Visions of Order (Richard M. Weaver)

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Puritanboard Clerk
Weaver, Richard M. Visions of Order: The Cultural Crisis of Our Time. Wilmington, DE: Intercollegiate Studies Institute, reprint 1995.

Weaver’s thesis is the inner order of the soul reflects the outer order of society. Values are teleological and hierarchically ordered. All cultures have a center, and this center produces an ordered hierarchy (Weaver 12). This is inevitable, for were it not for this center, which by definition discriminates, cultures would disintegrate. Indeed, “The inner organizations of a structured society act as struts and braces and enable it to withstand a blow which would shatter the other” (18).

Weaver draws upon Aristotle’s notion of entelechy, a binding and intentionality that things have. A culture can make room for the democratic element, but a pure democratic element can never save a culture. Specifically, democracy cannot integrate subcultures as quantitative units (14). When “democracy fills the entire horizon,” it produces a hatred for difference.

Definition of culture: an exclusive self-defining creation that defines society’s imaginative life. It does not express itself in equality but in a common participation from “different levels and through different vocations” (18). Cultures have styles, and both must have stability. “True style displays itself in elaboration, rhythm, and distance...rhythm is a marking of beginnings and endings.” -- “Distance is what preserves us from the vulgarity of immediacy” (19).

His chapter “Status and Function” demonstrates the difference between a culture of the forms and order versus one of “the now.” “The status of a thing is its attained nature and quality” (24). In society this manifests itself in aristocracy, either official or unofficial. Aristocracies must perform a function, otherwise they degenerate.

Aristocracies are good but they can crystallize into something terrible. We see this in the caste system of India and the slave system of the Old South. This happens when a culture divinizes its own creations.

Weaver’s most important chapter is his one of Total War. Total War is when democracy is applied to war. Old Man, chivalrous man, knew there were distinctions in society, which meant some people were off limits. Democracy by definition flattens all distinctions--no one should be off limits.

Total War isn’t just the negation of the just war principle; it defeats the whole point of going to war. If you go to war, then you must have a rationale for war. There is a decision involved, which means an arbitration. Total war reverses this. Victory was already had from the beginning. You just have to apply it to the other side.

Weaver completely refutes the line that total war ends up saving more lives. Maybe it does in some cases, but that negates the whole point. You don’t go to war to save lives, otherwise there wouldn’t be any war!

Total war also negates civilization. In order for civilization to arise, there must be restraints in society. These allow society to flourish. Total war removes all these restraints, and so removes the basis for civilization.

Weaver’s prose, as always, is near-perfect. That makes the book a difficult read at times, as he overwhelms you with perfect prose and close logic. Still, this was a delightful and stirring read. Turn off National Review Online and pick up a real conservative.
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