be manipulated, possibly to be dominated, to be handled and controlled.  Thus the situation is just about the opposite of what it appears to be.  It appears, especially to the one so flattered, as if a special respect would be paid, while in fact this is precisely not the case.  His dignity is ignored; I concentrate on his weaknesses and on those areas that may appeal to him — all in order to manipulate him, to use him for my purposes.  And insofar as words are employed, they cease to communicate anything.  Basically, what happens here is speech without a partner (since there is no true other); such speech, in contradiction to the nature of language, intends not to communicate but to manipulate.  The word is perverted and debased to become a catalyst, a drug, as it were, and is as such administered.  Instrument of power may still seem a somewhat strong term for this; still, it does not seem so farfetched any longer. (22-23)

Josef Pieper | Abuse of Language, Abuse of Power


In popular thought the “capital sin” of sloth revolves around the proverb “An idle mind is the devil’s workshop.” According to this concept, sloth is the opposite of diligence and industry; it is almost regarded as a synonym for laziness and idleness. Consequently, acedia has become, to all practical purposes, a concept of the middle-class work ethic. The fact that it is numbered among the seven “capital sins” seems, as it were, to confer the sanction and approval of religion on the absence of leisure in the capitalistic industrial order.

But this is not just to render superficial and shallow the original concept of acedia as it exists in moral theology; it is to transform it completely.


The opposite of acedia is not industry and diligence but magnanimity and that joy which is a fruit of the supernatural love of God. Not only can acedia and ordinary diligence exist very well together; it is even true that the senselessly exaggerated workaholism of our age is directly traceable to acedia, which is the basic characteristic of the spiritual countenance of precisely this age in which we live. (118)

Josef Pieper | Faith, Hope, Love