TBT^2: Back to School with Richard Weaver

Today marks the first day of school for the 2020-2021 school year:  The Year of The Virus, if we were to affix a Chinese Zodiac-style name to it.  It’s going to be the most unusual school year any of us have ever experienced, I imagine.  Please keep teachers, students, administrators, and staff in your prayers.

As I’ve noted often, I reread at least the introduction to Richard Weaver’s Ideas Have Consequences every school year.  The introduction offers a strong diagnosis of modernity’s ills, and it reminds me why teaching is so important—not just the accumulation of random facts into worldly knowledge, but to inculcate deeper knowledge and virtue—what we might call “wisdom.”

Here is “TBT: Back to School with Richard Weaver“:

Every year I try to reread the introduction to Ideas Have Consequences, Richard Weaver’s masterful work of analysis and prophecy.

With school starting back in just FOUR DAYS—may God have mercy on us all—it seemed germane to bring back this post from 2018, itself a contextualization of a Facebook post from 2014.

Here is “Back to School with Richard Weaver“:

Every year, I try to sit down and re-read at least the introduction to Richard Weaver’s seminal Ideas Have Consequences, probably the most powerful book I’ve ever read.  I tend to undertake this re-reading around the time school resumes, as it helps remind me why I teach.

In addition to Ideas Have Consequences, Weaver wrote some of the most eloquent essays on the South—and what it means to be Southern—in the twentieth century.  In 2014, I posted the following quotation on Facebook; I will allow it to speak for itself[:]

I’m undertaking my annual baptism in the works of Richard Weaver to focus my philosophical thinking for a rapidly approaching school year, and, as always, I’m presented with an embarrassment of riches. Few thinkers cram so many nuggets of truth into so little space. Every paragraph of Weaver’s writings yields insights that speak to the very heart of humanity.

Read More »

TBT: Ideas Have Consequences – Introduction

Yesterday was the last session of the Summer 2020 History of Conservative Thought course.  This summer marks the second run of the course, and it was a fantastic class.  I had three young men enrolled, all quite eager to dive into the material.

I try to avoid lengthy lectures in HoCT, giving the basic background information and scaffolding necessary to put the readings into context.  I want the works to speak for themselves, and for the students to the do the heavy lifting of sussing out meaning and the author’s ideas.  Each week students wrote a short essay or answered a few different guided questions, then we would come in and discuss the material.

With this summer’s group, that model worked very well, as two of the young men in particular loved to plunge into discussions and ask questions.  One of the students was concurrently taking a colleague’s popular Terror and Terrorism course, which leads off each summer with the French Revolution.  That always dovetails nicely with our discussion of Edmund Burke, as we read several excerpts from his Reflections on the Revolution in France.  Burke comes on the heels of our discussion of Russell Kirk’s conservative principles, and helps frame the early portion of the course in the Burkean tradition.

In July, we left the nineteenth century and began looking at the modern conservative movement, with a heavy emphasis on William F. Buckley, Jr., and the notion of fusionism.  Buckley’s National Review catches a good bit of flack on the Right these days, including from this blog, but it truly shaped conservatism in the second half of the twentieth century.  Before National Review, conservatism was a disorganized, disunited hodgepodge of various ideologies, movements, and issues—it was, as Lionel Trilling put it, a “reactionary impulse,” a grumpy attitude about the way things were, but without a cohesive understanding of how to combat the dominance of New Deal liberalism.

For all its noodle-wristed hand-wringing and desperate virtue-signalling today, National Review created the modern conservative movement by giving conservatives their voice, their publication.  It also gave conservatism a politically viable platform of issues that could win in national politics.  That focus on nationalism certainly cuts against the Kirkean/Burkean mold of organic, ordered liberty, but it was the reality of post-war American political life.

We ended with another mid-century conservative, but one fitting far more into the spiritual and moral mold of Burke and Kirk, and far less in the neoliberal and materialist mold of Buckley-style fusionism:  Richard Weaver’s seminal Ideas Have Consequences, which I consider one of the greatest books ever written.  Indeed, I’m a bit of a Weaver fanboy, as he’s been featured twice on my Summer Reading Lists, first in 2016 for Ideas Have Consequences, and again in 2020 for his collection of Southern Essays.

