Skip to comments.The Metaphysics of Conservatism
Posted on 01/14/2006 4:02:45 AM PST by WaterDragon
Richard M. Weavers Ideas Have Consequences, published in 1948, was among the founding documents of contemporary conservatism. The title phrase has become something of a cliché, and overuse has stripped it of the interesting meaning it once had.
Nowadays most people assume that what Weaver was saying was that how we think is bound to affect how we act, and that the intellectual trends that prevail in a society will determine its moral and political character. To be sure, that was part of his meaning, but if that were all he had in mind his message would have been a pretty banal one, since no one denies that in this sense ideas have consequences.
What is largely forgotten is that Weaver was making a play on words, and that his primary reference was to Platos famous Theory of Ideas, a metaphysical thesis that has cast a long shadow over the history of Western civilization. Indeed, Weavers view was that this metaphysical vision is what made Western civilization possible, that its abandonment was the primary source of the pathologies of the modern world so decried by conservatives, and that its recovery is essential if those pathologies are to be overcome.....(snip)...more
. . . just as no one is as tendentious as the journalist who insists on his own superior objectivity.
Good article- too many side trails to mention in one breath, but the pro-evolution folks should have an interesting time wrapping their brains around this.
Right whale, you may be interested- good mental exercise!
I tried reading Richard Weaver and must say I had "an interesting time" trying to wrap my brains around it. He lived not far from here. I might have been more motivated in 1948 to appreciate his thought since he was such a lone voice at that time and there is so much conservative thought to read these days.
What do you object to in the article?
I had no thought that my pickup was a criticism.
. . . in fact, I bookmarked it.
>the pro-evolution folks should have an interesting time wrapping their brains around this.
I guess that I am one of those, and would apparently be labeled a 'reductionist conservative' by Feser. I do not feel in danger of becoming a liberal or communist though. They are trying to go against human nature.
Some of this, some of that. Concentrating on metaphysics immediately leads into a trischotomous situation, none of which branches are conducive to a conservative view and one of which produces a fallacious mode of questioning. The basic question should be about morality, something possibly acquired through religion or some flavor of existentialism, most often developed in later life. The article seems mainstream although it reflects an amount of Santayana.
OK, you made me look up Santayana. I think you may be the king of obscure references. (He's obscure to me anyway...)
As a Christian, I thought the article was pretty adept at justifying a moral basis for conservatism, without using morality as the beginning point of a circular argument.
I like hearing these kinds of constructions of logic- after all, I believe that if my faith and beliefs are The Truth, they should logically stand on their own without a retreat into mysticism, while maintaining the capability to go mystical at any moment.
Religion is highly mystical by its nature, but also provides an extremely powerful morality, at least the Western and Eastern ones do one way or the other. The one in between seems to be coming up short in the morality department, although it is even more mystical. If Santayana is too simplistic and obvious and not mystical at all, nor particularly moralistic, a retreat to Swedenborgianism might satisfy. It was good enough for Johnny Appleseed and Helen Keller both.
I was raised by liberals, and I was decidedly un-mystical as a kid, then I took a detour into Jungian psychology at one point, as well as Kundalini Yoga, and finally just plain old hedonism, mingled with witchcraft and satanism. I followed the same pattern over and over- I would actually believe it, then reach the point where the logic broke down. Then I would lose faith and find something else.
Finally, in 1991 I encountered Jesus Himself. So far, the logic hasn't failed, and the mysticism has been *really* cool.
Seems like no matter what system one is working with or on, there is a point beyond which one has to say, I dunno. God is just beyond that point.
At present, modernity with all its boons and perils is associated with capitalism, and conservatives who supported capitalism against socialism and communism are drawn by the modernist current. Things may change. Someday we may be faced with such stark alternatives. We may find that modernity doesn't measure up and that we have to choose something else. But that doesn't seem likely to happen any time soon.
Weaver's world view might go along better with an ecological or communitarian, small is beautiful regime. I'm not saying that it's wrong or that the green decentralized path is the one to take. I'm just saying that the choices and lines of division today aren't those that we faced a half-century ago. Conservatives, like other Americans, have inherited an industrial or post-industrial economy and a society that is larger, more varied, and more complicated than what we knew in the past, and we have to figure out what to do with it.
The article says a lot and is complicated. I'm not sure what to think about it. Feser's attitude seems to be "I'm looking down from the high ramparts of my unassailable ideological castle, and here's what I think of the ants down there." To the degree that we want to live in such castles and can find or build them Feser's article may have its uses.
But if we're on the plains below with everyone else trying to figure out what to do, it doesn't give the most valuable advice. Even some people who would agree with everything Feser says might be put off by his air of certainty and self-assertiveness.
Appreciate your comments. Truly.
Weaver was a brilliant man.
I was just talking about this book today.