In Defense of Tradition: Collected Shorter Writings of Richard M. Weaver, 1929–1963

In Defense of Tradition: Collected Shorter Writings of Richard M. Weaver, 1929–1963

by Richard M. Weaver

Richard M.

Smith III was Professor of Mass Communications at Virginia Commonwealth University.

  • Language: English
  • Category: Politics
  • Rating: 4.34
  • Pages: 861
  • Publish Date: January 30th 2001 by Liberty Fund Inc.
  • Isbn10: 0865972834
  • Isbn13: 9780865972834

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Nevertheless, Richard Weaver - an English teacher by profession, a rhetorician by reputation, a Southerner by birth, a philosopher, a socialist-turned-conservative, a historian, a social critic - brings all of these influences to bear in these "shorter writings" compiled by Ted. J Smith, III. The origin of these myths isn't clear, nor is their purpose, but in opposition to the vision of Weaver as a grumpy hermit who did little else but condemn modernity, Smith writes, "Weaver was a kind, courteous, and principled gentleman of the old school, thoughtful and deliberate in his speech, powerful and incisive in his writing, and deeply committed to the restoration of truth and order in contemporary society." Smith is not alone in this analysis of Weaver's character, and understanding Weaver the man is helpful in understanding his opinions and analyses. However, Weaver writes that science in this area "has declared an implacable sort of warfare upon the unknown, upon space and time" which "makes us again wonder whether its aims are not hostile to our peace. How simple things would be if development had been strictly linear and upward." But, "once we admit, as we have to admit, that some periods of achievement in the past have something to teach us, we are on our way toward acquiring the humility necessary for wisdom, for not all wisdom is new wisdom." Weaver also criticizes the modern view that culture is monolithic, noting that a culture "expresses the feelings of the people in that place and time, and it is always conscious of itself; that is to say, it can quickly recognize what is foreign to it." Weaver writes that a culture is exclusive, but that by using that term he is not referring "to any principle of class distinction or to that snobbishness with which the more cultivated sometimes look down on the less so. The principle of exclusiveness of a culture is simply...an awareness...that it is a unity of feeling and outlook which makes its members different from outsiders." With that said, Weaver writes that unity is not the only, or even the highest, goal in society. Harmony is the fruitful co-existence together of things diversified." The third section contains Weaver's thoughts on education. Explaining what kind of education is needed, Weaver writes that real education is not telling students what to believe, but is rather teaching them to consider fundamental questions in a spirit of humility. The education that forms minds and wins converts to belief in truths is education in the arts and sciences which have brought our civilization into being, in the ideas and values which can be shown to give it unity, and in history, which is the actual story of our trials and triumphs." Section four is titled "Rhetoric & Sophistic." Weaver, notes Smith, was one of the top 5 American theoreticians of rhetoric in the 20th century, and this section captures his thoughts on the art of persuasion. Of these, Weaver believes the argument from definition, in which ideas and terms are given meaning and oriented to first principles, is superior, rhetorically and ethically. And the latter insight is sometimes very revealing." Section five is titled "The Humanities, Literature, and Language." Here Weaver mourns the relative decline in prestige of the study of humanities, particularly in the universities, which he sees as not only a civilizing force in society, but also a humanizing one, calling those who study them to consider the good in man without attempting to divinize him. Section six is simply titled "Politics," and covers Weaver's overarching perspective on politics as well as his application of this political philosophy to specific topics of his time. He writes, "Conservatives are traditionalists in the sense that they value the power of tradition as a great stabilizing force in society and as a means of effecting many things which laws could never effect or would effect more harshly. For that we will go to philosophy, in confidence that it will give ample support to the conservative view of man and institutions." Assessing the traditionalism of Kirk, with whom Weaver confesses broad agreement, he nevertheless cautions against relying too much on tradition and the veneration of our ancestors, noting that to do so we still need to determine which ancestors and which tradition to follow. In expressing this belief, he writes that "the conservative in his proper character and role is a defender of liberty." Despite this, Weaver had reservations about some libertarian beliefs about the nature of society, believing that it was not as simple as saying that society was a collection of individuals, but rather that the individual and society were more co-dependent than that. It should be recalled that these essays were mostly written during the 1950s into the early 1960s, at the height of the Cold War. The interesting part of here is not so much Weaver's beliefs (he was, unsurprisingly, a foe of the collectivism and economic theory of communism), but the extent to which he lauded the American economic system and the common man as bulwarks against communism. On this topic Weaver makes points that aren't terribly far away from writers like Thomas Sowell and Walter Williams, both of whom have discussed the problems resulting from using the state to improve relations between groups of people. Additionally, Weaver repeatedly writes that cultural improvement is necessary, but that it should come from ethical and moral appeals from the inside, not forcible change from without, implying that there were ways in which the South needed to change, and pointing to the methods that would effect it. Weaver's personal opinions remain vague, since he never addresses segregation or race in such a head-on way that his exact ideas could be unequivocally pinned down. While I disagree with the notion that a person's entire body of work can be judged by his opinions on a single topic, and while there is much in Weaver's writing to suggest a commitment to the dignity of the individual regardless of race, there's enough here and in the final section that made me cautious of uncritically adopting his point of view on this and related matters. The final section, titled "The South," includes essays on Weaver's homeland.

A solitary figure in 20th-century American academic life, briefly a socialist in his youth, a lapsed leftist intellectual conservative by the time he was in graduate school, a teacher of composition, a Platonist philosopher who wrote on the problem of universals and criticized nominalism, a literary and cultural critic, and a theorist of human nature and society.