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Ideas Have Consequences

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In what has become a classic work, Richard M. Weaver unsparingly diagnoses the ills of our age and offers a realistic remedy. He asserts that the world is intelligible and that man is free. The catastrophes of our age are the product of unintelligent choice and the cure lies in man's recognition that ideas--like actions--have consequences. A cure, he submits, is possible. It lies in the right use of man's reason, in the renewed acceptance of an absolute reality, and in the recognition that ideas like actions have consequences.

198 pages, Paperback

First published January 1, 1948

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About the author

Richard M. Weaver

10 books84 followers
American scholar who taught English at the University of Chicago. He is primarily known as a shaper of mid- 20th century conservatism and as an authority on modern rhetoric. A solitary figure in 20th-century American academic life, briefly a socialist in his youth, a lapsed leftist intellectual conservative by the time he was in graduate school, a teacher of composition, a Platonist philosopher who wrote on the problem of universals and criticized nominalism, a literary and cultural critic, and a theorist of human nature and society. Described by biographer Fred Young (1995: 4) as a "radical and original thinker" remembered for his books Ideas Have Consequences (a recurring phrase in conservative intellectual and political discourse) and The Ethics of Rhetoric, his writings remain influential, particularly among conservative theorists and scholars of the American South. Weaver was also associated with the "New Conservatives," a group of scholars who in the 1940s and 1950s promoted traditionalist conservatism.

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Displaying 1 - 30 of 206 reviews
Profile Image for James.
Author 1 book21 followers
September 15, 2009
Not exactly what I thought it would be. Heard about this back in college and thought it would be more of an exposition on ideas, agency, morality, etc. Which it kind of was, but not in the way I thought.

Weaver's book was written just after WWII, so that needs to be taken into consideration. This book is focused mostly upon the author's ideas of "The decline of the West", which has been addressed by many others. I guess what disappointed me was that instead of focusing on the general theme that ideas have consequences, this book focused on what ideas (trends) the author feels contributed to the fall of western civilization.

Weaver's idea of the ideal society, seems to me anyway, to be a medieval monkish state of mind. Weird, huh? Probably a little too extreme. He seems to hate progress for progress's sake (which I agree with) but he also seems to hate progress in general. I'm not really sure how he determined what "should be" rather than embracing change and lobbying for a better take on it.

You can't just stop social change Mr. Weaver!

I did like the beginning of the book, that's why the three stars, but the end totally lost me and seemed to fall to disorganized pieces. Things that I agree with/found interesting in the beginning include:

1) Decay of culture/society is an "unintelligent choice" not a determined evolution

2) Modern man = a moral idiot. Mostly true.

3) Society now tends to enjoy the "obscene" (not meaning lewd, but rather as things that should remain hidden or censored in general) in the name of freedom, for sensationalism's sake

4) Specialization of various trades and jobs resulted in an increased desire for "facts" and less emphasis on "truth"

5) An undue emphasis in today's society for means rather than ends. Technology tends to say "because it can be done it should be done"

6)Modern man tends to think of consequences in terms of his "rights", not his "obligations".

7)Media strives to tell you what the answer is, aiming you at specific ideas, rather than presenting different sides, etc. Media creates controversy where none existed before.

These are all great points, but the author starts getting carried away. For example, he says that Jazz music is evil because it encourages egotism. Jazz is too "free" and is bad because it ignores structure (which I personally don't think it does) and encourages individual chaos. What? But then he contradicts himself by saying that the media is bad because it aims you at the means instead of the end. So Jazz is bad because it is too free, but media is bad because it's not? These concepts don't make much sense to me.

The author's reasoning for taking certain sides confused me for a long time. Eventually, I figured out that to the author, egotism is ALWAYS bad, no matter in what form. (Jazz solos encourage individual freedom from the structure of the music so they're bad because that's egotistic, etc.) But can't egotism be good sometimes? Isn't it okay to do some things for ourselves, for just the sake of wanting to do it? Rampant egotism is bad, I admit, but I think Ayn Rand would punch Mr. Weaver in the face if she ever got the chance.

Some good ideas, but the consequence of Weaver's particular ideas in this book would have to be confusion.
Profile Image for Spencer.
11 reviews2 followers
August 3, 2015
Before The Closing of the American Mind, there was Ideas Have Consequences. Nearly two decades before Bloom, Richard M. Weaver – rhetorician, Southern agrarian sage, and a founding father of the postwar conservative revival – published this spirited disquisition on the Western intellectual tradition.

Part jeremiad and part prescription, Ideas Have Consequences argues that the 14th-century “defeat of logical realism [by nominalism]…was the crucial event in the history of Western culture.” With philosophical realism undermined, the Western world gradually retreated from its belief in universals, first principles, and transcendent truths. Modern man, having rejected absolute truth and a teleogical understanding of the world, lives in the world of experience and mistakenly places his faith in the power of “endless induction” to make sense of reality.

