-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 manÃ¢ï¿½ï¿½s 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 oneÃ¢ï¿½ï¿½s 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 worldÃ¢ï¿½ï¿½s 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 natureÃ¢ï¿½ï¿½s 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 Links:
-PROFILE: Richard M. Weaver (1910-1963) (Religion & Liberty)
-Richard M. Weaver (Wikipedia)
-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: 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, Mises.org)
-ESSAY: Ideas Have Consequences" and Biased Reason (Ellen Myers, Creationism.org)
-ESSAY: Ideas Have Consequences (Richard Kew)
-ESSAY: Ideas Still Have Consequences (Rev. Dale Tedder)
-ESSAY: IDEAS AND ACTIONS DO HAVE CONSEQUENCES (Westminster Presbyterian)
-ARTICLE: Ted Smith Becomes Leading Scholar on Conservative Icon Richard Weaver (VCU)
Richard M. Weaver (Know Southern History)
WEAVER & PERELMAN
-ESSAY: Quintilian & Richard Weaver: Their Treatment Of the "Noble Orator" (Glen Dunn, Bradley.edu)
-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)
-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)