An earlier version of this essay was produced for and presented at the Abbeville Institute's 2010 Scholars Conference.
January of 2011 marked the fiftieth anniversary of Dwight Eisenhower’s sobering farewell address which counseled vigilance against the “military industrial complex.” In his criticism of science and the industrialization of war, Eisenhower, who upon leaving office retired to a working farm near Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, spoke as an Agrarian in his final speech. During the address, Eisenhower reminded the nation that, prior to the Second World War, the country had no defense industry, but instead had relied upon “American makers of plowshares” to make “swords” as well. At the same time, Eisenhower, in his insistence that American foreign policy ought to “foster progress in human achievement,” spoke as a Wilsonian idealist.1 In the end, Eisenhower’s sober-minded realism was chastened by a faith in progress and American exceptionalism. Nevertheless, Ike’s warning serves as a reminder that, during the decades following World War II, there was, to reprise Clinton Rossiter, what might be described as a second “great train robbery of American intellectual history.” Whereas the first, as Rossiter noted, concerned the ascendance of unfettered acquisitiveness as a conservative tenet in America during the late nineteenth century, the second, it might be said, witnessed the nefarious merging of American conservatism with unfettered warfare during the second half of the twentieth century.2 In the aftermath of the First World War, the Nashville Agrarians had striven to elaborate a traditionalist conservative response to the first of these intellectual heists while, as this essay will argue, their lineal intellectual descendant Richard Weaver, in the aftermath of World War II, endeavored to respond in kind to the second.
In the weeks following the atomic bombing of Japan in August 1945, Richard Weaver, in a letter to a friend, expressed concern that the action was a potential “final blow to the code of humanity.” Consequently, Weaver resolved that his primary interest would henceforth be the “restoration of civilization” of, what he termed, “the distinctions which make life intelligible.”3 Indeed, during the years following the Second World War and until his untimely death in 1963, Weaver seldom departed from this restorative errand. However, what is perhaps less apparent is just how essential Weaver’s evolving traditionalist conservative indictment of the nature of modern warfare was to this endeavor.
Weaver, at the time he penned the aforementioned letter, had recently completed his first year teaching rhetoric at the University of Chicago. Over the previous fifteen years, Weaver’s personal meanderings had taken him from Lexington, Kentucky to Nashville, Tennessee to College Station, Texas to Baton Rouge, Louisiana and eventually the “Windy City.” During this time, Weaver’s intellectual wanderings had been, perhaps, even more meandering. As an undergraduate at the University of Kentucky, Weaver had, as he later disclosed in an autobiographical essay, “been persuaded entirely that the future was with science, liberalism and equalitarianism.”4 He had, in fact, remained a self-professed socialist until 1939 when he disclosed that he was “junking Marxism as not founded on experience” and that he had undergone nothing less than a “religious conversion to the church of Agrarianism.”5 Weaver had arrived at Chicago from Louisiana State University where, following his conservative turn, he had, in 1943, completed a dissertation, under the partial direction of Cleanth Brooks and dedicated to John Crowe Ransom, titled “The Confederate South, 1865-1910: A Study in the Survival of a Mind and Culture.”
