Monday, April 6, 2020

Property as Metaphysical

Ideas Have Consequences, by Richard Weaver

…to those who believe in transcendentals, progress is without relation to time and space.  It is possible, therefore, to think of a metaphysical course toward center, which will be neither a going-backward nor a going-forward in the current sense of the phrases.

It is an interesting thought by Weaver: if the transcendental is reality, we need not be concerned about the idea of going back to some pre-modern time; we are merely desiring to find our way to center.  We have left this center by first yielding to materialism, which led to the egotism and social anarchy of today.  To find our way to center, Weaver begins by examining what he calls “The Last Metaphysical Right.”

To make use of this right, we must accept as given that man can both know and will.  “…without them there is no hope of recovery.”  Man must know and will if he is to recover from what Weaver describes as a “falsified picture of the world.” 

Once man has regained sufficient humility to confess that ideals have been dishonored and that his condition is a reproach, one obstruction has been removed.

And what a huge obstruction this is.  Yet this is precisely why I see that Christianity must be at the fore of this.  Christianity can speak authoritatively about man’s condition; Christianity has an institution behind it, and institution with great reach. 

But first, modern Christianity must also regain “sufficient humility to confess that ideals have been dishonored….”  As I am writing this on the weekend of the first time Palm Sunday has been cancelled, well you can imagine my concern.  And here I thought things were bad enough when Christians fought amongst each other on the most esoteric theological points, all the while supporting the warmongering of the state. 

In any case, it is not merely a case of teaching virtue.  As N. T. Wright offered during his Gifford Lectures: “To be an image-bearer is more than just behavior; otherwise we put the knowledge of good and evil before the knowledge of God.”  Weaver writes that teaching virtue is futile without an underpinning of a metaphysic.

That there is a world of ought, that the apparent does not exhaust the real – these are so essential to the very conception of improvement that it should be superfluous to mention them.

If this can be made plain, utilitarianism and pragmatism can be sent packing.  It is interesting to note how the conversation has, in the last years, turned very much in this direction.  Man is in search of meaning. 

Meaning hasn’t been found in the unimaginable material riches of our world; it hasn’t been found in “if it feels good, do it”; it hasn’t been found in the extreme individualism offered by grievance studies and social justice.  In fact, these have finally made plain the lack of meaning in a life of randomly-smashing atoms.

With this as background, Weaver comes to the point: the last metaphysical right.  Noting that “our side has been in retreat for four hundred years,” there is still one corner left standing: that is the right of private property – shaken, but still standing.

Before going further, my initial reaction to this: well, that Weaver isn’t seeing what’s going on today, with taxes, central banking, and now the shutting down of hundreds-of-thousands of businesses.  Then I thought…he just came through all of the depravations of World War Two and the private-property destroying great depression and FDR.  So, maybe I shouldn’t be so presumptuous.

So, continuing on: all else has been swept away by materialism.  But why does Weaver consider private property a metaphysical right?  It is metaphysical because it does not depend on any test of social usefulness. 

He does make at least one distinction: he does not include in his view of private property that property brought on through what he describes as “finance capitalism.”  This, he says, has done more to threaten property than anything conceived.

It is easy to see this if one is looking at the finance capitalism enabled via central banking.  But Weaver goes further – not even making this distinction.  He includes broadly large corporations, vast and integrated: “…it requires but a slight step to transfer them to state control.”

And aren’t we seeing exactly this?  It is why small business is an enemy to the state.  It takes as much effort to control the owner of a corner shoe store as it does to control the owner (or board of directors or CEO) of a multi-billion-dollar global enterprise.  Yet, through which one can government exercise more control?

Weaver looks, instead, to property that is controlled via individual responsibility.  In such a case, a man makes his virtue an active principle: it is his name on the product, on the storefront, behind the service.  It is his craftsmanship that is judged. 

He is one who can stand on his own feet, something not possible to those trained in the minute specializations required to support vast enterprises.  He is one who has a sense of honor due to his natural connection to his personal property, something rarely possible to employee #10490.  He is one who stood behind quality, such that the medieval property still stands, whereas modern property crumbles in a few decades.

And to this last point, can we really say that we are growing richer?  If a structure lasts five-hundred years, as opposed to requiring twenty structures to each last twenty-five years – a marked difference in quality – are we growing richer or poorer?


So long as there is a single breach in monism or pragmatism, the cause of values is not lost.

We are seeing many such breaches today.  The actions by the corrupt governments of our time are the proof of this.  But it takes men of property to enter the breach.  As Trotsky offered:

“In a country where the sole employer is the State, opposition means death by slow starvation.”

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