conservatism of affirmation william of occam

Richard Weaver reasoned it was the emergence of nominalism, the departure from Plato­nism and Christianity, which produced the intellectual heresies leading to the trauma and anguish of the modern era. “It was,” he elaborated, “William of Occam who pro­pounded the fateful doctrine of nominalism, which denies that universals have a real existence,” and as a result, “For four cen­turies every man has been not only his own priest but his own professor of ethics, and the consequence is an anarchy which threatens even that minimum consensus of value necessary to the political state.[63] Weaver concluded, “Whether we describe this as decay of religion or loss of inter­est in metaphysics, the result is the same; for both are centers with power to inte­grate, and, if they give way, there begins a dispersion which never ends until the cul­ture lies in fragments.”[64]

Platonism and Christianity acknowl­edged there was “a center of things.” This center suggested transcendent ideals: truth, beauty, justice, and the good. Life had meaning and purpose, and the Platonic­-Christian view allowed man to relate, to discern his position in the scheme of things; and it facilitated humaneness in the human condition, for man knew his nature and could he himself. But the spirit of modernity, rooted in nominalism, undercut that view. It rejected the notion that there was “a center of things,” and it turned in “flight toward the periphery.”[65] There was no longer an integrating ideal; the pull of intellectual forces was “centrifugal” rather than “centripetal.” Conceptually the life of the mind became “fragmented,” and the press to the “periphery” became a powerful “obsession.” There emerged a preoccupa­tion with the factual and concrete—posi­tivism manifested that trait. There was no desire to synthesize, to relate, to conceptual­ize, nor to project notions of meaning and purpose. In fact, there emerged a profound hostility to the contention that es­sences—truth, beauty, justice, good—even existed, let alone could be defined. As Weaver explained, “The modernistic searcher after meaning may be likened to a man furiously beating the earth and imagining that the finer he pulverizes it, the nearer he will get to the riddle of existence.”[66] And what is the end result?:

It is a politics of infinite dispersion. Everything goes flying off in its own di­rection; liberalism becomes ever more liberal; hierarchies are toppled so that there is no longer any means of judging one thing as better or worse than another… Moral order is collapsed into something like the universe of modern astrophysics, with everything moving away centrifugally, nobody knows where or why. And this goes on forever….[67]

“It is,” Weaver summarized, “just as if Plato’s philosopher had left the city to look at the trees and then had abandoned specu­lative wisdom for dendrology.”[68] This intel­lectual flight of the modern mind from the Platonic-Christian perspective is lamen­table, for “[w] isdom does not lie on the periphery.”[69]

Nominalism infected the American political character through its agent of relativism. Denying the notion that there were ultimate essences and absolutes by which judgments and evaluations were to be made, nominalism led inexorably to the premise that all values were relative:

Relativism denies outright that there are any absolute truths, any fixed principles, or any standards beyond what one may consider his convenience. A theory is true only relative to the point of view of the individual, or to the time in which it is asserted, or to the circumstances which prevail at the moment. Truth is forever contingent and evolving, which means, of course, that you can never lay hands on it. Relativism is actually the abdication of truth.[70]

And as to the political implications of relativism, Weaver observed:

The greatest injury that the idea of relativism had done to political think­ing…lies in the encouragement it gives to middle-of-the-roadism…. Mid­dle-of-the-roadism is the departure of intellect from political thinking…. A political philosophy takes a stand in fa­vor of certain values and the arrangements that follow from them…. Now the truth about the middle-of-the-road position is that it has no such charac­ter…. It doesn’t see with its own eyes. It tries to get along by borrowing a lit­tle from those who have done the hard work of seeing the principles through.[71]

Weaver had no quarrel with the need to compromise “at the level where concrete facts [were] encountered.” However, he added, “But I do deny strenuously that compromise itself is a political philosophy. After all, one has to have something to compromise from.“[72] Relativism had pro­duced the “Whig theory of history” which taught “that the most advanced point in time is the most advanced in develop­ment,” and the demanding mistress Prog­ress emerged as the new Goddess.[73] More pointedly, relativism had produced con­temporary American liberalism. Concern­ing the latter, Weaver wrote, “[T]he essence of the liberal’s position is that he has no position.”[74] Moreover, “[w]here no conception of a moral absolute exists, authority has no real basis,” and this has ominous implications for the ideal of “hu­man freedom and dignity;” Weaver as­serted, “I am entirely convinced that relativism as a doctrine must eventually lead to a regime of force. The relativist has no outside authority, no constraining transcendent idea to appeal to or to be de­terred by. For him ‘all things flow.'”[75]