Some years later in his essay “Up From Liberalism,” Weaver confessed that he had conceived his dissertation topic while “reading extensively in the history of the American Civil War.” Weaver disclosed that he had been especially drawn to, as he described them, “first-hand accounts by those who had actually borne the brunt of it as soldiers and civilians” and especially those who, he recounted, “had reached some level of reflectiveness and had tried to offer explanations of what they did or the manner in which they did it.”6 In Weaver’s estimation, studying war in general was a means to better understand the point at which, he wrote, “reason tells us that reason is of no more avail.” From this premise, Weaver insisted that the American Civil War as a “civil struggle, with an elaborate ideology on both sides” was especially suited to this end.7
Though his dissertation had been principally concerned with the course and the aftermath of the Civil War, Weaver, during the two years following the receipt of his doctorate, published a pair of essays, adapted from his thesis, which sought to use the southern tradition as a means to better understand the nature of the Second World War. In the first of these published during the spring of 1944 and titled “The South and the Revolution of Nihilism,” Weaver argued that the traditionalist conservative South had comprised a sort of natural corrective to fascism. The fascist regimes of Europe, Weaver argued, ought to be regarded as the end product of the chaos inaugurated by the leveling tendencies of the French Revolution which, from 1789 to 1914, had destroyed all vestiges of the “ancient system of feudalism.”8 The unleashing of democratic mass man during this era was, Weaver intoned, supported by “liberal thinkers” as a corrective of all “injustices” including those “inherited” as well as “those proceeding from ignorance or malice.”9 In actuality, this experiment had, Weaver observed, “carried the seeds of its own destruction” in the guise of the First World War, the Great Depression and, by extension, the rise of fascism. Because it had never entered the “great experiment” inaugurated by the French Revolution, the South, well beyond America as a whole, evinced what Weaver described as an “almost unanimous opposition to those tendencies which would destroy the poetic religious myths and create the mass state.”10 In conclusion, Weaver, arguing further along these lines, noted that:
The South, by its firm grasp of the traditions of our civilization, has had a great part in giving us one more chance for the conservative solution. While the old sources of power and self-confidence were being weakened by debunking and scientific investigation, [the South] clung to the belief that man is not saved by science alone, that myths and sentiments are part of the constitution of a nation, and that poetry ultimately decides more issues than economics.”11
In its appeal to poetry, myth and religion as well as in its skepticism of science and economic determinism, Weaver’s traditionalist conservative critique of warfare reads like a synthesis of Agrarianism and the New Literary Criticism. Indeed, it comes across not unlike a missing thirteenth chapter to I’ll Take My Stand which in its abjuration of both the pragmatism of the New South Creed and the romanticism of the Lost Cause, had been, save for Frank Owsley’s essay, either remarkably restrained or notably silent when it came both to the Civil War and the topic of war in general. Indeed, even beyond the Agrarian manifesto, Allen Tate’s biography of Stonewall Jackson and Andrew Lytle’s study of Nathan Bedford Forrest were among the few prominent works on the Civil War by members of the Vanderbilt Circle. Both authors had lauded their subjects’ willingness to do whatever was necessary to prevail and both, by extension, condemned the courtliness of men like Robert E. Lee who Tate, in a letter to Lytle, once went so far as to accuse of valuing “his own honor” more than “Southern independence.” This was a position which Tate likened to “Sunday school morality.”12
Weaver, however, in a subsequent essay published in 1945 titled “Southern Chivalry and Total War,” challenged Tate’s and Lytle’s disparagement of Lee. To the contrary, Weaver lauded the Virginian’s and his officer’s “courtly conduct” which, he noted, is “never more needful than in war when fear and anger are likely to blind men and destroy their self-control.” Weaver likewise sought to dispel what he described as the widely held opinion that Lee was too much of a gentleman to be a perfect commander noting that his “idealism” and “self-control” epitomized what it means “in terms of chivalry to be a victor in defeat.”13 From these pronouncements, he proceeded to condemn southern partisans who wished that decorum had been sacrificed for victory and had choice words for Tate’s and Lytle’s heroes Jackson and Forrest. Weaver noted that:
There were on the Southern side commanders who advocated the other style of warfare, and who, if they had got into the North with independent commands, very likely would have followed policies similar to those of Sherman and Sheridan. But it is significant to note that they were not members of the gentleman caste. They were hard, self-made men, who believed simply that “war means fighting and fighting means killing.” Such were Stonewall Jackson and Nathan Bedford Forrest, both men of the people and both men in whom there ran a streak of ruthlessness. Jackson was a fierce middle-class puritan, and Forrest was a frontiersman; and although both were on the road to becoming members of that caste, they were not so conditioned so as to feel instinctively its restraints.14
In the end, northern commanders like Sherman and Sheridan who, Weaver observed, “more completely abjured the rules of chivalric combat won” and this, he noted, had “cleared the way for modernism, with its stringency, its abstractionism, and its impatience with sentiment.” From these circumstances, it was, Weaver insisted, an altogether easy step to the modern conception of “total war.” For these reasons, the American Civil War, he concluded, should be regarded as the “first modern war in which the end was absorbed by the means.” Under these auspices, the War Between the States had devolved into what Weaver described as a “a technician’s war” marked by a “habitual indifference to ultimate ends and values.” As a consequence of this indifference, the “pragmatic sanction,” Weaver intoned, commenced its domination of the world which is now, he noted, “trying desperately to save itself by incantations to freedom and democracy.”15 Through these developments, Americans, Weaver surmised, had once again proven to be “pioneers in a field whose value to civilization was of dubious value.”16
In considering these two essays, there is a discernable increase in Weaver’s pessimism. Whereas in “The South and the Revolution of Nihilism,” he held out the possibility that a return to a “poetic-religious vision of life” might as yet redeem civilization, in “Southern Chivalry and Total War,” Weaver evinced a near complete loss of hope for the civilized world. Contrary to Eisenhower, Weaver located the origins of modern warfare, not in the Second World War, but squarely in the era of the American Civil War during which both North and South had, to varying degrees, demonstrated a willingness to sacrifice principal for victory. Via these observations, Weaver dismantled not only the notion of American exceptionalism, but, through his skeptical assessments of Forrest and Lee, veered remarkably close to dispensing with that of southern singularity as well.
Weaver’s personal correspondence during the waning years of the Second World War was even more revealing of this heightened state of discouragement. In January of 1942, he, with a sense of guarded optimism, wrote to friends that, though the world faced an “indefinite period of chaos,” it might as yet “regain order and civility” via a return to the kind of poetic-religious vision which dominated the Middle Ages.”17 However, by the end of that same year, Weaver confessed that he had become “utterly pessimistic about the results of the war.” “The present ideological alignment,” he observed, “is just too phony to last.” “Here,” he noted, “is Churchill the British imperialist fighting to free Europe from German national socialism” and “here,” he continued, “we are serving as the “arsenal of democracy” with hopes for victory pinned upon what he described as “the fighting power of the most ruthless of all dictatorships, Stalin’s Russia.”18 By the beginning of 1945, Weaver, as suggested by the tone of his essay “Southern Chivalry and Total War,” had become almost despondent. “This war,” he wrote, “is not going to improve anything” and, in fact, is going to render America “poorer, more disillusioned, more bankrupt in purpose than ever before.”19 Shortly after the Japanese surrender in August of 1945, Weaver composed what began as an uncharacteristically personal lament:
Well, the last round of competitive homicide is over, and I have an immense sense of relief. I have really suffered in this war. I have not gone hungry, or gotten cold, or slept without shelter, or felt fright, but I have suffered inwardly. The official lies, the cunningly manipulated hysteria, the repudiation of moral standards by sources we had been taught to respect more than most—these have been nauseating…And is anything saved? We cannot be sure. True, there are a few buildings left standing, but what kind of animal is going to inhabit them? I have become convinced in the past few years that the essence of civilization is ethical (with perhaps some help from aesthetics). And never has the power of ethical discrimination been as low as it is today. The atomic bomb was a final blow to the code of humanity. I cannot help thinking that we will suffer retribution for this.20
When considered in light of his essays from the period, Weaver’s words were not uncharacteristic of his general disposition. However, Weaver, perhaps uncharacteristically, concluded this letter with the aforementioned declaration that “for a long time to come,” he believed that “his chief interest [was] going to be the restoration of civilization, of the distinctions which make life intelligible.”21
This declaration, as Ted Smith notes, remains the earliest evidence of what would become Weaver’s most noted work Ideas Have Consequences.22 Though he had by no means entirely forsaken the history and literature of the South as worthy of study, Weaver, like many southern writers following the Second World War, sensed that any restoration of civilization would have to begin, at least initially, from another premise. Around this time, the southern writer Flannery O’Connor captured this in her observation that: “When you can assume that your audience holds the same beliefs you do, you can relax a little and use a more normal means of talking to it; when you have to assume that it does not, then you have to make your vision apparent by shock—to the hard of hearing you shout and for the almost-blind you draw large and startling figures.”23 Along these same lines, Walker Percy alluded to this difficulty in his novel The Last Gentleman when he traced Will Barrett’s dilemma to the fact that, following his service in the Korean War, the “South he came home to was different from the South he had left. It was happy, victorious, Christian, rich patriotic and Republican.”24 In a 1945 piece in the Virginia Quarterly Review, Allen Tate, also reflective of this mindset, argued that the interwar Southern Literary Renascence had rested entirely on the southern writer’s capacity to cast a “backwards glance” before joining the modern world.25 In the aftermath of the Second World War, Weaver, like Tate, Percy and O’Connor, confronted the reality that this moment had long since faded even from the rearview mirror.
