Book Review: Ideas Have Consequences

Book Review

Image sourced from Wikipediea

Ideas Have Consequences by Richard Weaver, 1948

This book is an intense, well written journey through the effects of Ideas.  This book easily has the most underlined quotes in any book I’ve read so far.  I’ve included below a list of each and every one of these fantastic one liners or paragraphs.  On the books subject matter itself, I think it is a vital lesson to learn.  Our Ideas about the way the world works; the ideas or filters through which we see the world greatly affects how we live our lives.

This book was published in 1948 so while it seems like it should be out of date, nearly all the discussion is on such a foundational level that it remains relevant to a world that has seemingly changed greatly since the 1940’s.  In fact, all the symptoms and philosophical diseases he diagnoses in the book are just as prevalent, if not more so, today.  That is part of the reason why I enjoyed this book so much.  It doesn’t discuss current events in a way that it will be out dated in 5 years time; in fact I don’t know if there a single reference to a current event as a current event.  There are historical references but it could have been from 1940 or 1774 and it’s treated the same way, based on it’s ideas.

Richard makes the point in the book, subtly but repeatedly, that Ideas have consequences more so than actions.  Sure actions have consequences, but they are isolated events generally.  One action will generally have one string of consequences.  An idea however, can have a near limitless amount of consequences.  Much how one can focus on individual steps, or just focus on running which as a byproduct the runner takes numerous steps.  That idea right there is truly important in this age where Ideas have become so relative and subjective.  If we truly focused on the ideas we have, our actions will come about as a byproduct.

So in an effort to mature and grow in wisdom, I and each of us need to really reflect upon the ideas that we have.  Dig deep, dig far.  Why do we believe what we believe?  Feel free to leave a comment below on why you believe in what you believe?  What is your foundation?  While I haven’t written about it yet, I have what I call my Foundational Principle.  It is based on the Great Commandments given by Christ, but is an Idea that has been around for thousands of years in nearly all cultures, whether Christian or not.  CS Lewis discusses it in his book The Abolition of Man, one of the most challenging and thought provoking books I have ever read.  But that is an article or two for a different day.  My Foundational Principle regarding my dealings with people is that I am to treat my neighbor as I would want to be treated if I were them.  I can truly base nearly all of my ideas on this principle.  This is the trunk from which my branches are grown.  It is rooted in the Bible and as Christ said all the law comes from it.  So again, what is your foundation?  Why do you believe in what you believe?

Quotes from Book

Note: Duplicates have been produced when applicable to multiple categories

Production

Suppose, however, we … turn our attention to the fact that … modern man has more.  This very circumstance sets up a conflict, for it is a constant law of human nature that the more a man has to indulge in, the less disposed he is to endure the discipline of toil – that is to say, the less willing he is to produce that which is to be consumed.

One of the strangest disparities of history lies between the sense of abundance felt by older and simpler societies and the sense of scarcity felt by the ostensibly richer societies of today.

When each becomes his own taskmaster and regards work as a curse which he endures only to gain means of subsistence, will he not constantly seek to avoid it?

Not only is the philosopher a notoriously poor consumer; he is also an unsettling influence on societies careless of justice.

Much of the effort of modern politicians is devoted to convincing us that men serve best when they are serving one another.  But the one consideration which would make this true is left out; service to others is the best service when the effort of all is subsumed under a transcendental conception.  Material gratification does not provide this, and here one has the reason why a secularized state finally breeds an intense hatred of politicians, who are trying to get men to accept one another as taskmasters.  Work is not to be performed “as ever in my great Taskmaster’s eye,” but for my neighbor, whom I despise.

Is not man the first thing to be considered? it will be asked.  Is he not to be given preference over abstract rights, privileges, and so forth?  What this question fails to see is that man’s egotism renders impossible that kind of organization which would allow him to prosper to a degree.  When he puts himself first in this sense, the victory is Pyrrhic.  The only way to give him anything that will last is to place him in a structure where opportunity and ability may meet.  This cannot be done by considering egotistic demands first; such shortsightedness destroys the supporting structure.  Thus sentimental humanitarianism, ignorant of fundamental realities but ever attentive to desires, wrecks society.

Personal Growth

Man is constantly being assured today that he has more power than ever before in history, but his daily experience is one of powerlessness.