In addition to spawning the “Whig theory of history,” nominalism had other devastating effects upon cultural life in the West and in America in particular. First, contrary to the Platonic-Christian patri­mony, by “denying that universals [had] a real existence” nominalism destroyed the traditional conception of education. “Tradi­tional education,” Weaver wrote, “has always been based on the assumption that there is a world of data, a fixed reality, which is worth knowing and even worth reverencing.”[76] Furthermore, in keeping with the Platonic-Christian view, traditional education felt “the upward pull of definite religious and cultural ideas,” and as a consequence, “Its content and method have been designed to develop the mind and the character in making choices be­tween truth and error, between right and wrong.”[77] Nominalism substituted “progres­sive education” for the traditional form. In promoting the “flight toward the periphery,” nominalism reduced education to a formless, unstructured ritual void of sub­ stance. “The new education,” Weaver ex­plained, “is rather something dreamed up by romantic enthusiasts, political fanatics, and unreflective acolytes of positive science.”[78] As there were no principles, no essences, no universals, no objective struc­ture of reality, education, under the guid­ance of John Dewey and his disciples, be­came  a  fragmented  and  purely subjective personal experience: “In brief, learning is to be foregone in favor of the child’s spontaneous desires and unreflective thoughts.”[79] Weaver further noted:

The boast of the innovating ‘progres­sive’ schools is that they prepare the youth for a changing world. Would it not be incomparably more sensible to prepare the youth to understand why the world is changing? This is what the humanities do. There is little appeal here to the exponents of progressive ed­ucation because they have no desire to rise above the confusion.[80]

Progressive education, Weaver lamented, “[N]either encourages reflection nor in­spires a reverence for the good,” and he concluded, “The conflict between [it] and the principal teachings of the Judeo­ Christian-classical heritage of the West will be immediately apparent.”[81] As the educa­tional system was a key bearer of culture, the ravages of nominalism had been carried into the vital center of the American ex­perience.

Beyond education, nominalism had taken a heavy cultural toll in journalism, paint­ing, music, and rhetoric. The world of journalism, including that of the newspa­per, radio, and television, projects a “sick­ly metaphysical dream. The ultimate source of evaluation ceases to be the dream of beauty and truth and becomes that of psychopathia, of fragmentation, of dishar­mony and nonbeing.”[82] In turning from any notion of an integrating ideal or center, modern journalism had sought refuge in a preoccupation with the specific and fleeting. Weaver compared the world of journalism with that of the Platonic cave.[83] In the cave, the multitude sits with eyes fixed upon the wall where shadows rise and fall. The wall of shadows is the world of the ephemeral and trivial. As Plato instructed, it was the philosopher who sought to turn from the wall and to go out of the cave into the sun, into the world of the true and enduring. In contrast, the function of the modern journalist is to keep the focus of the multitude upon the wall. To accom­plish this end, the journalist employs that giant machine, The Great Stereopticon.[84] Weaver observed, “It is the function of this machine to project selected pictures of life in the hope that what is seen will be imitated….We are told the time to laugh and the time to cry….”[85] To keep all eyes fixed upon the wall, the journalists­, the operators of The Great Stereopticon,­ must war upon memory, form, and the re­flective. The need was to gain and keep at­tention through “titillation;” all reserve was sacrificed, and “[p]roud of its shamelessness, the new journalism served up in swaggering style matter which heretofore had been veiled in decent taciturnity.”[86] In making a “virtue of desecration,” license is taken whereby “a certain recklessness of diction, with vivid verbs and fortissimo adjectives, creeps into the very language,” and “substance itself is changed to appeal to appetites for the lurid, the prurient, and the sadistic.”[87] Weaver concluded:

What humane spirit, after [exposure to some form of contemporary journal­ism] has not found relief in fixing his gaze upon some characteristic bit of nature? It is escape from the sickly metaphysical dream. Out of the surfeit of falsity born of technology and com­mercialism we rejoice in returning to primary data and to assurance that the world is a world of enduring forms which in themselves are neither brutal nor sentimental.[88]