However, whereas Tate, Percy and O’Connor sought to address this circumstance largely, though not completely, through fiction, Weaver endeavored to do so exclusively through the medium of expository essays. He also, in contrast to the others, would become closely identified with the expansive post-war conservative intellectual movement which, historian George Nash notes, had “as its objective the seemingly insurmountable task of not merely understanding the world, but also of endeavoring to “change, “restore” and “preserve” it.26 For Weaver, this ironically meant drawing, in no small part, upon the radicalism of his pre-Agrarian conversion experience as he laid the groundwork for what became Ideas Have Consequences.
In a 1931 review of I’ll Take My Stand, Weaver, who was then a self-professed socialist, praised its challenge to “Southern intellectual barrenness,” but ultimately judged it “a striking if ineffectual rally against the onward sweep of industrialization.”27 Interestingly during the early forties, Weaver, as he revised his dissertation for publication, added an epilogue in which he, despite his “conversion to the church of Agrarianism,” further sounded this refrain and offered not merely a diagnosis of the modern malaise, but also a prescription. In the end, the defeated South had suffered principally from a failure, he wrote, “to perfect its world view.”28 In light of this failure, Weaver confessed that he would be “unwilling to say that [the South] offers a foundation or even an example.”29 The most it offers, he conceded, is a “challenge” to, he implored, “save the human spirit by re-creating a non-materialist society.” “Only this,” he argued, “can rescue us from a future of nihilism, urged on by the demonized force of technology and by our own moral defeatism.”30 “The first step,” Weaver insisted, will be to provide the “common man a world view completely different from that which he has constructed from his random knowledge of science.” “The creation of a religious moral world,” Weaver intoned, “will bring an end to the downward conversion which today threatens institutions and culture.” At the same time, Weaver cautioned that what he termed “workers” for this “new order”31 must resist the temptation to rely upon what he described as “symbols of lost causes.” There cannot, he warned, “be a return to the Middle Ages or the Old South under slogans identified with them.” Rather, Weaver noted, “the principles must be studied and used, but in such a presentation that mankind will feel the march is forward.”32
Weaver, in the above passages, squarely confronted the unenviable task which, George Nash notes, faced the post-war American conservative movement. Simply stated, the challenge, as Weaver intelligibly understood it, was to move beyond merely imagining a dissolving past and to endeavor to imagine a future that was becoming or to move beyond the diagnostic to the prescriptive. In “Up From Liberalism,” Weaver had famously complained that what he called “traditional positions in our world,” had suffered not because of an “inherent defect,” but from what he described as the “stupidity, ineptness and sloth of those who for one reason or other were presumed to have their defense in charge.”33 In Ideas Have Consequences, he inaugurated a concerted effort to remedy this circumstance.