For the course, we just read the “Introduction” to the book, which I try to read every August before school resumes.  It reminds me why I teach, and what is at stake.  Reading Ideas Have Consequences—first published in 1948—today reads like prophecy fulfilled.  Weaver’s core focus on William of Occam as the source of modernity and its related ills might seem a bit far-fetched, but that’s merely the germ from which the analysis of modernity’s fallen view of the world grows.

The real heart of Ideas Have Consequences is the abandonment of the transcendental—of God—in favor for navel-gazing particularism, a constant focus on lower, material concerns.  Unbound from any obligation to or belief in a transcendental moral order, men are left adrift in a world full of isolation, alienation, confusion, and meaninglessness.

I’ll let the rest speak for itself.  Here is 29 July 2019’s “Ideas Have Consequences – Introduction“:

Read More »

SubscribeStar Saturday: The Portly Politico Summer Reading List 2020

Today’s post is a SubscribeStar Saturday exclusive.  To read the full post, subscribe to my SubscribeStar page for $1 a month or more.  For a full rundown of everything your subscription gets, click here.  NEW TIER: $3 a month gets one edition of Sunday Doodles every month!

It’s that time of year again:  summer!  That means we’re due for The Portly Politico Summer Reading List 2020!

I’m actually a bit overdue for this list.  I typically publish it in early June, to give those of you blessed to enjoy summer vacation a chance to look them up.  But my long illness for the first couple of weeks of the month waylaid a number of plans, and last weekend I was occupied with family festivities, so the list is a few weeks later than I like.

But, like Sunday Doodles—a perk for $5 a month subscribers—my philosophy is “better late than never!”  And with the Independence Day holiday approaching, it’s a great time to do some reading.

For new readers, my criteria is pretty straightforward.  To quote myself from the 2016 list:

The books listed here are among some of my favorites.  I’m not necessarily reading them at the moment, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t!

Pretty vague, I know.  Additionally, I usually feature three books, plus an “Honorable Mention” that’s usually worth a read, too.

For those interested, here are the prior two installments:

But that’s enough yackin’.  Here’s The Portly Politico Summer Reading List 2020:

1.) Richard Weaver, edited by George M. Curtis, III and James J. Thompson, Jr., The Southern Essays of Richard M. Weaver (1999) – Regular readers know I love Richard Weaver, and I featured his masterpiece Ideas Have Consequences on the 2016 list.  The Southern Essays feature a collection of Weaver’s writings on the South.

Weaver was a literary critic and English professor at the University of Chicago, but his roots were in Asheville, North Carolina.  He possessed a deep and abiding love of and respect for Dixie, particularly its writers.  Weaver’s background in literature and poetry is evident in these essays, in which he ruminates on the abundance of prolific Southern literary types.  He also brings some nuance to the question of the American Civil War and the South’s role therein.  I believe it was in this collection that I first learned of John Randolph of Roanoke, the great, ornery Virginian who resisted federal overreach in the early nineteenth century.

Weaver’s writing can be a bit dense, but once you get used to his mid-century style, his ideas are easy enough to absorb.  I highly, highly recommend you pick up this collection.

To read the rest of this post, subscribe to my SubscribeStar page for $1 a month or more.

TPP Summertime Update

Even with cities burning and an election mere months away, the summertime doldrums have hit.  “Doldrums” isn’t exactly the right word, as things are going pretty well, but the long (for me) Father’s Day weekend distracted me from the woes of the world.

There’s also the issue of unlimited free time that is summer vacation.  Don’t get me wrong—I’m not complaining—but when I have one slender hour in the day to get my blog post done, I tend to be much more productive and focused.  It takes pressure to make diamonds—or 600-word blog posts full of sweeping generalizations.

I’ve fallen a bit behind on SubscribeStar content.  I still owe $5 subs a couple of editions of Sunday Doodles, which I will have up soon.  All subscribers missed out on a SubscribeStar Saturday post, which I will also attempt to make up soon.

