Epicurus for Our Time

“THE WASTELAND GROWS,” wrote Nietzsche over a century ago. “Woe to him who hides wastelands within.” Since then, the wastelands have grown more indiscriminately within and without. Our social and spiritual lives wither on our cell phone screens. Our cities, habitats, and public arenas suffer from a blight whose causes remain obscure while the effects are all-too-evident. The “little garden” of the human spirit falls into disrepair. The term “little garden” alludes to Ho Kepos, or the small privately owned garden where in 306 BC, Epicurus started one of the most influential and long-lived schools of antiquity. He lived in darkening times similar to ours when the public and political spheres of Athenian democracy had fallen into decay and degradation. Greek philosophers before him—starting with Aristotle—believed that human happiness was possible only within the polis and the activities of citizenship. Epicurus instead believed that happiness had to be sought far from the folly and factionalism of the public realm. That is one reason he founded his school just outside Athens. Our age badly needs a strong dose of creative, revitalized Epicureanism, for Epicurus offers us a philosophy of how people can, on their own initiative, create little wellsprings of happiness in the midst of the wasteland. In our time, that would mean finding quiet but decisive ways to resist the molding and administering of private desires by capitalist surrealism, to resist the herd mentality and intellectual shallowness promoted by peer groups, […]

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