In a forward written for a subsequent edition of Ideas Have Consequences, Weaver disclosed that the treatise had been written immediately following the Second World War and he described the book as principally “a reaction to that war—to its immense destructiveness, to the strain it placed upon ethical principles, and to the tensions it left in place of the peace and order that were professedly sought.”34 In the pages which followed, Weaver paused, at times, to reflect on the deleterious effects of modern warfare. At one point, he wrote sympathetically of southerners at Oak Ridge, Tennessee who were unwitting participants in the atomic bomb project and who were denied by the state a chance to refuse complicity.35 At another point, Weaver condemned the office of war information which was committed to interpreting the Second World War from, what he described as, the “point of view of an administration which had been all along pro-war.”36 In a later chapter, Weaver recounted the story of an Oklahoma farmer who, following the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, had journeyed to the shipyards on the west coast. Being unable to read, the farmer, Weaver related, had failed to cash a single paycheck, in part, because he did not understand the meaning of the slips of paper that represented his wages, but, more importantly, because it did not occur to him that he should be compensated for helping “save his country.”37 In subsequent chapters, Weaver remarkably foresaw the trend towards an all volunteer force as well as the eventual use of women in combat roles. Weaver notably concluded Ideas Have Consequences with an anecdote regarding the French Prime Minister Clemenceau at the end of World War One. After listening to Wilson, Lloyd George and Orlando pontificate on the significance of the late unpleasantness, Clemenceau asked whether they were earnest in their conviction that the conflict was a war to end all wars. After obtaining each one’s assent to this premise, Clemenceau tallied the bill for each: the British would have to surrender their empire, the Americans would have to leave the Philippines and the cease interfering in Mexican affairs and so on. In short order, the self-professed champions of peace made it clear that this was not what they meant. At which time, Clemenceau had informed them that they obviously wanted not peace, but war.38
As compelling as the aforementioned passages are, it is somewhat surprising that so little of Ideas Have Consequences speaks directly about war and especially about what Weaver rightly viewed as its incontrovertible role in the collapse of Western Civilization. In the book’s opening pages, Weaver, in testimony to the monumental restorative task before him, remarkably conceded that ultimately “we cannot combat those who have fallen prey to historical optimism” and further cautioned that such optimism would prevail until such time that “the world again admits the existence of tragedy.”39 In Ideas Have Consequences, Weaver ultimately proved far better at diagnosing the problem than prescribing a remedy. In this, Weaver’s words precisely reflected the dilemma, described by George Nash, which confronted the post-war American conservative movement.
In light of these observations, it is understandable that both Weaver’s contemporaries as well as subsequent generations of American conservatives have frequently pointed to this as a fatal flaw in his strategy. For instance, James Burnham, in a 1957 memo to William F. Buckley arguing against continuing to publish Weaver in National Review, cited Weaver’s inability “to communicate on a less abstract plane.”40 Samuel Francis, a staunch admirer of Burnham’s, subsequently argued even more harshly that the American right had become “too uxoriously wedded” to Weaver’s principle that “ideas have consequences.” Most of the conservative intellectuals who ascribed to this body of thought,” Francis further observed, “always seemed to assume that it was a matter of time before their ideas would creep up on the ideas of the Left, slit their throats in the dark, and stage an intellectual coup d'état, after which truth would reign.”41
Admittedly, Weaver, in Ideas Have Consequences, had begun to professedly disavow a historically grounded conservatism in favor of a more theoretical approach. As Burnham and Francis suggest, he did so at his peril, but also did so for reasons that Weaver, as a self-described Agrarian in exile, well understood. As a student of the leading figures in the New Literary Criticism, Weaver was, if anything, profoundly aware of the risks as well as the final irony of his undertaking. In this regard, his critics frequently neglect to take into account that Ideas Have Consequences deserves to be read alongside Weaver’s subsequent works including Ethics of Rhetoric and Visions of Order. Russell Kirk went so far as to deem these three books a trilogy united by what he described as Weaver’s “appeal to right reason on behalf of the great traditions of humanity.”42
In Ethics of Rhetoric, Weaver argued that the debasement of language comprised the principle threat to civilization and in the posthumously published Visions of Order, Weaver proposed that a new type of hero was needed if there was to be any chance of redeeming the time. In past ages, this redemptive figure was commonly the man of letters, but, as a consequence of mankind’s estrangement from the word, Weaver proposed that what he termed the “doctor of culture” was the last best hope for the restoration of a semblance of civilizational order.43 In a subsequent chapter in Visions of Order titled “A Dialectic on Total War,” Weaver, writing as a physician of culture, delivered his most trenchant assessment of the modern malady of total warfare.