History of Conservative Thought is going well, and we have two more meetings before the Fourth of July break.  This Wednesday we’ll be reading documents from John Adams and Alexander Hamilton, the Federalists/Northern Conservatives.  Next week we’ll dive into Southern Conservatism with John Randolph of Roanoke and (possibly) some excerpts from Richard Weaver‘s Southern Essays.

So that’s it for a quick Monday update.  Be on the lookout for more substance tomorrow.

—TPP

Richard Weaver in the Age of The Virus

In the Age of The Virus, we’re beginning to reevaluate the way we live.  I’ve written quite a bit about distance learning, and photog has a piece up on his blog predicting a larger shift to remote work.  That transition would threaten micromanaging middle managers everywhere, though, and one doesn’t become a micromanaging middle manager without a knack of occupational self-preservation.

I’ve also been interested in the potential cultural impact.  Already there seems to be a minor revival in interest in gardening.  Part of that is prudent:  we need to have some food to fall back on should the supply chains face further disruption.

But I also suspect some of it is spiritual.  Modern man has become divorced from his roots in the soil—in Creation.  Modernity has liberated us from the constant fear of want, but that liberation came with a price:  we traded the liberty of the soil for the chains of comfort.  Growing a little vegetable garden, however meager, is a way to reconnect with the land, and with the beauty of God’s Creation.

Read More »

TBT: The Influence of Christianity on America’s Founding

My high school American history classes are getting into the American Civil War—or the War of Northern Aggression, or the War for Southern Independence, or whatever you’d like to call it—this week, so we’ve been talking about beginnings a good bit.  The Civil War had deep roots that go back not just to the 1840s or 1850s, and not even to the Constitutional Convention in 1787.

Indeed, the fundamental division dates back to the English Civil War in the 1648, when the Puritan Roundheads under Oliver Cromwell ousted and beheaded Charles I, and established the English Republic (which—the English having little taste for radicalism or dictatorships, fortunately collapses in 1660 with the restoration of the Stuart monarchs).  Loyalists to the king and the monarchical order were the aristocratic Cavaliers.  Those same Puritans of East Anglia settled heavily in Massachusetts following the Pilgrims’ famous landing at Plymouth Rock, and the Cavaliers—in body and spirit—dominated the tidewater plantations of the South.

Read More »

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:

TBT: Back to School with Richard Weaver

Every year I try to reread the introduction to Ideas Have Consequences, Richard Weaver’s masterful work of analysis and prophecy.

With school starting back in just FOUR DAYS—may God have mercy on us all—it seemed germane to bring back this post from 2018, itself a contextualization of a Facebook post from 2014.

Here is “Back to School with Richard Weaver“:

Every year, I try to sit down and re-read at least the introduction to Richard Weaver’s seminal Ideas Have Consequences, probably the most powerful book I’ve ever read.  I tend to undertake this re-reading around the time school resumes, as it helps remind me why I teach.

In addition to Ideas Have Consequences, Weaver wrote some of the most eloquent essays on the South—and what it means to be Southern—in the twentieth century.  In 2014, I posted the following quotation on Facebook; I will allow it to speak for itself[:]

I’m undertaking my annual baptism in the works of Richard Weaver to focus my philosophical thinking for a rapidly approaching school year, and, as always, I’m presented with an embarrassment of riches. Few thinkers cram so many nuggets of truth into so little space. Every paragraph of Weaver’s writings yields insights that speak to the very heart of humanity.

Here’s an excerpt from “The South and the American Union,” an essay from _The Southern Essays of Richard Weaver_, published posthumously in 1987. It might clarify a few things for some of my Yankee friends who have expressed a certain bafflement with Southern mores and attitudes…:

“The Southern world-outlook was much like that which [Oswald] Spengler describes as the Apollonian. It knew nothing of infinite progressions but rather loved fixed limits in all things; it rejected the idea of ceaseless becoming in favor of ‘simple accepted statuesque becomeness.’ It saw little point in restless striving, but desired a permanent settlement, a coming to terms with nature, a recognition of what is in its self-sustaining form. The Apollonian feeling, as Spengler remarks, is of a world of ‘coexistent individual things,’ and it is tolerant as a matter of course. Other things are because they have to be; one marks their nature and their limits and learns to get along with them. The desire to dominate and proselytize is foreign to it. As Spengler further adds, ‘there are no Classical world-improvers.’ From this comes the Southern kind of tolerance, which has always impressed me as fundamentally different from the Northern kind. It is expressed in the Southerner’s easy-going ways and his willingness to things grow where they sprout. He accepts the irremediability of a certain amount of evil and tries to fence it around instead of trying to stamp it out and thereby spreading it. His is a classical acknowledgment of tragedy and of the limits of power.

