Tuesday, April 14, 2020

The Journey Back

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.

Weaver summarizes:

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.


  1. Peace is highly overrated.

    "In Italy for thirty years under the Borgias they had warfare, terror, murder and bloodshed but they produced Michelangelo, Leonardo da Vinci and the Renaissance. In Switzerland, they had brotherly love; they had five hundred years of democracy and peace and what did that produce? The cuckoo clock." —Orson Welles (The Third Man, 1949)

    1. The Renaissance is overrated. A civilization gifted from the cultural endowment of the preceding centuries which began the process of undoing all that their forefathers had believed and achieved.

      Peace has enduring and unquestionable merit.

      It promotes trade which produces prosperity; it engenders love which conceives enjoyment, fulfillment, and community; and it honors God's law, which grants everlasting rewards in Heaven.

      "Blessed are the peacemakers: for they shall be called the children of God." - Matthew 5:9

    2. The United Nations calls its troops 'Peacekeepers'. Jesus calls His troops 'Peacemakers'. Huge, huge difference!

      Peace keeping is done by force--overwhelming, violent force. It is ordered. You live peaceably within society the way you are told to or violent force will be unleashed against you.

      Peace making comes from within one's soul--the desire to live peaceably in one's society. No force is necessary, least of all violent force.

      Just one more contrast between the rule of God and the rule of the State.

    3. Since we're quoting scripture...

      "Do not suppose that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I did not come to bring peace but a sword. For I have come to turn a man against his father, a daughter against her mother, a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law — a man’s enemies will be the members of his own household." —Matthew 10:34-36

    4. But yet Jesus says peacemakers are to be blessed, not warmongers. Jesus in Matthew 10 isn't saying he loves war. He is making a statement knowing that revealing Himself to be God and to call people to that truth would cause disagreement. But it was a totally necessary disagreement. The conflict Jesus describes is around who the different groups say He is.

    5. "And making a whip of cords, he drove them all out of the temple, with the sheep and oxen. And he poured out the coins of the money-changers and overturned their tables. And he told those who sold the pigeons, "Take these things away; do not make my Father's house a house of trade". —John 2:13-16

      That's a warmongering of sorts.

    6. "...of sorts" is the best you can do?

      Really, Ahmed, this is enough. Are you comparing Jesus to Mohamed?

    7. Jesus was punishing sin which the God of creation has a right to do. Doesn't make Him a lover of violence for its own sake.

      There are higher order values at play here. It is a higher order of value to worship Jesus as Messiah, than to never present Himself as such. It is a higher order of value to preserve economic justice at the temple of God, than to allow thieves to swindle worshippers out of their money.

      That has nothing to do with warmongering.

    8. No, I just don't think that God changes His ways. The Old Testament gives many examples of violence like when David slew Goliath.

      Unless you're saying that God was alright with violence until the time of Jesus.

      To be clear, by violence I mean violence in self defense and in defense of the faith, not instigating violence.

    9. "To be clear, by violence I mean violence in self defense and in defense of the faith, not instigating violence."

      Ahmed, the Old Testament presents some tough passages in this regard - like just plain, brutal, violence. I am no expert at understanding the what and why of it, but they are there. I accept that there are some things I do not understand.

    10. RMB,

      "That has nothing to do with warmongering."

      Apologies if you misunderstood me. I was using the term "warmongering" in the meaning of someone who "calls for war" in defense of the faith as you can see by the scripture I quoted. I was using it as a neutral term (which it isn't).

      I can now see that the term "warmongering" actually carries a negative connotation. Google definition says it's similar to "jingoist", "militarist", "provoker", etc.

      I was so focused on the "peace" versus "war" aspect of Jesus that I didn't pay attention to the "monger" attached at the end of the word "war", which means "seller of", like a fishmonger (one who sells fish). Here, the word monger is not negative.

      So a poor choice of words on my part and not the meaning I had in mind. I should have used my own words instead of blindly repeating the word you used in your comment.

