Every now and again, you pick up a book that takes you on a ride roughly equivalent to that of the Kingda Ka roller-coaster. It takes you way up and it takes you way down, tearing along like a bat out of hell, and leaving its passengers with mixed feelings of terror and heady elation. Maybe nausea, too, at some points.
Ideas Have Consequences is sort of like that. It’s one of the most challenging, stimulating, and strangely exhilarating books I’ve encountered in a long time. I suspect – no, I’m certain – that one reading didn’t give me half of what can be gotten out of it. But then, as Stephen King would say, “good books don’t give up all their secrets at once.” And this, most definitely, is a good book.
Ideas Have Consequences is about “the dissolution of the West.” Richard Weaver writes in the Introduction,
I attempt two things not commonly found in the growing literature on this subject. First, I present an account of that decline based not on analogy but on deduction. It is here the assumption that the world is intelligible and that man is free and that those consequences we are now expiating are the product not of biological or other necessity but of unintelligent choice. Second, I go so far as to propound, if not a whole solution, at least the beginning of one, in the belief that man should not follow a scientific analysis with a plea to moral impotence.
Keep in mind this was penned in 1948. The social decay he’s talking about hasn’t gone anywhere; if anything, it has intensified. Weaver’s scalpel-keen examination of the breakdown of modernity is as relevant today as it was in the middle of the twentieth century. So I urge you: read this book.
The ills of modern man, as argued here, are essentially six-fold: they can be found in the denial of universals coupled with the embrace of utilitarianism/pragmatism; the undermining of order and hierarchy; the loss of focus and the rise of fragmentation; the unabashed exercise of ego and self-indulgence in art and work; the desensitizing effects of an irresponsible media; and the emergence of “the Spoiled-Child Psychology.”
Weaver’s solution to these issues? It begins with the preservation of the right to private property; an acknowledgement of the power of the word; and a rediscovery of piety and true justice.
We have to inform the multitude that restoration comes at a price. Suppose we give them an intimation of the cost through a series of questions. Are you ready, we must ask them, to grant that the law of reward is inflexible and that one cannot, by cunning or through complaints, obtain more than he puts in? Are you prepared to see that comfort may be a seduction and that the fetish of material prosperity will have to be pushed aside in favor of some sterner ideal? Do you see the necessity of accepting duties before you begin to talk about freedoms?
Weaver’s writing is imbued with a wonderful anger. There is no bitterness here, no uncontrolled wrath, but there is a righteous indignation that tells the truth in all its stingingly painful glory. We can always use more of that.
“Where there is no vision, the people perish: but he
that keepeth the law, happy is he.” (Prov. 29:18)
“The writings of the Founding Fathers of the American Union indicate that these political architects approached democracy with a spirit of reservation. Though revolutionaries by historic circumstance, they were capable enough of philosophy to see these dilemmas. The Federalist authors especially were aware that simple majority rule cannot suffice because it does everything without reference; it is an expression of feeling about the moment at the moment, restrained neither by abstract idea nor by precedent. They therefore labored long and with considerable cunning to perfect an instrument which should transcend even the lawmaking body. This was the Constitution, which in the American system stands for political truth. It is not an unchangeable truth, but the framers placed special obstacles in the way of change. It was hoped that the surmounting of these would prove so laborious and slow that errors would be exposed and the permanently true recognized. In this way they endeavored to protect the populace of a republic against itself. Their action is a rebuke to the romantic theory of human nature, and this will explain why the Constitution has proved so galling to Jacobins. They regard it as a type of mortmain, and during the administration of Franklin Roosevelt its interpreters were scornfully termed, in an expression indicative of the modern temper, ‘nine old men.'”
– Richard Weaver, Ideas Have Consequences (pp. 47-48)