Likewise, modern painting had suffered extensively under the imprint of nominalism: “For when we plumb the deepest springs of the artistic impulse, we find a source much akin to that of philosophy. All philosophy, Aristotle declared, begins with wonder, and it appears equally true that the artist is a wonder-struck being.”[89] However, modern art, in following con­temporary philosophy, retreated from the notion of a transcendent ideal at the center and opted for an obsession with fragments. Painting no longer had an integrating ideal, and there commenced a shift of emphasis to technique and to the subjective world of sensation. The ultimate in the decline of art is “[t]he movement of Impressionism, which is the revolutionary event of modern painting…. This meant the acceptance of life as good and satisfying in itself, with a consequent revolution to revel in the here and now. The world of pure sensation thus became the world of art.”[90] Weaver asserted, “My interpretation is that Impres­sionism brings nominalism into painting. One of the cardinal tenets of [nominalism] is that outline does not exist in nature…. If form does not exist prior to things, na­turally it is realism to paint things.”[91] Thus nominalism, in giving birth to relativism and hence egotism, produced a decline in art where the goal was no longer the de­piction of transcendent and integrating ideals; rather, the concern was with the subjective and sensate, with the expression of ego through technique—and all perpe­trated in the name of “realism.”

“The degenerative influences” of nominal­ism in music commenced with a departure from “the traditional forms…of free­dom and restraint, of balance and resili­ency” furnished by Mozart.[92] “The portents of change came with Beethoven,” Weaver wrote, whose emphasis upon “dynamism and of strains of individualism pointed the way which the succeeding century was to take.”[93] Ultimately, Weaver observed, “Music had its Impressionist movement. With Liszt and Debussy, especially, it turned to the exploitation of color and at­mosphere…. This phase was technically a flight from the construction and balance of classical form, in effect it was a concen­tration upon ’emotive fragments.'”[94] As the ego was driven ever inward in search of meaning and solace, it turned to jazz (and later “rock”) which was “the clearest of all signs of our age’s deep-seated predilection for barbarism.”[95] Jazz, Weaver argued, “[Was] a triumph of grotesque, even hysterical, emotion over propriety and reasonableness.” Indeed, he wondered, “Jazz often sounds as if in a rage to divest itself of anything that suggests structure or confinement.”[96] Jazz reflects a mood “impatient for titillation,” and it reflects the de­sire of the performer for “fullest liberty to express himself as an egotist.”[97] Weaver contended, “By dissolving forms, it [jazz] has left man free to move without refer­ence, expressing dithyrambically whatever surges up from below. It is a music not of dreams—certainly not of our metaphysical dream—but of drunkenness.”[98] In sum, jazz “shows how the soul of modern man craves orgiastic disorder.”[99] Even more tragically, “[o]ne can detect signs of sui­cidal impulse; one feels at times that the modern world is calling for madder music and for stronger wine, is craving some delirium which will take it completely away from reality.”[100]

Finally, and most critically, rhetoric had succumbed to nominalism. What is rhet­oric? “Rhetoric is anciently and proper­ly defined as the art of persuasion.”[101] Weaver wrote, “[Man is] born into history, with an endowment of passion and a sense of the ought…. His life is therefore characterized by movement toward goals. It is largely the power of rhetoric which in­fluences and governs that movement.”[102] More simply, rhetoric is “the attempt through language to make one’s point of view.”[103] Rhetoric then is concerned with words, written and spoken, and their use in the pursuit of values and goals. De­pending upon the values served, rhetoric is good or bad. As the Platonic-Christian tradition had taught since antiquity, it was imperative to discern the “nature of things,” to perceive the transcendent ideals, to comprehend the proper hierarchy of values, to eschew relativism, and to construct and preserve that language which rendered service to the ultimate good: “So rhetoric at its truest seeks to perfect men by showing them better versions of them­selves, links in that chain extending up toward the ideal, which only the intellect can apprehend and only the soul have affection for.”[104]

