E.F. Schumacher’s Generous Tribute to Josef Pieper in Small is Beautiful (1973)

Dr. Robert Hickson                                                                                        23 November 2019

Pope Saint Clement I (d. 100 AD)


“The meaning of prudentia, significantly called the ‘mother’ [‘genitrix‘] of all other virtues…is not conveyed by the word prudence, as currently used.” (E. F. Schumacher’s 1973 presentation of Josef Pieper’s earlier 1960 insights. My bold emphasis added.)


“What…could be of greater importance today [in 1973] than the study of the cultivation of prudence,… to a real understanding of the three other cardinal virtues, all of which are indispensable for the survival of civilisation?” (E. F. Schumacher’s words after reading Joseph Pieper’s own writings on natural virtue. My bold emphasis added.)


In 1973, two years after he had become a Catholic, E. F. Schumacher said the following about Josef Pieper in the Epilogue of his widely circulated and translated 1973 book Small Is Beautiful: Economics as if People Mattered:

No better guide to the matchless Christian teaching of the Four Cardinal Virtues could be found than Joseph Pieper, of whom it has been rightly said that he knows how to make what he has to say not only intelligible to the general reader but urgently relevant to the reader’s problems and needs.1

As we shall soon see more closely, Schumacher had just freshly quoted and keenly reflected upon three of Dr. Pieper’s brief but lucid books: Fortitude and Temperance (1955); Justice (1957); and Prudence (1960)—all of which were published in London in English by Faber and Faber Ltd.

Also in 1973—and only four years before he would die of heart failure in Switzerland in 1977 when he was there giving varied lectures—E. F. Schumacher, a father of eight children, visited his dear Austrian friend, Leopold Kohr, at his home in Puerto Rico; and here is what Kohr quite memorably recalls at the end of his 1980 tribute to his cherished friend:

There was also another side to Schumacher’s praise of smallness of which few of his admirers were aware. This had to do neither with technology nor with political organization, but with the composition of delightful verses for his children. I was fortunate to acquire some of them when, after a week’s stay as my guest in Puerto Rico in 1973, I somewhat shocked him with the request to sign a paper in order to balance his accounts with me. He laughed when he found out that what I wanted was not a promissory note, but the text in his own handwriting of the poem he had recited to me earlier that day—and which I should like to share with the reader in memory of a friend who inspired us all not only by his wisdom and charm, but also by the abiding humour of his humanity.

“Little children, surely,

Age you prematurely.

Though, if all be told:

They keep you young when old.”2

Let us now consider Schumacher’s grateful insights concerning Josef Pieper’s writings on the Cardinal Virtues which come at the end of Small Is Beautiful:

Mankind has indeed a certain freedom of choice: it is not bound by trends, by the “logic of production,” or by any other fragmentary logic. But it is bound by truth. Only in the service of truth is perfect freedom, and even those who today ask us “to free our imagination from bondage to the existing system” fail to point the way to the recognition of truth.

It is hardly likely that twentieth-century man is called upon to discover truth that has never been discovered before. In the Christian tradition, as in all genuine traditions of mankind, the truth has been stated in religious terms, a language which has become well-nigh incomprehensible to the majority of modern men. The language can be revised, and there are contemporary writers [like Pieper, himself a Catholic] who have done so, while leaving the truth inviolate. Out of the whole Christian tradition, there is perhaps no body of teaching which is more relevant and appropriate to the modern predicament than the marvellously subtle and realistic [and also hierarchically ordered] doctrines of the Four Cardinal Virtues—prudentia, justitia, fortitudo, and temperantia. (296—my emphasis added)

Schumacher then considers, first in his own words, Pieper’s essential presentation of the First Cardinal Virtue, “prudentia”:

The meaning of prudentia, significantly called the “mother” of all other virtues—prudentia dicitur genitrix virtutum—is not conveyed by the word prudence, as currently used. It signifies the opposite of a small, mean, calculating attitude to life, which refuses to see and value anything that fails to promise an immediate utilitarian advantage. (296—my bold emphasis added)

He then generously quotes Josef Pieper himself directly, from his 1960 book Prudence:

The pre-eminence of prudence means that realisation of the good presupposes knowledge of reality. He alone can do good who knows what things are like and what their situation is. The pre-eminence of prudence means that so-called “good intentions” and so-called “meaning well” by no means suffice. Realisation of the good presupposes that our actions are appropriate to the real situation, that is to the concrete realities which form the “environment” of a concrete human action; and that we take the concrete reality seriously, with clear-eyed objectivity. (296-297—my emphasis added)

Schumacher immediately comments further, and, with his good sense of proportion and humane scale, he limits himself here, stricto sensu, to the Natural Order of a Homo Viator wayfarer in time (as distinct from a Homo Comprehensor in Vita Aeterna outside of time):

This clear-eyed objectivity, however, cannot be achieved and prudence cannot be perfected except by an attitude of “silent contemplation” of reality, during which the egocentric interests of man are at least temporarily silenced.

