Richard M.

Weaver's Vision of Education for Liberty Brian Douglass

Richard M. Weaver was a man who understood the West, its decline, and what is required for a rebuilding of our culture. Central to his vision for shaping a future marked by liberty is education. To fully appreciate the value of Weaver's recommendations requires an examination of his views of where society is compared with where our civilization should be.

Weaver's perspective on the world is distinctly Southern. As Weaver saw it, the South was characterized by a rejection of materialism and instead looks to "things of higher value."! For Weaver, the rhetorician and philosopher, the important distinction between this Southern view and that which seems to have conquered the modem world are the concepts of transcendence, universals, and revealed Truth.2 In contrast to Southern culture, steeped as it was in tradition, the modem world has abolished the past and the transcendent. We see this clearly in the widespread acceptance of moral relativism and the larger phenomenon against which Weaver so strongly objected: nominalism.

Nominalism, by which Weaver identified the set of ideas more typically known as empiricism or materialism, "holds that only the individual is real.,,3 Any conception of the universal is seen simply as a "mental fiction" and as such has no reality." The consequence of nominalism is the rejection of an objective truth and the rejection of meaningful reality." It is this revolution, set in motion by William of Ockham and steadily expanded up through the modem era, which replaced objective truth and the universal in the minds of our culture."

The consequences of this reversal of the traditional order is a breakdown of society, such as we have seen in modem times. Society has a natural hierarchy, as evidenced by the order seen in a family. Weaver notes that every man has become "not only his own priest but his own professor of ethics" and society has become a state of anarchy, which "threatens even that

minimum consensus of value necessary to the political life.:" Man has tossed out the reality of sin, along with his rejection of the transcendent, Weaver continues." The consequence of this, of course, is that a man's defects must now be explained away as a consequence of "his simple ignorance or to some kind of social deprivation?" How often are the acts of a criminal explained away as his being a "victim of the system" or a "product of his environment." This is exactly the type of shirking of responsibility and social breakdown that Weaver says follows from nominalism.

Another consequence of nominalism is the so-called "Whig theory of history." Weaver cites this view as seriously flawed and perhaps the greatest limit on any attempt to rebuild society. As he notes, "we cannot combat those who have fallen prey to hysterical optimism.t''" The first step in education for a restored civilization will be to "establish the fact of decadence" according to Weaver. 11 He admits that this is a serious challenge. Modem man is unwilling to admit such an unsettling thought. He lacks the humility needed for self-criticism.F There is a rather interesting corollary to this in the Athonite tradition of the Christian East. Elder Paisios states that Satan and the fallen angels would be able to reenter heaven if they would only obtain the humility to ask forgiveness.l" However, the elder states that this would be virtually impossible for them, blinded as they are by pride and selfishness. 14 Hopefully, it will not be the same for mankind and we can develop the humility needed to admit that we have erred.

Society, properly ordered, is a "mirror of the logos" according to Weaver. 15 From this it follows that society has a "formal structure" which we can apprehend. 16 Weaver concludes that this implies that the "preservation of society" requires "recovery of true knowledge.t''" Knowledge, along with virtue, another key for Weaver, both require transcendence. 18 Otherwise, society is a reflection of nothing, or at least nothing higher than itself. This is the great divide

that splits modem society from that of the days before Ockham. It also explains why the notion of transcendence is so "obnoxious," as Weaver puts it, the nominalist "Jacobins."!"

Perhaps the best summary of Weaver's view of the role of education is that it is to "make the human being more human.r''" Weaver's view of "being more human" is tied to his very distinct view of individualism, which he termed "social-bond individualism.v" Weaver discusses individualism at length in his essay "Two Types of American Individualism" in which he contrasts Henry David Thoreau and John Randolph of Roanoke.

