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Remembering Richard M. Weaver:
March 3, 1910–April 1, 1963

Richard M. Weaver

671 words

America wasn’t always a liberal country. The founders drew more upon classical republicanism than liberalism. In the nineteenth century, the populist movement was decidedly anti-liberal. But the founders and the populists were never consistently anti-liberal, because consistency is the province of intellectuals, not statesmen.

America never had a genuinely anti-liberal intellectual movement until the Southern Agrarians of the 1920s and 1930s. (The North American New Right is America’s second anti-liberal intellectual movement.)

Richard M. Weaver has been called “the owl of Minerva of Southern Agrarianism,” meaning that he arrived at the dusk of Agrarianism — but because of that, he was able to comprehend the meaning of their movement more deeply in intellectual terms.

Born in a middle-class Southern family in Asheville, North Carolina, Weaver took a bachelor’s degree in English from the University of Kentucky. He then earned a master’s from Vanderbilt, where Agrarian John Crowe Ransom supervised his thesis. After teaching for a few years at Auburn and Texas A&M, Weaver pursued his Ph.D. at Louisiana State University, while Cleanth Brooks, Robert Penn Warren, and Eric Voegelin were among the faculty. His doctoral dissertation, The Confederate South, 1865-1910: A Study in the Survival of a Mind and a Culture, was written under Brooks.

After receiving his doctorate, Weaver taught for a year at North Carolina State, then landed a position in the English department at the University of Chicago, where he excelled as a teacher and writer until his death of a stroke at the age of 53.

A socialist in his youth, Weaver became a Southern Agrarian while doing his master’s degree under John Crowe Ransom at Vanderbilt, and from that point on, he was an openly conservative intellectual critic of modernity. Weaver was more of a rhetorician than a philosopher. He was a critic of rationalistic approaches to politics and a defender of the wisdom embodied in evolved traditions.

Weaver’s first book, Ideas Have Consequences (1948), is an account of the decline of the West that invites comparisons to Giambattista Vico, Oswald Spengler, René Guénon, Julius Evola, and Martin Heidegger. Weaver’s second book, The Ethics of Rhetoric (1953) deals with the social and political implications of rhetoric from Plato to the modern social sciences. Weaver also published a college textbook, Rhetoric and Composition (1957). His final book, Visions of Order (1964), was published posthumously, as was his doctoral dissertation, which appeared under the title The Southern Tradition at Bay (1968).

Weaver was a prolific essayist. After his death, his essays were reprinted in a number of anthologies: Life without Prejudice and Other Essays (1965), Language is Sermonic: R. M. Weaver on the Nature of Rhetoric (1970), The Southern Essays of Richard M. Weaver (1987), and In Defense of Tradition: Collected Shorter Writings of Richard M. Weaver (2001).

Weaver’s writings had an immense influence on post-war American conservatism. He was praised by such figures as Russell Kirk, William F. Buckley, Willmoore Kendall, and Frank Meyer. But American conservatism was never very intellectual — or very conservative, for that matter — and with the neoconservative takeover of the American Right, Weaver’s books are still name-dropped, but his ideas have ceased to have any mainstream consequences, which is a grave injustice.

To rectify that, I wish to recommend Richard M. Weaver — and the Southern Agrarians more broadly — to the New Right. Thus I am adding Weaver to the roster of thinkers whom we commemorate each year, and I am inaugurating that new tradition with a symposium on Weaver’s thought, featuring essays by Quintilian, Alex Graham, James O’Meara, Spencer Quinn, and Morris V. de Camp. We hope that with each passing year, we will add new articles and reviews to this roster as Weaver’s ideas work their consequences on a new and far more receptive audience.

 

6 Comments

  1. M.
    Posted March 3, 2020 at 7:55 pm | Permalink

    Thank you for this. I have been wanting to know more about the Southern Agrarians since I read a few essays from a compilation of their writings, titled “I’ll take My Stand.” One by John Crowe Ranson (“Reconstructed but Unregenerate”) — who you mention here as Weaver’s advisor — struck me as especially eloquent and rich. It’s full of lines like this: “Deracination in our Western life is the strange discipline which individuals turn upon themselves, enticed by the blandishments of such fine words as Progressive, Liberal, and Forward-looking.”

  2. standfastMS
    Posted March 3, 2020 at 7:57 pm | Permalink

    “I’ll Take My Stand” by the Twelve Southerners is the foundational text of my worldview. I have always been shocked and a bit angered that the Agrarians and other explicitly Southern thinkers do not get more coverage in the modern pro white movement. Counter Currents has remedied that today. Loved every article. Thank you.

  3. Martin Venator
    Posted March 3, 2020 at 11:54 pm | Permalink

    Thanks for introducing me to this fascinating thinker. I also found a collection of ‘Southern Essays’ by him – might check them out.

    Could anyone recommend a good book on the US Civil War and/or the Southern question? The only one I’ve read so far is Venner’s “Le Blanc Soleil des Vaincus”.

    • standfastMS
      Posted March 4, 2020 at 8:00 am | Permalink

      “The Battle Cry of Feedom” by McPherson is the definitive single volume. As a pro white individual you will need to read between the lines but that is the case with most histories of The Southern Rebellion. Shelby Footes 3 volume “The Civil War” is far more balanced but Mcphersons work is certainly not leftist or anti Southern.

      • Martin Venator
        Posted March 4, 2020 at 10:56 pm | Permalink

        Great! Thanks for the suggestions.

  4. Dean Mulready
    Posted March 5, 2020 at 7:53 pm | Permalink

    Great addition to the Counter-Currents in memoriam series. I hope Will Durant is added in the future.

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