Weaver’s interpretation of William of Occam and the universalism-nominalism debate is a question for medievalists and philosophers. But if you’ve ever wondered how moral relativism, equalitarianism, egotism, consumerism, collectivism, and the “dissolution of the West” are all related – or why private property, language, and religion are so crucial to the preservation of all that is good in our civilization --- read this book.
Profile Image for Mayim de Vries.
576 reviews779 followers
July 12, 2021
It amazes me that in the 1940s Weaver saw so clearly things that are unfolding in their fullness only now. It’s a must read, must own. No excuses.
Profile Image for Kris.
1,230 reviews167 followers
July 3, 2020
I started off on the audiobook, but I wasn't absorbing it, so I switched to ebook format. I picked this up off and on, reading one chapter at a time, to try and take it in slowly. Weaver packs a lot in here, and I'm sure half of it went over my head. This is the kind of little book you hand to college freshmen during orientation to prompt worldview discussions. It's still very relevant, and it deserves a reread someday. I couldn't believe it was originally published in 1948. I've placed some quotes below.

From the Introduction:
"The expulsion of the element of unintelligibility in nature was followed by the abandonment of the doctrine of original sin."

"He [man] struggles with the paradox that total immersion in matter unfits him to deal with the problems of matter."

"Here begins the assault upon definition: if words no longer correspond to objective realities, it seems no great wrong to take liberties with words. From this point on, faith in language as a means of arriving at truth weakens, until our own age, filled with an acute sense of doubt, looks for a remedy in the new science of semantics."

"Hysterical optimism will prevail until he world again admits the existence of tragedy, and it cannot admit the existence of tragedy until it again distinguishes between good and evil."

"The whole tendency of modern thought, one might say its whole moral impulse, is to keep the individual busy with endless induction. Since the time of Bacon the world has been running away from, rather than toward, first principles, so that, on the verbal level, we see 'fact' substituted for 'truth,' and on the philosophic level, we witness attack upon abstract ideas and speculative inquiry. The unexpressed assumption of empiricism is that experience will tell us what we are experiencing. In the popular arena one can tell from certain newspaper columns and radio programs that the average man has become imbued with this notion and images that an industrious acquisition of particulars will render him a man of knowledge. With what pathetic trust does he recite his facts! He has been told that knowledge is power, and knowledge consists of a great many small things."


From Chapter One:

"...a developed culture is a way of looking at the world through an aggregation of symbols, so that empirical facts take on significance and man feels that he is acting in a drama...There must be a source of clarification, of arrangement and hierarchy's high will provide grounds for the employment of the rational faculty. Now man first begins this clarification when he becomes mythologist, and Aristotle has noted the close relationship between myth-making and philosophy. This poetry of representation, depicting an ideal world, is a great cohesive force, finding whole peoples to the acceptance of a design and fusing their imaginative life. Afterward comes the philosopher, who points out the necessary connection between phenomena, yet who may, at the other end, leave the pedestrian level to talk about final destination."

From Chapter Three:

"Since liberalism became a kind of official party line, we have been enjoined against saying things about races, religions, or national groups, for, after all, there is no categorical statement without its implication of value, and values begin divisions among men. We must not define, subsume, or judge; we must rather rest on the periphery and display 'sensibility toward the cultural expression of all lands and peoples.' This is a process of emasculation. It should be plain from the foregoing that modern man is suffering from a severe fragmentation of his world picture. This fragmentation leads directly to an obsession with isolated parts."

From Chapter Five:

[On the media] "...For one thing, there is the technique of display, with its implied evaluations. This does more of the average man's thinking for him than he suspects. For another, there is the stereotyping of whole phrases. These are carefully chosen not to stimulate reflection but to evoke stock responses of approbation or disapprobation. Headlines and advertising teem with them, and we seem to approach a point at which failure to make the stock response is regarded as faintly treasonable, like refusal to salute the flag.... Newspapers are under strong pressure to distort in the interest of holding attention.... It is an inescapable fact that newspapers thrive on friction and conflict.... they create antagonism where none was felt to exist before.... Journalism, on the whole, is glad to see a quarrel start and sorry to see it end."

"Somewhere, moreover, the metaphysicians of publicity have absorbed the idea that the goal of life is happiness through comfort. It is a state of complacency [that is] supposed to ensure when the physical appetites have been well satisfied. Advertising fosters the concept, social democracy approves it, and the acceptance is so wide that it is virtually impossible today, except from the religious rostrum, to teach that life means discipline and sacrifice. It means, in the world picture of press agency, a job, domesticity, interest in some harmless diversion such as baseball and fishing, and a strong antipathy toward abstract ideas."
Profile Image for Ben.
73 reviews22 followers
October 19, 2020
I'm not a fan of using a highlighter to mark memorable passages in books, but if I were at least half of my copy of Ideas Have Consequences would be yellow. Richard Weaver is that rare writer who both has interesting things to say, and says them in an interesting way. This book is not only considered Weaver's masterpiece, but, sadly, Weaver is often considered something of literary one hit wonder, with comparatively few people aware of his other writings (or even familiar with this one beyond the title). While this perspective is unfair to the impressive body of Weaver's work, Ideas stands out due to several factors, not least being arguably the first book of the post-World War II conservative renaissance, having been published in 1948.

