Ideas Have Consequences: a review, summary and notes

Ideas Have Consequences by Richard M. Weaver is a classic in the conservative tradition. I am generally not conservative, but was sent a copy of the book by a friend who encouraged me to study it, which I did to some extent. This page is the result of that study. It consists of a partial review, a three-tiered summary, a set of questions raised by the book, and a couple of possibilities for essay topics based on the book. I originally put this page up a year or so ago, but took it down almost immediately, and before linking to it from anywhere, having decided that the almost universally critical nature of the review was inappropriate given that there was actually quite a lot that I very much appreciated in this book. I have decided to place it back up anyway with that caveat, seeing that I am unlikely to revise the review any time soon, and not wanting to waste the effort that I put into it.

Table of contents

Review and analysis


In Ideas Have Consequences, first published by The University of Chicago Press in 1948, the author, Richard M. Weaver ("RW" from here on) contrasts his conservative perspective of social degeneration against a liberal perspective of social progress. Many fundamental questions are raised in this book, as well as some less fundamental ones, however, in leaving some of the most fundamental questions unanswered even whilst alluding to the existence of answers, RW fails to provide a thorough enough grounding for his claims. He thus leaves himself too open to the charge that his perspective is as much a subjective matter as an objective one. This is particularly problematic given that he asserts that we have lost confidence in objective truth due to the process of social degeneration: as readers we might then have expected good reason to be confident that the book constitutes or explicates objective truth.

I do not offer in this review an assertive opinion as to the correctness or otherwise of RW's primary causal hypothesis: that the dissolution of the West began when, in the fourteenth century debate, nominalism won out over logical realism. What I do discuss is the metaphysical and socio-political outlook presented in the book, the extent to which RW justifies that outlook, the extent to which I (dis)agree with it and why, some of the questions and issues raised by it, and the extent to which RW addresses those questions and issues.

I have not attempted though even in this limited respect to make this review comprehensive: Ideas Have Consequences is a dense book packed full of ideas. It is very possible that I will revisit this essay, possibly multiple times, to address this deficiency. If so, I will indicate which additions and/or changes I have made, and when.

First principles and truth: the context of the book's metaphysic

RW makes it plain that he believes in truth in the highest sense, and also that he believes that this truth is knowable. In particular, he makes it clear that he believes in knowable first principles. A major problem in this book then is that nowhere does it tell us what these first principles are, nor how we can know them. This renders its entire case rather suspect: the correct way for RW to have constructed the book if he genuinely did know first principles would have been from those first principles upwards. Instead, their conspicuous absence, let alone any derivation from them of the other truths in the book, leaves me doubting that in fact he does know any (objective) first principles, for why else would they be so absent?

There is, in the book's preface, added a decade after the book's first publishing, an apparent acknowledgement by RW that he has been less disciplined in this respect than he might have been expected to be, where he writes: "I have come to feel increasingly, however, that [the book] is not primarily a work of philosophy; it is rather an intuition of a situation. The intuition is of a world which has lost its center, which desires to believe again in value and obligation" (pgs v-vi).

I accord with these sentiments, and I would express them only slightly differently: to the extent that this is a work of philosophy, it is neither rigorous nor grounded - it does not proceed from first principles, and its philosophical aspects function more by intuition and rhetoric than by reason and argument.

The book's metaphysic in overview

With that, I'd like to consider the overarching metaphysic expressed in the book, which, not that RW ever expresses it explicitly in the one place like this at any point, seems to be something roughly as follows: God, through the logos and the forms, created the world and humanity purposefully, in imperfect imitation of the forms. Human life is a transitory preparation for the afterlife, in which an individual's condition depends on how well and purposefully s/he lived life in a world in which both original sin and evil exist.

This metaphysic provokes many questions, some of which include:

Most of these questions are typical atheist talking points, not particularly original to me, however, the book's failure to address them virtually ensures that it will have little to no power of persuasion over such individuals. On the other hand, despite these difficult questions, I am sympathetic towards something like this overarching metaphysic - not necessarily because of anything in the book, but because of what I have learnt through life's experiences. That said, I am not certain of much, and I am unable to answer with any certainty the above questions. In this sense, the book is a little personally disappointing: it is not very helpful in resolving the tension between that which is pointed to by my life experiences, and the challenging questions raised by the same.