    11. Ahmed,

      The difference between aggressive war and defensive war is the same as the difference between murder and justified killing in self defense. And yes a warmonger would be someone like John McCain or John Bolton, certainly not Jesus. Given this company, you can see how we might be offended at the suggestion. Jesus, however, was no pacifist, as he did use force to disrupt the money changers at the Temple. But in so doing, He was only exercising his right of ownership; after all, it was His father's house. And the corruption of the ancient church clearly struck a nerve with Him.

      "Do not suppose that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I did not come to bring peace but a sword."

      RMB has already answered this well, but I'll just add that this is the problem when one takes a single line of scripture out of context.


      That's a great observation at how the State corrupts the language of Christianity. It seems as though the State, and the Left, it's vanguard, make all their gains in power by corruption and secularization of Christian principles and ideas.

    12. No problem. It is very easy to misuse words and misunderstand. I do it all the time.

    13. "It seems as though the State, and the Left, it's vanguard,..."

      ATL, putting this into military terms. If the vanguard of the State is the Left, then what is the main force? What follows in the path of the vanguard? What brings up the rear to mop up resistance?

      Now, this may not be the way you meant it, but your statement sounds as though it is ONLY the Left, working in conjunction with the State, which makes its gains in power according to the way you have described. Does the Right do the same thing? Does the Right ever act corruptly or usurp Christian principles and ideas? Is the Right content to bring up the rear and consolidate all the gains which the Left has accomplished? Many people, smarter than I am, have pointed out that this is exactly what happens and severely diminishes the meaning of the term "conservative" due to this.

      Yes, no doubt the Left is the 'vanguard' of the State, but the Right is the 'rearguard'. Without either of these two, the State would be seriously vulnerable to attack and defeat.

    14. Roger, I suspect (but will leave for ATL to confirm or deny) that he is using the term "left" in its proper sense - those against tradition, custom, religion (Christianity), intermediating institutions, etc.

      In this regard, much of what is considered today as "right" is also "left."

    15. Roger/BM,

      I would say both of you are right... er... correct. The left advances, slashing and burning it's way through Christian tradition and the remnants of Christendom, all the while appealing to popular Christian sentiments, and the right hurries behind it, solidifying its progress, hoping to get its turn at the helm every few years.

      I would use the great G.K. Chesterton quote about conservatives and progressives, but I'm sure you two have seen it plenty of times.

    16. Sometimes I feel as though the left/right game should be abandoned and rejected whole cloth, but I can't help but think that 'taking back' one of them is the only way to make big gains in the way of liberty and genuine progress.

      The left, very early on, had good ideas in economics and some good ideas in politics (Rothbard traces the roots of libertarianism to the left). But they had so many drawbacks in their attitudes on culture and religion. So many little poisons baked into the cake that were sure to kill the golden goose at some point.

      The right started out somewhat bad in politics and economics (especially so after the French Revolution), but great on culture and religion. It wasn't until those poisons of the left came to fruition and blossomed into totalitarian regimes that the right saw the danger and incompetence of a centralized state in preserving traditional ways of life and private property.

      A synthesis of the two, the good aspects, I think is the key. But how much of the left and right to keep and how much to reject? This is why I follow the Bionic Mosquito blog so diligently: it's on the cutting edge of this question.

      Perhaps only Bastion Mag competes. Mises Institute, LRC blog, and Property and Freedom Society are certainly there too, but they are not laser focused like our Mosquito. Thanks bud, for all you do!

    17. Thank you, ATL. This is very kind.

      Whatever I have made of this blog, it is a product of the great feedback as much as it is anything I have done. Several commenters over the years have pushed me, offered insights, gentle critiques. You are one of these.

      I look back on some of my earliest work; I am in quite a different - and healthier - place today because of this feedback and interaction.

  2. Good stuff. It is very confusing and revealing that Enlightenment rationalism has produced a movement that 1) reduces everything in society down to the individual in an attempt to free individuals from order and then 2) consumes the existence of the individual and digests it to feed the common good of the state.

    It is a simultaneous building up and tearing down of a human.

    1. I think it was Frank Van Dun who said something like (I am sure I will get this wrong): Let's remember, it is a human *being*.

      His point: the atomistic individual is no such thing, yet it is to the atomistic individual where the Enlightenment has led. It has left humans to stand naked in front of the state - no community or other institutions (e.g. Christianity / Church) by which he might defend himself and protect his freedom.