The worst part of Ideas Have Consequences, in my opinion, is Roger Kimball's foreword. Generally, forewords discuss the importance of the work or the thinker at hand. These can at times come across as a bit hagiographic, but then again the entire point of a foreword to a book written decades ago is to put it in context and show the influence it and the author have had in the intervening years. Kimball, however, doesn't seem to have much regard for either this book or its author, who comes across in Kimball's telling as half hermit, half Luddite. Kimball drags out the familiar canards about Weaver's life - how he had no or very few friends, how he insisted from his office at the University of Chicago that his septuagenarian mother plow the family farm back in Weaverville, North Carolina with horses, not tractors - despite these stories being, as Ted Smith III shows in his introduction to In Defense of Tradition: Collected Shorter Writings of Richard M. Weaver, 1929–1963, exaggerations, when they're not flat wrong. To be sure, Weaver was a more reserved figure than, say, Russell Kirk, but it was not true, as even his friend Kirk claimed, that Weaver spent every free moment in solitude. Nor was it true that Weaver demanded that his family farm - a generous description for the 2 acre back yard in which Weaver planted a garden - be plowed with animal labor instead of machinery.

These are the kinds of stories that make for great tales, and might even make an author more interesting after he's gone (Weaver died prematurely in 1964, at the age of 53), but Kimball's reciting them in order to paint his subject as "eccentric" and to thus cast his work as such is counterproductive if he's actually interested in having people read the book he's introducing. Kimball claims that Weaver was not so much "anti-liberal as anti-modern," a claim he then uses in support of his statement that the solution that Weaver sought was "a categorical 'no' to modernity," which Kimball thinks would be the height of "hubris." Well, it might be if that's what Weaver sought, but no one could study Weaver's body of thought and conclude either that he was not "anti-liberal" or that he sought to shout "no!" at modernity and its accomplishments. Weaver was indeed a critic of modernity, a traditionalist in his outlook, but as the Hoover Institution's Mark C. Henrie has written, "traditionalists do not wish to 'turn back the clock.'" Rather, people like Weaver recognize that in the great rush of modernity, older values, like "loyalty and friendship, leisure, honor and nobility, and religious 'enchantment'...are unavailable or frustrated in the present." As Weaver himself wrote in a later essay, "once we admit, as we have to admit, that some periods of achievement in the past have something to teach us, we are on our way toward acquiring the humility necessary for wisdom, for not all wisdom is new wisdom."

Kimball's caricatures are at best oversimplifications of what can be found in the totality of Weaver's writing, and can to a substantial degree be undermined by simply reading a single one of his essays, the readily available “Up from Liberalism,” an essay which Kimball himself references (though I am still left to question, given his comments above, the degree to which he really understood it). None of this is intended to excoriate Kimball, whose writing I generally enjoy. Rather it is to say that if Kimball either misunderstands Weaver or dislikes his thought, he was an odd choice to write the foreword, which certainly doesn't give the reader a reason to read further into the book, which would be to the reader's loss.

Transitioning to the book itself, Ideas Have Consequences is Weaver's analysis of what he calls in the introduction "the dissolution of the West." While it may seem odd to the modern reader to see an intellectual, and a conservative one at that, expressing such pessimism in what should still have been the glorious afterglow of America's victory during World War II, it was actually the war that substantially contributed to the pessimism he felt about the state of and prospects for the West. It wouldn't be until the posthumously published Visions of Order: The Cultural Crisis of Our Time that Weaver would explain why World War II had this effect on him, but it's interesting that Weaver (and his fellow traditionalists Kirk and Robert Nisbet) were perplexed by the consequences of the war.

The source, Weaver believes, of the West's decline is the ascendance of William of Ockham's doctrine of nominalism, the philosophical rejection of universals. Oddly, Weaver's analysis is almost all effect and very little cause - that is, he doesn't exactly explain how nominalism triumphed, or what the process was. Rather, he focuses on what the cultural effects have been. Even so, Weaver's basic thesis has found many supporters, including prominent Thomist philosopher Edward Feser.

While there are very clear philosophical themes, Weaver’s work is at bottom a scathing criticism of modern mass society, as he argues that modern man has rejected transcendent truth and higher goals for subjectivism and personal aggrandizement. Since Ideas is something of a catalog of the consequences of this trade, the book can sometimes read as a list of Weaver's least favorite things. Even so, he lands body blows to many features of modern society that were taken for granted then, and still are, as inherently positive developments. What's more, Weaver's list of complaints is broad enough to step on nearly everyone's toes.

While he criticizes liberal egalitarianism as destructive of the hierarchical bonds that tie society together, he also condemns what he sees as the materialism of what he calls "finance capitalism," what today might be termed "crony capitalism." Later in the book, Weaver expresses his support for property rights and he would in later works express his admiration for free-market economists like F. A. Hayek, Ludwig von Mises, and Wilhelm Ropke. As a result, Weaver cannot (contra Kimball) be considered a distributist pamphleteer, at least not if the full body of his work is considered.

Weaver's criticism of mass media - which in Weaver's day primarily meant radio and movies, with a smattering of television thrown in - which he called "The Great Steropticon,” is so withering and complete that it even applies to today's media technologies that Weaver could not have foreseen. Weaver takes further aim at what he calls the "spoiled child psychology," saying that modern man, like a spoiled child, has corrupted the Declaration of Independence in that "the right to pursue happiness he has not unnaturally translated into a right to have happiness.”