Rhetoric is the key to a culture; it is the tie that binds and affords cohesion; it ex­presses the soul and essence of a people­ it tells of their “being.” If rhetoric is cor­rupt, this is a symptom that society is corrupt; conversely, a society of integrity will have a rhetoric of integrity. By denying that ultimate essences and values were knowable, nominalism had greviously af­flicted rhetoric. In erecting the new idol of relativism, nominalism had left us with “ex­actly the same atomization which we have deplored in other fields.”[105] At best, language had become banal and frivolous—note the world of journalism and advertis­ing; too often, even in supposedly serious literary forms, language reflected an ethic with an insatiable appetite for titillation through descriptions of the brutal, obscene, and debased. Indeed, it was a measure of the scandal of the new ethic of relativism that it could not even define “brutality,” “obscenity,” and kindred debasements—after all, “all is relative,” and evaluations are dependent solely upon the subjective eye of the individual beholder.

Thus, by inducing the modern mind to repudiate the notion of integrating ideals at the center, nominalism had undercut the entire Platonic-Christian position, and the effect was to set in motion a theoretical and cultural unraveling of far-reaching consequences: not only was there rejection of the concept of enduring essences at the center, there followed logically a denial of any discernible “structure of reality;” a denial that things had essential natures which were knowable; a denial there was a dualism of the transcendent and material and that the transcendent was superior; and a denial that hierarchy was inherent in the nature of being and that the develop­ment of standards and values consistent with this hierarchy was of the highest priority in a purportedly civilized culture. In addition, there was a complete turning away from certain theoretical essentials of the biblical view: namely, original sin, evil, and tragedy. Sin and evil were beyond the comprehension of the modern mind, for out of the relativism generated by nominalism there was no conception of right versus wrong, there were no standards by which to evaluate and judge. The position of the modern mind was either to ignore tragedy, as there were no philosophical resources to cope with it, or to pretend that as man had only a material dimension a perfected science would eventually eradicate it. Science then would redeem mankind—this was the final effrontery of the modern mind: There was an absence of piety, an ab­sence of that “protective virtue of humili­ty.” Unrestrained and shameless egotism was the basic symbol of the modern age, and it stood as the stark antithesis to the Platonic-Christian heritage.


In the American experience, it was the heritage of the Old South, Weaver con­tended, which offered the intellectual base for overcoming the debilitating effects of nominalism: “The South, which has spent so many years as America’s stepchild, is proving to have the gift which may save the household from destruction.”[106] Lest the shallow romanticists misunderstood, Weaver cautioned that he was not speaking of the South of “the moonlight and mag­nolia tradition,” nor of “the old rebel yell.” Likewise, he noted that the South was a land of “anomalies” and “contradictions,” and there was “the danger of taking hold of the South by a simple handle.” Weaver admonished against accepting uncritically the ways of the Old South. He warned that things had to be looked at “in the round” and that the Old South had its deficiencies: on occasion it had worshiped status at the expense of warranted change; it had too frequently contributed to the “deprecia­tion of the intellectual;” and thus when it “needed a Burke or a Hegel; it produced lawyers and journalists.”[107] Yet in spite of these limitations, when compared with the New South model, which was merely a call for the contemporary South to conform to the national standard of nominalism, the Old South ideal had much of critical sub­stance to offer modern America: “The Old South may indeed be a hall hung with splendid tapestries in which no one would care to live; but from them we can learn something of how to live.”[108] More so than any other section of the country, the Old South afforded the philosophical material essential for reversing the momentum of nominalism and rekindling the Platonic­-Christian heritage. Although Weaver was not prone to dwell extensively upon the particulars of the influence, clearly South­ern Agrarianism in general, and that “subtle doctor” John Crowe Ransom in particular, had made an indelible mark on Weaver’s thinking.

At first blush, it appears a paradox that Weaver should turn to that section of the country which is by conventional wisdom the most provincial in order to direct so­ciety from the fragmented world of nominal­ism to a restoration of faith in universals. However, upon reflection, there is no con­tradiction: The South is provincial in the American context precisely because it is that section with roots most deeply in the Platonic-Christian heritage. Weaver ob­served, “Even in the South today one can find surviving large segments of the classi­cal-Christian-medieval synthesis.”[109] In con­trast to the nation as a whole, the South had over the years nurtured its European roots, and this gave its thinking and way of life a degree of maturity not found in the more secular, optimistic, pragmatic, and progress-oriented ethic of the broader na­tional experience.