Many cannot conceive why form should be allowed to impede the expression of honest hearts.  The reason lies in one of the limitations imposed upon man: unformed expression is ever tending toward ignorance.  Good intention is primary, but it is not enough: that is the lesson of the experiment of romanticism.

The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity?
Source: The Collected Poems of WB Yeats

… if we attach more significance to feeling that to thinking, we shall soon, by a simple extension, attach more to wanting than to deserving.

The spoiled child has not been made to see the relationship between effort and reward.  He wants things, but he regards payment as an imposition or as an expression of malice by those who withhold for it.  His solution, as we shall see, is to abuse those who do not gratify him.

To discover what a thing is “called” according to some system is the essential step in knowing, and to say that all education is learning to name rightly, as Adam named the animals, would assert an underlying truth.

Let parents, then, bequeath to their children not riches, but the spirit of reverence
Source:  Plato, Laws Book V

The man of culture finds the whole past relevant; the bourgeois and the barbarian find relevant only what has some pressing connection with their appetites.

The worship of comfort, then, is only another aspect of our decision to live wholly in this world.  Yet here man encounters an anomaly: the very policy of living wholly in this world, of having no traffic with that other world which cannot be “proved,” turns one’s attention wholly to the temporary and so actually impairs his effectiveness.

Yet, the painful lessons we would like to forget are precisely the ones which should be kept for reference.  Santayana has reminded us that those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it, and not without reason did Plato declare that a philosopher much have a good memory.

The enforced irresponsibility has itself become a factor in pathology, for a burden of responsibility is, after all, the best means of getting anyone to think straight.

… a look at the nature of things is imperative, for our conception of metaphysical reality finally governs our conception of everything else, and, if we feel that creation does not express purpose, it is impossible to find an authorization for purpose in our lives.  Indeed, the assertion of purpose in a world we felt to be purposeless would be a form of sentimentality.

But all hinges on the interpretation of needs; if the primary need of man is to perfect his spiritual being and prepare for immortality, then education of the mind and the passions will take precedence over all else.  The growth of materialism, however, has made this a consideration remote and even incomprehensible to the majority.  Those who maintain that education should prepare one for living successfully in this world have won a practically complete victory.

On Thinking

Reason alone fails to justify itself. Not without cause has the devil been called a prince of lawyers, and not by accident are Shakespeare’s villains good reasoners. If the disposition is wrong, reason increases maleficence; if it is right, reason orders and furthers the good.

Not only is the philosopher a notoriously poor consumer; he is also an unsettling influence on societies careless of justice.

In the ages of faith, the final end of life is placed beyond life.  The men of those ages, therefore, naturally and almost involuntarily accustom themselves to fix their gaze for many years on some immovable object toward which they are constantly tending; and they learn by insensible degrees to repress a multitude of petty passing desires in order to be the better able to content that great and lasting desire which possesses them ….. This explains why religious nations have often achieved such lasting results; for whilst they were thinking only of the other world, they had found out the great secret of success in this.
Source:  Alexis de Tocqueville, Democracy in America, V2 Ch2 Section XVII, 1840

In nature’s infinite book of secrecy
a little I can read.
Source:  Shakespeare’s Soothsayer in Antony and Cleopatra, Act I, Scene II 1603-1607

There is bitterness in the thought that there may be no hell; for … if there is no hell, there is no justice.

[The castigation of profitable, hard workers] looks alarmingly like a dull hatred of every form of personal superiority.  The spoiled children perceive correctly that the superior person is certain, sooner or later, to demand superior things of them, and this interferes with consumption and, above all, with thoughtlessness.

All persons chronically diseased are egotists, whether the disease be of the mind or the body; whether it be sin, sorrow, or merely the more tolerable calamity of some endless pain, or mischief among the cords of mortal life.  Such individuals are made acutely conscious of self, by the torture in which it dwells.  Self, therefore, grows to be so prominent an object with them that they cannot but present it to the face of every casual passer-by.
Source: Nathaniel Hawthorne, Egotism; or, The Bosom-Serpent, 1843

The worship of comfort, then, is only another aspect of our decision to live wholly in this world.  Yet here man encounters an anomaly: the very policy of living wholly in this world, of having no traffic with that other world which cannot be “proved,” turns one’s attention wholly to the temporary and so actually impairs his effectiveness.

It must be apparent that logic depends upon the dream, and not the dream upon it.

The enforced irresponsibility has itself become a factor in pathology, for a burden of responsibility is, after all, the best means of getting anyone to think straight.

… a look at the nature of things is imperative, for our conception of metaphysical reality finally governs our conception of everything else, and, if we feel that creation does not express purpose, it is impossible to find an authorization for purpose in our lives.  Indeed, the assertion of purpose in a world we felt to be purposeless would be a form of sentimentality.

Yet the prevailing conception is that education must be such as will enable one to acquire enough wealth to live on the plain of the bourgeoisie [middle class].  That kind of education does not develop the aristocratic virtues.  It neither encourages reflection nor inspires a reverence for the good.

But all hinges on the interpretation of needs; if the primary need of man is to perfect his spiritual being and prepare for immortality, then education of the mind and the passions will take precedence over all else.  The growth of materialism, however, has made this a consideration remote and even incomprehensible to the majority.  Those who maintain that education should prepare one for living successfully in this world have won a practically complete victory.

On Society

In this they bear out the observation of Socrates that society does not mind an individual’s being wise; only when he begins to make others wise does it become apprehensive.

… leaders adopted the liberal’s solution to their problem.  That was to let religion go but to replace it with education, which supposedly would exercise the same efficacy.  The separation of education from religion, one of the proudest achievements of modernism, is but an extension of the separation of knowledge from metaphysics.

He has been given the notion that progress is automatic, and hence he is not prepared to understand impediments; and the right to pursue happiness he has not unnaturally translated into a right to have happiness, like a right to the franchise.

But self-pampering, present-minded modern man looks neither before nor after; he marks inequalities of condition and, forbidden by his dogmas to admit inequalities of merit, moves to obliterate them.

The modern state does not comprehend how anyone can be guided by something other than itself.  In its eyes pluralism is treason.  Once you credit man with the power of reason and with inviolable rights, you set bounds beyond which the will of majorities may not go.

There is an unforgettable scene in Lincoln Steffens’ Autobiography which tells of a proposal made by Clemenceau at the Versailles Peace Conference.  The astute Frenchman, having listened to much talk that this was a war to end war forever, asked Wilson, Lloyd George, and Orlando whether they were taking the idea seriously.  After obtaining assent from each of the somewhat nonplussed heads of state, Clemenceau proceeded to add up before them the cost.  The British would have to give up their colonial system; the Americans would have to get out of the Philippines, to keep their hands off Mexico; and on and on it went.  Clemenceau’s colleagues soon made it plain that this was not at all what they had in mind, whereupon the French realist bluntly told them that they wanted not peace but war.  Such is the position of all who urge justice but really want, and actually choose, other things.

[The] point here is that no society is healthful which tells its members to take no thought of the morrow because the state underwrites their future.

The attempt of the United States to make military service attractive by offering high pay, free college education, and other benefits looks suspiciously like bribing the child with candy.

It is likely … that human society cannot exist without some resource of sacredness.  Those states which have sought openly to remove it have tended in the end to assume divinity themselves.

In a country where the sole employer is the State, opposition means death by slow starvation.
Source: Leon Trotsky, The Revolution Betrayed, Ch11 1936

[The castigation of profitable, hard workers] looks alarmingly like a dull hatred of every form of personal superiority.  The spoiled children perceive correctly that the superior person is certain, sooner or later, to demand superior things of them, and this interferes with consumption and, above all, with thoughtlessness.

Demagogic leaders have told the common man that he is entitled to much more than he is getting; they have not told him the less pleasant truth that, unless there is to be expropriation … the increase must come out of greater productivity.

If cities encourage man to believe that he is superior to the limitations of nature, science encourages him to believe that he is exempt from labor.  In effect, what modern man is being told is that the world owes him a living.

The spoiled child is simply one who has been allowed to believe that his consumptive faculty can prescribe the order of society.

An employer was recently heard to remark that we have plenty of persons today who can tell us why a machine will not work but none will tell us why men will not work.

Yet, the painful lessons we would like to forget are precisely the ones which should be kept for reference.  Santayana has reminded us that those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it, and not without reason did Plato declare that a philosopher much have a good memory.