Not surprisingly, Weaver's estimation of art forms - whether paintings, literature, or music - in modern society is low, as Weaver considers modern artistic expression to be filled with excess "egotism," or self-indulgence. Historically, Weaver's views on jazz (he was not a fan) have received the most attention, although it should be noted that even admirers of Weaver, including Feser, have disagreed with his analysis on these points. For his part, Feser thinks that Weaver holds too strongly a Platonist line in respect to art (in which the ideal nature of the art form is completely above and apart from unworthy "popular" expressions), whereas Feser prefers a more Aristotelian perspective (where even popular art forms, if not ideal expressions of high culture, still have essential elements of it that give them value). On this point, I tend to side with Feser, although plenty of conservatives besides Weaver have held his opinion on artistry. But, as an example of just how radical his standards were, Weaver even criticized opera as a substandard expression of art.

Having laid out his case for the degeneration of society, Weaver closes by offering three solutions to the predicament of the West: protecting private property, restoring the discipline of language and recovering piety towards man and nature. The first of these, as mentioned above, was not a blanket endorsement of capitalism, but a call for limits beyond which the state could not interfere in the affairs of men. To Weaver (and to Frank Meyer, who borrowed heavily from Weaver's analysis) property rights were not just important to the individual's ability to provide for himself apart from state predation, but gave him a sense of independence and security from which he could point out society's errors. The person dependent upon the state, or even to large bureaucratic business organizations, could not, Weaver thought, feel secure enough to criticize the political and social trends of his age. It's difficult to look at modern American society, particularly in the social media age, and not acknowledge Weaver's prescience on this point.

In his call to restore the discipline of language, Weaver (an English professor and an expert in rhetoric) believes that preserving the definitions of words, and increasing the felicity of their use, is critical to carrying on the best aspects of culture. He pleas for a return to piety because it "is a discipline of the will through respect. It admits the right to exist of things larger than the ego, of things different from the ego. And, before we can bring harmony back into a world where now everything seems to meet 'in mere oppugnancy,' we shall have to regard with the spirit of piety three things: nature, our neighbors - by which I mean all other people - and the past.” Both of these are concepts that Weaver, in one way or another, would reiterate over and over throughout his subsequent work.

Weaver later expressed regret that he didn't make some of his arguments in Ideas Have Consequences more clearly. The Weaver of Visions of Order is more measured (not to mention less of a Platonist) than the Weaver of Ideas. And while that is for the better, there's an urgency and a passion in Ideas Have Consequences that Weaver never replicated - the kind which would be nice to see in modern defenders of culture, whoever and wherever they are.
Profile Image for Tim.
83 reviews
May 23, 2018
Ah, this book. Where to start?

The author has a habit of framing options as mutually exclusive opposites when it is not necessarily the case that they are. For example, when considering human societies he offers the choice that one can have a society whose values are ontological or one can have a society whose values are progressive. Presenting these things as if they are as incompatible as matter and anti-matter is a rhetorical framing device to direct your thinking along certain lines. The easiest way to demonstrate this is by scaling his argument down to the level of a single, individual human. Suppose that you believe values are ontological, that there really is something called love and something called justice and something called compassion that exists independently of neurons firing and chemicals interacting and all of the other correlations that go along with human mental and emotional life. It doesn't follow that the exact moment you grasped this, your everyday behaviour was immediately transformed in such a way that it fell into perfect lock step with these ideal conceptions of virtue. There is the ideal (love, justice, compassion, etc.) and there is the actual (how these values are intellectually apprehended and behaviourally expressed in your everyday life). Connecting the two is a line and if the distance between the two end points on that line is decreasing, then you have...... progress! There is no contradiction there. If that is true of individuals, why can it not be true of societies also?

Progress in and off itself is not a bad thing and societies are no more static than people. Just as surely as a person can move up or down a hill, progress can be either positive or negative. If you begin with the assumption that you were at the top of the hill at some point in the past, then of course the only progress you can make is down. Your motto must necessarily be: 'It's all downhill from here.” That is precisely the position the author is arguing from. We have been on the peak of the mountain and now we are tumbling down the hill. It may be true that some societies have been closer to the top of the hill than others but I would dispute his notion that there has ever been a society that was at the top of the hill. Where was this golden age society located? In the middle east when animals and sometimes even human beings were being sacrificed? When the Roman Empire was in full swing and select men were considered deities to be worshipped? Perhaps in Victorian London when it was only illegal to beat your wife after 9 pm and only then because it might disturb neighbours who needed their sleep? Was it before or after abolition? The author places it in pre-reformation Europe. That being the case, unless the author is the recipient of a multi-generational silver spoon, he himself is a beneficiary of the gifts that progress brings. He could have been a serf digging potatoes in the fields while the lords and ladies drank their wine in their sitting rooms and discussed the finer things in life. It would be their lot in life to consider the metaphysical foundations that underlie society, it would be his to make sure dinner was on the table at the right time. My point in this: if you are going to decry progress, you need to look at the grand sweep of history and be aware of precisely what it is you are decrying. Be mindful of the fact that if you have a platform to stand on while you speak, the reason you have that platform is progress. You will have to blacklist the good as well as the bad if you want to preserve your static, unchanging society. Which brings me to my next point. Societies are complex entities – they are not like rivers where everything flows unilaterally in one direction. Some aspects of a given society may be progressing forwards while others are progressing backwards.