“This mentality is by nature incompatible with its great rival, the Faustian. Faustian man is essentially a restless striver, a yearner after the infinite, a hater of stasis, a man who is unhappy unless he feels that he is making the world over. He may talk much of tolerance, but for him tolerance is an exponent of power. His tolerance tolerates only the dogmatic idea of tolerance, as anyone can discover for himself by getting to know the modern humanitarian liberal. For different opinions and ways of life he has no respect, but hostility or contemptuous indifference, until the day when they can be brought around to conform to his own. Spengler describes such men as torn with the pain of ‘seeing men be other than they would have them be and the utterly un-Classical desire to devote their life to their reformation.’ It happened that Southern tolerance, standing up for the right to coexistence of its way of life, collided at many points with the Faustian desire to remove all impediments to its activity and make over things in its own image. Under the banner first of reform and then of progress, the North challenged the right to continue of a civilization based on the Classical ideal of fixity and stability….”

There are so many great passages I could cite (“Man [to the Southerner] is a mixture of good and evil, and he can never be perfected in this life. The notion of his natural goodness is a delusive theory which will blow up any social order that is predicated upon it. Far from being a vessel of divinity, as the New England Transcendentalists taught, he is a container of cussedness.”), for almost all of Weaver is quotable.

The New Great Awakening

I just wrapped up the last session of my History of Conservative Thought course.  We spent the last day unpacking the “Introduction” to Richard Weaver’s Ideas Have Consequences (you can read my summary here).  We also discussed tax policy (an unexpected and pleasant pre-class discussion) and spending, and completed the “Debt Fixer” simulation from the Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget.

Towards the end of class, I also briefly touched upon the 2016 election of Donald Trump to the presidency.  I spoke extemporaneously, and largely touched upon the “forgotten men and women” theme—that is, that legions of voters perceived themselves to be overlooked, ignored, or even denigrated by the political and cultural arrangements of our time, and latched onto Trump’s candidacy as the best vehicle for expressing this sense of alienation.

At the top of my mind was a series of posts from my good e-pal photog, proprietor of the excellent blog Orion’s Cold Fire.  photog has a long post up entitled “The Great Awakening” that details the slowly dawning realization that millions of Americans were bamboozled by their political elites.  I highly encourage you check it out.

That essay comes on the heels of another photog post, one of his “American Greatness Post of the Day” features.  That feature links to a long essay by Matthew Boose, “The Great Excluded and Our Nationalist Future,” which casts our current political and cultural battles as one between the champions of multiculturalism versus the traditional American patriots.  The former believe America is “open to everyone”—except, of course, the benighted conservative Americans of flyover country—while the latter believe there is more to America than a set of abstract principles, and that our borders and traditions mean something.

photog and I both exist in “the thin space between the lumpen masses of the civic nationalists and the bomb-throwing bad-thinkers of the Post America far right,” as he aptly puts it.  We don’t accept the full-blown claims of the far/Alt-Right that America is doomed and our national heritage is irredeemable, nor do we think that one’s race is a determining factor in one’s ability to be a part of the American experiment.

But we also no longer believe that just getting the policy right will solve our problems.  As Weaver diagnosed in Ideas Have Consequences, our problems run deeper, to the level of ideas, but also to the metaphysical.  As Michael Knowles has said multiple times, our essential questions are not truly political, but are theological; that is, they are questions about who we are, what we believe, and what our place in the universe is.

Thus, we have another Great Awakening in American political and cultural life, a period during which we reexamine these fundamental questions.  For too long the radical, progressive Left has dominated how these theological questions are approached and considered.  The time has come for the Right to take its message to the people, and to restore a more traditional, satisfying, and godly sense of man and his place in Creation.