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Realities have consequences

Weaver’s views in Ideas Have Consequences suffer from a standard problem with conservative views: they attempt to secure the benefits of recognizing transcendent authority without actually recognizing it, at least not in any form definite enough to be useable. They thus attempt to substitute “piety”—generalized respect toward man, nature and history—for religion.

He insists that metaphysics is fundamental:

The first positive step must be a driving afresh of the wedge between the material and the transcendental. This is fundamental: without a dualism we should never find purchase for the pull upward, and all idealistic designs might as well be scuttled. I feel that this conclusion is the upshot of all that has here been rehearsed.

(130) Nonetheless, he habitually refers to the metaphysics of a man or society as a “metaphysical dream.” From that and other indications it appears that for him metaphysics is not an approximation, reflection or participation in a transcendent reality independent of us, but a matter of human creation and culture. He thus assimilates it to Burke’s “decent drapery of life … superadded ideas, furnished from the wardrobe of a moral imagination, which the heart owns, and the understanding ratifies, as necessary to cover the defects of our naked, shivering nature.” (27)

That is the reason, I think, that he is able to refer to property as the “last metaphysical right.” It is “metaphysical” not because it genuinely precedes human ideas and institutions, but because as generally understood among the people today “it does not depend on any test of social usefulness.” It therefore offers us a “tool at hand” to demonstrate what it is for a principle to be non-utilitarian, even though as he observes “we may not be happy about its provenance,” since it became metaphysical only as a resuit of the “middle-class French Revolution.” (131-132)

It thus seems that his views, however helpful in illuminating issues, are not sufficient for cultural renovation. The transcendent must truly transcend, since when serious questions arise we demand realities. If we’ve lost the dream that ordered our society then talking of it as a dream won’t help recapture it. Weaver’s practical denial of a genuine transcendent deprives us of any appeal beyond the state of our society in general. To the extent we live in a time of genuine crisis, it dooms us: “Nothing is more certain than that we are all in this together…. If the thinkers of our time cannot catch the imagination of the world to the point of effecting some profound transformation, they must succumb with it.” (187)

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