Lazy Sunday XXIII: Richard Weaver

I’ve been fan-boying a great deal lately about Richard Weaver.  He’s one of my favorite authors, even though I’ve read comparatively little of his work.  Weaver died during the prime of his academic career, but before his premature death he managed to bequeath a rich heritage of scholarly works about literature, religion, and his beloved Dixie.

As I’ve written again and again, I always enjoy rereading the introduction to Weaver’s Ideas Have Consequences, and hope to reread the entire book again soon.  The introduction sums up the modern West’s maladies starkly and clearly, tracing their origins to the nominalism of William of Occam.

I found one podcast in which two conservative commentators summarize and discuss the book, chapter-by-chapter; it’s a good, quick overview if you’ve got fifty minutes in the car:

That said, while I reference Weaver quite a bit, I actually have not written as many posts about him and his work as I thought.  Nevertheless, while I’m in the midst of my annual Weaver Fest, I thought it would be the perfect time to give the great academic his own Lazy Sunday:

1.) “Capitalism Needs Social Conservatism” – a #TBT post from the TPP 2.0 era, this post was part of a series on social conservatism, which I dubbed the “red-headed stepchild” of modern conservatism.  The post is more inspired by Weaver than it is about him, but I mention the paradox of prosperity near the end when I discuss Weaver’s drunk.

That’s my phrase for a metaphor Weaver employs near the end of the introduction to Ideas Have Consequences in which he compares modern society to a drunk.  The more inebriated and alcoholic the drunk becomes, the less capable he is of doing the work necessary to feed his addiction.  So it is with modern man—the more he luxuriates in excess and comfort, the less willing he is to do the uncomfortable work necessary to sustain his opulence.

2.) “Back to School with Richard Weaver” – the subject of last Thursday’s TBT, this little piece was from a 2014 Facebook post in which I quoted from “The South and the American Union,” an essay from Weaver’s Southern Essays.  It contrasts the Southerner’s “Apollonian” worldview of fixed limits and “permanent settlement” to the ceaseless striving and progression of the Northern, “Faustian” worldview.  It’s a fascinating dichotomy that, while controversial, certainly rings true to Southerners like yours portly.

3.) “The Portly Politico Summer Reading List 2016” – my classic, original reading list; naturally, Ideas Have Consequences tops the list!  As I wrote at the time, if you’re going to read just one book this summer, make it Ideas Have Consequences!

4.) “Ideas Have Consequences – Introduction” – I wrote this little summary for my History of Conservative Thought course.  It’s my quick rundown to help breakdown the main ideas from the introduction to high school juniors.  Hopefully it worked!

Well, that’s it.  Enjoy Weaver Fest 2019!  It’s back to school for me tomorrow.

–TPP

Other Lazy Sunday Installments:

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TBT: Back to School with Richard Weaver

Every year I try to reread the introduction to Ideas Have Consequences, Richard Weaver’s masterful work of analysis and prophecy.

With school starting back in just FOUR DAYS—may God have mercy on us all—it seemed germane to bring back this post from 2018, itself a contextualization of a Facebook post from 2014.

Here is “Back to School with Richard Weaver“:

Every year, I try to sit down and re-read at least the introduction to Richard Weaver’s seminal Ideas Have Consequences, probably the most powerful book I’ve ever read.  I tend to undertake this re-reading around the time school resumes, as it helps remind me why I teach.

In addition to Ideas Have Consequences, Weaver wrote some of the most eloquent essays on the South—and what it means to be Southern—in the twentieth century.  In 2014, I posted the following quotation on Facebook; I will allow it to speak for itself[:]

I’m undertaking my annual baptism in the works of Richard Weaver to focus my philosophical thinking for a rapidly approaching school year, and, as always, I’m presented with an embarrassment of riches. Few thinkers cram so many nuggets of truth into so little space. Every paragraph of Weaver’s writings yields insights that speak to the very heart of humanity.

