"There is always a philosophy for lack of courage."—Albert Camus

Friday, October 16, 2015

Wisdom from Richard Weaver on community & society

A great observation by one of the great conservative thinkers of the middle part of the 20th century:
However paradoxical it may appear at first sight, we find when we examine actual cases that communities create a shared sentiment, a oneness, and a loyalty through selective differentiation of the persons who make them up.  A society is a structure with many levels, offices, and roles, and the reason we feel grateful to the idea of society is that one man's filling his role makes it possible for another to fill his role, and so on.  Because the policeman is doing his policeman's job, the owner of the bakery can sleep well at night.  Because plumbers and electricians are performing their functions, doctors and lawyers are free to perform theirs, and the reverse.  This is a truistic observation, no doubt, but too little attention is given to the fact that society exists in and through it variegation and multiplicity, and when we speak of a society's "breaking down," we mean exactly a confusing of these roles, a loss of differentiation, and a consequent waning of the feeling of loyalty.  Society makes possible the idea of vocation, which is the primary source of distinctions.
- Richard M. Weaver (1910-1963), Life without Prejudice, reprinted in In Defense of Tradition:  Collected Shorter Writings of Richard M. Weaver, 1929-1963, ed. by Ted. J. Smith III (Liberty Fund:  2000), pg. 89.

Weaver was one of the authors who helped me to understand that we come to know who we are, and we find our path in life, through community. Any philosophy or political movement that seeks to undermine community and substitute it with either a totalist collectivism or atomized individualism can never serve as a vehicle for authentic humanism.  To be human is to live in community with others.


Tom Van Dyke said...

This is why the conservative alliance with libertarianism-as-radical individualism remains uneasy. The conservatives are the better option only because they better provide the stability for the libertarian to do his thing.

Tim Kowal said...

On the other hand, the art of politics is in forming of often uneasy coalitions. Still and although, I don't see how libertarians can hold even an uneasy coalition with either conservatives or collectivists. The left shatters communities in order to drive them into the arms of the state. Libertarians too often approve of the first half of that program -- at least so far as it's carried out by sexual libertinism -- but then would leave people nowhere to turn. And then wonder why they're branded heartless.

Mark DeForrest said...

Weaver, interestingly enough, was an enthusiastic proponent of the alliance of conservatives with libertarians (a topic on which he differed with Russell Kirk, for example, who took much the same position that Tom does).

Tom Van Dyke said...

The irony is that both left and right are communitarian--the right favor an organic "society" of principles and culture; the left favor the state, with laws and rules. I favor the former in the interests of liberty and creativity, and find the latter artificial and thus suspect as congenial with human nature and thus reality.

I don't know where that leaves the libertarian, except to favor whichever happens to be less tyrannical at a given moment.

Mark DeForrest said...

Russell Kirk once quipped that he would sooner vote for a Socialist than a libertarian for precisely the reason you note, Tom. Both traditionalist conservatives and the Left agree that community is necessary for human development and for human life to have meaning. Of course, the difference is the nature of the community -- diffuse, pluralistic, diverse, with intermediate institutions and non-government actors (the conservative view), or a totalist State where there is nothing other than the government interacting upon individuals (the Left).

Tom Van Dyke said...

Mark, you just limned the current crisis, which is not liberalism but leftism. The liberal wants to help the poor; the leftist aims to cure poverty.