Seen from another point of view, the “monopoly of mainstream media” is a translation into actuality of Plato’s celebrated figure of the cave.  The defect of the prisoners, let us recall, is that they cannot perceive the truth.  The wall before them, on which the shadows play, is the screen on which press, motion picture, and radio project their account of life.  The chains which keep the prisoners from turning their heads are the physical monopoly which the engines of publicity naturally possess.  And is it not pathetically true that these victims, with their limited vision, are “in the habit of conferring honors among themselves to those who are the quickest to observe the passing shadows and to remark which of them went before and which followed after, and which were together”?

The worship of comfort, then, is only another aspect of our decision to live wholly in this world.  Yet here man encounters an anomaly: the very policy of living wholly in this world, of having no traffic with that other world which cannot be “proved,” turns one’s attention wholly to the temporary and so actually impairs his effectiveness.

The politicians and the businessmen are not interested in saving souls, but they are interested in preserving a minimum of organization, for upon that depend their posts and their incomes.

The state, ceasing to express man’s inner qualifications, turns into a vast bureaucracy designed to promote economic activity.  It is little wonder that traditional values, however much they may be eulogized on commemorative occasions, today must dodge about and find themselves nooks and crannies if they are to survive at all.

When the rule of equality [reigns] … no one knows where he belongs.  Because he has been assured that he is “just as good as anybody else,” he is likely to suspect that he is getting less than his deserts.

Much of the effort of modern politicians is devoted to convincing us that men serve best when they are serving one another.  But the one consideration which would make this true is left out; service to others is the best service when the effort of all is subsumed under a transcendental conception.  Material gratification does not provide this, and here one has the reason why a secularized state finally breeds an intense hatred of politicians, who are trying to get men to accept one another as taskmasters.  Work is not to be performed “as ever in my great Taskmaster’s eye,” but for my neighbor, whom I despise.

Is not man the first thing to be considered? it will be asked.  Is he not to be given preference over abstract rights, privileges, and so forth?  What this question fails to see is that man’s egotism renders impossible that kind of organization which would allow him to prosper to a degree.  When he puts himself first in this sense, the victory is Pyrrhic.  The only way to give him anything that will last is to place him in a structure where opportunity and ability may meet.  This cannot be done by considering egotistic demands first; such shortsightedness destroys the supporting structure.  Thus sentimental humanitarianism, ignorant of fundamental realities but ever attentive to desires, wrecks society.

Education

… leaders adopted the liberal’s solution to their problem.  That was to let religion go but to replace it with education, which supposedly would exercise the same efficacy.  The separation of education from religion, one of the proudest achievements of modernism, is but an extension of the separation of knowledge from metaphysics.

I have given up newspapers in exchange for Tacitus and Thucydides, for Newton and Euclid; and I find myself much the happier

To discover what a thing is “called” according to some system is the essential step in knowing, and to say that all education is learning to name rightly, as Adam named the animals, would assert an underlying truth.

… it is precisely because we have lost our grasp of the nature of knowledge that we have nothing to educate with for the salvation of our order. Americans certainly cannot be reproached for failing to invest adequately in the hope that education would prove a redemption.  They have built numberless high schools, lavish in equipment, only to see them, under the prevailing scheme of values, turned into social centers and institutions for improving the personality, where teachers, living in fear of constituents, dare not enforce scholarship.  They have built colleges on an equal scale, only to see them turned into playgrounds for grown-up children or centers of vocationalism, and professionalism.  Finally, they have seen pragmatists, as if in peculiar spite against the very idea of hierarchy, endeavoring to turn classes into democratic forums, where the teacher is only a moderator, and no one offends by presuming to speak with superior knowledge.

Yet the prevailing conception is that education must be such as will enable one to acquire enough wealth to live on the plain of the bourgeoisie [middle class].  That kind of education does not develop the aristocratic virtues.  It neither encourages reflection nor inspires a reverence for the good.

But all hinges on the interpretation of needs; if the primary need of man is to perfect his spiritual being and prepare for immortality, then education of the mind and the passions will take precedence over all else.  The growth of materialism, however, has made this a consideration remote and even incomprehensible to the majority.  Those who maintain that education should prepare one for living successfully in this world have won a practically complete victory.

Advertisements

4 thoughts on “Book Review: Ideas Have Consequences

  1. Pingback: Ideas and Fundementals « The Economical Engineer

  2. Pingback: Ideas and Fundamentals « The Economical Engineer

  3. Pingback: Freedom in our Hearts « The Economical Engineer

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s