In Defense of Tradition (Richard Weaver)

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BayouHuguenot

Puritanboard Amanuensis
Weaver, Richard M. In Defense of Tradition: Collected Shorter Writings of Richard M Weaver, 1929-1963. Indianapolis, IN: Liberty Fund, 2000.

Richard Weaver’s legend was already secure when he wrote his brilliantly-titled Ideas Have Consequences. In this collection of essays we see Weaver the teacher, the professor. It’s hard to say how modern American Conservatism would have emerged had it not been for Weaver. In a sense, Weaver may have passed the baton to Russell Kirk, from whom National Review took it (and likely ruined it).

Section 1 highlights with Weaver’s key essay “Up from Liberalism,” wherein he describes his movement from a young college socialist (but I repeat myself) to a mature agrarian conservative.

Why would someone like Weaver be interested in socialism? Aside from youthful naivete, it seems he was looking for an organic connection among humanity that doesn’t reduce men to capital (ever heard of the phrase “Human Resources?” It should chill you). Of course, socialism can’t deliver, mainly because academic socialists don’t know how humanity acts. Weaver tells a funny story from college:

“I remember how shocked I was when a member of this group suggested that we provide at our public rallies one of the ‘hillbilly bands’ which are often used to draw crowds and provide entertainments….I have since realized that the member was far more practically astute than I: the hillbilly music would undoubtedly have fetched more [people] than the austere exposition of the country’s ills” (34-35).

Change “socialist” to “intellectual conservative today” and the point stands. As socialism bankrupted Weaver began to see that society could be ordered around “the Agrarian ideal of the individual in contact with the rhythms of nature, of the small-property holding, and of the society of pluralistic organization” (37).

From this Weaver would later take his stand (no pun intended) on the idea of “substance” or “the nature of things,” yet he would not do so in the way of scholasticism which endlessly multiplied speculations and abstractions. He notes that it is “the intent of the radical to defy all substance, or to press it into forms conceived in his mind alone” (41).

The ideological Marxist (both then and now, but much more efficiently now), knew that the best way to silence conservatives is to accuse society of “prejudice.” What the Christ-hater meant is that any differentiation in society meant an ideological violence. The form of the fallacy used, argumentum ad ignorantium, “seeks to take advantage of an opponent by confusing what is abstractly possible with what is really possible” (92-93).

Reviewing T. S. Eliot, Weaver examines what is and isn’t culture. We never get an analytical definition, but Weaver does offer some fascinating, if only tantalizing, clues. A culture is an image through which our “being” comes through. It’s often regional in focus (think of the oxymoron international culture). As such, “Cornbread or blueberry pie is more indicative of culture than is a multi-million dollar art gallery which is the creation of some philanthropist” (150).

In line with his Ideas Have Consequences, Weaver assumes philosophical realism, yet his defense of essences is never center-stage, and so never belabored. He reminds us that “names are indexes to essences” (235), and essences are what form “permanent things” (against which the modern world is in full attack).

From the middle of the book onward, Weaver engages in various book reviews dealing with literature, history, and the South. Whether they are two pages or twenty, they are a model in concise thinking.

As he ends, he reminds us what it is to be a conservative (and what most popular conservatives have lost today). We defend the essences of permanent things. There is a hierarchical structure in the universe (albeit closer to aristocracy than today’s crude religious patriarchy).

Teaching How to Think

Since Weaver was a professor of English composition, this section (228ff) could yield some valuable insights. Given that Weaver was a gifted prose artist, and given that he taught students how to write and think (rhetoric, in other words), what advice does he offer us today? The section is too good and too long for any adequate review. The reader is encouraged to digest Weaver’s The Ethics of Rhetoric.

Observations

Weaver wasn’t a shrill alarmist bemoaning how Communists are taking over the universities. They certainly are, but the issues are deeper. Conservatives are just as guilty (if only by incompetence rather than malice). Weaver notes of curricula that students learn “a fair introduction to the history--but not the substance--of literature and philosophy” (Weaver 34). Let’s remain on this point. I knew a lot of history in college and in seminary I thought I knew a fair amount of theology, but I never once had a teacher engage in a socratic dialogue concerning the meaning of essence, etc.

* Original sin puts the breaks on “democratic reasoning.” “Democracy finds it difficult ever to say that man is wrong if he does things in large majorities” (44).

* Liberal education is designed to make free men. It cultivates virtue and such virtue is “assimilated and grows into character through exercise, which means freedom of action in a world in which not all things are good” (198-199).

