Let parents, then, bequeath to their children not riches, but the spirit of reverence.
- Plato, Laws
Ideas Have Consequences, by Richard Weaver
I come now to the final chapter in Weaver’s book. Having described the situation, he has already offered two steps toward what he describes as “our journey back.” First is property; second, the repair of communications. In this chapter, he addresses piety and justice.
He sums up the offense of modern man: he is impious.
…modern man is a parricide. He has taken up arms against, and he has effectually slain, what former men have regarded with filial veneration.
Plato, through Socrates, describes piety consisting of the co-operation with the gods in the kind of order they have instituted. This is a part of the larger concept of justice. Piety 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.
Weaver offers three things that we should regard with piety: nature, our neighbors (meaning all other people), and our past. Regarding nature:
It is a matter of elementary observation that nature reflects some kind of order which was here before our time and which, even after the atomic fission, defies our effort at total comprehension.
Like most subjects, the more we learn, the more we realize what we don’t know. Yet this reality does not seem to dissuade the scientists. We often are scolded: “every time science butts up against religion, science wins.” Without debating this point, I suggest: every time science butts up against a prior science, the new science wins. To the extent science is “settled,” one wonder why we have any need of scientists.
We get increasing evidence under the regime of science that to meddle with small parts of a machine of whose total design and purpose we are ignorant produces evil consequences.
This preoccupation with science suggests to Weaver that man doesn’t consider himself superior to her, but imprisoned by her. Perhaps in a reflection of this, C. S. Lewis offered, in The Abolition of Man, that it will be Human nature that is then the last part of Nature to surrender to Man: “The battle will indeed be won. But who, precisely, will have won it?”
It is in those who have a proper respect toward nature where intellectuality advances into wisdom: the youth is merely a believer in ideas; the mature man, while also believing in ideas, is content to see these embodied – meaning he sees the limitations in ideas.
In other words, he has found that substance is a part of life, a part which is ineluctable.
It is here where ideology has the potential to turn to horror – and I suggest that no ideology is immune. Without understand something of human nature – which, inherently, is imperfect – the dreams of every “perfect” system end in the same place: a guillotine, a gulag, a long march, a corona-lockdown.
The second form of piety accepts the substance of other beings. Through knowledge, one credits the reality of other selves. There was a time when the chivalrous recognized the right to existence not only of inferiors, but also of enemies.
The idea of unconditional surrender says all that must be said about what happened to this acceptance of other beings. F.J.P. Veale, from his book Advance to Barbarism offers that it was Lincoln introduced this idea in America, and all participants in World War One introduced it to the world.
The third form of piety credits the past with substance. We act today as if we “aspire to a condition of collective amnesia.” If we are to spend even a moment in reflection, we must recognize that it is the past on which we reflect.
Most modern people appear to resent the past and seek to deny its substance for either of two reasons: (1) it confuses them, or (2) it inhibits them.
It is piety that moves us to accept the past as part of our total reality; impiety buries memory with the bones. Holding an awareness of the past protects us from both egotism and a shallow optimism.
Having offered his views on the necessity of piety and the forms this must take, Weaver looks at the forms of impiety today – remember, “today” is more than seventy years ago. Our impiety of nature takes form in the destructive notion of equality of the sexes; our impiety toward persons is manifest in a loss of respect for personality – where the individual recognizes his relationship to the transcendental and to the living community; and, finally, the most vocal of modern impieties is the contempt for the past:
The great proliferation of social science today seems to spring from just this fallacy; they provide us with rationales, but they are actually contemptuous of history, which gives us the three-dimensional experience of mankind.
For modern man there is no providence, because it would imply wisdom superior to his and a relationship of means to ends which he cannot find out.
The pride reveals itself in impatience and immediate expressions of will. It is a deification of self, putting himself in the place of God.
…we must put the question of whether modern civilization wishes to survive.
It seems the last few weeks have put rest to this question. The brainwashed will scream “YES,” thinking of “survival” in only the most meaningless and shallow terms (and, really, not “thinking” at all). The rest of us know better.
Throughout this book, Weaver has attempted to avoid appeals to religion, yet he concludes that this is impossible: “It can be shown in every case that loss of belief results in some form of bitterness.” And in this short sentence, we find the root of the meaning crisis that grips western society today.
Clemenceau made a proposal at Versailles, asking Wilson, Lloyd George, and Orlando whether they were taking seriously the idea of this last war being the war to end all war:
After obtaining assent from each of the somewhat nonplussed heads of state, Clemenceau proceeded to add up before them the cost. The British would have to give up their colonial system; the Americans would have to get out of the Philippines, to keep their hands off Mexico; and on and on it went. Clemenceau’s colleagues soon made it plain that this was not at all what they had in mind, whereupon the French realist bluntly told them that they wanted not peace but war.
Weaver would offer: “such is the position of all who urge justice but really want, and actually choose, other things.