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-INTRODUCTION: to Ideas Have Consequences (1948) (Richard M. Weaver)
Like Macbeth, Western man made an evil decision, which has become the efficient and final cause of other evil decisions. Have we forgotten our encounter with the witches on the heath? It occurred in the late fourteenth century, and what the witches said to the protagonist of this drama was that man could realize himself more fully if he would only abandon his belief in the existence of transcendentals. The powers of darkness were working subtly, as always, and they couched this proposition in the seemingly innocent form of an attack upon universals. The defeat of logical realism in the great medieval debate was the crucial event in the history of Western culture; from this flowed those acts which issue now in modern decadence.

One may be accused here of oversimplifying the historical process, but I take the view that the conscious policies of men and governments are not mere rationalizations of what has been brought about by unaccountable forces. They are rather deductions from our most basic ideas of human destiny, and they have a great, though not unobstructed, power to determine out course.

For this reason I turn to William of Occam as the best representative of a change which came over man�s conception of reality at this historic juncture. It was William of Occam who propounded the fateful doctrine of nominalism, which denies that universals have a real existence. His triumph tended to leave universal terms mere names serving our convenience. The issue ultimately involved is whether there is a source of truth higher than, and independent of, man; and the answer to the question is decisive for one�s view of the nature and destiny of humankind. The practical result of nominalist philosophy is to banish the reality which is perceived by the intellect and to posit as reality that which is perceived by the senses. With this change in the affirmation of what is real,, the whole orientation of culture takes a turn, and we are on the road to modern empiricism.

It is easy to be blind to the significance of a change because it is remote in time and abstract in character. Those who have not discovered that world view is the most important thing about a man, as about the men composing a culture, should consider the train of circumstances which have with perfect logic proceeded from this. The denial of universals carries with it the denial of everything transcending experience. The denial of everything transcending experience means inevitably-though ways are found to hedge on this-the denial of truth. With the denial of objective truth there is no escape from the relativism of "man the measure of all things." The witches spoke with the habitual equivocation of oracles when they told man that by this easy choice he might realize himself more fully, for they were actually initiating a course which cuts one off from reality. Thus began the "abomination of desolation" appearing today as a feeling of alienation from all fixed truth.

Because a change of belief so profound eventually influences every concept, there emerged before long a new doctrine of nature. Whereas nature had formerly been regarded as imitating a transcendent model and as constituting an imperfect reality, it was henceforth looked upon as containing the principles of its own constitution and behavior. Such revision has had two important consequences for philosophical inquiry. First, it encouraged a careful study of nature, which has come to be known as science, on the supposition that by her acts she revealed her essence. Second, and by the same operation, it did away with the doctrine of forms imperfectly realized. Aristotle had recognized an element of unintelligibility in the world, but the view of nature as a rational mechanism expelled this element. The expulsion of the element of unintelligibility in nature was followed by the abandonment of the doctrine of original sin. If physical nature is the totality and if man is of nature, it is impossible to think of him as suffering from constitutional evil; his defections must now be attributed to his simple ignorance or to some kind of social deprivation. One comes thus by clear deduction to the corollary of the natural goodness of man.

And the end is not yet. If nature is a self-operating mechanism and man is a rational animal adequate to his needs, it is next in order to elevate rationalism to the rank of a philosophy. Since man proposed now not to go beyond the world, it was proper that he should regard as his highest intellectual vocation methods of interpreting data supplied by the senses. There followed the transition to Hobbes and Locke and the eighteenth-century rationalists, who taught that man needed only to reason correctly upon evidence from nature. The question of what the world was made for now becomes meaningless because the asking of it presupposes something prior to nature in the order of existents. Thus it is not the mysterious fact of the world�s existence which interests the new man but explanations of how the world works. This is the rational basis for modern science, whose systemization of phenomena is, as Bacon declared in the New Atlantis, a means to dominion.

At this stage religion begins to assume an ambiguous dignity, and the question of whether it can endure at all in a world of rationalism and science has to be faced. One solution was deism, which makes God the outcome of a rational reading of nature. But this religion, like all those which deny antecedent truth, was powerless to bind; it merely left each man to make what he could of the world open to the senses. There followed references to "nature and nature�s God," and the anomaly of a "humanized" religion.

Materialism loomed next on the horizon, for it was implicit in what had already been framed. Thus it soon became imperative to explain man by his environment, which was the work of Darwin and others in the nineteenth century (it is further significant of the pervasive character of these changes that several other students were arriving at similar explanations when Darwin published in 1859). If man came into this century trailing clouds of transcendental glory, he was now accounted for in a way that would satisfy the positivists.

With the human being thus firmly ensconced in nature, it at once became necessary to question the fundamental character of his motivation. Biological necessity, issuing in the survival of the fittest, was offered as the causa causans, after the important question of human origin had been decided in favor of scientific materialism.

