Postmodern Iconoclasm

Statues are coming down all over the United States.  A few years ago, during our nation’s last bout of racialist temper tantrums and looting, the calls were for Confederate monuments to come down, on the premise that our nation shouldn’t celebrate “losers” and “traitors.”  For an historically illiterate population that just knows that “slavery was because of bad white Southerners,” it was a compelling, if ultra-simplistic and stupid, case.

At the time, many conservatives pointed out that, hey, if you start tearing down statues of former slave owners, you’re inevitably going to move onto George Washington and Thomas Jefferson.  Should we really judge great men of the past solely based on one practice, one that we now acknowledge as immoral, but that was widespread—and, let’s not forget, practiced globally, with particular zest and gusto among Muslims—during their lives?  And let’s not forget that many slave owners wished to see the ultimate demise of the “peculiar institution.”

What we’re seeing now is an orgy of presentism, one that fits nicely with the orgy of animalistic rioting.  These ignorant, borderline illiterate (they are, in fact, excessively educated in Grievance and Victim Studies, but uneducated in actual knowledge and Truth) progressives and their pawns live in a perpetual present, in which the only good is whatever the social justice commissars decided at the last struggle session.  “We have always been at war with Eurasia.”

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Lazy Sunday XXIII: Richard Weaver

I’ve been fan-boying a great deal lately about Richard Weaver.  He’s one of my favorite authors, even though I’ve read comparatively little of his work.  Weaver died during the prime of his academic career, but before his premature death he managed to bequeath a rich heritage of scholarly works about literature, religion, and his beloved Dixie.

As I’ve written again and again, I always enjoy rereading the introduction to Weaver’s Ideas Have Consequences, and hope to reread the entire book again soon.  The introduction sums up the modern West’s maladies starkly and clearly, tracing their origins to the nominalism of William of Occam.

I found one podcast in which two conservative commentators summarize and discuss the book, chapter-by-chapter; it’s a good, quick overview if you’ve got fifty minutes in the car:

That said, while I reference Weaver quite a bit, I actually have not written as many posts about him and his work as I thought.  Nevertheless, while I’m in the midst of my annual Weaver Fest, I thought it would be the perfect time to give the great academic his own Lazy Sunday:

1.) “Capitalism Needs Social Conservatism” – a #TBT post from the TPP 2.0 era, this post was part of a series on social conservatism, which I dubbed the “red-headed stepchild” of modern conservatism.  The post is more inspired by Weaver than it is about him, but I mention the paradox of prosperity near the end when I discuss Weaver’s drunk.

That’s my phrase for a metaphor Weaver employs near the end of the introduction to Ideas Have Consequences in which he compares modern society to a drunk.  The more inebriated and alcoholic the drunk becomes, the less capable he is of doing the work necessary to feed his addiction.  So it is with modern man—the more he luxuriates in excess and comfort, the less willing he is to do the uncomfortable work necessary to sustain his opulence.

2.) “Back to School with Richard Weaver” – the subject of last Thursday’s TBT, this little piece was from a 2014 Facebook post in which I quoted from “The South and the American Union,” an essay from Weaver’s Southern Essays.  It contrasts the Southerner’s “Apollonian” worldview of fixed limits and “permanent settlement” to the ceaseless striving and progression of the Northern, “Faustian” worldview.  It’s a fascinating dichotomy that, while controversial, certainly rings true to Southerners like yours portly.

3.) “The Portly Politico Summer Reading List 2016” – my classic, original reading list; naturally, Ideas Have Consequences tops the list!  As I wrote at the time, if you’re going to read just one book this summer, make it Ideas Have Consequences!

4.) “Ideas Have Consequences – Introduction” – I wrote this little summary for my History of Conservative Thought course.  It’s my quick rundown to help breakdown the main ideas from the introduction to high school juniors.  Hopefully it worked!

Well, that’s it.  Enjoy Weaver Fest 2019!  It’s back to school for me tomorrow.

–TPP

Other Lazy Sunday Installments:

Losing the Faith

I’ve written quite a bit about the “God hole” in modern Western life, and how that place—intended for the indwelling of the Holy Spirit—is being filled with everything but.  We desperately search for meaning wherever we can find it—politics (for the progressives and some conservatives), witchcraft, power crystals, celebrity, money, sex, etc.

Part of this state of affairs stems from the persistent onslaught of postmodern, relativistic ideas that permeate our culture, so much so that they effectively infiltrate even our churches.  The ethos of “if it feels good, do it” sinisterly insinuates itself into Christian teachings in a form of Christology that reduces Jesus to a spiritual boyfriend who is unfailingly supportive of our bad life choices.

But Jesus is not a soy boy, and Christianity is not a pick-and-choose faith that is copacetic with sin.

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Unspeakable Horror

Blogger photog has a piece up at his blog, Orion’s Cold Fire, entitled “What I Took Away from the Weekend Horror Fest,” which sums up the root causes of this weekend’s two terrible shootings: fatherless, isolated young men with few prospects, few role models, and an excess of narrow ideology.