Here’s an excerpt from “The South and the American Union,” an essay from _The Southern Essays of Richard Weaver_, published posthumously in 1987. It might clarify a few things for some of my Yankee friends who have expressed a certain bafflement with Southern mores and attitudes…:

“The Southern world-outlook was much like that which [Oswald] Spengler describes as the Apollonian. It knew nothing of infinite progressions but rather loved fixed limits in all things; it rejected the idea of ceaseless becoming in favor of ‘simple accepted statuesque becomeness.’ It saw little point in restless striving, but desired a permanent settlement, a coming to terms with nature, a recognition of what is in its self-sustaining form. The Apollonian feeling, as Spengler remarks, is of a world of ‘coexistent individual things,’ and it is tolerant as a matter of course. Other things are because they have to be; one marks their nature and their limits and learns to get along with them. The desire to dominate and proselytize is foreign to it. As Spengler further adds, ‘there are no Classical world-improvers.’ From this comes the Southern kind of tolerance, which has always impressed me as fundamentally different from the Northern kind. It is expressed in the Southerner’s easy-going ways and his willingness to things grow where they sprout. He accepts the irremediability of a certain amount of evil and tries to fence it around instead of trying to stamp it out and thereby spreading it. His is a classical acknowledgment of tragedy and of the limits of power.

“This mentality is by nature incompatible with its great rival, the Faustian. Faustian man is essentially a restless striver, a yearner after the infinite, a hater of stasis, a man who is unhappy unless he feels that he is making the world over. He may talk much of tolerance, but for him tolerance is an exponent of power. His tolerance tolerates only the dogmatic idea of tolerance, as anyone can discover for himself by getting to know the modern humanitarian liberal. For different opinions and ways of life he has no respect, but hostility or contemptuous indifference, until the day when they can be brought around to conform to his own. Spengler describes such men as torn with the pain of ‘seeing men be other than they would have them be and the utterly un-Classical desire to devote their life to their reformation.’ It happened that Southern tolerance, standing up for the right to coexistence of its way of life, collided at many points with the Faustian desire to remove all impediments to its activity and make over things in its own image. Under the banner first of reform and then of progress, the North challenged the right to continue of a civilization based on the Classical ideal of fixity and stability….”

There are so many great passages I could cite (“Man [to the Southerner] is a mixture of good and evil, and he can never be perfected in this life. The notion of his natural goodness is a delusive theory which will blow up any social order that is predicated upon it. Far from being a vessel of divinity, as the New England Transcendentalists taught, he is a container of cussedness.”), for almost all of Weaver is quotable.

Losing the Faith

I’ve written quite a bit about the “God hole” in modern Western life, and how that place—intended for the indwelling of the Holy Spirit—is being filled with everything but.  We desperately search for meaning wherever we can find it—politics (for the progressives and some conservatives), witchcraft, power crystals, celebrity, money, sex, etc.

Part of this state of affairs stems from the persistent onslaught of postmodern, relativistic ideas that permeate our culture, so much so that they effectively infiltrate even our churches.  The ethos of “if it feels good, do it” sinisterly insinuates itself into Christian teachings in a form of Christology that reduces Jesus to a spiritual boyfriend who is unfailingly supportive of our bad life choices.

But Jesus is not a soy boy, and Christianity is not a pick-and-choose faith that is copacetic with sin.

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Box Wine Aunties for Williamson

Yesterday I wrote of a “New Great Awakening,” an awakening of the fast swath of forgotten men and women to the realities of the progressive Left’s destructive ideology.  Blogger photog at Orion’s Cold Fire inspired the post with his piece “The Great Awakening,” which brought to mind a key point about our national debates:  our concerns are primarily theological, not political, in nature.

I’ve written quite a bit about Americans’ desperate search for meaning (also here), for a deeper spiritual Truth that motivates our culture and our lives.  Increasingly, Americans are abandoning traditional Christian faith, embracing instead alternative forms of spirituality, from the mundane and trite —“living your best life”—to sinister, like witchcraft.

It’s no surprise, then, that the dark horse—or, perhaps, the black cat—candidate in the Democratic presidential primaries is self-help guru and author Marianne Williamson.  Williamson made waves during the first set of debates with her “Love is a Battlefield” pronouncement, and has become something of an Internet meme.

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Ideas Have Consequences – Introduction

Tomorrow is the last day of my History of Conservative Thought class for the summer term.  It was a fun course to run, though if I offer it in the future, I’m hoping to firm it up and make it a bit more organized, with some lecture slides to go along with the document readings.