After it has been granted that man is molded entirely by environmental pressures, one is obligated to extend the same theory of causality to his institutions. The social philosophers of the nineteenth century found in Darwin powerful support for their thesis that human beings act always out of economic incentives, and it was they who completed the abolishment of freedom of the will. The great pageant of history thus became reducible to the economic endeavors of individuals and classes; and elaborate prognoses were constructed on the theory of economic conflict and resolution. Man created in the divine image, the protagonist of a great drama in which his soul was at stake, was replaced by man the wealth-seeking and -consuming animal.

Finally came psychological behaviorism, which denied not only freedom of the will but even such elementary means of direction as instinct. Because the scandalous nature of this theory is quickly apparent, it failed to win converts in such numbers as the others; yet it is only a logical extension of them and should in fairness be embraced by the upholders of material causation. Essentially, it is a reduction to absurdity of the line of reasoning which began when man bade a cheerful goodbye to the concept of transcendence.

There is no term proper to describe the condition in which he is now left unless it be "abysmality." He is in the deep and dark abysm, and he has nothing with which to raise himself.

Richard Weaver's conservative classic is at its very best as he dissects the tragedy above, the Rationalist descent into naturalism and the rejection of transcendent truths. For instance, one of the truths that was thrown out is the idea of hierarchy, supplanted by the notion of egalitarianism, with disastrous results:
[R]ebellion against distinction is an aspect of that world-wide and centuries long movement against knowledge whose beginning goes back to nominalism. For it requires only a slight transference to say that, if our classifications of the world of physical nature are arbitrary, so, too, are those of human society. In other words, after we grant that those generalizations about the world which we necessarily make-and this is a necessity no one can really deny-do not express an objective order but only afford convenient modes, the same must be granted about society. With this conceded, inherent pattern is gone; nothing is justified that does not serve convenience, and there remains no court of appeal against subversion by pragmatism. Thus, repudiation of knowledge of what is destroys the basis of renewal. It is not fantastic but, rather, realistic to see as an ultimate result of this process the end of civilization. [...]

When it was found that equality before the law has no effect on inequalities of ability and achievement, humanitarians concluded that they had been tricked into asking only part of their just claim. The claim to political equality was then supplemented by the demand for economic democracy, which was to give substance to the ideal of the levelers. Nothing but a despotism could enforce anything so unrealistic, and this explains why modern governments dedicated to this program have become, under one guise and another, despotic.
Thus the tendency of the Rationalists/Egalitarians of continental Europe towards tyranny and the resistance of the more skeptical Anglosphere. The book is filled with such insights and rich in aphorisms--one could go on just quoting it all day, especially because you aren't likely to ever say it better than Mr. Weaver does in this almost poetic text.

In the latter portion of the book, Weaver suggests some solutions to "modern man's descent into chaos":
The first positive step must be a driving afresh of the wedge between the material and the transcendental. This is fundamental: without a dualism we should never find purchase for the pull upward, and all the idealistic designs might as well be scuttled. I feel that this conclusion is the upshot of all that has been here rehearsed. That there is a world of ought, that the apparent does not exhaust the real--these are so essential to the very conception of improvement that it should be superfluous to mention them. The opening made by our wedge is simply the denial that whatever is, is right, which takes the form of an insistence upon the rightness of right., Upon this rock of metaphysical right we shall build our house.
That this is the fundamental conflict of modernity explains everything from the Darwin Wars to the Left trying to banish religion from the Public Square to the conservative "War on Science." Mr. Weaver helps us to see are just the particulars of a broader metaphysical duel.

If that's the wider war though, Mr. Weaver sets his sights on a few discrete battlefields, first:
Because we are now committed to a program which has practical applications, we must look for some rallying-point about which to organize. We face the fact that our side has been in retreat for four hundred years without, however, having been entirely driven from the field. One corner is yet left. When we survey the scene to find something which the rancorous leveling wind of utilitarianism has not brought down, we discover one institution, shaken somewhat, but still strong and perfectly clear in its implications. This is the right of private property, which is, in fact, the last metaphysical right remaining to us.
There follows a virtual love song to the idea of property in which the very fact there is no rational reason that anyone should have a right to property becomes its strength. Next comes "The Power of the Word",
After securing a place in the world from which to fight, we should turn our attention first to the matter of language. The impulse to dissolve everything into sensation has made powerful assaults against the forms which enable discourse, because these institute a discipline and operate through predictions which are themselves fixities. We have sought an ultimate sanction for man's substance in metaphysics, and we must do the same for his language if we are to save it from a similar prostitution. All metaphysical community depends on the ability of men to understand one another.
And from thence he brings us to a concluding chapter on restoring piety:
Piety is a discipline of the will through respect. It admits the right to exist of things larger than the ego, of things different from the ego. And, before we can bring harmony back into a world where now everything seems to meet "in mere oppugnancy," we shall have to regard with the spirit of piety three things: nature, our neighbors--by which I mean all other people--and the past.
It is, of course, the great irony of the Age of Reason that those who claim to look at the world without the blinders of faith and religion base their metaphysics on blind faith in the self: I think, therefore I am. The piety that Mr. Weaver calls for is a corrective to this grotesque egotism and the desire to locate all of existence in oneself. It is, at its simplest, a demand for consideration, that we consider ideas and people--and, of course, God--that lie beyond the four corners of our own minds, even though Reason tells us that there is no need to do so. His is a summons back to faith and though the situation today is not as dire as when he wrote--due in no small part to his having helped create modern conservatism--it remains a timely message.