The book's specific metaphysical propositions listed

It is helpful, I think, in addition to outlining the overarching metaphysic expressed in the book, to offer in this review a listing of the various specific metaphysical propositions asserted throughout the book, so here follows that listing, with the aim (no doubt unrealised) of being comprehensive. Some of these propositions are asserted more explicitly and some more implicitly. Each is appended in square brackets with the chapter number in which it first occurs.

Roughly half of the items in that list are never justified more than by mere assertion - and that's being generous by taking some of the remainder to be so reasonable as not to require any justification. This is consistent with a view that this is as much a book of rhetoric as it is one of reason - but this observation is as much admiring as it is critical, because RW is particularly accomplished rhetorically. In RW's place, I might have attempted to demonstrate the soundness of his propositions and overarching metaphysic by drawing from the autobiographies and teachings of past spiritual luminaries, and/or from the accounts of the near-death or out-of-body experiences of "ordinary" people, although, admittedly, such accounts were relatively unknown in RW's day, and recurrence to such arguably anecdotal accounts would perhaps have broken the book's style. Incidentally, it is not surprising that RW is known to have been a Platonist, because much if not all of that list is consistent with Platonism.

The seriousness of life

In this book, RW asserts a view that life is serious, that responsibility takes precedence over entertainment, and that the intellect takes precedence over the senses. In particular, in regard to the latter, he asserts a view that intellectual abstraction takes precedence over sensory pleasure, as exemplified by his severe condemnation of jazz music as the end product of a process of sensual debasement of what started out as the architectural expression of social order that was the symphonic form.

This overall view of life as serious seems to be based in his metaphysic: life is serious because it is a purposeful creation of God, subject to the influence of evil, the reality of which RW affirms, and because one's condition in the afterlife depends upon how well one lives one's life in this world.

A problem here is that, especially given that RW does not justify or elaborate on his metaphysic, this view of life doesn't even necessarily follow from what we do know of that metaphysic. Certainly, the reality of evil lends a seriousness to life, and it is possible that God's purpose for our lives is one of intellection rather than sensual pleasure - but it is also possible that God's purpose, whatever it is (and RW does not say much on this), would be served if we were to live balanced lives in which we used our intellects as necessary, especially to combat evil, but also in which we lived pleasurably in the face of evil. It is possible that God's "serious" purpose is ultimately one of spreading maximal joy despite the existence of (or as antidote to) evil, both in this world and in the afterlife, and it is not clear why, in such a scenario, sensual pleasure (as a type of joy) would be any less valid than intellection. Indeed, it is not clear either why the afterlife would convey any more seriousness to life than life otherwise would have unless the afterlife was eternal, one's condition in the afterlife depended on how well one lived one's life, and one only lived once - yet RW does not explain why this is (or would be) the case.

RW, then, does not canvas important possibilities, nor does he explain why his preferred possibility is (or would be) the actuality over other possibilities. We have here an example of his tendency to appeal to intuition rather than to reason from first principles. He is, in a significant sense, preaching to the converted and readily convertible: those whose intuitions match, or have been tending towards, his own will find much confirmation in this book; others will have little reason to be moved.

Authoritarianism and hierarchy versus individual liberty

The clash of conservatism with liberalism rings throughout many parts of this book. RW argues that if society is to be "rational", then it must reflect that from which it proceeds, the logos, and thus it must be hierarchical (that society ought to be "rational" is an implicit and unexamined premise in his argument). He speaks admiringly of the Middle Ages, and in particular of theocracy, apparently his ultimate hierarchical society. He speaks disapprovingly of individualism, particularly in music, literature and painting, instead seeing individuals as obligated to fulfil, undeviating, their place and role in the (spiritually-authorised) social body. In his eyes, individualism "signifies a cutting-off or separation, and crimes can be committed in that name" (pg 180), and "with its connotation of irresponsibility, [it] is a direct invitation to selfishness" (pg 181).