In the essay’s opening sentences, Weaver declared that, of the variables which have weakened civilization, none has been more alarming than “total war.”44 From this premise, Weaver pronounced that, rather than focusing on the strategy or armaments of “total war,” he planned to deduce its origins. The theoretical basis for total warfare lay in what he described as “a general attack upon the idea of discrimination.”45 For the past several centuries, Weaver argued, there has been a lamentable tendency to “collapse hierarchy” and “abolish proper distinctions” in human affairs. Periods of high culture are distinguishable, Weaver observed, by their routine discriminations arising from differences in age, sex, education, occupation and way of life. At the same time, there had also been, he noted, an appreciation, within this high culture, of “diversity” as well as of “sameness.” In keeping with this understanding of things, it followed, Weaver held, that even the institution of war had to make appropriate discriminations insofar as there were, he wrote: “those who were qualified to fight and those who were not; those who were liable to its dangers and losses and those who were exempt; there were things which men engaged in fighting a war might do and things they were forbidden to do.”46 Sanction for these discriminations was, Weaver related, destroyed by the uniform attempt of science to explain everything with reference to something lower than itself. This deductive spirit, Weaver intoned, led directly to the rationalization that:
If men are not different from animals, females no different from males, the young no different from the old, philosophers no different from fools, it is easy to proceed on to say that noncombatants are no different from combatants. They are all now fused into one element, which is treated as a unit for the purposes of war—by the country as well as by the enemy.47
From this, Weaver traced a genealogy of mankind’s descent into “total war.” Though he singled out the French Revolution and the Napoleonic Wars for abandoning the “code of chivalry,” Weaver noted that the American Civil War, due to its abjuration of what he called the chivalric concept of the war of limited objectives, its calculated targeting of civilians and its devotion to the total destruction of the enemy’s resources, comprised the decisive world historical turn in the collapse into total war.48 Weaver proceeded to credit Union General Philip Sheridan with conveying the Union Army’s tactics of total war to Germany when, at a banquet hosted by the German chancellor in 1870, Sheridan proclaimed that:
He favored treating civilians with the “utmost rigor,” since he believed that “the people must be left nothing but their eyes to weep with over the war.” The auditor of this remark confessed himself struck by its brutality, but added that it might warrant consideration.”49
In this, America, Weaver snidely noted, helped to teach Europe the “democratizing of warfare, just as she has taught it a number of other leveling concepts.” In the wake of the American Civil War, the First and Second World Wars had, Weaver observed, proceeded to obliterate the distinction between “combatant” and “noncombatant” via the firebombing of Dresden, the destruction of Nuremberg and, finally, the atomic leveling of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Mankind’s descent into modern wars of “unlimited objectives” had, Weaver lamented, cast any prospect of recovery into grave doubt.50
Weaver, in no uncertain terms, chastised both those who believed that there could be an end to war and those who believed in endless war. On the latter, Weaver cautioned that total war inevitably leads to the delusion that one’s opponent is “altogether evil” rather than to a “tragic view” of one’s adversary as a character who might, as yet, be “brought to his senses.”51 Of the former, he observed that the modern war against war has been wildly unsuccessful because, in the end, it also does not allow for any form of restraint on the impulse towards war. In conclusion, Weaver declared that the only means of imposing restraint on the “war-making impulse” rested on a revival of the chivalric ideal and a reassertion of the brotherhood of man. From this, Weaver, as might be expected from a doctor of culture, advanced from the diagnostic to the prescriptive. For, he intoned,:
what chivalry taught us is that even when men fight, they must fight as brothers…The people of the age of chivalry seem to have felt, as some no doubt feel today, that it is somehow laid upon men to fight; it is his nature, or his destiny or his original sin. Fighting could never be abolished. But they felt that something could be done about the how. The code of chivalry declared that even if you feel that you have to fight your brother man, this does not mean that you place him outside the pale of humanity, nor does it mean that you may step outside yourself. Even in warfare, and whether you get the best or worst of it, you conduct yourself in such a way that civilization can go on. The real absolute prohibition, is against shattering the mold of civilization, which includes both you and your foe. Thus, under chivalry there existed a spiritual universal dominion which enclosed the activity of fighting as the furnace walls enclose the fire.52
As a traditionalist conservative, Weaver’s plea for a renewed appreciation of human limits was a consistent theme in his writings, but it was nowhere more eloquent than in his pleadings against the modern impulse toward total war. Whereas Dwight Eisenhower famously attempted to address this through political exhortations against the military industrial complex, Richard Weaver argued that a cultural renewal, rather than a political one, was the precondition to restoring a semblance of order to warfare. In the midst of the post-World War II conservative revival, Weaver, like many of his contemporaries, confronted the dilemma as to whether modern methods could be used enact conservative ends. Weaver, as a self-professed conservative convert, was, for obvious reasons, far less skeptical of the potentiality of such a maneuver. In an epilogue to the Southern Tradition at Bay, Weaver, in affirmation of this strategy, noted that, in the end, the South simply lacked a “Burke or a Hegel” who could redeem “the human spirit by re-creating a non-materialist society” and who could, thereby, furnish “the common man a world view completely different from that which he has constructed from his random knowledge of science.”53 In other words, the monumental task was to somehow use the means of Nathan Bedford Forrest and Stonewall Jackson to achieve the ends of Robert E. Lee.