To end the course, students are reading the “Introduction” to Richard Weaver’s Ideas Have Consequences (1948), one of my favorite books of all time.  I reread the introduction before the start of every school year, especially if I’m teaching Philosophy, as it helps remind me why knowledge and learning are important.

They’re writing short papers about the “Introduction,” which we’ll discuss in class tomorrow.  To aid them—and, hopefully, to convince you to read Ideas Have Consequences yourself—I’m briefly summarizing Weaver’s ideas in this post.

Weaver starts his book declaring that it “is another book about the dissolution of the West.”  He argues that due to the “widely prevailing Whig theory of history,” modern man has come to believe that history is always proceeding in an upward direction—that is, that things are always getting better.

Weaver disagrees, of course, arguing that “modern man has become a moral idiot.”  He laments that, not only are people able to agree on the facts of their situation, they are utterly incapable of recognizing their own fallen state.  Despite that moral idiocy, man “has been not only his own priest but his own professor and ethics, and the consequence is an anarchy which threatens even that minimum consensus of value necessary to the political state.”  Put another way, people have decided subjectively that they know right and wrong, independent of any transcendent moral order or God, and the results are personal and political chaos!

Weaver goes on to recount the horrors modernity and self-deification have wrought:  massive wars, ruined cities, lost lives, and a general, nagging sense of powerlessness.  Weaver references specifically the destruction of the Second World War (though not by name), suggesting that the optimistic Whiggish interpretation of history is, on its face, verifiably false.

So, who is to blame for this general malaise in Western civilization?  According to Weaver, the “best representative of change… over man’s conception of reality” is William of Occam.  Most readers will know Occam from the concept of Occam’s Razor, the notion that the simplest explanation is usually the correct one.

Weaver, however, focuses on Occam’s doctrine of nominalism, a doctrine that “denise that universals have a real existence.”  In other words, there are no true universal, transcendent ideals—justice, mercy, grace, virtue, etc.—and no metaphysical Truth or higher power.  Further, nominalism “banish[ed] the reality which is perceived by the intellect… to posit as reality that which is perceived by the senses,” setting man “on the road to modern empiricism,” the idea that only that which we experience is “true.”

Weaver proceeds to take us down that road:  nature comes to be seen as fully intelligible, merely a set of “rational mechanism[s]” to be uncovered and understood; man comes to believe that does suffer from original sin, but is rather a perfectible being; any flaws from which humans suffer are necessarily due to their environment, not their own choices.

Most significantly, belief in God and religion—a higher Form of Truth that binds together the cosmos—become reduced to “‘humanized’ religion,” like deism (the belief in a Creator that set the universe into motion, but who never intervenes with His Creation).  These reduced religions are little more than venerable institutions with the veneer of respectability, but which succumb to the materialism of the humanist.

Soon humans lose all free will, becoming the materialist machines of nature like any other animal.  Institutions crumble, which man “rationalizes with talk of emancipation,” believing himself to be free from the restrains of the benighted past.

An interesting point that Weaver makes is that, in order to feel some semblance of the old virtues—ideals that men sense they should uphold, but which they cannot understand or articulate—they fight wars with “increased frequency,” invoking ideas like justice, honor, and valor in service to materialist ends.

Of course, there are those who champion modernity.  These “apostles of modernism,” as Weaver calls them, “usually begin their retort [to Weaver’s position] with catalogues of modern achievement, not realizing that here they bear witness to their immersion in particulars,” as opposed to transcendentals.  That is the source of my own critique of capitalism, the best socioeconomic system that materialist modernism can offer.  Weaver notes that many great civilizations have shown with effervescent splendor in their dying gasps of relevance, so merely having beautiful, ingenious stuff doesn’t mean a civilization isn’t dying.

Perhaps the best passage from Weaver’s “Introduction” is what I call “Weaver’s drunk,” located on page 15 of the 1984 paperback edition linked here.  Weaver argues that the material wealth and comfort of modernity holds within it its own destruction—the more comfort we have, the less willing we are to do the work necessary to maintain it.  Weaver compares this situation to that of the drunk who is so addicted to his drink, he is incapable of doing the work necessary to sustain his addiction.  He may succeed for a time, but the more besotted he becomes, the less capable he is.

