Maybe, if you should never meet your heroes, you should not read their autobiographies either. Not that Pieper was my hero before that, but he did provide some interesting insights and made me think better of Catholic philosophers collectively. Well, about that.
The good parts: Pieper tells his life story, starting with his childhood in pre-revolutionary Germany, in a tiny village, and later moving to a town, then school, the war, the revolution, university, and making a living for his young family as an author. About half of it is vivid in a typical, understated way that contains it own vividness in its terseness. I enjoyed those parts for the casual history lessons, for the window into the foreign country Past. The window is made clear by short scenes, bursts of emotions – only a village kid’s shame at encountering the new playmates in the town and not knowing what they are talking about can make you see what really happened.
The other half (mixed in bursts, not limited to a certain part of the book) is strangely void of emotion. Decisions and scenes are told in the same pleasant fashion, but they seem completely detached: No way of knowing what the author felt, or thought. It may sound like I should grant the author a certain degree of privacy, and I’d be tempted to agree, except for this:
Pieper is a philosopher and a very Catholic one at that. He spent significant parts of his life discussing the theology of Thomas of Aquinas, and during the years discussed in this book, he started his series on virtues and ethics. It makes me stunned and angry how he does not at all go into reflections on the Nazi regime, and his stance towards them. His stance: they banned some of his books, and he made a living by publishing increasingly theoretical theology works that contained only the most oblique criticism of regime philosophy. When drafted into the army as non-combatant (helping amputees re-enter society), he followed the call and his highest degree of resistance was doing slightly ineffectual work.
This stance, or non-stance, has significantly diminished my opinion of Pieper, both as a person and as a philosopher. I concede that there are reasons for his decisions, but from somebody who likes to lecture about courage and prudence as cardinal virtues, I expect more reflection, more honesty, more willingness to face the past.