William F. Buckley remarked that he found it impossible to define conservatism in one sentence, but whenever someone insisted that he offer a one-sentence definition he would “punish” them with Richard Weaver’s: “Conservatism is the paradigm of essences towards which the phenomenology of the world is in continuing approximation.” (“With a straight face,” Buckley added.)
This suggests one of the reasons why Weaver has never acquired a wider audience, even among conservative intellectuals. Although this one-sentence definition is intelligible—it could be seen as a fancy version of Horace’s dictum that “expel nature with a pitchfork, and it will return”—sometimes Weaver’s prose is obscure, tendentious, and hard to follow. But it was remarkably prescient, and it is notable how well it holds up to today’s postmodernist obscurantism 65 years after publication. For example, the eighth chapter of Ideas Have Consequences, “The Power of the Word,” is a defense of the Aristotelian idea of the intelligibility of reason and language very similar to what I heard from Harry Jaffa, and a refutation of the advanced linguistic philosophies of our time that are indistinguishable from nihilism.
Moreover, here and there Weaver bolts out of the blue with a sparkling aphorism, every bit as usable as “ideas have consequences.” Here are a few favorites, perhaps even adaptable for Twitter (which would appall Weaver, Russell Kirk, Eric Voegelin, etc):
The issue ultimately involved is whether there is a source of truth higher than, and independent of, man; and the answer to the question is decisive for one’s view of the nature and destiny of man.
Hysterical optimism will prevail until the world again admits the existence of tragedy, and it cannot admit the existence of tragedy until it again distinguishes between good and evil. . . Hysterical optimism as a sin against knowledge.
The typical modern has the look of the hunted.
[I]f we feel that creation does not express purpose, it is impossible to find an authorization for purpose in our own lives.
Thus the specialist stands ever at the borderline of psychosis.
The scientists have given [modern man] the impression that there is nothing he cannot know, and false propagandists have told him that there is nothing he cannot have.
Almost every trend of the day points to an identification of right with the purpose of the state.
The modern state does not comprehend how anyone can be guided by something other than itself. In its eyes pluralism is treason.
No society is healthy which tells its members to take no thought of the morrow because the state underwrites their future.
It will be found that every attack upon religion, or upon characteristic ideas inherited from religion, when its assumptions are laid bare, turns out to be an attack upon mind.
We live in an age that is frightened by the very idea of certitude, and one of its really disturbing outgrowths is the easy divorce between words and the conceptual realities which our minds know they must stand for.
Piety is a discipline of the will through respect. It admits the right to exist of things larger than the ego, of things different from the ego.
Turn where we will, we find that the countryman has a superior philosophic resignation to the order of things.
Thomas Aquinas could do a whole commentary on each one of these aphorisms.