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Richard Weaver on “Humanism in an Age of Science”

July 19, 2017

Richard Weaver was one of the three or four most important founders of modern conservatism. His Ideas Have Consequences is probably the most important work in defining a conservative outlook. His notion of “metaphysical dream” is priceless.

The Imaginative Conservative reprints an address by Weaver, “Humanism in an Age of Science,” delivered to the Newman Club at the University of Chicago. Weaver died in April of 1963. Like most of his work, however, this address remains as vital today as it was when he delivered it.

As one looks over the scene and tries to decide his policy, two alternatives are almost certain to suggest themselves. Either one can immerse himself in the element and strive to be just as brutal as it is; or he can detach himself, cutting down to the minimum his point of contact with it. That is to say, he can try to fight it by its own means, or he can run from the fight.

I think a little reflection is needed to show, that both of these have unacceptable or certainly undesirable consequences. By trying to compete in brutality, you make yourself a brute, and this man is commanded not to do. Brutality is in its essence a lack of discrimination, a lack of regard for distinctions and susceptibilities and rights. It is the action that smashes or levels or obliterates while remaining contemptuous of qualifying circumstances. This is the bestial attitude and the antithesis of humanity. On the cultural level, it is fatal to what we respect as the humanities. But detachment too, while it seems to preserve intellect, draws bad things in its train. It results in isolation, a decrease of sympathy, eventual loss perhaps of any vital idea of brotherhood; and it is certainly likely to engender pride. The man who is self-consciously perched above the fray comes to have a sort of disdain for those who are wrestling with the world’s intractability, and that too tends to be inhumane in the way that it divides us off. We are all here to be proved, and it seems that a man should not try to save himself by individual withdrawal.

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