Key Insights

The technocracy (ruled today by the cult of Experts) makes it hard to be a person. “Man is an organism, not a mechanism; and the mechanical pacing of his life does harm to his human responses, which naturally follow a kind of free rhythm” (75).

* “To divinize an institution is to make it eventually an idol, and an idol always demands tribute” (153).

* “Wisdom is never taught directly; indoctrination often backfires; propaganda ends by drawing contempt upon itself” (227).

* “Future teaches got trained not in what they were going to teach, but in how they should teach it, and that, I repeat, is a very limited curriculum” (223).
 

83r17h

Puritan Board Freshman
From this Weaver would later take his stand (no pun intended) on the idea of “substance” or “the nature of things,” yet he would not do so in the way of scholasticism which endlessly multiplied speculations and abstractions. He notes that it is “the intent of the radical to defy all substance, or to press it into forms conceived in his mind alone” (41).

This is interesting. Is this similar to the argument by Patrick Deneen in Why Liberalism Failed that liberalism denies the existence of a human nature?
 

py3ak

Unshaven and anonymous
Staff member
“Cornbread or blueberry pie is more indicative of culture than is a multi-million dollar art gallery which is the creation of some philanthropist”

From Joel Barlow's "The Hasty Pudding" Canto I, Lines 83-110
But man, more fickle, the bold license claims,
In different realms to give thee different names.
Thee the soft nations round the warm Levant
Polenta call, the French of course Polente.
E’en in thy native regions, how I blush
To hear the Pennsylvanians call thee Mush!
On Hudson’s bunks, while men of Belgic spawn
Insult and eat thee by the name Suppawn.
All spurious appellations, void of truth;
I’ve better known thee from my earliest youth,
Thy name is Hasty Pudding! thus my sire
Was wont to greet thee fuming from his fire;
And while he argued in thy just defence
With logic clear, he thus explain’d the sense:—
“In haste the boiling cauldron o’er the blaze,
Receives and cooks the ready powder’d maize;
In haste ’tis served, and then in equal haste,
With cooling milk, we make the sweet repast.
No carving to be done, no knife to grate
The tender ear, and wound the stony plate;
But the smooth spoon, just fitted to the lip,
And taught with art the yielding mass to dip,
By frequent journeys to the bowl well stored,
Performs the hasty honors of the board.”
Such is thy name, significant and clear,
A name, a sound to every Yankee dear,
But most to me, whose heart and palate chaste
Preserve my pure hereditary taste.
 

Andrew35

Puritan Board Sophomore
* “Future teaches got trained not in what they were going to teach, but in how they should teach it, and that, I repeat, is a very limited curriculum” (223).
Good heavens, YES.

Yes, yes, yes, yes, yes!

And one extra "yes" for anyone else who's ever been forced to sit through even one miserable "Professional Development" workshop.
 
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BayouHuguenot

Puritanboard Amanuensis
Good heavens, YES.

Yes, yes, yes, yes, yes!

And one extra "yes" for anyone else who's ever been forced to sit through even one miserable "Professional Development" workshop.

Agreed. We are told to teach method, not knowledge. I've been teaching English for ten years or so. It wasn't until I started studying Samuel Johnson and systematically reading through Plato and Shakespeare that I really "hit my stride" as an English teacher.

One possible exception: I went to a Writing Revolution seminar last year. While it does deal with method, it's actually closer to rhetoric. I learned more in those three days than in my entire master's program.
 

Andrew35

Puritan Board Sophomore
Agreed. We are told to teach method, not knowledge. I've been teaching English for ten years or so. It wasn't until I started studying Samuel Johnson and systematically reading through Plato and Shakespeare that I really "hit my stride" as an English teacher.

One possible exception: I went to a Writing Revolution seminar last year. While it does deal with method, it's actually closer to rhetoric. I learned more in those three days than in my entire master's program.
There is some good stuff out there, but you have to find it beneath the mountains of jargon and fads. And now apps. I'm not interested in a workshop about a new app or program someone has found that is "really cool!" and has revolutionized their teaching. I'm tired of it. And they will be too, soon enough.

I'm not familiar with Writing Revolution, but I'll check it out. I have 14 years as an English teacher myself, but most of that has been international, which is a slightly different game. I'm more and more convinced, though, that nobody is a really good teacher until they're at least in their 30s.
 

Grimmson

Puritan Board Sophomore
I'm more and more convinced, though, that nobody is a really good teacher until they're at least in their 30s.
I think part of being a good teacher is the recognition and wisdom related to fads. The courage to stand against the fads. And care for your students and their futures. Teaching is not just a profession, as far as I am concerned, it is a calling. And I do wish there were more conservative who would go into education and treat it as such.

