On Weaver’s Ideas

23 Oct

I am a conservative, but that label is at least as misattributed, muddled, and problematic as is the label fundamentalist. The label conservative lumps me in with a host of people with whom my disagreements are profoundly sharp.

Even among those who own the label in a manner similar to me, there are differences. In my blogroll to the right, however, I have listed a number of other bloggers who share this same worldview (there are exceptions even on that list; not every man listed in my blogroll would consider himself a conservative in my very restricted sense; some would actively oppose my thinking on these topics).

What this sort of conservatism, the sort that I am advocating, has in common is best articulated by Richard Weaver’s profound work, Ideas Have Consequences. In my next several posts, I want to unpack (in a very cursory manner) the following three paragraphs, from the introduction of Weaver’s book:

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 our 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.

I would contend that these lines are the core of everything that Weaver says in IHC; if he is right about the importance of universals, your affirmation or denial of universals (whether overt or assumed) determines much else about your understanding of the world.


Posted by on October 23, 2009 in Society, Worship


2 responses to “On Weaver’s Ideas

  1. Jason Parker

    October 23, 2009 at 4:04 pm

    I’m looking forward to the series.

  2. Neoclassical

    November 6, 2009 at 1:33 pm

    Here’s the best definition of my kind of conservatism: