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    Book Club: Ideas Have Consequences{Chapter 2}

    July 18, 2012 by Brandy Vencel
    Ideas Have Consequences
    by Richard Weaver

    Chapter 2 is called Distinction and Hierarchy and, in it, egalitarianism {equalitarianism to Weaver} takes a big hit. I don’t mean here, by the way, the theological position on the roles of man and woman, though I’m sure that would have to be included by extension {Weaver himself says that the family is the “archetype of hierarchy”}, but rather the idea of viewing all men as equal, even to the point of being willing to maim and injure in order to force this false equity into existence.

    All of this impacts education because knowledge naturally elevates {Weaver says two things elevate: knowledge and virtue*}–which means that it brings about inequity among men. We can try our best to mass produce ignorance, but that is as close to equality of condition we will get. Genius will never come rolling out of a factory model.

    The first thing that Weaver says about education is on the very first page of the chapter:

    The preservation of society is therefore directly linked with the recovery of true knowledge.

    In years past, I was annoyed when educators from all different veins would try to declare that education would save the world. First of all, only Christ can do such a thing–even education is not big enough to bear the weight of the world. But secondly, I thought this was a form of blind optimism. Even Charlotte Mason has annoyed me in this regard.

    Now, lest you just think me cranky, I think part of the problem was that I misunderstood what was meant by salvation in this context. Weaver doesn’t say that education will remove or conquer sin. He says that knowledge preserves. This is something I believe, and I think I better understand why Miss Mason was so excited about her educational ventures.

    I also know from personal experience that education is repentance.

    These days, knowledge does not elevate:

    [T]he final degradation of the Baconian philosophy is that knowledge becomes power in the service of appetite.

    Isn’t that exactly the line our nation sells its children? If you are educated, you will have power…to get a job, earn money, and buy things that you desire. Knowledge becomes power in the service of appetite.


    Perhaps the biggest favor we could do the children whom we educate is to divorce knowledge from power and instead wed it to delight and put it in its rightful place in service to God–as the handmaid of religion, as they used to say.

    I appreciate Weaver’s decision to quote Shakespeare here:

    And appetite, an universal wolf,
    So doubly seconded with will and power,
    Must make perforce an universal prey,
    And last eat up himself.

     So what is education really about?

    [I]f the primary need of man is to perfect his spiritual being and prepare for immortality, then education of the mind and the passions will take precedence over all else. The growth of materialism, however, has made this a consideration remote and even incomprehensible to the majority. Those who maintain that education should prepare one for living successfully in this world have won a practically complete victory.

    The answer to that question seems to lie in answering the question of which city are we preparing for, ultimately? The City of God, or the City of Man? The wonderful thing is that this is just one more area of life in which, when we seek first the City of God, all these others things–like good test scores–tend to be added unto us anyhow.

    [T]he prevailing conception is that education must be such as will enable one to acquire enough wealth to live on the plane of the bourgeoisie. That kind of education does not develop the aristocratic virtues. It neither encourages reflection nor inspires a reverence for the good.

    In other words, a true education will focus on producing a certain kind of man, rather than a certain kind of lifestyle. The interesting thing to me is that good men produce good cultures and, when looking at the history of the world, when good reigns, life for the common people tends to be lived comfortably. I don’t necessarily mean in riches, but in peace and with basic necessities provided for. So it seems that history reveals that it is at least possible to have our cake and eat it, too.

    [I]t is precisely because we have lost our grasp of the nature of knowledge that we have nothing to educate with for the salvation of our order. Americans certainly cannot be reproached for failing to invest adequately in the hope that education would provide redemption. They have built numberless high schools, lavish in equipment, only to see them, under the prevailing scheme of values, turned into social centers and institutions for improving the personality, where teachers, living in fear of constituents, dare not enforce scholarship. They have built colleges on an equal sacale, only to see them turned into playgrounds for grown-up children or centers of vocationalism and professionalism. Finally, they have seen pragmatists, as if in peculiar spite against the very idea of hierarchy, endeavoring to turn classes into democratic forums, where the teacher is only a moderator, and no one offends by presuming to speak with superior knowledge.

    The formula of popular education has failed democracy…

    What fascinates me is that Weaver believes the solution here is a recovery of “some source of authority.” He says that source must be knowledge itself, but I’m inclined to disagree with him because I can think of a Source that is above knowledge which can withstand many more buffets and storms.

    *This is interesting because the old goal of education was virtue, which means that education was once elevating in both senses.

    Read More:
    More book club entries linked at Mystie’s blog
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  • Reply Pilgrim July 19, 2012 at 2:15 am

    Thank you for your comments about knowledge and power. A few years ago I was convicted that this is a wrong understanding of knowledge and He has slowly been showing me how to replace that old paradigm with His. This post has been very helpful with that. I will continue to read the chapter in this light.

    I also liked your comment about “mass producing ignorance”. Sad but true. I guess the most frustrating part is that people think it is intelligence and possibly even wisdom but it is so anemic! So how do you divorce yourself from the rat race? I think you are right that aiming higher is key but it is hard to keep that focus. I just finished listening to Kern’s lecture on assessment and it was eye opening and helpful. I guess that’s why I continue to follow you and others to help me remember to keep my eye on the prize and not get sidetracked.

    I still need to finish the chapter – maybe tonight!

    • Reply Brandy @ Afterthoughts July 20, 2012 at 5:43 pm

      I cannot say that I have officially divorced myself at all! But I find myself able to at least stay on the path to that destination by soaking myself in the alternative viewpoint {a la Andrew Kern and Charlotte Mason}. So, buying the CiRCE Conference CDs every year {and listening to them over and over} soaking myself in books and articles, participating in awesome book clubs with people like you 🙂 and so on. I’ve been making this attempt for about–oh–four or five years now, and it is finally feeling “natural” for me to think this way, so I think I’m getting somewhere.

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