Reading this review thus far, you might get the impression I didn't like this book at all. There were some things the author said that I do agree with. One is his assessment that the thing that elevates humankind above the animal kingdom are the twin grounds of knowledge and virtue (though I would point out that one can make a good case that these things are present to some degree in some animals). Knowledge needs virtue if it is to be a benefit to us since knowledge, much like progress itself, is a neutral value that is equally capable of nudging us further along the road to dystopia or utopia. I recall a tweet by Richard Dawkins some time ago: 'What if human meat is grown? Could we overcome our taboo against cannibalism? An interesting test case for consequentialist morality versus “yuck reaction” absolutism.' (I sometimes wonder if Dawkins is just trolling at this point.) In any case we have knowledge - we can cultivate human meat in labs. But should we manufacture it and consume it? This is where virtue might have a say. Suppose you say what is the harm? No conscious entities had to suffer and die so you could enjoy a few slices of long pig with your daily eggs and toast. True. However, maybe after developing a taste for lab grown human meat, someone might begin to hanker for a taste of 'the real thing.' I know, I know – I'm just being an alarmist. But I would invite anyone to take this no conscious entities are being harmed ethic and consider the possibility that it could take us into some very dark places as a society. Using the format of the Dawkins tweet, here is an example: 'What if CGI child pornography is produced? Could we overcome our taboo against child pornography? An interesting test case for consequentialist morality versus “yuck reaction” absolutism.' If you think this is wrong – if you have an immediate visceral reaction to this – then you understand why knowledge needs virtue. One of the functions of virtue is to tell knowledge that there are some lines that you should not cross. It reminds us it is never a question of whether we have the ability to manufacture a bio-weapon by mixing small pox and the ebola virus, it is always a question of whether we should do that. (As an aside, Our Posthuman Future: Consequences of the Biotechnology Revolution offers some interesting discussion about the relationship of knowledge and virtue.)

I also agree with his statement that human societies need to have some form of hierarchy in place to work, though it is not immediately obvious to me what form of hierarchy would be best. Given the proclivities of the author, I must point out that I think any human movement that purports to be a theocratic state (i.e. any political movement where the power and presence of God is not blatantly and publicly manifest as being such by said Deity but nonetheless presumes to claim such an honour for itself) is no less dangerous to human well-being than any other form of political extremism. I find myself thinking of something Jordan B. Peterson stated in a lecture about applying the taoist concept of balancing chaos and order to societies. A society where there is no structure at all descends into anarchy and eventually chaos and a society where there is too much structure becomes a rigid, totalitarian system where freedom is suppressed. Too much freedom and too much control are both detrimental to human flourishing, an ideal society would be able to straddle the line between these two opposing forces.

In summary, it would be fair to say that I could be found nodding or shaking my head on any given page. The author comes off as a bit of an elitist at times and, in the spirit of the title of this book, some of his ideas would have detrimental consequences. This book is an entirely pragmatic approach to the existence of transcendental universals. It doesn't make a case for them, it assumes they exist and precedes from there.

Three stars.
10 reviews
October 1, 2012
This is a book written in 1948 that tries to diagnose the ills of our time. It reminds me in many ways of C.S. Lewis' Abolition of Man. Weaver believes at the root of our troubles are changes that began in the 14th century by Willam of Occam who propounded the idea of nominalism. These ideas are pervasive in the way we tend to view reality, in politics, religion, art, etc. It's a critical book.
He makes quite a few generalizations about our modern age, some of which I don't find convincing, but I think this book is worth reading and thinking about.
Profile Image for Joseph Stieb.
Author 1 book125 followers
August 7, 2022
Kind of a 1.5 for me, although tbh I read this more as a historian than for the philosophical engagement. The short summary of this book is the Ron Swanson gif of him saying "I hate everything." This might be the grumpiest and most uptight book I have ever read, but I did find it valuable for my current research on conservative narratives of decline and decadence. And there were times when I thought Weaver was at least asking good, unorthodox questions even if I didn't agree with his answers.

Weaver argues that the essential problem with the world of his day (1940s) and the modern world in general is that since William of Occam in the 14th century Western thought has been based on the idea that meanings are mutable and that man is the measure of all things. Weaver, by my reckoning, is a sort of Platonist who believes that words/ideas have essential forms that human beings have to discover and learn. Our abandonment of this principle leads us to value the present over the past, self-expression over structure and responsibility, the pursuit of science as a conqueror of nature, an obsession with comfort and entertainment, the upending of gender roles, and a view of gov't as a benign father rather than a necessary evil (or tutor in morality). Weaver is very unclear on what he actually wants to change; this is a diagnosis of malaise based on the idea that the abandonment of essential forms has had consequences down to the present day.