In keeping with the Platonic tradition, Weaver noted the South was “based upon a paradigmatic ideal,” meaning Southern culture showed “a degree of centripetal­ism, or orientation toward a center, which was characteristic of all high cultures.”[110] As evidence of this “orientation toward a center,” one could speak of “the South” or “Southernness” and he understood as indi­cating a way of life; there was no other region of the country where that was so, for the other regions, under the fragmenting impact of nominalism, lacked “a center.” Concerning this pull to the center as unique­ly characteristic of the South, Weaver wrote, “An American reared as a Southern­er is in a sense like a man born into the Church of Rome; it is questionable whether he ever finds it possible to repudiate the South entirely.”[111]

Consistent with the Platonic view, the traditional Southern mind had accepted the notion that there was a “structure of reali­ty,” that things had essential natures. More particularly, the South had kept “at the heart of its faith a belief in the dual nature of man.”[112] The components of this dualism are the material and transcendent, and “the basis of [Southern] culture, like that of all true cultures, is transcendental.”[113] Indeed, it is in the Old South that one finds “the last non-materialist civilization in the West­ern World.”[114] Finally, the traditional South reflected the Platonic interest in standards, evaluation, hierarchy, and antiegalitari­anism:

[T]he South has never lost sight of the fact that society means structuring and differentiation, and that “society” and “mass” are antithetical terms. It has never fallen for a simple equalitarian­ism, nor has it embraced the senti­mentalism that anyone on the bottom ipso facto belongs on top.[115]

In addition, Weaver reasoned, the South was that section best equipped to serve as the “flywheel” of the American nation and to lead the forces of restoration because of its traditional religious fundamentalism: “[M]ore conservative than America as a whole, [the South] shows an almost unanimous opposition to those tendencies which would destroy the poetic-religious myths and create the mass state.”[116] Weaver added, “[T]he South remains the strong­ hold of religious and perhaps also of ethi­cal fundamentalism:”

The typical Southerner is an authentical­ly religious being if one means by religion not a neat set of moralities hut a deep and even frightening intuition of man’s radical dependence in this world…. I suggest that the Southerner’s practice of viewing the world in this way is the postulate of all his thinking.[117]

Historically, the Old South had put its con­fidence—nay, faith—in “the older reli­giousness” rather than in “psychiatry and socialism.” The Southerner implicitly un­derstood the wisdom of former North Carolina Governor Charles Aycock’s state­ment: “Nowhere within [North Caro­lina’s] borders [is there] a man ignorant enough to join the fool in saying ‘There is no God.'”[118] The traditional Southerner was religious in the deepest sense, for he com­prehended the crucial meanings of the words “inscrutable” and “mystery:” the Southerner has “a sense of the inscrutable, which leaves man convinced of the exis­tence of supernatural intelligence and pow­er, and leads him to the acceptance of life as mystery.”[119]

The South’s religious patrimony was decidedly Christian and orthodox: The con­cepts of original sin, evil, and tragedy had unquestioned meaning to the Southerner. Concerning original sin and evil, the Southerner was “opposed to the chimerical notion that man is by nature good. He urged that, on the contrary, no government can hope to survive which does not pro­ceed on the assumption that man is a fallen being.”[120] To the orthodox religious mind of the South, it was cardinal error and heresy “[t]o substitute a sentimental op­timism and humanitarianism for the old and proved doctrine of man’s natural depravity.”[121] Above all else, the Southerner understood the reality of tragedy. As had no other section of the country, the South had tasted the bitter “cup of defeat.” Yet out of this defeat did not emerge despair or bit­terness; as one Southerner observed shortly after the close of the Civil War, “It is only the atheist who adopts success as a criterion of right. It is not a new thing in the history of men that God appoints to the brave and the true the stern task of contending, and falling, in a righteous quarrel.”[122] As the Southern mind viewed it, Weaver explained:

God had foreseen all, and our suffering and our defeats in this world were part of a discipline whose final fruit it was not given to mortal minds to perceive…. [G]reat calamities had to be re­garded as part of the design of in­ scrutable Providence.[123]

Thus, defeat and suffering were looked upon not as evidence of repudiation; rather, they were considered as parts of the mystery of God’s plan—the book of Job had artfully instructed men in this most fundamental of lessons. In Southern religious thought, there was no basis for questioning or despairing in defeat, for even defeat was God’s will and thereby good, and out of God’s plan ultimately came only hope and affirmation. In sum, in orthodox Southern religiousness, it was “God who wielded the thunder,” and there was no such thing as “the lost cause.”