By the way, I am a high school math teacher. There are many students who come to my class who have been passed on year after year after year. Both on the elementary level and on the secondary level. So by the time they come to me their skill level is relatively low. Part of the problem is the indoctrination that is taking place with modern day math teachers that is allowing for the increased gaps to manifest.
Future teaches got trained not in what they were going to teach, but in how they should teach it

I actually do not think this is a bad thing related to future teachers in a broad sense. Just because you know something does not mean you can teach it effectively to a wide range of students. There are many professors and pastors that can gain from learning about how people learn, and this includes by age-developmental level of the person. This in turn can affect the effectiveness of the teacher. Just because a teacher said something, as part of the teaching process, does not mean a student has learned it. This has an impact in how sermons are applied and how people can be discipled. It is important to know the context of the people you are teaching, and this includes the principles of applications of what you are teaching on a broad level, and the methodology of that delivery. In fact, I wouldn't mind seeing some sort of process of basic training in churches for Sunday School teachers for children and adults.

There is legitimate concern however with the indoctrination of particular fads and agendas with teacher training. I have to deal with this all the time as a teacher, especially with my interaction with teachers fresh out of school (regardless if the new teacher just earned a Bachelors or Masters degree). This issue should not be used however for discouraging potential teachers in learning "how to teach." It just shows the need of accountability and should encourage a discussion of what the objective of different arenas of education should be in a person's life. This does include the development and usage of a curriculum.
 

BayouHuguenot

Puritanboard Amanuensis
I actually do not think this is a bad thing related to future teachers in a broad sense. Just because you know something does not mean you can teach it effectively to a wide range of students.

That's true but in terms of method the different strategies are largely unnecesary. Does a method work? No? Throw it out. Simple as that. I also decided to imitate the best teachers at my school. Over a few years I became a better teacher. No class can teach you that.
 

arapahoepark

Puritan Board Post-Graduate
I think part of being a good teacher is the recognition and wisdom related to fads. The courage to stand against the fads. And care for your students and their futures. Teaching is not just a profession, as far as I am concerned, it is a calling. And I do wish there were more conservative who would go into education and treat it as such.

By the way, I am a high school math teacher. There are many students who come to my class who have been passed on year after year after year. Both on the elementary level and on the secondary level. So by the time they come to me their skill level is relatively low. Part of the problem is the indoctrination that is taking place with modern day math teachers that is allowing for the increased gaps to manifest.


I actually do not think this is a bad thing related to future teachers in a broad sense. Just because you know something does not mean you can teach it effectively to a wide range of students. There are many professors and pastors that can gain from learning about how people learn, and this includes by age-developmental level of the person. This in turn can affect the effectiveness of the teacher. Just because a teacher said something, as part of the teaching process, does not mean a student has learned it. This has an impact in how sermons are applied and how people can be discipled. It is important to know the context of the people you are teaching, and this includes the principles of applications of what you are teaching on a broad level, and the methodology of that delivery. In fact, I wouldn't mind seeing some sort of process of basic training in churches for Sunday School teachers for children and adults.

There is legitimate concern however with the indoctrination of particular fads and agendas with teacher training. I have to deal with this all the time as a teacher, especially with my interaction with teachers fresh out of school (regardless if the new teacher just earned a Bachelors or Masters degree). This issue should not be used however for discouraging potential teachers in learning "how to teach." It just shows the need of accountability and should encourage a discussion of what the objective of different arenas of education should be in a person's life. This does include the development and usage of a curriculum.

That's true but in terms of method the different strategies are largely unnecesary. Does a method work? No? Throw it out. Simple as that. I also decided to imitate the best teachers at my school. Over a few years I became a better teacher. No class can teach you that.
As a new teacher I found a lot of that stuff floating around that never appealed to me. I always wondered, "how are the kids going to get the real info?"
This site has been immensely helpful in providing ammunition against constructivism.
 

Andrew35

Puritan Board Sophomore
As a new teacher I found a lot of that stuff floating around that never appealed to me. I always wondered, "how are the kids going to get the real info?"
This site has been immensely helpful in providing ammunition against constructivism.
He's a Direct Instruction proponent (under a different name)? I've wanted to learn more about that approach since I heard it blew away constructivist approaches in learning outcomes in a number of studies.

My approach as an English teacher is pretty simple: students want to think and learn about stuff that matters, and they want to learn about it from someone who knows more about it than they do.

Should be obvious, but we've complicated it horrifically.
 
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