To be fair, he was writing in the aftermath of the most horrible conflict in human history when everyone was trying to grapple with totalitarianism, atomic weaponry, genocide, etc. Of course, he is incredibly grumpy about everything from jazz music (goes on a racist rant about its lack of form) to women serving in the military (he goes on a sexist rant that really pissed me off) to women wearing pants to how Beethoven's music is just too wild and expressionist (uh, ok...). I found a lot of his complaining to be absurd, and as usual with conservative intellectuals, he prioritizes incredibly abstract ideas over concrete human experience. For example, he rails against Americans for their fixation on job stability and a comfortable place to live. Yeah, easy for you to say buddy. How about you consider that maybe these "obsessions" are a product of the horrors of the Depression? This kind of contempt for ordinary people, especially those who aren't white men, fills the book

However, you can get a lot from this book as a scholar of conservatism. Weaver is obsessed with decline; he sees an America that most historians would say was at the height of its power as crashing imminently into decadence and disorder. Had he lived into the 60s he would have said "ha! Told ya so." He believes that human beings find the most meaning in life (he doesn't seem to care about happiness) in an ordered, hierarchal world, one that he believes must be ordered by fixed, essential ideas. Everyone must know their place, every place must be valued and meaningful, all must participate in sacralizing the social and political order. If this sounds like a rejection of everything since the Renaissance, that's because it is. And yet many modern human beings keep reaching back for essences, orders, and hierarchies, so for liberals like me to simply ignore Weaver's claims would be hubristic. He's also deeply uncomfortable with modern warfare and atomic power, which he believes has lost any element of chivalry (more of his selective renderings of the past). On a more serious level, he argues that the bureaucratization and mechanization of warfare has enabled atrocities; here he is on more interesting ground, showing how these processes erode human agency and responsibility and make mass killing possible. This is strikingly similar to many analyses of the perpetrators of the Holocaust. Say what you will about Weaver, he isn't a chauvinistic nationalist.

Although I disagree profoundly with Weaver about the surface level and deeper philosophical issues in this book, I would still say this is worth reading if you are a scholar of modern conservatism or if you have never read any conservative critiques of modernity. It isn't systematic in its order, but it raises some issues that are worth wrestling with while also providing a clear picture of anti-modernist conservative thought.
Profile Image for Peter Jones.
540 reviews85 followers
June 4, 2013
It would be difficult to express how much impact this book had on me as I read. As numerous reviewers stated, it is not an easy read. I had to reread numerous paragraphs and sections. But his post WWII analysis of cultural decline was worth the time. Another reviewer mentioned his tight prose, which I also enjoyed. Not a wasted word. As I read, I did not just think about our cultural decline, but I thought about my family, my church, and my own life. I felt rebuked for my slovenly thinking and my own laziness of life.

The chapter on "Distinction and Hierarchy" as well as his chapter on "Spoiled Child Psychology" effectively diagnosed two of the greatest diseases of our age: egalitarianism and the victim mentality that pervades American culture.

Throughout the book he notes that moral relativism, the loss of overarching truth, is what is wrong with the death of the West. He saw all of this in 1948. The book is great reminder that the West did not start dying in the sixties, as so many conservatives would like us to believe. She was diseased long before that.

His analysis of the effects of WWII on the West was interesting. I am sure when he wrote the book it sounded a bit over the top. Sixty years later it sounds like he had a time machine that transported him to 2000.

He felt that the last place the West could still be won was in the retention of private property. He calls it "The Last Metaphysical Right." He urged his readers to take a stand at exactly this point. If private property is lost then there is no hope. If he was right we are in a lot of trouble.

Finally, the last section of his chapter "The Power of the Word" is a critique of education at the time and an apologetic for classical education and poetry as part of the remedy for our disease.

A great book!
Profile Image for Amberleigh.
9 reviews7 followers
April 1, 2009
An amazing book, honestly. Many of the ideas propounded in the book, I had heard before and kind of taken as my own because they sounded right. However, this book explained the reasoning behind those ideas and really opened my eyes to what I had been blindly believing before. Equality is a bad thing, democracy is harmful, and Ideas do have consequences no matter how innocent they seem. This was the book that gave fuel to my senior thesis. It has proved invaluable and will continue to do so, I am sure. I do not agree with everything the author says but all of it is extraordinarily insightful.
Profile Image for Gabriella Hoffman.
97 reviews35 followers
December 2, 2018
Book #19 of 35... A very terse read and sometimes hard to follow, but I understand why it’s recommended reading in some of our corners of politics .
Profile Image for John.
811 reviews121 followers
November 9, 2011
This book is a marvel. It is an intrusion of a bygone era into the miasma of modernity. It is no wonder that the left loathes Weaver. His is a prophetic voice of denunciation against the tides of modernity assaulting human dignity and personhood.

Weaver argues that the Nominalism of William of Occam has opened the floodgates of relativism, egotism, and sentimentality upon the West, with little traction left for a revival of traditional values.

This is a remarkably dense book. His sentences are a mouthful, let alone a mindful. There is so much there. Take your time with this one and you'll be well rewarded. Just don't jump to the conclusion that he's a hopelessly irrelevant conservative and that our age knows better than the vision of tradition that Weaver so admires.
Profile Image for Tika.
9 reviews51 followers
January 13, 2016
"There is ground for declaring that modern man has become a moral idiot.”

"We approach a condition in which we shall be amoral without the capacity to perceive it and degraded without the means to measure our descent.”
Profile Image for Josh Bauder.
306 reviews3 followers
March 1, 2017
Weaver's premise is simple. There are two basic worldviews in the history of the West: one that affirms transcendent reality and one that doesn't. In the late 1300s, Weaver argues, the momentum shifted from the former to the latter, and it has remained with the materialists ever since.