Finally, as a result of the Platonic­-Christian heritage, the “ancient virtue of pietas” dominated the thinking of the older South. There existed veneration for the transcendent and the order of things, there was reverence for nature, tradition, history, and status. Man was the creature, not the Creator, and it was that most ancient vice of hubris to contend man was self-produced and thus entitled to war on creation and the nature of things; there was then a spirit of restraint and sensitivity—there was chival­ry and humaneness. Although man was finite and here as a “mist” or “shadow,” the ultimate forms and essences endured. In view then of man’s position in this scheme of things, the traditional Southern mind, in keeping with the Platonic­-Christian tradition, had understood the meaning of piety. It was Robert E. Lee, the quintessence of Southernness, whom Weaver quoted to show the deep sense of piety present in the Old South. Lee wrote:

[N]or…do I despair of the future. The march of Providence is so slow, and our desires so impatient, the work of progress is so immense, and our means of aiding it so feeble, the life of hu­manity is so long, and that of the indi­vidual so brief, that we often see only the ebb of the advancing wave, and are thus discouraged. It is history that teaches us to hope.[124]

Weaver was profoundly moved by this as­sessment. He exclaimed:

It is a rare distillation. If Lee had been a member of that archetypal republic which a great philosopher imagined, with its orders of valor and wisdom, is it not likely that he would have been promoted a grade? I think that he would have risen from warrior to philosopher king.[121]

“I see no way,” Weaver concluded, “to sum up the offense of modern man except to say that he is impious.”[126] As piety had historically existed in the South, more so than in any other area of the country, it was understandable that Weaver looked to this region to commence the search for the philosophical resources to reverse “the fear­ful descent” of the modern age.

In Conclusion

As noted at the outset, Weaver accepted the label “conservative” as accurately describ­ing his philosophical position; nevertheless, he was sympathetic to the libertarian spirit: “My instincts are libertarian, and I am sure that I would never have joined effort with the conservatives if I had not been con­vinced that they are the defenders of free­dom today.”[127] In fact, Weaver observed, “I think conservatives and libertarians stand together…. Both of them believe that there is an order of things, which will largely take care of itself if you leave it alone.”[128] A crucial question emerges: Was Weaver saying libertarianism and con­servatism were identical perspectives? Weaver never expressly elaborated on this question; however, a reading of his works does suggest he saw an important difference and that he preferred the conservative view.

From Weaver’s perspective, libertarian­ism was eminently correct in its concern for individual liberty; yet, it unduly limited it­self by offering only “freedom from” and not confronting the deeper question: “Free­dom for what?” In fact, a narrowly con­ceived philosophy emphasizing only free­dom for the individual to do as he chooses, depending upon the whim of the subjective inner self, is perilously close to the crude and unreserved egotism of nominalism­ impiety lies close at hand. The concept of freedom alone is not sufficient to sustain that undeniable and irrepressible longing of man, reflected in philosophers and the­ologians, to know of the nature and order of things, to know of the meaning and pur­pose of man’s being—in a word, to know of Truth. Libertarianism does not purport to answer those questions; still they persist, they do not melt away. In Weaver’s think­ing, it is American conservatism which, al­though sharing the libertarian’s concern for human freedom, develops a more mature philosophy dealing with the ultimate questions, a philosophy which does seek to pursue and discern, however dimly and imperfectly, meaning, purpose, and truth in the human experience. More specifically, conservatism is a philosophy of affirmation:

The conservative I therefore see as standing on terra firma of antecedent reality; having accepted some things as given, lasting and good, he is in a position to use his effort where effort will produce solid results…. The conserva­tive wants to conserve the great struc­tural reality which has been given us and which is on the whole beneficient.[129]

“There is,” argued Weaver, “iron in our nature sufficient to withstand any fact that is present in a context of affirmation.”[130] Poignantly reflecting his conserva­tism of affirmation, Weaver concluded:

[W]e are eager to know whether, on the broad issues of this life, [a man stands] with the pessimists or the optimists. This is putting the matter in simple terms, of course; but humanity has a clear mind on this issue; it will not have for its great teachers those who despair of the condition of man. It will read them for excitement; it will utilize them as a corrective, but it will not cherish them as its final oracles. It prefers Aristotle to Diogenes and Augustine to Schopenhauer. It does not wish to hear said, however brilliantly, that life is a tale told by an idiot; it wants an unmistakable, if chastened, recommendation of life.[131]

In seeking a philosophy sustaining a “recommendation of life,” Weaver turned to those venerable traditions of Western thought which spoke in terms of meaning, purpose, and truth, in terms of affirmation; namely, he turned to the Platonic-Christian heritage and its manifestation in the Amer­ican South. In response to this modern age which had denied categorically—and often perversely and gleefully—notions of meaning, purpose, and truth, in response to this age which in a word had succumbed to nominalism and its progeny of fanati­cism and nihilism, Weaver declined to collaborate by positing a conservatism of despair and negation; rather, he responded by articulating a conservatism of hope and affirmation—a firm foundation for a found­ing father to have laid.

Books on the topic of this essay may be found in The Imaginative Conservative Bookstore. Republished with gracious permission from Modern Age (Fall 1975). This is the second essay in a two-part series. The first essay may be found here


[63] Weaver, Richard Ideas Have Consequences (1948), 3, 2 (hereafter cited as IHC).

[64] Ibid., 21.

[65] Ibid., 52-3.

[66]Weaver, Richard Visions of Order: The Cultural Crisis of Our Time (1964), 38 (hereafter cited as VO).

[67] Modern Age, Vol. 4 (1960), 320.

[68] IHC, 57.

[69] Ibid., 65.

[70] Relativism and the Crisis of Our Times (1961), ISI pamphlet, 4 (hereafter cited as Relativism).

[71] Ibid., 5-7.

[72] Ibid., 7.

[73] IHC, 130.

[74] Weaver, Richard Life Without Prejudice and Other Essays (1965), 153 (hereafter cited as LWP).

[75] VO, 125; Relativism, 12.

[76] VO, 126.

[77] National Review, Vol.1 (January 25, 1956), 27; LWP, 63.

[78] VO, 115.

[79] Ibid., 128.

[80] New Individualist Review, Vol. 3, No. 3 (1964), 20.

[81] IHC, 48; VO, 115.

[82] IHC, 104.

[83] Ibid., 108.

[84] Ibid., Ch. V.

[85] Ibid., 93.

[86] Ibid., 28.

[87] Ibid., 98; VO, 53.

[88] IHC, 112.

[89] Georgia Review, Vol. 22 (1968), 302.

[90] IHC, 88.

[91] Ibid., 89.

[92] Ibid., 83.

[93] Ibid.

[94] Ibid., 84.

[95] Ibid., 85.

[96] Ibid.

[97] Ibid., 86.

[98] Ibid., 87.

[99] Ibid.

[100] Ibid., 185.

[101] Weaver, Richard Language is Sermonic (1970), 140.

[102] Ibid., 221.

[103] Ibid., 220.

[104] Weaver, Richard The Ethics of Rhetoric (1953), 25 (hereafter cited as ER).

[105] IHC, 152.

[106] Texas Quar­terly, Vol. 2 (Summer, 1959), 144.

[107] Weaver, Richard The Southern Tradition at Bay (1968), 389 (hereafter cited as STB).

[108] Ibid., 396.

[109] The Lasting South (1957), 50.

[110] National Review, Vol.10 (June 17, 1961), 389; New Individualist Review, 8.

[111] STB, 330.

[112] Texas Quarterly, 126.

[113] Ibid., 133.

[114] STB, 391.

[115] The Lasting South, 126.

[116] The South Atlantic Quarterly, Vol.68 (1944), 196.

[117] Southern Renascence (1953), 19, 15.

[118] STB, 376.

[119] Ibid., 48.

[120] Ibid., 143.

[121] Ibid.,

[122] Ibid., 147.

[123] Ibid., 209.

[124] Georgia Review, Vol. 2 (1948), 303 (also quoted in STB, 2019-10).

[125] Ibid.

[126] IHC, 170.

[127] LWP, 164.

[128] Ibid., 163.

[129] Ibid., 159.

[130] IHC, 170.

[131] Georgia Review, Vol.2 (1948), 302.

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