Noting that it is Thoreau's individualism that is best known and most commonly lauded, Weaver draws attention to just how counter-cultural his view of individualism is. As further confirmation, the reference to John Randolph in the new United States Capitol visitor center quotes his famous statement: "I am an aristocrat, I love liberty, I hate equality" before stating that "the country soon passed Randolph by as manufacturing interests grew and politics became more democratic.vf The dismissal of Randolph and his "aristocratic" ways as being backwards would come as no surprise to Weaver.

However, it is Randolph to whom Weaver points as an example of the best type of American individualism. Whereas Thoreau withdrew from the world to Walden Pond, Randolph refused to retreat and instead stood as a member of the community. This is the "social-bond" individualism, which Weaver saw as the hope for society. Randolph's defense of the "smaller but 'natural' unit against the larger on which pretends a right to rule" was firmly based on the local community. 23

Randolph was raised in a tradition that still respected the ties of society. For him, severing such ties was an extreme last resort.i" For Thoreau, they were the first order of business.f Weaver explains that this "anarchic individualism is revolutionary and subversive

from the very start.,,26 It is destructive of society and grows from a "self-righteousness or

egocentric attachment to an idea" rather than a natural development of a cultured society. 27

Whereas Thoreau's individualism is destructive, that of Randolph is constructive. 28

Weaver himself can be seen as a modem-day John Randolph. Like Randolph, he has been

forgotten by a large portion of society. His ideals, too, clash with the modem mindset. Like

Randolph, he rejects the value of equality and instead favors fratemity.f" Fraternity, with the

image of family that it evokes, is not a pure mathematical equality or sameness. In the words of


The ancient feeling of brotherhood carries obligations of which equality knows nothing. It calls for respect and protection, for brotherhood is status in family, and family is by nature hierarchical. It demands patience with little brother, and it may sternly exact duty of big brother"

Weaver, as did Randolph, looks to an older tradition. Both were Southerners and reflect the

importance of family, community, tradition, and awareness of the transcendent that marks the

culture of this region.

Randolph was a landowner and a planter and was an agrarian in the original sense. There

has been some discussion as to Weaver's relationship with the Southern Agrarians." It is

indisputable that he was educated by and influenced by a number of the original Agrarians. 32

Weaver certainly shares their love of community and tradition and engaged in defense of the

local and the particular against the modem waves of specialization, technocracy, and materialism

in a fashion reminiscent of the works of the Southern Agrarians such as I'll Take My Stand and

Who Owns America?

Perhaps the most striking similarity to Randolph's individualism is the fact that Weaver,

despite recognizing the collapse of traditional culture, did not flee to a hermitage. Instead he

stayed. He did not simply stay, however, he went to the enemy, teaching many years at The

University of Chicago.f For a man who declared urban living to be destructive of all traditional relationships, including friendship, this seems to be a sign that he refused to give Up.34 Weaver saw that the hope for the future lay in education, not in abandoning the community like the hermit of Walden.

Richard Weaver saw the problem with modem civilization. He also believed that he knew the answer. The antidote for nominalism is the recovery of true knowledge." That is, knowledge of the transcendent and the universal. Knowledge that prepared man for life in the real world, a world that was more than material. For Weaver, the only way to recover this true knowledge was through education. He denounced those who use the term education like a "conjuror's word" expecting to solve every problem as ifby magic." Weaver clearly saw that it was not education, but properly directed education in the right areas that was the key.37

When expressing the proper form that education should take, Weaver proposed what has traditionally been termed a "Liberal Education.v'" He rejects the idea of education as simply job training, calling such an idea only a partial description of education's goals. Education is for a human being, and as such is not the same as simple training of an animal to perform tricks or the programming of a computer to respond in certain ways. It should see that "the individual is developed into something better than he would have been without it.,,39 Weaver states that education is not indoctrination. Education, in the Liberal tradition, is for the free man. Indoctrination is for a "pawn of the political state.,,40

Weaver's conception of the individual assumes bonds with other people in a community.