We are now, Weaver claims, reaping the final fruits of the materialistic worldview. Most of these fruits take the shape of various losses: the loss of true sentiment, resulting in mere sentimentality; the loss of formality and ceremony, distinctions, and hierarchy (which are predicated on the existence of an unseen world and which seem absurd once that world is denied); the loss of liberal education in the humanities matched by the rise of specialization; and the loss of restraint and self-discipline to the "spoiled-child psychology" that seeks instant comfort and gratification. The replacement of transcendent values with ephemeral ones has been abetted by the emergence of a massive propaganda machine, the Great Stereopticon, to communicate the ideals of the materialistic worldview.

In the final three chapters, Weaver outlines a strategy for the recovery of value, using as a beachhead the one metaphysical right that has escaped destruction: the right to private property. From there, aided by the power of precisely-deployed language to defend the transcendent worldview and expose the paradoxes of its alternatives, Weaver sees the possibility of renewal for a just and pious society.
Profile Image for Peyton Smith.
27 reviews1 follower
July 18, 2017
In a way, this book is a metaphysical contextualisation of the political battle between conservatism and liberalism. In Weaver’s mind, the decline of the West began when Nominalism won out over Logical Realism in the late 14th century. Having lost faith in a transcendental reality, the West abandoned intellect in favor of the empirical. As a result, people today often lack a “metaphysical dream”, or an “intuitive feeling about the immanent nature of reality”. People have opinions about issues, but no broader sense of ‘oughtness’ with which to guide society. Without such a scheme, politics become a dull, technocratic procedure rather than an invigorating debate about the right way to live. Lacking this debate, society has no glue because there is nothing of identity at stake in politics or society at large. But If politics is merely economics by other means, why vote? Why not just let it run its course? I disagree with almost every conclusion in this book, however so many of the arguments are incredibly insightful. This is well worth your time. In fact, I’ll probably be reading it over again sometime.
Profile Image for Kelly.
292 reviews
May 7, 2021
Part philosophy and part cultural commentary, this book provides the reader with many interesting perspectives on aspects of modernity - from politics to art to economics to music to language/semantics. The American southern angle to Weaver's thoughts was unique and the ideas presented certainly resonated with much of what I have thought (if not been able to express) on my own.
Profile Image for Patrick McWilliams.
80 reviews11 followers
October 2, 2022
Do yourself a favor and at least read the introduction to this book. If you look around and find yourself wondering “how did we get here?” then Weaver is a tremendously insightful place to begin answering that question.
Profile Image for Andrew Allison.
79 reviews3 followers
December 16, 2020
An excellent account of the individual's struggle with modernity with a greater hatred of jazz than I would have expected.
Profile Image for Luis.
13 reviews1 follower
October 28, 2022
Disclaimer: al final es más una página de mi diario que una reseña, perdón.

No soy nadie ni he estudiado nada que me otorgue la capacidad de opinar con fundamento sobre este libro. Dicho esto (permitidme ser algo desordenado, al menos para que parezca que no me he leído el libro en realidad):

Ensayo denso, reaccionario y un poco abuelo cebolleta, <> Pero ni siquiera en sus tiempos porque el momento que echa de menos es la antigua Grecia con Platón y su concepto deseable de Doctor en Filosofía como meta a alcanzar por el ser humano.
Que está muy bien, si no digo que no, pero hay referencias que pillo a ratos, y una urgencia por cambiar el sistema de valores y enseñanza que imagino va acompañada por el mal cuerpo de la Segunda Guerra Mundial.
Supongo que el resumen es que sí, hay ideas que tienen sentido para mí, como el desarrollo pleno de la persona enfrentado a la especialización y la deformación del espíritu. También comulgo con el desprecio a "La Gran Linterna Mágica" y sus desaciertos y manipulaciones, igual que veo cómo esa "campaña de desinformación" no hace si no polarizar con un discurso enfermizo.
Supongo que en ese momento, el señor Weaver se permite ser optimista hacia el final de su ensayo, haciendo un pequeño delineamiento de lo que cree que son los puntos clave que pueden significar el cambio de rumbo necesario. Veo dos fallos desde mi inexperto punto de vista:
El primero es que su solución a mis ojos es volver a un tiempo pasado en el que las cosas eran mejores, quizá demasiado pasado, probablemente porque llevamos demasiado tiempo volando a ciegas con el morro hacia abajo. Quizá, antes que volver a la Edad Media, aunque pueda ser una solución resultona, no merece tanto la pena, siendo que volver cumpliría con su concepto de saber qué se pierde y qué se gana al saltar al vacío y forzar un cambio, puesto que sabemos a qué vamos en la Edad Media. En este caso, incluso con mi pesimismo y poca confianza en la sociedad occidental, sigo considerando que no todo tiempo pasado fue mejor.
El segundo es que, según yo, el juego estaba trucado desde el principio, y lo mejor que puede pasar es que todo esto se cierre como cualquier otro fin de capítulo aciago en la historia de la humanidad y las futuras generaciones sean más listos que nosotros.

