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  • Rules of the Game in Social Relationships by Josef Pieper
  • Rashad Rehman
PIEPER, Josef. Rules of the Game in Social Relationships. Translated by Dan Farrelly. South Bend, Ind.: St. Augustine’s Press, 2018. 61 pp. Cloth, $19.00; Paper, $11.00

—Before achieving universal acclamation as professor of philosophical anthropology at the University of Munich, German philosopher Josef Pieper (1904–1997) was research assistant under Johann Plenge at The Research Institute for Organization Theory and Sociology from 1928 to 1932. The fruit of Pieper’s work under Plenge was his 1931 Grundformen sozialer Spielregln, and two years later (in 1933) the simplified, second edition. For the first time in the English-speaking world, we have this second edition translated into English by Dan Farrelly under the title Rules of the Game in Social Relationships. The text [End Page 400] responds to Swiss playwright and novelist Max Frisch’s (1911–1991) “exaggerated affirmation of community” and consequent utopic desire for a (global) “conversion to a community.” The novelty of Pieper’s argument is that he, like Frisch, affirms community; however, Pieper does so without accepting communitarianism. The difference between Pieper and Frisch is that the latter’s exaggerated affirmation of community, that is, communitarianism, was able to theoretically justify political totalitarian consequences.

Pieper’s response to Frisch was primarily driven by a rejection of his sociological oversimplification of reducing “society” or “[how we] live together” into a community. Pieper argues that Frisch made the mistake of failing to appreciate that “community” is only one form of human associations (or relationships) among others. Against Frisch, Pieper’s argument begins with a wider taxonomy of human associations, introducing the language of “social rules of the game,” that is, “the various norms of behavior which are spontaneously followed, given a particular type of human intercourse.” However, in order to explain what these “social rules of the game” are, Pieper conducts a closer analysis of human associations, distinguishing their different forms.

The basis of “association” for Pieper is “mutual affirmation,” formally distinct from “other kinds of grouping” that are not based on mutual affirmation, for example, a group of protestors who are associated primarily by their functional roles in a mutually agreed upon goal (rather than mutual affirmation of one another). The defense Pieper provides of this sociological principle is philosophical anthropological, not evolutionary. He argues that any philosophical analysis of human associations must account for human beings as something general (having shared commonality among other human beings), individual (having a separate existence), and special (“each is not only ‘not the other’ but is also other than the other”). Pieper argues that these facets of human nature have social corollaries in that the general provides a basis for common ground among human beings, individuality the ground of mutual affirmation, the private sphere, and self-preservation, and special the basis for “organization.”

Consequently, Pieper antireductively and nonhierarchically deduces three forms of human association: community, society, organization. Of these, Pieper writes “every existing social structure is determined by all three structural elements” (my italics). For each form of human association, Pieper specifies the basis on which it exists, an example, and the consequences of absolutizing the form of association. Here is my simplified, schematic overview of his taxonomy. [End Page 401]

Pieper’s Taxonomy of Human Relationships Community Society Organization
Basis The general (commonality) of the human person The individuality of the human person, mutual affirmation, individual interest and justice Special functions in society, competence, and shared work
Example Marriage, the family Contractual relationships Military unit, team sports
Absolutization Communitarianism
e.g. National Socialist and Fascist reduction of community into “the masses”
Reasoned calculation about what is useful and advantageous
e.g. exclusive ethical utilitarianism to guide human action
Destruction of the private sphere
e.g. human relationships are purely functionary

Given the taxonomy, Pieper warns his readers: “[O]n the distant horizon, but not at all unannounced, there is the danger of a totalitarian organization of all social life The end result could be a world army of labor”—which would be seen by some as a terrifying eschatological vision and greeted by others as the realization of “concrete utopia.” Beyond being a reply...