The individual also assumes freedom, in particular a freedom of choice. This is nothing more than the Christian conception of free will. Man, Weaver states, cannot "become such an individual until he becomes aware of his possession of Ireedom?" Weaver continues, saying

that the "real person ... senses in himself an internal principle of control, to which his thoughts and actions are related.,,42 This is Weaver's expression of the ancient Christian, and Platonic, conception of the rational mind reigning in the appetitive and spirited parts of man's nature.

Liberal education, Weaver believes, is designed to prepare man for freedom." He notes that it was originally intended for a society's freemen and thus has etymological connections with the word "free.,,44 However, historical curiosities aside, the reason why a liberal education is the best preparation for free men is because it "introduces one to the principles of things.'?"

Liberal education is concerned with truth, universals, rather than simply assorted facts.

This distinction is important to Weaver who views facts as not speaking for themselves, but rather only can speak through an interpreter." Liberal education, says Weaver, is what prepares a man to be that interpreter. Without the "big picture" man is simply a trivia machine. Facts are useless by themselves. It is only when they are given meaning that they become relevant. The individual, a product of a liberal education, is prepared to "confront any fact with the reality of his freedom to choose.Y" This, Weaver says, is the "way in which liberal education liberates.v'"

Weaver is not finished. Not only does a liberal education prepare man to be a free individual, but it also is important to a free and virtuous society. An education designed to promote individualism is "education for goodness.?" He states that the liberally educated individual is "at home in the world of ideas" and as such, he can "choose among ideas" keeping in mind the relations between them. 50 This is choice based on training, on experience. It is not the sheltered, false freedom which so many seem to desire today. This is the ground in which virtue grows. Virtue, Weaver points out, transforms into character through its exercise."

Weaver sees the traditional model of Western liberal education as the route back from the brink of societal collapse. It is only through this type of education, Weaver believes, that men

can be made into better men and society made into a better society. Weaver's way is not unknown, but it is different than the methods attempted in what he terms "educational plants" which make up the bulk of higher education in the United States.52

Weaver detests specialization in both individuals and in education. Weaver once noted that "[t]he specialist stands ever at the borderline of psycbosis.?" Although, Weaver himself was a professor of English and a gifted rhetorician, his philosophical outlook encompassed the big picture. He was able to see how the traditional disciplines fit together and complemented each other. This, too, is an ancient idea, as Weaver himself notes, reminding his reader that Plato required that his students know geometry before they tried to learn philosophy. 54

Just as the free individual exists in a world with which he shares bonds of fraternity, so does the plan of liberal education. Weaver suggests that recognition of a hierarchy, or order, is to be retained in his ideal model for education as in society. 55 Weaver also raises the importance of the term "discipline," as it not only retains traditional distinctions, but also because of the term "denotes something that has the power to shape and control in accordance with objective standards.t''" The term also carries with it the connotation of the "power to repress and discourage those impulses which interfere with the proper development of the person.,,57 Discipline implies the existence of a right and a wrong, distinctions neglected under the regime of the nominalists.

Lastly, Weaver's view of a liberal education to restore civilization sees the person as an individual. The educator must look at the truth, and this includes the truth of the person taught. In contrast to his views on individualism and proposal of an education for that individual as an individual, Weaver offers the ideas of John Dewey. Dewey denies the value of any interior development for the community. 58 In fact, as Weaver states, Dewey simply wants an education

which makes reference to externals (but not universals, as they are simply imaginary, and thus internal, to the nominalists) and thus sees humanity as a collection of "atoms or monads" where there is no room for the spiritual or the truly personal. 59 Sadly, it is the model of Dewey, and not Weaver, that has dominated modem American education.