Weaver’s critique of modern war was central to his attempt to furnish such an alternative “world view.” Indeed, Weaver’s traditionalist perspective on a war of restraint is importantly a rebuke both of the libertarian belief in the elimination of war and of the neo-conservative belief in perpetual war. At the same time, Weaver recognized the fallacy of relying exclusively on a revival of the southern tradition to staunch the climate of “total war.” In a 1952 retrospective on the Agrarians, Weaver, who had formerly qualified the complicity of southerners at Oak Ridge, Tennessee, condemned the people of South Carolina for allowing nuclear installations in their state. He lamented that: “There is no more melancholy spectacle on the American scene that the fact that South Carolina, which in former times set the best example of the ideal of chivalry, is now the site of the hydrogen bomb project which prepares for indiscriminate slaughter on a scale not hitherto contemplated.”54
Regrettably, Weaver, who died of a heart attack in 1963 at the age of fifty-three, did not live to revise and extend his critique of modern warfare during the darkest moments of America’s incursion into Southeast Asia. Though it is unlikely that he would have lived to witness America’s “war on terror,” one can, nonetheless, imagine what might have been his response to the neo-conservative theoretician Michael Ledeen’s evocations of “creative destruction” and of America’s penchant for “undoing of traditional societies.”55 For inasmuch as the Nashville Agrarians were fighting a rear-guard action against the abstraction of property, Weaver, it might be said, was fighting a rear-guard action against the abstraction of warfare. In the twenty-first century, these two variables remain arguably the most pernicious foes of not only an authentic American conservatism, but also of civilization itself. In the midst of an economic fallout caused by a mixture of abstract structured investment vehicles and in the midst of a war which, if possible, is even more abstract in its intention to subsume evil itself, Weaver, the doctor of culture, seeks to remind us that there is, as yet, “one more chance for the conservative solution.”
Jay Langdale is Assistant Professor of History at Andrew College. His forthcoming book, Superfluous Southerners: Cultural Conservatism and the South, 1920-1990, examines the Southern Agrarians and their intellectual descendants. It will be released in the Fall of 2012 by the University of Missouri Press.
1. Eisenhower, “Farewell Address to the Nation,” January 17, 1961.
2. Clinton Rossiter, Conservatism in America (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1982), xiii.
3. Letter from Richard Weaver to John Randolph dated August 24, 1945 quoted In Ted Smith ed., Steps Toward Restoration: The Consequences of Richard Weaver’s Ideas (Wilmington: ISI Books, 1998), xxxiv.
4. Weaver, “Up From Liberalism” in Joseph Scotchie, ed. The Vision of Richard Weaver (New Brunswick: Transaction, 1995), 20.
5. Letters from Richard Weaver to John Randolph dated January 26, 1939 and January 20th 1942 quoted in Ted J. Smith, ed., In Defense of Tradition: Collected Shorter Writings of Richard M. Weaver, 1929-1963 (Indianapolis: Liberty Fund, 200), xxxi.
6. Weaver, “Up From Liberalism”, 23.
7. Weaver,“Up From Liberalism”, 24.
8. Weaver, “The South and the Revolution of Nihilism” in Curtis, ed., The Southern Essays of Richard Weaver (Indianapolis: Liberty Press, 1987), 184.
