March 17, 2018


Richard Weaver: The Conservatism of Piety (John P. East, 3/09/18, Imaginative Conservative)

Throughout Weaver's work is found a profound appreciation for Plato and his contribution to the Western heritage. Indeed, Weaver's best-known and probably most influential work, Ideas Have Consequences, is a hook long lament that Western modernism has departed from the Platonic tradition. Plato, Weaver wrote, "possessed the deepest divining rod among the ancients."[9] In Plato, Weaver found the personification of that philosophical bent which pursued an understanding of "the structure of reality:"

From the time of the Greeks there have existed in most periods 'wise men,' phi­losophers, or scholars who make it their work to seek out the structure of reality, and to proclaim it by one means and an­other to the less initiated. The first Greeks began looking for the structure of reality in the constitution of matter: What was the prime element out of which all other things were made?[10]

Weaver reasoned that a mature conserva­tism would follow in that tradition:

It is my contention that a conservative is a realist, who believes that there is a structure of reality independent of his own will and desire. He believes that there is a creation which was here be­fore him, which exists now not by just his sufferance, and which will he here after he's gone.... Though this reality is independent of the individual, it is not hostile to him. It is in fact amenable by him in many ways, but it cannot be changed radically and arbitrarily. This is the cardinal point. The conservative holds that man in this world cannot make his will his law without any regard to limits and to the fixed nature of things.[11]

In keeping with the Platonic view, Weaver argued this "structure of reality" was composed of things which have "essential natures" and that these natures were "knowable." Moreover, we have an "intui­tive feeling that existence is not meaning­less."[12] It is then the function of the philoso­pher to discern the realities--the essential nature of things--and hopefully to per­ceive, even though dimly and imperfectly, the meaning and purpose of existence. As it was with Plato, so it was with Weaver, that philosophy was the highest of callings whereby through "right reasoning" knowl­edge, understanding, wisdom, and ultimate­ly Truth were to be pursued.

Consistent with the Platonic view, Wea­ver contended that basic and inherent in the "nature of things" was a dualism:

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 idealistic designs might as well be scuttled.... To bring dualism back into the world and to rebuke the moral impotence fathered by empiricism is then the broad character of our objec­tive.[13]

The material side of this dualism related to specifics and concretes, to the imperma­nent and transitory. The transcendental facet pertained to first principles, essences, universals, forms, and finally to unchang­ing ideals: truth, beauty, justice, and good­ness. In Weaver's words: "Plato reminded us that at any stage of an inquiry it is important to realize whether we are moving toward, or away from, first principles."[14] Similarly, Weaver wrote, "Belief in universals and principles is inseparable from the life of reason," and he noted, "[W]e in­variably find in the man of true culture a deep respect for forms."[15] In this regard, probably Weaver's best-known observation was: "The true conservative is one who sees the universe as a paradigm of essences, of which the phenomenology of the world is a sort of continuing approxima­tion. Or, to put this in another way, he sees it as a set of definitions which are struggling to get themselves defined in the real world."[16]

Weaver's embracing of the Platonic con­cept of the transcendent led to his observa­tion that "the conservative image of history arises out of primal affection and a desire to follow transcendental ideals of justice. And it is this that gives content to the phi­losophy of conservatism."[17] In the final analysis, the pursuit of ideals is the Pla­tonic quest for standards and values:

Standard means, first of all, something of general application and validity. A standard is something that is set up as a measure for all. It is not contingent upon this man's preference, or whim, or that man's location in space and time.... A standard is, therefore, something of uniform and universal determination. This is one of the aspects of the meaning. But in addition to this, the term standard in its more general usage has the imperative sense of an ideal.[18]

We must, Weaver argued, have ideals, stan­dards, and values in order that we can dis­tinguish and evaluate: "Before we can have the idea of relative evaluation at all, we must have a tertium quid, a third essence, an ideal ideal, as it were. This is why a humanism which is merely historical-minded can be learned, but cannot in the true sense be critical."

Posted by at March 17, 2018 4:04 AM