As a student preparing to enter a graduate program to prepare me to teach at the university level, both the words and example of Richard M. Weaver assume a great deal of importance. At first glance, it may seem odd for a student of economics to also look to Weaver's works as an example. After all, economics has become highly specialized, highly technical, and often seems quite far from its roots as household management. While this is certainly true of much of the economic field as it exists today, there is absolutely no reason why this must be the


Weaver mourns the destruction of the traditional hierarchy of civilization and the creation of "economic man," a creature, he says, "whose destiny is mere activity.T" In a world where economics is largely dominated by various flavors of Keynesianism, we do indeed find the government manipulating markets at the "service of appetite" as Weaver saw." The mission of the Federal Reserve is to use the full weight of the Federal Government to keep the economy safe for growth, regardless of the reality of that growth. After so many bailouts and stimulus plans, it has become clear that, as Weaver predicted in Ideas Have Consequences, the State has become "a vast bureaucracy designed to promote economic activity.,,62 "Too big to fail" has become the motto. Little concern seems to be given to the actual merits of keeping these large corporations, who seem to make very big, very bad decisions.

Luckily, not all economists have fallen for this trap; and, best of all, it is possible to obtain a Ph.D. in economics from professors who refuse to accept this prevailing theory. This is

one of the reasons why I desire to study at George Mason University. Austrian economics has something of a unique place in the present schools of economics in at least two ways that it seems Weaver would agree with. The first is their rejection of blind empiricism practiced by so many "mainstream" economists, and secondly, the importance placed on traditional, Western philosophy.

Ludwig von Mises recognized that there was a difference between humans and atoms or minerals. This led him, and his students following him, to question the validity of the empirical methods used by many economists. The trend of modem economics has been marked by an attempt to make economics less philosophical and more of a "hard science," with physics being the ideal. 63 The Austrians propose that economists should rej ect this trend, which is nothing more than a form of the nominalist heresy against which Weaver objected so strongly. Von Mises and the Austrians have sought to establish economics on a footing of logic and deduction as opposed to one of empirical studies and induction. In his article "Conservatism and Libertarianism: The Common Ground," Weaver cites the Austrian concept of praxology favorably saying that it is an example of recognition of the "objective" and that the Austrian Libertarians were fellow "conservators of the real world. ,,64

Strongly connected to the Austrian School is an appreciation for the importance of philosophy. Aristotle, Aquinas, and other philosophers frequently find positive reference in Austrian writings. In a discipline so commonly marked by the triumphalism of the Whig theory of history as economics, it is refreshing to see that these men are studied not just as historical figures, but also to see their thoughts applied to modem problems. It is rather hard, for example, to imagine a Marxist, or even a Keynesian, consulting a fourteenth -century bishop and theologian in a text on monetary theory (or even discussing monetary ethics at all).65

It is this view of economics as part of a larger picture combined with a distrust of the nominalist tendency to consider all fields of study like the physical sciences that seems quite compatible with Weaver's view of the world. Man is clearly not 'just" an economic creature; the Austrians realize this just as Weaver did. Recognizing this, Weaver himself recommends that professors read, among others, von Mises, Hayek, and Ropke in order to counter the influence of Socialist collectivism in their training and to learn "the value of personal freedom.Y" My personal hope is that studying in such an environment will assist me in obtaining my own goal of teaching for a free society of free individuals.

Economics, rooted in the Western tradition and seeing man as a free individual, holds great possibilities. It remains imperative to look at economics, just as with any other discipline, keeping in mind the transcendent. This seems, at first, to be a paradox, since economics is so associated with finance and trade. However, once economics becomes about man, the social animal, and his relationship with his neighbor, then economics, too, becomes open to the transcendent. It is only with this acceptance of our role as free individuals, that society can become truly free.

Richard M. Weaver offers an explanation of how to build a free society of free individuals. It is a plan rooted in the Western Tradition and the traditional view of individuals as part of a community and of traditional, liberal education. The only safeguard against indoctrination is the recognition and acceptance of the obj ectivity of truth. 67 It is only through education directed towards visions of transcendent reality, that social-bond individualism can be cultivated. A society marked by such free individuals will then be able to tum their backs on nominalism and move away from the cliff that is societal destruction.