There are so many nuggets of wisdom and Truth in just the “Introduction” to this work, and I haven’t touched on all of them.  I encourage everyone to read through the full “Introduction”—and the entire book—as soon as possible.  Reading it now, some seventy-one years after its original publication, is sobering due to its prophetic nature.  The situation Weaver described has not improved.  It is imperative, now more than ever, that we consume Weaver’s work and begin pushing for a revival of religious belief and a traditional view of the cosmos, and our place in it.

 

Ocarina of Time Soundtrack Review

While I was up in New Jersey—I’m mentioning that about as frequently as Ben Shapiro mentioning that his wife is a doctor—my older brother sent me a review of the original soundtrack for The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time.  I highly recommend you check out both the review and the soundtrack.

Ocarina of Time was the major Legend of Zelda release for the Nintendo 64 (N64), and it was an instant classic.  It’s also a testament to the strength of its soundtrack that I never really appreciated how different composer Koji Kondo‘s pieces were for the game.

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TBT: Progressivism and Political Violence

It’s another late post today, as my post-New Jersey schedule is still a bit wonky.  I just got done with a twelve-hour stint of uncling, so there was barely time to eat lunch, much less write a blog post—even a quick TBT feature.

Given the recent attacks on conservative journalist Andy Ngo, it seems apropos to dedicate this week’s #TBT to one of my classics of the modern, TPP 3.0 era:  “Progressivism and Political Violence.”  I wrote this essay back in June 2018, and I’ve probably linked to it more than any other post I’ve ever written, because it touches upon so much of the Left’s pathos.

I wrote at the time that, if the Left lost all the arms of the government, they would use extreme violence to accomplish their ends.  That was before I fully appreciated how extensive and pervasive the Deep State truly is—the Left is so entrenched, it can never really be out of power in the current state of play.

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History of Conservative Thought Update: Edmund Burke

A bit of a delayed post today, due to a busier-than-usual Monday, and the attendant exhaustion that came with it. The third meeting of my new History of Conservative Thought class just wrapped up, and while I should be painting right now, I wanted to give a quite update.

Last week, we began diving into the grandfather of modern conservatism, Edmund Burke. Burke prophetically saw the outcome of the French Revolution before it turned sour, writing his legendary Reflections on the Revolution in France in 1789 as the upheaval began. Burke argued that the French Revolution ended the greatness of European civilization, a Europe that governed, in various ways, its respective realms with a light hand, and a sense of “moral imagination.”

To quote Burke reflecting on the Queen of France:

“I thought ten thousand swords must have leaped from their scabbards to avenge even a look that threatened her with insult. But the age of chivalry is gone. That of sophisters, economists, and calculators, has succeeded; and the glory of Europe is extinguished forever. Never, never more, shall we behold that generous loyalty to rank and sex, that proud submission, that dignified obedience, that subordination of the heart, which kept alive, even in servitude itself, the spirit of an exalted freedom. The unbought grace of life, the cheap defence of nations, the nurse of manly sentiment and heroick enterprise is gone! It is gone, that sensibility of principle, that chastity of honour, which felt a stain like a wound, which inspired courage whilst it mitigated ferocity, which ennobled whatever it touched, and under which vice itself lost half its evil, by losing all its grossness.”

What a powerful excerpt! The “sophisters, economists, and calculators,” indeed, reign in the West. What Burke was driving at here was that the rationalistic, abstract bureaucrats who would abandon tradition in their quest for a perfect society would sacrifice everything that made their country great, and life worth living.

Burke was also arguing that there is more to obedience to a government or king than the mere threat of power. People are invested in their country and society—and willing to submit to authority—because of organic culture from which it grows. Uprooting the great tree of tradition in favor of abstract foundations merely destroys the tree, and plants its seedlings in shallow ruts of stone. What grows will be anemic and pitiful by comparison.

Volumes could and have been written about Burke, but I’ll leave it here for now. Next week we’re getting into the development of Northern and Southern conservatism, which should make for some pre-Independence Day fun.