Friday, January 13, 2006
"Richard M. Weaver’s Ideas Have Consequences, published in 1948, was among the founding documents of contemporary conservatism. The title phrase has become something of a cliché, and overuse has stripped it of the interesting meaning it once had. Nowadays most people assume that what Weaver was saying was that how we think is bound to affect how we act, and that the intellectual trends that prevail in a society will determine its moral and political character. To be sure, that was part of his meaning, but if that were all he had in mind his message would have been a pretty banal one, since no one denies that in this sense “ideas have consequences.” What is largely forgotten is that Weaver was making a play on words, and that his primary reference was to Plato’s famous Theory of Ideas, a metaphysical thesis that has cast a long shadow over the history of Western civilization. Indeed, Weaver’s view was that this metaphysical vision is what made Western civilization possible, that its abandonment was the primary source of the pathologies of the modern world so decried by conservatives, and that its recovery is essential if those pathologies are to be overcome."