As I wrote way back in January, I don’t typically write about shootings, because I don’t have much to add, and because the discussion always (incorrectly) focuses on controlling guns, not on addressing the real underlying issue.  The United States doesn’t have a gun problem; we have a God problem.  More precisely, we’ve jettisoned any sense of a transcendent moral order in favor relativism and a form of neo-paganism.

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Ideas Have Consequences – Introduction

Tomorrow is the last day of my History of Conservative Thought class for the summer term.  It was a fun course to run, though if I offer it in the future, I’m hoping to firm it up and make it a bit more organized, with some lecture slides to go along with the document readings.

To end the course, students are reading the “Introduction” to Richard Weaver’s Ideas Have Consequences (1948), one of my favorite books of all time.  I reread the introduction before the start of every school year, especially if I’m teaching Philosophy, as it helps remind me why knowledge and learning are important.

They’re writing short papers about the “Introduction,” which we’ll discuss in class tomorrow.  To aid them—and, hopefully, to convince you to read Ideas Have Consequences yourself—I’m briefly summarizing Weaver’s ideas in this post.

Weaver starts his book declaring that it “is another book about the dissolution of the West.”  He argues that due to the “widely prevailing Whig theory of history,” modern man has come to believe that history is always proceeding in an upward direction—that is, that things are always getting better.

Weaver disagrees, of course, arguing that “modern man has become a moral idiot.”  He laments that, not only are people able to agree on the facts of their situation, they are utterly incapable of recognizing their own fallen state.  Despite that moral idiocy, man “has been not only his own priest but his own professor and ethics, and the consequence is an anarchy which threatens even that minimum consensus of value necessary to the political state.”  Put another way, people have decided subjectively that they know right and wrong, independent of any transcendent moral order or God, and the results are personal and political chaos!

Weaver goes on to recount the horrors modernity and self-deification have wrought:  massive wars, ruined cities, lost lives, and a general, nagging sense of powerlessness.  Weaver references specifically the destruction of the Second World War (though not by name), suggesting that the optimistic Whiggish interpretation of history is, on its face, verifiably false.

So, who is to blame for this general malaise in Western civilization?  According to Weaver, the “best representative of change… over man’s conception of reality” is William of Occam.  Most readers will know Occam from the concept of Occam’s Razor, the notion that the simplest explanation is usually the correct one.

Weaver, however, focuses on Occam’s doctrine of nominalism, a doctrine that “denise that universals have a real existence.”  In other words, there are no true universal, transcendent ideals—justice, mercy, grace, virtue, etc.—and no metaphysical Truth or higher power.  Further, nominalism “banish[ed] the reality which is perceived by the intellect… to posit as reality that which is perceived by the senses,” setting man “on the road to modern empiricism,” the idea that only that which we experience is “true.”

Weaver proceeds to take us down that road:  nature comes to be seen as fully intelligible, merely a set of “rational mechanism[s]” to be uncovered and understood; man comes to believe that does suffer from original sin, but is rather a perfectible being; any flaws from which humans suffer are necessarily due to their environment, not their own choices.

Most significantly, belief in God and religion—a higher Form of Truth that binds together the cosmos—become reduced to “‘humanized’ religion,” like deism (the belief in a Creator that set the universe into motion, but who never intervenes with His Creation).  These reduced religions are little more than venerable institutions with the veneer of respectability, but which succumb to the materialism of the humanist.

Soon humans lose all free will, becoming the materialist machines of nature like any other animal.  Institutions crumble, which man “rationalizes with talk of emancipation,” believing himself to be free from the restrains of the benighted past.

An interesting point that Weaver makes is that, in order to feel some semblance of the old virtues—ideals that men sense they should uphold, but which they cannot understand or articulate—they fight wars with “increased frequency,” invoking ideas like justice, honor, and valor in service to materialist ends.

Of course, there are those who champion modernity.  These “apostles of modernism,” as Weaver calls them, “usually begin their retort [to Weaver’s position] with catalogues of modern achievement, not realizing that here they bear witness to their immersion in particulars,” as opposed to transcendentals.  That is the source of my own critique of capitalism, the best socioeconomic system that materialist modernism can offer.  Weaver notes that many great civilizations have shown with effervescent splendor in their dying gasps of relevance, so merely having beautiful, ingenious stuff doesn’t mean a civilization isn’t dying.

Perhaps the best passage from Weaver’s “Introduction” is what I call “Weaver’s drunk,” located on page 15 of the 1984 paperback edition linked here.  Weaver argues that the material wealth and comfort of modernity holds within it its own destruction—the more comfort we have, the less willing we are to do the work necessary to maintain it.  Weaver compares this situation to that of the drunk who is so addicted to his drink, he is incapable of doing the work necessary to sustain his addiction.  He may succeed for a time, but the more besotted he becomes, the less capable he is.

There are so many nuggets of wisdom and Truth in just the “Introduction” to this work, and I haven’t touched on all of them.  I encourage everyone to read through the full “Introduction”—and the entire book—as soon as possible.  Reading it now, some seventy-one years after its original publication, is sobering due to its prophetic nature.  The situation Weaver described has not improved.  It is imperative, now more than ever, that we consume Weaver’s work and begin pushing for a revival of religious belief and a traditional view of the cosmos, and our place in it.