In this way, he challenges the liberal presupposition of the primacy of individual autonomy, which could perhaps be seen as being predicated on the (roughly stated) proposition that unless a person does harm to others, or fails in the basic shared obligations of communal life (e.g. paying taxes), no other person or entity has or ought to have any right to dictate choices to that person. An individual, according to this view, ought - with the previously mentioned caveats - to be free to live his/her life on his/her own terms, rather than forced to live by the terms of supposed authorities.

It seems to me that this area is fraught and difficult to resolve. On the one hand, if we admit to God, to spiritual authority and to the possibility of revelation (and perhaps even if we don't), then it seems likely that there are humans better qualified than others, and even legitimately qualified, to lead and even to "dictate" the way in which we ought to live our lives in this mortal coil. On the other hand, the problem of how to reliably identify such people is not easily resolved, and it is not clear that legitimate spiritual authority (would) lead(s) by "dictating" to others anyway, rather than through some more subtle or gentler method. Too, given the reality of evil, unchecked power is dangerous, because it can so easily fall into the wrong hands. I believe that we should take the cautionary tale of George Orwell's 1984 very seriously.

Theocracy, it seems to me, is an unacceptably unaccountable form of governance: an ostensibly divinely-ordained monarch gone wrong has essentially no checks on his/her corruption and abuse other than overthrow by a rival or revolution by the people, the latter of which, given enough power in the hands of a monarch, can be suppressed or at least severely restrained, and the former of which offers no guarantee of a change for the better. Democracy, on the other hand, is in a sense rule by popular opinion, and there is no guarantee that popular opinion is spiritually inspired - so it is no panacea either.

Perhaps, though, despite its flaws, and despite RW's somewhat weak (in my view) critique of it (which, for brevity, I haven't outlined here), democracy is the best for which we can hope: it provides systematic means for ridding us of the corrupt, and whilst there is no guarantee that it represents spiritual or even social inspiration, there is perhaps wisdom in the crowd - and regardless, there is no guarantee of spiritual or social inspiration in a monarch either.

Too, RW has not explained in any meaningful detail what the social and spiritual order are, nor to what extent we can personally verify these orders, and, as I wrote above, it is possible that God's plan is one of spreading maximal joy in the face of evil, which might, despite RW's protestations, involve a celebration of individuality rather than a condemnation of it. It is possible that God made us each "individual" in the sense of "unique" so that the experience of life might be made more interesting, and this would then be something to rejoice in rather than to condemn as "selfish" and "irresponsible".

This, in fact, makes sense: one of the main powers commonly attributed to God is creative agency, and an agent who created a bunch of identical drones would not be a particularly creative one. On the other hand, the potential influence of evil on individual traits cannot be dismissed, and so we cannot be sure whether any uniqueness in an individual is a divinely or malignly inspired one.

As a caveat, it is possible that I am being somewhat unfair to RW in this discussion, in that in his negative connotations of "individualism" he does not necessarily include "uniqueness", and that he might even be appreciative of individuality in the sense of uniqueness e.g. in that some individuals are more "uniquely" qualified to be placed higher up the social ladder than others. If I am being unfair, however, then perhaps this is due in part to RW's poor choice of definitions: his notion that "individualism" implies (negatively) "irresponsibility" and "selfishness" rather than (positively) "uniqueness" is perhaps a little narrow, or at least ideologically inspired.


Ideas Have Consequences is in a sense a metaphysical contextualisation of the political battle between conservatism and liberalism. It is also in a sense a rallying cry to sympathisers to act, or at least to speak out, in defence of, or at the very least to become acutely aware of, that metaphysical context. There is in this book much psychological analysis of the modern mind, and of the culture to which this mind leads, which is well worth considering especially if one accepts this metaphysical context. I have not addressed in this review this analysis, in part because I am not convinced that Richard M. Weaver has succeeded in explicating metaphysical objective truth, or, if he has, that he has properly grounded it epistemologically. I encourage those who have not yet done so though to read Ideas Have Consequences and to notice to what extent its psychological analysis resonates personally. To whatever extent it does (for me it was quite significant), and whether or not you agree with it, it is certainly good fodder for thought.

Summary and notes


The summary and notes below of Ideas Have Consequences are three-tiered: the first, most abstract tier summarises each chapter in no more than two sentences each; the middle tier summarises each chapter in no more than about 360 words each; finally, the most detailed tier summarises each chapter in an extended point-by-point fashion, relying extensively on exact quotes from the book to preserve as much of the author's actual wording as is possible - this most detailed summary condenses the book to approximately one fifth of its original size.

Top tier summary: the key ideas of each chapter in no more than two sentences

Introduction. The West is disintegrating due to its loss of belief in a transcendental reality and in higher truth, and due to its coming to value the senses over the intellect. Modern man knows less and is less happy than his forebears.

Chapter 1: The Unsentimental Sentiment. Culture, stemming from an arbitrary approval of the world, and as an aggregation of symbols through which the world is viewed, dignifies man, and calibrates his decisions and the tone of his being, so that the sentiment behind a culture cannot be sentimental, however, the sentiment behind our culture is decaying, and we must (re)harmonise our vision.

Chapter 2: Distinction and Hierarchy. Rational society, as a mirror of the logos, is hierarchical, in which men are elevated to authority by knowledge and virtue, having points of reference up and down. This hierarchy, however, is being obliterated by the modern perversion that social justice entails equality of citizenry, leading to democracy, socialism, bureaucracy, consumerism, and a general failure to recognise purpose in creation and hence life.

Chapter 3: Fragmentation and Obsession. We have lost sight of the highest, timeless, values, which once were in the possession of the philosophic doctor of the Middle Ages, who was replaced by a secular variant, the gentleman, who gave way to politicians and entrepreneurs. These values are of universals, but modern man instead distracts and immerses himself in particulars, including the study of science, unfitting himself for leadership, and succumbing to obsession, fanaticism, emotional instability, repression, laxness and indifference.

Chapter 4: Egotism in Work and Art. Modern man is a prodigious egotist, irresponsible and defiant, the consequence of a tendency towards individualism, in which he withdraws from the spiritual community, and succumbs to the falsehood that his purpose is not to perfect himself but to enjoy himself. This egotism is evidenced in both work and art, in that men fail to see any more the idealism in work, instead commoditising and resenting it, and in the failure of art to be faithful any more to the enduring reality, instead becoming unnatural, grotesque and irresponsible.

Chapter 5: The Great Stereopticon. A progressively-improving machine that we might term "the Great Stereopticon", comprised of the three parts of press, motion picture, and radio, serves the purpose, along with the classroom, of systematic indoctrination of the public so that its members may be persuaded to communal activity despite being possessed of different fundamental ideas. It promotes the sickly metaphysical dream of materialism, it discourages people from meditation and spiritual breakthroughs, it erodes memory, and it prevents people from realising that materialist civilisation is over an abyss.

Chapter 6: The Spoiled-Child Psychology. Modern man, having been taught that domination of nature will save him, that this salvation will be easy, that he can know and have everything, and that complaints and demands will get him what he wants, has developed a spoilt-child psychology. He is no longer capable of, nor sees the spiritual reward in, developing self-discipline in the face of adversity, and has even been encouraged by science to believe that he is exempt from labour.

Chapter 7: The Last Metaphysical Right. Our reform requires the restoration of metaphysical certitude, a rallying point around which is the right of private property, a metaphysical right based on "hisness" and the connection between private property and man's true being and his exercise of virtue, but which nevertheless can also be argued for on utilitarian grounds.

Chapter 8: The Power of the Word. The next step in our reform is to save language, which has a divine element, from the neutering of the semanticists, from looseness and exaggeration, and from shifting definitions. We can do this through a two-fold education: in literature and rhetoric, and in logic and dialectic.

Chapter 9: Piety and Justice. Finally, we must reform modern man's impiousness, and restore piety with respect to nature, to our fellow man, and to the past: to recognise the divinely bestowed goodness of the former two, and to recognise with respect to the latter the laws by which history has unfolded. If we are to reform and survive, then we must be willing to pay the costs, and it is not certain that we are so willing.

Middle tier summaries: condensed chapters

Introduction. The West is in a process of disintegration, traceable back to our abandonment of transcendentals, when, in the late 14th century, Occam's nominalism defeated logical realism, signalling our loss of belief in an independent, objective, higher truth. The negative outcomes of this process are numerous, in which the intellect has been banished in favour of the sensory, including: relativism, science, the rejection of the Platonic forms and of an element of unintelligibility in the world, rationalism-as-a-philosophy, the wane of religion and the rise of materialism, the abandonment of the doctrine of original sin in favour of that of the natural goodness of man, the superseding of the idea that the world was made for a purpose, the abolishment of the notion of free will and of man as divine creation whose soul is at stake in a great drama, in favour of man as economic agent explicable by his environment, the specialised and elective system of education, and the decline of political leadership from theocracy to populism. Modern man's condition is "abysmality". Modern man knows less than his forebears because he immerses himself in particulars whereas true knowledge is of universals. His supposed achievements are unrelated to the aims of civilisation, and despite his apparently improved material condition, his spiralling desires leave him less satisfied than his forebears, who had, but also wanted, less. Moreover, modern man is not happier than his forebears; in comparison he is neurotic, fearful, hateful and feels powerless.

Chapter 1: The Unsentimental Sentiment. The highest of the three levels of the conscious reflection of a man participating in a culture is his metaphysical dream of the world, his "intuitive feeling about the immanent nature of reality", which men must share in order to live together harmoniously over extended periods of time. Culture begins with an arbitrary approval of the world - arbitrary in the sense that nothing stands prior to it - and consists in an aggregation of symbols through which the world is viewed, an abstraction the adherence to which dignifies man and originates his self-control. Culture calibrates man's decisions and the tone of his being, and so the sentiment behind a culture cannot be sentimental. The man of culture has a deep respect for forms, and a sense of style. Barbarians insist on seeing a thing "as it is"; the man of culture avoids such immediacy, preferring not the thing but the idea of the thing. Tearing aside veils is a brash sacrilege, not an extension of power or knowledge. Modern society's increased tendency to immediacy has resulted in a failure to recognise obscenity, as exemplified by sensationalist journalism. The decay of sentiment leads to a deterioration in human relationships - whereas we previously cherished the elder generation, we now thrust it out of sight; friendship wastes away as friends become "pals" and use one another - and the decline of the belief in the hero, an example of which is the soldier of old whose service was to an ideal, and, conversely with this decline, the growth of commercialism - business is incompatible with sentiment. We must harmonise our vision.

Chapter 2: Distinction and Hierarchy. Rational society, as a mirror of the logos, is hierarchical, in which men are elevated to authority by knowledge and virtue, having points of reference up and down. This hierarchy, however, is being obliterated by the modern perversion that social justice entails equality of citizenry. The shift, which can be traced back to nominalism, is driven by the modern valuation of feeling over thinking, and thus of wanting over deserving, leading to the solution by the middle class, with its fondness for security and complacency, of socialism, in which knowledge becomes power in the service of appetite, and the state becomes a vast bureaucracy in the service of economic activity and consumption rather than of man's inner life. Civility, however, rests not upon equality but upon fraternity (brotherhood), which carries hierarchical obligations that equality does not: patience with little brother, and duty of big brother. Economic equality could only be enforced by a despotism. The arguments for democracy are flawed, and, logically, democratic governors should be chosen by lot, as in ancient Greece. Education should perfect a man's spiritual being and prepare him for immortality; instead, modern education prepares a man for secular success. The modern notion of progress is one of mere magnitude without a goal, nor is it a source of distinctions in value; if progress is infinite, then no point is nearer an ever-receding goal than any other. We would have no authorisation for purpose in our lives if we felt that creation did not express purpose.

Chapter 3: Fragmentation and Obsession. The highest values are timeless, and those in favour of restoring them are idealists seeking a metaphysically or theologically conceived return to centre. Modern disintegration tends instead towards the periphery, where man is lost in details. Reality was perceived more clearly in the Middle Ages, where the philosophic doctor possessed the highest learning by standing at the centre of things, having mastered principles. He was replaced by the gentleman, a secular variant whose sole deficiency was blindness to the spiritual origin of self-discipline, but who protected the Western world from disintegration. The gentleman gave way to politicians and entrepreneurs, men of cunning rather than idealism. The gentleman distrusted specialisation, which develops only part of a man, thus stunting him, and thus disqualifying him from leadership. Science is thus not a pursuit for a gentleman. The highest knowledge concerns the relation of men to God and of men to men. Scholarly science is ridiculous in its premise that the scholar contributes to civilisation merely by adding to its dominion over nature. We are coming to fear the duties involved in affirming central truths, and it would pain the modern egotist to confess to a centre of responsibility. The modern enjoinment against distinguishing between races, religions and national groups emasculates us. Modern man's obsession with isolated parts leads to fanaticism, to emotional instability and to volatility of temperament. There have been societies where a larger proportion of the people participated in aristocratic virtues, but industrialism now exploits then contemns such individuals. Under industrialism, the minute division of labour makes it impossible for the individual to grasp the ethical implications of his task, as exemplified by the atomic bomb project of the USA in WWII. Atomic energy compels the question of control, the answer to which is that wisdom, not popularity, qualifies one for rule. Modern workers surrender freedom and initiative, and thus are not whole, but repressed, which in part explains our political instability. Science and progress exalt "becoming" over "being", a type of provincialism that fails to see beyond the moment, discouraging sanity. The very possibility of timeless truth is a reproach to the laxness and indifference of modern egotism.

Chapter 4: Egotism in Work and Art. Modern man is a prodigious egotist, irresponsible and defiant, the consequence of a tendency towards individualism, in which he withdraws from the community (but not necessarily from the state). Medieval learning led to self-depreciation; the modern conception is that knowledge is power, which leads instead to self-importance. A return to selflessness requires study of essences rather than of particulars, eschewing the forbidden knowledge of techniques-over-ends. Work brings an ideal from potentiality into actuality, and labouring is praying, in that to realise an ideal is a type of fidelity. Under utilitarianism, labour becomes instead a commodity, which labouring groups use to extort self-inspired demands through withdrawal of communal effort. The authority by which both worker and ruler act is that of divine ordinance, and absent devotion to a subsuming transcendent, people become reluctant to work. The best art is faithful to the enduring reality; in our epoch, instead, due to egotism, art is unnatural, grotesque and irresponsible. Literature has begun to teach, in opposition to original sin, man's natural moral sense, sanctioning impulse over restraint, and exploring, self-pityingly, individual consciousness. Music, from its highest form - architectural - in which it expressed the aristocratic and international qualities of social order - then became thematic, and finally, textural, culminating in the barbarism and primitivism of jazz, which requires no intelligence, only feeling, and is deeply egotistical in its improvisation and in the personal idiom of its improvisers. Trends in painting reflect those in literature and music. Egotism in work and art reflect the heresy that man's destiny in the world is not to perfect himself but to enjoy himself. This is "progress" only for the directionless and those who shirk responsibility. Such a spoiled people invite despotic control.

Chapter 5: The Great Stereopticon. A progressively-improving machine that we might term "the Great Stereopticon", comprised of the three parts of press, motion picture, and radio, serves the purpose, along with the classroom, of systematic indoctrination of the public so that its members may be persuaded to communal activity despite being possessed of different fundamental ideas: it promotes the sickly metaphysical dream of materialism. Journalists have come to be falsely regarded as oracles. Discussion is minimised in favour of absorption, through display and stock phrases, which elicit stock responses. Modern man lacks the genuine education to see through these techniques. Newspapers are deliberate dramatists of friction and conflict, and we would be better off without them. The freedom of the press is threatened by the press agent and public-relations officer, essentially propagandists, serving as censors, these days employed even by the US government and its armed forces. The public desires to censor in movies only minor breaches of decorum rather than the substantial problems of egotism, selfishness and the promotion of the virtues of materialist society. The radio, insistently present, juxtaposes the serious and the trivial in a misleading tone of cheery confidence, and turns the populace into a mute recipient of authoritative edicts. The Great Stereopticon promotes the goal of happiness through comfort rather than of discipline through sacrifice, and prevents people from realising that materialist civilisation is over an abyss. It dispenses facts and vivid sensations but does not encourage people to meditation and spiritual breakthroughs, instead eroding memory, which is probably necessary for membership in a metaphysical community, and whose lack is a large factor in the low political morality of our age. Nevertheless, there are hopeful signs that people are waking up to the propaganda.

Chapter 6: The Spoiled-Child Psychology. For about four centuries, man has been developing a spoilt-child psychology due to being taught that domination of nature will save him, that this salvation will be easy to attain, that there is nothing he cannot know or have, and that complaints and demands will get him what he wants. Man no longer sees the relationship between effort and reward; he doesn't realise that there is spiritual growth in developing the discipline required to overcome in the struggle of life, and instead blames others when the world doesn't give him what he wants - this leads to the scapegoating of superior groups of persons by liberal/socialist demagogues. Urban living worsens this condition because amidst his systems of control, urban man loses sight of the mystery of creation, and replaces his sense of relatedness for a false sense of self-sufficiency, also losing sight of the virtue of subordination to communal enterprise. Science encourages man to believe that he is exempt from labour - or at least that he soon will be, but this eventuality would lead only to egregious self-pampering and self-disgust, and even illness; man is severing himself from such high goals of labour as those of the cathedral-builders. It is staggeringly difficult to get people to see let alone renounce the debauchery of comfort-worship. There is no positive correlation between degree of comfort and the achievements of a civilisation. Heroism declines as comfort increases. Socialism turns authoritarian and fascist to impose external discipline upon the masses so that they can fulfil their consumptive desires, which they are too undisciplined in themselves to otherwise fulfil. The fateful question is where society can find a source of discipline.

Chapter 7: The Last Metaphysical Right. We must reform, and the first step is to confess to our reproachable condition, then to emphasise the distinction between the material and the transcendental, and, in doing so, to restore metaphysical certitude. A plausible rallying point around metaphysical certitude is the right of private property, which does not depend on utility but on "hisness". In doing so, however, we do not support such "property" of finance capitalism as stocks and bonds - which disconnect man from substance and tend towards exploitation and state ownership - and instead opt for the distributive ownership of small properties. Private property is justified in that it helps man to express his true being, and to exercise his virtue, but there are nevertheless utilitarian arguments for private property: it protects us from the encroach of the police state by giving us personal resources by which to fight that state, it allows a person to store the rewards of their (prayerful) labour, and for an individual it can ameliorate the effects of inflation, which is caused by the dishonouring of debts. The Great Depression dethroned the notion that politics was subordinate to economic determinism, but political leaders have turned to a fanaticism that has institutionalised "massness".

Chapter 8: The Power of the Word. The next step in our reform is to save language from prostitution. Language has a divine element. The modern linguistic study of semantics is an outgrowth of nominalism. Semanticists desire to reduce language to a mere tool for conveying neutered ("scientific") particularities of the sensory world, thus stripping from language its essence - inclination - and its reflection of truth, abstraction and ideals. Semanticists falsely imply both that language is a barrier between us and the world, and that there are no real definitions, merely approximations, but language is actually a storehouse and a supporting net, and ultimate definitions exist and are a matter of intuition. Positivists attack the symbolic operations of language because symbols link to the transcendent, which (the transcendent) positivists deny. Those who use language most subtly have the greatest powers of understanding, and, in particular, the poets stand above all, communing with the mind of the superperson. In our age we are given to looseness and exaggeration in language, and communication breaks down because definitions, especially of ideational words, have been allowed to drift. The answer to our problems with language is a twofold education: in literature and rhetoric, and in logic and dialectic. The former should focus on great poetry - which teaches how to feel, to not be sentimental and brutal, history in the context of over-arching values, the evocativeness of words, and the power of symbolism - and also on foreign languages, in particular Latin and Greek. Training in reason is important so that man can deal with worldly data, and training in dialectics is important because it relates to the science of naming, and it is essential that recognition of the logical correctness of names be restored - givers of names are "lawgivers" because "stable laws require a stable vocabulary".

Chapter 9: Piety and Justice. The final stage of reform requires the restoration of piety, for modern man is impious in several ways. Piety needs to be restored with respect to three things: nature, our fellow man, and the past. Our attempts to dominate nature - "the substance of the world" - are impious because creation (and thus nature) is fundamentally good, and because ultimately, we do not understand it. Meddling with something we do not fully understand produces evil consequences. We should seek neither to fully accept and emulate, nor to fully repudiate and change, nature, instead cultivating a respectful nonattachment towards her. Piety with respect to our neighbours involves recognition that their being has a right qua being; that it is part of a fundamentally good existence. Piety with respect to the past teaches us restraint, caution and sobriety by showing us the challenge of the perfectibility of our species. Several specific modern impieties are: the notion of equality of the sexes, in that the masculinisation of women is a disrespect of their biological role, the loss of respect for personality, because personality is theomorphic, and expressions of contempt for the past. In modernity, "pious" is a term of ridicule, because whereas it signifies acceptance of some aspect of the natural order, modernity instead encourages rebellion, which stems from pride, making modern man impatient and unwilling to suffer discipline, angering when his immediate will is thwarted. We must ask whether modern civilisation wishes to survive enough to pay the price of restoration, that price being the acceptance for example that: (a) one cannot obtain more than one puts in, (b) comfort is seductive and must cede to a sterner ideal, and (c) duties must be accepted before freedoms. It is not certain whether we will all succumb or whether a great change awaits us, but we are duty bound to make our counsel known.

Lowest tier summaries: chapters point by point

Chapter 1: The Unsentimental Sentiment
Chapter 2: Distinction and Hierarchy
Chapter 3: Fragmentation and Obsession
Chapter 4: Egotism in Work and Art
Chapter 5: The Great Stereopticon
Chapter 6: The Spoiled-Child Psychology
Chapter 7: The Last Metaphysical Right
Chapter 8: The Power of the Word
Chapter 9: Piety and Justice

Some questions raised by the book

Some of the questions this book raises, either explicitly or implicitly, are:

Potential essay topics

If you attempt either of these essays, then I would be interested to know what you've come up with: feel free to send it through to me.

Essay topic 1: Is metaphysical certitude provided?

In Ideas Have Consequences, Richard M. Weaver (RW) provides metaphysical certitude. Discuss.

You may wish to reference the following in your discussion:

The final sentence of the introduction reads: "The opening chapter, therefore, attempts to set forth the ultimate source of our feeling and thinking about the world, which makes our judgments of life not shifting and casual but necessary and right". To what extent does the opening chapter succeed in this attempt? What, if it succeeds, does it offer to make our judgements of life necessary and right? What are those judgements?

In chapter three, Fragmentation and Obsession, RW writes on page 53: "In the Middle Ages, when there obtained a comparatively clear perception of reality, the possessor of highest learning was the philosophic doctor. [...] It was the abandonment of metaphysics and theology which undermined the position of the philosophic doctor. [...] [The philosophic doctor's] knowledge of ultimate matters conferred a right to decide ultimate questions". Does RW offer sufficient detail and justification of the highest learning, metaphysics and theology, and ultimate matters to which he here alludes?

In chapter seven, The Last Metaphysical Right, RW writes on page 131: "The prospect of living again in a world of metaphysical certitude - what relief will this not bring to those made seasick by the truth-denying doctrines of the relativists!". Does RW offer sufficient detail and justification of this world of metaphysical certitude to which he here alludes?

In chapter eight, The Power of the Word, RW writes on page 154: "[T]hose who differ over tendency can remain at harmony only [by ignoring contradictions or] by referring to first principles, which will finally remove the difference at the expense of one side". Does RW give us here or anywhere else sufficient explanation of how we might refer to first principles to resolve a difference of tendency, and sufficient guidance as to what those first principles are?

Essay topic 2: Is the right to private property metaphysically self-justifying?

In Ideas Have Consequences, Richard M. Weaver provides cogent reason to believe that the right to private property is metaphysically self-justifying. Discuss.

You may wish to consider the following quote in your discussion, from chapter seven, The Last Metaphysical Right, on page 132:

We say that the right of private property is metaphysical because it does not depend on any test of social usefulness. Property rests upon the idea of the hisness of his: proprietas, Eigentum, the very words assert an identification of owner and owned. Now the great value of this is that the fact of something's being private property removes it from the area of contention. In the hisness of property we have dogma; there discussion ends. Relativists from the social sciences, who wish to bring everyone under secular group control, find this an annoying impediment. But is it not, in truth, quite comforting to feel that we can enjoy one right which does not have to answer the sophistries of the world or rise and fall with the tide of opinion? The right to use property as something private is, as I shall show more fully later, a sanctuary. It is a self-justifying right, which until lately was not called upon to show in the forum how its "services" warranted its continuance in a state dedicated to collective well-being.