Grade: (A+)


See also:

Richard Weaver Links:

    -PROFILE: Richard M. Weaver (1910-1963) (Religion & Liberty)
    -Richard M. Weaver (Wikipedia)
    -ESSAY: Life Without Prejudice: Would be life without principle, as Dr. Johnson and H. L. Mencken knew. (Richard M. Weaver, Summer 1957, Modern Age)
    -ARCHIVES: Richard M. Weaver (Modern Age)
    -ESSAY: Oakeshott and Weaver: Two Types of Conservatism (William Reddinger, March 21, 2024, Online Library of Liberty)
    -REVIEW ESSAY: A Great Individualist: H. L. Mencken may be known as a curmudgeon, but he’s best understood as a conservative. (Richard M. Weaver, Spring 1962, Modern Age)
    -EXCERPT: Introduction to Ideas Have Consequences
    -EXCERPT: CHAPTER II: DISTINCTION AND HIERARCHY (Richard Weaver, Ideas Have Consequences)
    -QUOTATIONS: Richard Weaver (Conservative Forum)
    -Weaver Fellowship (ISI)
    -ESSAY: Right Thinking Richard Weaver (Stephen Goode, Feb 8, 1999, Insight on the News)
    -ESSAY: Richard M. Weaver on Civilization, Ontology, and War (Joseph R. Stromberg, February 27, 2001, Anti-War)
-ESSAY: Irving Babbitt & Richard Weaver: Conservative Sages (George Panichas, August 16th, 2023, Imaginative Conservative)
    -ESSAY: Ideas Still Have Consequences: Richard Weaver on Nominalism & Relativism (Darrell Falconburg, December 6th, 2020, Imaginative Conservative)
    -ESSAY: Richard M. Weaver: Philosopher From Dixie (Joe Scotchie, Southern Events)
    -ESSAY: Richard Weaver: Historian of the South (Thomas E. Woods, Jr., Lew Rockwell)
    -ESSAY: Weaver of Liberty (Joseph Stromberg, March 06, 2001,
    -ESSAY: Ideas Have Consequences" and Biased Reason (Ellen Myers,
    -ESSAY: Ideas Have Consequences (Richard Kew)
    -ESSAY: Ideas Still Have Consequences (Rev. Dale Tedder)
    -ARTICLE: Ted Smith Becomes Leading Scholar on Conservative Icon Richard Weaver (VCU)
    Richard M. Weaver (Know Southern History)
    -ESSAY: Quintilian & Richard Weaver: Their Treatment Of the "Noble Orator" (Glen Dunn,
    -ESSAY: The Narrative of Freedom: Reflections on Memory and the Role of Rhetoric in a Civil Society (Vigen Guroian, Breakpoint)
    -ESSAY: Power-Politics - Vs. Ecclesiastical Cultures (David Rockett, Fall 1994, Contra Mundum)
    -BOOK SITE: Richard M. Weaver, 1910-1963: A Life of the Mind by Fred Douglas Young (University of Missouri Press)
    -ESSAY: The Metaphysics of Conservatism (Edward Feser, 12 Jan 2006, Tech Central Station)
    -ESSAY: Politics of Progress (James R. Harrigan, 02 May 2003, Tech Central Station)
    -ESSAY: The Burke Habit: Prudence, skepticism and "unbought grace." (JEFFREY HART, December 27, 2005, Opinion Journal)
    -ARCHIVES: "richard weaver" (Find Articles)
    -REVIEW: of Ideas Have Consequences (Notes on Books by Gerard Reed)
-REVIEW: of Ideas JHave Consequences (Francis P. Sempa, University Bookman)
    -No. 21 - Richard Weaver: Ideas Have Consequences (Dr. Enrico Peppe, 7 January 2004, IC's Top 25 Philosophical and Ideological Conservative Books)
    -REVIEW: of In Defense of Tradition: Collected Shorter Writings of Richard M. Weaver, 1929-1963, Edited by Ted J. Smith III (David Bovenizer, Virginia Institute for Public Policy)

Book-related and General Links: