was born in western North Carolina in 1910. In 1932, he graduated
with a major in English from the University of Kentucky. He
became a socialist. In short time, he left the movement, finding
his comrades "dry, insistent people of shallow objectives."
went to Vanderbilt University as a graduate student in English.
In addition to others, he came under the profound influence
of John Crowe Ransom, Robert Penn Warren, Donald Davidson, and
Allen Tate -- the famed Agrarians -- who had shortly before
published the anthology, "I'll Take My Stand." These
great conservative thinkers, with strong statements in defense
of Christianity, Jeffersonian government, rural ethos, and Southern
civility, had begun the political movement against modernism.
Economics, sociology and theology would never be the same.
experienced gestalt. In his autobiographical piece, "Up
From Liberalism," Weaver states: "I liked them all
as persons. They were humane, more generous, and considerably
less dogmatic than those with whom I had been associated under
the opposing banner."
degree in hand, he paid his dues as an English instructor at
Alabama Polytechnic Institute and Texas A&M University.
Then came more gestalt: "I recall very sharply how, in
the autumn of 1939, as I was driving one afternoon across the
monotonous prairies of Texas, it came to me as a revelation
I did not have to go on professing the cliches of liberalism."
continued his advanced education as a doctoral student at Louisiana
State University where former Vanderbilt agrarians Cleanth Brooks
and Warren now taught.The excellence of his dissertation, "The
Confederate South, 1865-1910: A Study in the Survival of a Mind
and Culture," secured for him a post as a
composition and rhetoric instructor at the University of Chicago,
where he remained until his death at the age of 53.
Strauss and Voegelin, for instance, were single issue political
philosophers, Weaver's intellectual bent was decidedly eclectic.
He was sociologist and historian, ("The Southern Tradition
at Bay," 1968), psychologist, ("Life Without Prejudice,"
1965), Christian realist, ("Visions of Order," 1964),
literary critic and
Phaedrusian scholar, ("The Ethics of Rhetoric," 1953),
and educator, ("Composition: A Course in Writing and Rhetoric,"
elements, so mixed in the remarkable mind of Richard Weaver,
are found in "Ideas have Consequences," a work easily
read as a traditionalist manifesto, a tract on distributist
economics, a completion of the thoughts of the Agrarians, a
libertarian defense of private property and as one of the best
indictments of the leftist weltanschauung.
is not easily summarized. It is first and foremost a book about
the dissolution of the west. As in Ortega, the culprit is the
mass mind. As in Voegelin, the culprit is gnosticism. As in
socialism. There is more.
prose exudes a wonderful anger. Not the defensive anger of the
street-fighter. Rather, the stuff of muses: Calliope is present.
Clio, Erato and Melpomene weigh in.
reports Weaver writing to mentor Donald Davidson that his book
was written in "words as hard as cannonballs."
from Weaver as an incensed custodian of western verities,
less than his ancestors, (modern) man finds himself up against
toil and trouble. Since this was not nominated in the bond,
he suspects evildoers and takes the childish course of blaming
individuals for things inseparable from the human condition.
The truth is that he has never been brought to see what it means
to be a man. That man is a product of discipline and forging,
that he really owes his thanks for the pulling and tugging that
enable him to grow --- this citizen is now the child of indulgent
parents who pamper his appetites and inflate his egotism until
he is unfitted for struggle of any kind."
replete like the example cited above, Weaver's book became the
fons et origo of the modern conservative movement.
argument is in classical deductive mode --- not in analogy.The
approach takes on a Sinatra-like glissando -- a deduction beginning
with a priori considerations that somehow slide downward, but
not straight down. The slide picks up all kinds of
deficiencies of the modern mind-set.
of the nominalism of William of Occam (14th century) abandons
the values of universals. Man becomes the measure of all things.
Truth is denied. The theology of original sin is abandoned.
The downward slide, like lava from a hill, enfolds the
heresies found in relativism, rationalism, materialism and scientism.
Nash captures the
establishing his historical perspective on the decadent modern
world, Weaver concentrated on the maladies of the...West...he
insisted that civilization must be based on vision, principle,
hierarchy, structure, distance, and restraint... Civilization
faced rampant equalitarianism and the cult of the mass...empiricism
and specialization were producing egotistic movements: jazz,
impressionistic art and 'spoiled-child psychology' (for example)."
proposals. First, we must defend "the distributive ownership
of small properties." Next, we must rescue language from
the general semanticists; language represents a value-laden
power. We must respect words as things, not as sensation-symbols.
Finally Weaver demands piety toward nature, toward man, toward
legacy is perplexing. Over 50 years have passed since the publication
of "Ideas have Consequences," and typification of
his place in the philosophical history of conservatism is still
problematic (albeit fascinating). Today, one can make a case
of sorts for Weaver's elan as fodder for three strains of conservatism,
movement of the Vanderbilt agrarians;
2. The movement of the post WWII
3. The movement of the Old Right
of the South member and excellent political analyst Joe Scotchie
feels Weaver's worth is his adherence to the twin movements
of Southern Agrarianism and Traditionalism. Scotchie says,
saw four distinguishing characteristics of the Old South: The
code of chivalry, the education of the gentleman, the feudal
system, and the older religiousness...The code of chivalry was
important...to Weaver...the older relgiousness...was devoid
of the skepticism towards Christianity then emerging in both
New England and Europe...(the) education of the gentleman avoided
specialization, but offered a classical curriculum...(in preparation
for)...stewardship in times of peace and war."
traditionalist, Scotchie points out that Weaver fostered the
notion that values should be passed on from generation to generation.
"Weaver opposed New Deal statism...but had no use for a
libertarianism that rejected distinctions of age, gender, and
class...Still a tenuous coalition between traditionalists and
libertarians was attempted, mainly from..."Ideas Have Consequences."
excellent brilliance, Mises Institute Scholar Joseph R.Stromberg
strongly suggests that Weaver's work and enduring legacy might
be that in his body of thought, the supposed conflict between
tradition and the free-market was "wildly exaggerated."
He calls Weaver a contributor to the philosophy of "libertarian
bent toward libertarianism is best seen, in part, Stromberg
says, by examining Weaver's views on militarism and war. Stromberg,
on Weaver's distrust of specialization (and the resultant atomic
speculates that if the specialists had 'known that their efforts
were being directed to the slaughter of noncombatants on a scale
never before contemplated, or to a perfection of brutality...(a
few)...might have refused complicity. Perhaps (these few) would
have had some concept of war as an institution which forbids
aimless killing.' (Mostly) Weaver believed they would have taken
the same attitude as those scientists who loyally served
the Third Reich."
On Militarism (Stromberg
had formerly been part of civilization, that is, they had been
conducted on the basis of commonly understood rules for limited
ends. The ability of the French Revolution to field massive
armies on the basis of conscription helped destroy the old rules
of war. A major turning point was the way in which the United
States (North) conducted its war against Southern secession...World
War I enlarged the criminal remodeling of warfare...World War
II...'reduced the word, noncombatant, almost to meaninglessness.'
asked to define poetry, John Ciardi responded that a poem just
"is." Weaver must be understood in the same way. He
is, indeed, an Agrarian spokesman, a traditionalist conservative,
and an early libertarian.
is neither fully the above. His agrarianism has a suburban flavor;
his traditionalism, none of the parochialism of Kirk; his libertarianism,
no latent anarchy.
feels that Weaver's unique worth lies in his views on economics
result of the tremendous impact Buckley's "God and Man
at Yale" had on modern conservative thinking, it has been
commonly assumed by the faithful and the leftist critics as
well that the values of Christianity and the free marketplace
should be synonymous. Weaver, (influenced by Chesterton, Belloc,
and the Agrarians)
thought this not true. Garry Wills points out correctly that,
in modern conservatism, there is a traditionalist strain that
propounds the position of distributism.
Hoover's fine book on "Ideology and Political Life,"
the point is made:
conflict between money and principle was not resolved by Burke,
nor was it by traditional conservatives generally...The idea
(distributism) is that property should be widely distributed
so as to
maximize the number of people who have a stake in the preservation
of an orderly society. Whereas radicals have favored this principle
as a key to equality, some conservatives see it as a way of
encouraging widespread affiliation with the organized
institutional life of the community."
when discussing economics, was clearly in the Right Wing Populist
was one of the very first conservative educators to take on
John Dewey's experimentalist nonsense. Developed briefly in
the book under review and expanded in later writings, he rails
against the Education-for-Life Adjustment school. He looked
upon this leftist-tinged approach as trivial and superficial.
He saw in it no depth of understanding, a dearth of intellectuality,
and little (or no) concern for the transmission of the well-tested
ideas and sacred traditions of the past.
statement by Weaver in "Ideas." In reference to the
Life-Adjustment teachers or as he terms it, "the teachers
of the present,"
one examines the strikingly different significations given to
'democracy' and 'freedom,' (one)...is forced to realize how
far we are from that basis of understanding which is prerequisite
healing of the world. What has happened to the world of meaning?
Teachers of the present order have not enough courage to be
as with Strauss and Voegelin, cult-like milieux never surrounded
It's a good thing.
is the fourth of 25 books Dr. Peppe will be reviewing as part
of the top 25 conservative books on political philosophy and
ideology. Seminal books such as "The Federalist Papers"
and "The Wealth of Nations" are not included in this
list because they are already on most lists of the top books.
Click here for the rest of IC's
top 25 books.
Enrico Peppe is a retired educator who runs the website The
Third Way. A widower with too much time on his hands, he
spends most of his time reading and thinking about the conservative
movement, studying Catholic theology, working on his "Third
Way" website, listening to Sinatra and Miles Davis, and
admiring Ann Coulter.
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