Con suerte, y como me suele pasar, no tengo razón y las cosas mejoran. Yo intento aportar mi granito de arena, desarrollándome lo mejor que puedo y enriqueciendo tanto como se me permite la vida de los demás mientras cada uno me devuelve vivencias y valores que merecen la pena ser conservados. La vida sigue y se abre paso, e incluso siendo una naturaleza cruel a los ojos de Don Weaver, considero que la palabra "justicia" se ajusta más a lo que la naturaleza proyecta, que no deja de ser la imagen que debería ser y que, sabia, se esfuerza por imponer.
Aún así, seguiré siendo el hombre que comprendió y dominó sus instintos, porque solo siendo capaz de comprenderlos es que los siento propios, manía personal.
Profile Image for Siddharth.
163 reviews54 followers
February 7, 2021
An amazing treatise. Weaver touches on several topics that I have been wondering about over the past few years, and he views each topic through a shrewd lens of traditional values and intellectual corruption. The overarching theme is that modernism has pushed us away from first principles, abstract ideas, acceptance of the existence of a metaphysical world that is not our own and a "complete" education which would allow us to think about the general, rather than focus on the specifics. The victory of the modernists (the "nominalists") has been complete, to a degree that a thing when owned by us is "good", while the same thing owned by another is "bad".

This book is well known as a kind of manifesto for the return to traditional values and is used by conservative politicians, but the book is *NOT* a political manifesto. It talks about liberal politicians and "rabid egalitarians", always accompanying these lines with the thinking and the justification behind these classifications. (Weaver argues that our current fear of classifying and grouping people, groups, and nations is another sign of modernism's victory in spreading the dogma of "equality") He summarizes the image of a modern man, from a press agency's point of view, when deciding how to advertise to him, in one amazing paragraph:


It means in the world picture of press agency, a job, domesticity, interest in some harmless diversion such as baseball and fishing, and a strong antipathy toward abstract ideas. This is the Philistine version of man in pursuit of happiness. Even Carlyle's doctrine of blessedness through work has overtones of strenuousness which are repugnant to the man of today. (p. 94)




Weaver's plan for restoration includes a return to first principles, humility, an acceptance of the things that nature and the past can teach us. It includes the abolition of the sensationalist media, and any kind of media that is bound to produce "comedy-variety shows", that are aimed at keeping the vacuous minded ignorant and in good will. It includes the studying of the past, and a complete education that educates us in both rhetoric and dialectic, teaching us how to think and how to live with the abstract.

This was an aspirational book written in 1948. 73 years later, most of what Weaver argued for didn't happen. That serves to make the picture clearer: The decision to not act was the current generation's. On a personal level, it can serve as a guidebook, as we continue to slip further into the wasteland dominated by the media, the popular media, and the broadening of the noise through platforms like Instagram.

I read this book on archive.org: [[https://archive.org/details/richard-m...]]
Profile Image for Joel.
110 reviews49 followers
October 19, 2018
This is a difficult book! I was expecting a political diatribe, but this book is book is not just a curmudgeonly rant, but a deep philosophical discourse on the problems with modern society. True, I often disagreed with his premise, namely that modern man is a 'moral idiot' compared to mediaeval man because of his faith in empirical science and historical progress. I believe that materialistic ambitions have made modern society more civilized and less violent than in the past - an assertion Weaver would vigorously oppose. However, I couldn't help but marvel at how prophetic some of Weaver's pronouncements about modern society are, especially about the state of education and media which is even more true today than in 1948. I also agree with him that we suffer from moral relativism that stems from our inability to make intellectual distinctions. I did not enjoy this book as much as I thought I would, but it certainly exposed me to new perspectives on politics.
Profile Image for Jesse.
Author 1 book42 followers
January 6, 2021
Fantastic book. I read it a couple of years ago. Here are some key quotes:

“The whole tendency of modern thought, one might say its whole moral impulse, is to keep the individual busy with endless induction.” pg. 11

“The unexpressed assumption of empiricism is that experience will tell us what we are experiencing.” -pg. 11

“The average man has become imbued with this notion and imagines that an industrious acquisition of particulars will render him a man of knowledge. With what pathetic trust does he recite his facts!”-pg. 12

“The staggering number of facts to which he today has access serves only to draw him away from consideration of first principles, so that his orientation becomes peripheral.” -pg. 13
Profile Image for Daniel.
156 reviews
October 22, 2015
Tightly-written short book on the philosophical origins of the postwar traditionalist conservative movement in the United States. Weaver opens by stating in a matter-of-fact tone that "this is another book about the dissolution of the West." Weaver attacks moral relativism insistently, suggesting that the "denial of everything transcending experience means inevitably…the denial of truth. With the denial of objective truth there is no escape from the relativism of ‘man is the measure of all things.'"
Profile Image for Amber.
28 reviews6 followers
January 4, 2015
Written in 1948, this book offers a prophetic account of how modernism will lead to the collapse of Western civilization. I freely admit I was lost on some points (dangers of jazz?), but overall this is one of the best books I have read. Weaver offers up counter actions to our predicament, primarily through resisting semantic manipulation, a liberal education, knowing our history, and securing private property. Sixty years later his positions are still valid; one could argue that stronger measures should be taken to save our collapsing culture.
Profile Image for Sally.
1,081 reviews
September 12, 2012
Sobering to think this book was written in 1948. Weaver talks about the decline of our society with the clarity of a prophet. From the back cover: "The catastrophes of our age are the product not of necessity but of unintelligent choice. A cure, he submits, is possible. It lies in the right use of man's reason, in the renewed acceptance of an absolute reality, and in the recognition that ideas--like actions--have consequences." It was distressing to realize as I read that we are getting dumber as a society all the time, less able and inclined to think, and so the decline seems unstoppable.
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