1. Richard C. Cheeks, "Weaver's Southern Christendom," The Acton Institute, http://www.acton.orglpublications/randllrl_review _ 499. php.

2. Ibid.

3. Robert A. Preston, "A Man of Vision," Touchstone, NovemberlDecember 1998,!archives/ article. php ?id= 11-06-021- f.

4. Ibid.

5. Ibid.

6. Richard M. Weaver, Ideas Have Consequences, (Chicago: U. of Chicago Press, 1948),3.

7. Ibid, 2.

8. Ibid, 4.

9. Ibid, 4-5.

10. Ibid, 10.

11. Ibid, 10.

12. Ibid, 11.

13. Elder Paisios of Mount Athos, With Pain and Lovefor Contemporary Man, (Thessaloniki, Greece: Holy Monastery Evangelist John the Theologian, 2007), 66-8.

14. Ibid.

15. Weaver, Ideas Have Consequences, 35.

16. Ibid., 35.

17. Ibid., 35.

18. Ibid., 36-7.

19. Ibid., 37.

20. Richard M. Weaver, "Education and the Individual," In Defense of Tradition , (Indianapolis:

Liberty Fund, 2000), 186.

21. Richard M. Weaver, "Two Types of American Individualism," Modern Age, Spring 1963, 122.

22. "Exhibition and Film Scripts," U.S. Capitol Visitor Center,

23. Weaver, "Two Types of American Individualism", 125.

24. Weaver, "Two Types of American Individualism", 134.

25. Ibid.

26. Ibid.

27. Ibid.

28. Ibid.

29. Weaver, Ideas Have Consequences, 41.

30. Ibid., 41-2.

31. Ralph E. Ancil, "Southern Agrarians," First Principles,!articles.aspx?article=832&theme=home&loc=b. 32. Troy L KickIer, Richard M. Weaver, Jr. (1910-1962), North Carolina History Project, http://www .northcarolinahistory.orgl encyclopedia/ 67/ entry.

33. KickIer.

34. Weaver, Ideas have Consequences, 30-1.

35. Ibid., 35.

36. Weaver, "Education and the Individual," 185.

37. Ibid., 185.

38. Ibid., 186.

39. Ibid., 185.

40. Ibid., 186.

41. Ibid., 197.

42. Ibid., 198.

43. Ibid., 198.

44. Ibid., 198.

45. Ibid., 198.

46. Ibid., 198.

47. Ibid., 198.

48. Ibid., 198.

49. Ibid., 198.

50. Ibid., 198.

51. Ibid., 198.

52. Ibid., 184.

53. E. Victor Milione, "The Uniqueness of Richard M. Weaver," First Principles, Vol. 2 No.1, September 1965 _ 0 IImilione. pdf.

54. Weaver, "Education and the Individual," 190.

55. Weaver, Ideas have Consequences, 35.

56. Weaver, "Education and the Individual," 190.

57. Ibid., 190.

58. Ibid., 195.

59. Ibid., 195.

60. Weaver, Ideas have Consequences, 51.

61. Ibid., 38.

62. Ibid., 38.

63. Murray N. Rothbard, "Ludwig von Mises and the Paradigm for Our Age," Mises Daily, 18 August 2009,

64. Richard M. Weaver, "Conservatism and Libertarianism: The Common Ground," In Defense of Tradition, (Indianapolis: Liberty Fund, 2000), 480.

65. Jorg Guido Hiilsmann, The Ethics of Money Production, (Auburn: Ludwig von Mises Institute, 2008).

66. Richard M. Weaver, "The Role of Education in Shaping Our Society," In Defense of Tradition, (Indianapolis: Liberty Fund, 2000), 222.

67. Richard M. Weaver, "Education: Reflections on," In Defense of Tradition, (Indianapolis:

Liberty Fund, 2000), 173.

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