Ideas Have Consequences (75 Books LIX)

I probably should’ve learned my lesson from reading Evola and Boethius that trying to read anything particularly sophisticated as an e-book, especially since this usually means just reading during lunch break at work, is a bad idea. However, that’s the format I owned Richard Weaver’s Ideas Have Consequences in, so that’s what I did. As with Evola and Boethius, I’ll need to re-read this someday in a dead-tree version, because I had a hard time following some of Weaver’s arguments, and I’m sure that’s my own fault.

In any case, Consequences is an ambitious work that traces the origins of Liberalism to William of Occam’s idea of nominalism, and then proceeds to demonstrate the consequences of that idea in modern art, work, property rights, and many other things. There are a couple possible dangers to this sort of broad approach to tracing the genealogy of Liberalism. The first is that one can oversimplify the problems one’s society faces, and start to think that one can fix it with “one weird trick” by striking at one underlying issue. The other is that Rightists sometimes turn this into almost a parlour game or a competition of “Rightier than thou” by tracing the origin of Liberalism back farther and farther, until one starts to wonder if perhaps the Code of Hammurabi is what ruined everything. Fortunately, Weaver avoids both of these potential problems.

Though he wrote this in 1948, both the general thesis and Weaver’s specific examples are still very much relevant. While discussing education, for example, he writes:

[Americans] have built numberless high schools, lavish in equipment, only to see them, under the prevailing scheme of values, turned into social centers and institutions for improving the personality, where teachers, living in fear of constituents, dare not enforce scholarship. They have built colleges on an equal scale, only to see them turned into playgrounds for grown-up children or centers of vocationalism and professionalism. Finally, they have seen pragmatists, as if in peculiar spite against the very idea of hierarchy, endeavoring to turn classes into democratic forums, where the teacher is only a moderator, and no one offends by presuming to speak with superior knowledge.

This is still true today, and has only gotten worse in the decades since Weaver wrote. When writing about journalism, he makes an observation familiar to anyone used to seeing mainstream journalists compare anyone and anything vaguely Right-wing to National Socialism: “I have felt that the way in which newspapers raked over every aspect of Adolf Hitler’s life and personality since the end of the war shows that they really have missed him; they now have no one to play anti-Christ against the bourgeois righteousness they represent.”

Consequences is one of those books that one can quote almost in its entirety, but it’s most effective, of course, read together. So, I’ll just say that it’s deservedly one of the relatively few classics of the American Right, and one of the best books I’ve read this year.

2 Comments

    • Richard Carroll

      Thanks for your comment.

      Ultimately, yes, about all of our problems can be traced back to the Fall of Man. However, though the particular illness of Liberalism may have original sin as an ultimate cause, it’s still helpful to give some thought to what the more immediate, secondary cause is.

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