Richard Weaver, author of the must-read Ideas Have Consequences and grandfather of the Burkean resurrection in the USA, writing in 1954, noticed the young Russell Kirk, whose doctoral thesis had just been published. Kirk defined a preserver as one who holds the following principles (as paraphrased by Weaver; elsewhere varying in number, but not in theme):1
- There is a higher order than that devised by man which it is our duty to find out and to respect.
As much as it wished for, this “higher order” need not be religion, and probably cannot be in a culture as varied and as suspicious of religion as ours. (I pause to make the true observation that belief in God is not simultaneous with religious belief.) But there are fundamental truths, none of which are designed by man but which can be known by us. Other truths—moral, logical, mathematical, scientific—may be discovered as following logically from these fundaments. It is our duty to discover them.
Kirk, of course, as well as Burke and many others did argue for religion to be considered the higher order. Weaver famously did not (nor does Nisbet), and picked private property as a substitute, but mostly because he felt this could be defended most easily among the heathen.
- Civilization shows itself in variety and complexity and individual attachment; and standardization is the death alike of vitality and interest.
It is unclear how long we can resist shouting Amen! to these apothegms, but if not here then when? Progressives would have standardization enforced by law—an unvarying set of laws, proscribing much and prescribing the rest. Each law “scientifically proved” to lead to the “optimal outcome.”
- There is no social justice through mechanical leveling, but rather the reverse.
There is an asymmetry in how progressives view justice. Those not having are seen as suffering more intensely than those who have what they have taken forcibly from them. Those that have are also told that even though they earned what they have, they have done so not through superior effort or intelligence, but by exploiting those that don’t have. Progressives would remove both possessions and the incentive from those that have so that all would be equal. Lost in that thought is the consideration of how all suffer when incentive is removed from the only folk who possess it.
- Society thrives on distinctions so long as they are distinctions of natural ability, earned leadership, and sympathetic attachment.
Professors who trail leitmotifs of woe in their wake are the fastest of all people to remind you of distinctions, while at the same time preaching against them. All are equal, they teach, except for them, miraculously possessed of a wisdom which allows them, and only them, to guide the mass of humanity.
- History is a storehouse of wisdom, whereas the abstract designs of collectivist reformers are the fancies of an overheated brain.
Abstract designs, because of their internal coherence, their elimination of loose threads, their sheer focused clarity, will always outshine history, will always be more beautiful and thus always be more worthy objects of adoration and love than history. I can treasure a theory because it is mine. My precious! I cannot love the cacophonous mess that is history. Unless I can transform “One damned thing after another” into a theory which shows all that has occurred must have, and which, if only this one thing were implemented (whatever that thing is), we would be placed on the Path of True Enlightenment.
- Society must be receptive to change, but change is most likely to be [gained] when it is the work of private endeavor and sagacity.
Another amen, brother. Weaver means “positive change” and not change per se, because, as all know, the vast majority of mutations, in culture as in biology, are harmful.
- Doctrinaire breaks with the past are costly failures because they take too little account of the substance of history and human nature.
I would add “abrupt” to doctrinaire. Despite all hope to the contrary, the dead cannot bury the dead. Headlong rushes toward the new merely because one tires of the old frequently lead to smacking into immovable obstacles.
These themes have long been known, but as they are of late in danger of being forgotten, I thought a reminder would be helpful.
1“Battle for the Mind”, in In Defense of Tradition, 2000, Liberty Fund