Weaver Thoughts: Should Conservatives Turn on Wall Street?

We’ve commented before about the strange phenomenon of the liberal super-rich, not just in Silicon Valley, but also among Wall Street bankers/hedge funders—both major sources of money and political support for Obama and Democrats.  What’s the deal here?  I always thought Republicans were supposed to be the natural party of big business and finance capital.  This is one reason why I mused about the idea of a wealth tax a few months ago.  That’s one way you’d turn around these self-loathing rich liberals.

This comes to mind again from the latest chapter I’ve been mulling over in Richard Weaver’s Ideas Have Consequences, on “The Last Metaphysical Right.”  Weaver identifies the last metaphysical right as—property.  This might seem odd given that property is usually considered something tangible (even in this age of intellectual property rights, such as to gene sequences and software code), rather than metaphysical.  Weaver sees property as the “last” metaphysical right because the entire direction of modern thought, including our conception of individual rights, is to reduce everything to material causes and effects.  Memo to libertarians here: Weaver would not think much of defending property rights because of their economic utility; to the contrary, he’d see that line of argument as feeding the modern problem.  Weaver explains:

We say the right of private property is metaphysical because it does not depend on any test of social usefulness.  Property rests upon the idea of the hisness of his: proprietas, Eigentum, the very words assert an identification of owner and owned.  Now the great value of this is that the fact of something’s being private property removes it from the area of contention.  [My aside: Weaver didn’t live long enough to see the EPA in action.]  In the hisness of property we have dogma; there discussion ends.  Relativists of from the social sciences, who wish to bring everyone under secular group control, find this an annoying impediment.

Weaver was famously attached to the school of “southern agrarianism,” which, while problematic in some respects (such as the sentimental attachment to that whole secession thing) can be understood as an extension of the Jeffersonian argument against Hamilton and finance capitalism of the 1790s, which at the end of the day was a sensible argument about the political economy of individual virtue.  With that in mind, it is interesting to take in Weaver’s thoughts on finance capitalism today, which might have some implications for conservatives:

At this point I would make abundantly clear that the last metaphysical right offers nothing in defense of that kind of property brought into being by finance capitalism.  Such property is, on the contrary, a violation of the notion of proprietas.  This amendment of the institution to suit the uses of commerce and technology has done more to threaten property rights than anything else yet conceived.  For the abstract property of stocks and bonds, the legal ownership of enterprises never seen, actually destroy the connection between man and his substance without which metaphysical right becomes meaningless.  Property in this sense becomes a fiction useful for exploitation and makes impossible the sanctification of work.  The property which we defend as an anchorage keeps its identity with the individual.

Not only is this true, but the aggregation of vast properties under anonymous ownership is a constant invitation to further state direction of our lives and fortunes.  For, when properties are vast and integrated, on a scale now frequently seen, it requires but a slight step to transfer them to state control. . .  Large business organizations, moreover, have seldom been backward about petitioning government for assistance, since their claim to independence rests upon desire for profit rather than upon principle or the sense of honor.  Big business and the rationalization of industry thus abet the evils we seek to overcome.

The conclusion of this section of Weaver’s argument reads very fresh in light of government-business collaboration in eroding our privacy:

Respecters of private property are really obligated to oppose much that is done today in the name of private enterprise, for corporate organization and monopoly are the very means whereby property is casting aside its privacy.

As we say in the classroom, discuss.

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