Only on the basis of this magnanimous kind of prudence can we achieve justice, fortitude, and temperantia, which means knowing [the limits] when enough is enough. “Prudence implies a transformation of the knowledge of truth into decisions corresponding to reality.” [It is again a quotation from Pieper’s 1955 book Fortitude and Temperance.] What, therefore, could be of greater importance today than the study of the cultivation of prudence, which would almost inevitably lead to a real understanding of the three other cardinal virtues, all of which [virtues] are indispensable for the survival of civilization?

Justice relates to truth, fortitude to goodness, and temperantia to beauty [and thus to purity]; while prudence, in a sense, comprises all three….Everywhere people ask: “What can I actually do?” The answer is as simple as it is disconcerting: we can, each of us, work to put our own inner house in order. The guidance we need for this work cannot be found in science or technology, the value of which utterly depends on the ends they serve, but it can still be found [as with the eloquent example of Josef Pieper himself] in the traditional wisdom of mankind. (297—my bold emphasis added)


One year after E. F. Schumacher published his deeply reflective and challenging 1973 book, Small Is Beautiful: Economics—As If People Mattered, Josef Pieper himself was to arrive in Spain where I met him for the first time.

It was in June of 1974 and it was a memorable and thoroughly candid meeting where the bond between us began and grew and endured for some twenty-three years until his death at ninety-three years of age on 6 November 1997.

In that summer of 1974, I had not yet known of Small Is Beautiful, much less of Schumacher’s genuine and generous tribute to Dr. Pieper. It was only some years later that I purchased and read the book which was still then misleadingly regarded as a “Leftist” and “Progressive” and “Innovative” Masterpiece. I thus first hesitantly looked at the Index and the Footnotes and Epilogue where I had the stunning surprise of seeing first Joseph [Josef] Pieper’s name and, then, seeing even that his selective books on the cardinal virtues were indeed highly recommended as indispensable.

It should be mentioned that the English writer, Christopher Derrick—someone whom Josef Pieper knew of at least socially because both of these Catholic men attended together (in both 1974 and 1975) the same Summer School in Spain—was himself a good personal friend of E. F. Schumacher. However, I still do not know whether or not the eccentric and bibulous Derrick (whom I knew) ever spoke to Dr. Pieper about Schumacher or about his book Small Is Beautiful with its fine fundamental tribute to Pieper.

But, in June of 1977 Christopher Derrick himself also surprised us when he first published his brief and challenging book, Escape from Skepticism: Liberal Education As If Truth Mattered (Ignatius Press). The subtitle—do we agree?—is morally likely to have expressed a warm memory (with a smiling nod) of his dear friend, Fritz Schumacher, and perhaps it was done just before his friend’s death in Switzerland in 1977, on 4 September.

Would that E. F. Schumacher (1911-1977) and Josef Pieper (1904-1997) had met at least once and had even briefly come to know and to cherish one another. They were both such fine men, and so much more than that, as with their gracious abiding love for the “Parvuli”: “the Small Ones of Christ.”

For they both also came to yearn for Beatitude: being made happy by God. In Saint Augustine’s own words: “Nulla est homini causa philosophandi, nisi ut beatus sit.” (The Epigraph of Schumacher’s 1977 final Testament, A Guide for the Perplexed—“Man has no reason to philosophize except with a view to happiness.”) –Finis–

© 2019 Robert D. Hickson

1See E. F. [Ernst Friedrich] Schumacher, Small Is Beautiful: Economics as if People Mattered (New York: Harper & Row, Publishers, 1973), page 305 (footnote 8). All further references to this book and edition will henceforth be placed in parentheses above in the main body of this brief comparative essay.

2See the 1980 “Tribute to E. F. Schumacher” by Leopold Kohr.

One thought on “E.F. Schumacher’s Generous Tribute to Josef Pieper in Small is Beautiful (1973)

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s