9. Weaver, “The South and the Revolution of Nihilism”, 184.
10. Weaver, “The South and the Revolution of Nihilism”, 184-85.
11. Weaver, “The South and the Revolution of Nihilism,” 188.
12. Allen Tate to Andrew Lytle, April 1, 1929 in Thomas Daniel Young, ed. The Lytle Tate Letters: The Correspondence of Andrew Lytle and Allen Tate (Jackson: University of Mississippi Press, 1987), 21.
13. Weaver, “Southern Chivalry and Total War,” in Curtis, ed., The Southern Essays of Richard Weaver (Indianapolis: Liberty Press, 1987), 166, 168.
14. Weaver “Southern Chivalry and Total War,” 168.
15. Weaver, “Southern Chivalry and Total War,” 168-70.
16. Weaver, “Southern Chivalry and Total War,” 168.
17. Weaver to John Randolph, January 20, 1942 quoted in Steps Toward Restoration, 17.
18. Weaver to John Randolph, December 27, 1942 quoted in Steps Toward Restoration, 17.
19. Weaver to John Randolph, January 16, 1945 quoted in Steps Toward Restoration, 17-18.
20. Weaver to John Randolph, August 24, 1945 quoted in Steps Toward Restoration, 18.
21. Weaver to John Randolph, August 24, 1945 quoted in Steps Toward Restoration, 18.
22. Ted J. Smith, “How Ideas Have Consequences Came to be Written” in Steps Towards Restoration, 18-21.
23. Flannery, O’Connor “The Fiction Writer and His Country” in Mystery and Manners (New York: Farrar, Strauss and Giroux, 1969), 34.
24. Walker Percy, The Last Gentleman (New York: Farrar, Strauss and Giroux, 1966), 185.
25. Allen Tate, "The New Provincialism," in Virginia Quarterly Review , XXI (1945) , 272.
26. George Nash, The Conservative Intellectual Movement in America Since 1945 (Wilmington: ISI Books, 1996), xiii.
27. Weaver, “Looking Over the Magazines,” The Kentucky Kernal, 7August 1931 in Ted J. Smith ed., In Defense of Tradition: Collected Shorter Writings of Richard M. Weaver, 1929-1963 (Indianapolis: Liberty Fund, 2000), 29.
28. Weaver, The Southern Tradition at Bay (New Rochelle: Arlington House, 1968), 389.
29. Weaver, The Southern Tradition at Bay, 391
30. Weaver, The Southern Tradition at Bay, 391
31. Weaver, The Southern Tradition at Bay, 392.
32. Weaver, The Southern Tradition at Bay, 394-95.
33. Weaver, “Up From Liberalism,” 22.
34. Weaver, Ideas Have Consequences (Chicago: University of Chicago, 1948), v.
35. Weaver, Ideas Have Consequences, 64-65.
36. Weaver, Ideas Have Consequences, 99.
37. Weaver, Ideas Have Consequences, 121.
38. Weaver, Ideas Have Consequences, 186.
39. Weaver, Ideas Have Consequences, 10-11.
40. James Burnham to William F. Buckley, 23 October 1957 quoted in Paul Murphy, The Rebuke of History: The Southern Agrarians and American Conservative Thought (Chapel Hill: UNC Press, 2001), 170.
41. Samuel Francis, Beautiful Losers: Essays on the Failure of American Conservatism (Columbia: University of Missouri Press, 1993), 2.
42. Weaver, Visions of Order (Wilmington: ISI Books, 1995), vii.
43. Weaver, Visions of Order, 7.
44. Weaver, Visions of Order, 92.
45. Weaver, Visions of Order, 93.
46. Weaver, Visions of Order, 94.
47. Weaver, Visions of Order, 94.
48. Weaver, Visions of Order, 96-97.
49. Weaver, Visions of Order, 97-98.
50. Weaver, Visions of Order, 98-99.
51. Weaver, Visions of Order, 102.
52. Weaver, Visions of Order, 108-109.
53. Weaver, The Southern Tradition at Bay, 389, 391.
54. Weaver, “The Tennessee Agrarians in The Southern Essays of Richard Weaver, 92.
55. Michael Ledeen, The War Against the Terror Masters: Why It Happened. Where We Are Now. How We'll Win (New York: St. Martin’s, 2002), 212-213.