Metaphysical Dream Weaver by Ken Myers


Metaphysical Dream Weaver

A look at Richard Weaver's Ideas Have Consequences

The white letters on the mocha-colored spine proclaimed—in bold, sans-serif type—Ideas Have Consequences. I saw the book on a shelf in 1984, in a bookstore in Philadelphia. The title echoed an aphorism I had heard before, but Richard Weaver’s name was unknown to me. I eagerly took the book off the shelf. It was less than half an inch thick with a remarkably austere design, altogether a deceptively modest package.

There was a blurb on the front cover from Robert Nisbet (whose work I did know). On the back cover, there were blurbs from Paul Tillich, Reinhold Niebuhr, and John Crowe Ransom. Those names I also knew. Tillich said that the book “will shock, and philosophical shock is the beginning of wisdom.” Niebuhr described the book as “a profound diagnosis of the sicknesses of our culture,” while Ransom said it was the best explanation of “the breakdown of modern man” that had appeared in many years. I was hooked before I opened the book.

Of course, these testimonies were echoes of an age—the book was published in 1948—when cultural malaise was still taken seriously by public intellectuals (and theologians taken seriously by the public). That time seems like ancient history to anyone under 50. In an essay last fall in The New Republic, Leon Wieseltier remarked that we are living in a cultural moment when public intellectuals cynically shun Big Ideas, when literary critics treat “heroic criticism” with disdain, and when allegedly serious writers practice a “relaxed whatever-ism,” displaying a “preference for the shrug over the frown. . . . And to what do we owe our exemption from grandeur, our release from gravity?” Wieseltier suggested that it was (among other things) the fashionable and almost unavoidable preoccupation in public life with fun and entertainment.

Sensation over Reflection

Weaver saw a much deeper source of the loss of moral seriousness: the decline of metaphysical realism and the loss of belief in universals. The world of ideas in which nominalists battle realists may seem arcane and abstract to most people, but it is at the level of worldview—what Weaver called our “metaphysical dream of the world”—that the breakdown of modern man was initiated. As the West abandoned fundamental ideas that had guided the classical and Christian worlds, “Man created in the divine image, the protagonist of a great drama in which his soul was at stake, was replaced by man the wealth-seeking and consuming animal.”

Our leading institutions serve the interests of such animals. As a professional journalist discovering Weaver’s point of view for the first time, I was particularly intrigued when I first read the book with his analysis of the way journalistic practices were both effect and cause of the sicknesses of modernity.

The rise of sensational journalism everywhere testifies to man’s loss of points of reference, to his determination to enjoy the forbidden in the name of freedom. All reserve is being sacrificed to titillation. . . . [O]ne of the great conspiracies against philosophy and civilization, a conspiracy immensely aided by technology, is just this substitution of sensation for reflection.

Later in the book, Weaver looks at the influence of movies on the soul of modern men and women and suggests that efforts to keep movies wholesome—the sort of concern that many Christians still voice—are missing the point. The “little breaches of decorum which fret bourgeois respectability and sense of security” are not the things that need to be reined in.

The thing that needs to be censored is not the length of the kisses but the egotistic, selfish, and self-flaunting here; not the relative proportion of undraped breast but the flippant, vacuous-minded, and also egotistic heroine. Let us not worry about the jokes of dubious propriety; let us rather object to the whole story, with its complacent assertion of the virtues of materialist society.

Apathy Mounting

Ken Myers is the host and producer of the Mars Hill Audio Journal. Formerly an arts editor with National Public Radio, he also served as editor of Eternity, the Evangelical monthly magazine, and This World, the quarterly predecessor to First Things. He also serves as music director at All Saints Anglican Church in Ivy, Virginia. He is a contributing editor for Touchstone.

calling all readers

Please Donate

"There are magazines worth reading but few worth saving . . . Touchstone is just such a magazine."
—Alice von Hildebrand

"Here we do not concede one square millimeter of territory to falsehood, folly, contemporary sentimentality, or fashion. We speak the truth, and let God be our judge. . . . Touchstone is the one committedly Christian conservative journal."
—Anthony Esolen, Touchstone senior editor

Support Touchstone

• Not a subscriber or wish to renew your subscription? Subscribe to Touchstone today for full online access. Over 30 years of publishing!

personal subscriptions

Purchase Print &
Online Subscription

Get six issues (one year) of Touchstone PLUS full online access including pdf downloads for only $39.95. That's only $3.34 per month!

RENEW your print/online

Online Subscription

Get a one-year full-access subscription to the Touchstone online archives including pdf downloads for only $19.95. That's only $1.66 per month!

RENEW your online subscription

gift subscriptions

GIVE Print &
Online Subscription

Give six issues (one year) of Touchstone PLUS full online access including pdf downloads for the reduced rate of $29.95. That's only $2.50 per month!

RENEW your gift subscription

Transactions will be processed on a secure server.

bulk subscriptions

Order Touchstone subscriptions in bulk and save $10 per sub! Each subscription includes 6 issues of Touchstone plus full online access to—including archives, videos, and pdf downloads of recent issues for only $29.95 each! Great for churches or study groups.

kindle subscription

OR get a subscription to Touchstone to read on your Kindle for only $1.99 per month! (This option is KINDLE ONLY and does not include either print or online.)

Your subscription goes a long way to ensure that Touchstone is able to continue its mission of publishing quality Christian articles and commentary.

more from the online archives

35.3—May/Jun 2022

Babylon's Furnace

Truth, Suffering & the Hard Road Ahead by Rod Dreher

32.6—November/December 2019

Listening Up

Historical Truth, Beguiling Stories & Three Kinds of Hearers by Anthony Esolen

23.1—January/February 2010

The Audacity of the State

It’s Bent on Bringing Down the House on the Family & the Church by Douglas Farrow