Edward Feser and the Metaphysics of Conservatism

Philosopher, Edward Feser, provides a great introductory analysis of a metaphysically robust and historically informed conservatism.

From the essay:

“Richard M. Weaver’s Ideas Have Consequences, published in 1948, was among the founding documents of contemporary conservatism. The title phrase has become something of a cliché, and overuse has stripped it of the interesting meaning it once had. Nowadays most people assume that what Weaver was saying was that how we think is bound to affect how we act, and that the intellectual trends that prevail in a society will determine its moral and political character. To be sure, that was part of his meaning, but if that were all he had in mind his message would have been a pretty banal one, since no one denies that in this sense “ideas have consequences.” What is largely forgotten is that Weaver was making a play on words, and that his primary reference was to Plato’s famous Theory of Ideas, a metaphysical thesis that has cast a long shadow over the history of Western civilization. Indeed, Weaver’s view was that this metaphysical vision is what made Western civilization possible, that its abandonment was the primary source of the pathologies of the modern world so decried by conservatives, and that its recovery is essential if those pathologies are to be overcome.

It hardly needs saying that not all conservatives today would express their creed in precisely these terms. Many religious conservatives, or at least those of an evangelical bent, would find them excessively high-falutin’. Many secular conservatives, fancying themselves too hard-headed and worldly-wise even for philosophy, let alone religion, would eschew Weaver’s formulation in favor of economics, or perhaps to take up the current fad for evolutionary psychology.

Nevertheless, a consideration of metaphysical issues of the sort Weaver addressed would, I maintain, do much to clarify the nature of conservatism, and of the disputes that constantly break out among conservatives of different stripes. For there is no one as dogmatically beholden to a metaphysic as the man who denies that he has one; and it is rare that a disagreement gets as fierce as the intramural fights among conservatives have sometimes been, if it doesn’t ultimately trace back to some difference in metaphysical first principles. It will be useful, then, to have a survey of the kinds of metaphysical assumptions that underlie the thinking of various people classified as “conservative.” I will argue that there are, metaphysically speaking, three basic types of conservative — conservatives of the Weaver sort, of course, and two others.

And lest this all appear far from topical, let me note that, as we will see by the end, what I have to say might shed some light on the controversy stoked by Prof. Jeffrey Hart’s recent piece on the state of American conservatism in The Wall Street Journal.”

Here is the rest of the essay: The Metaphysics of Conservatism


– Lucas G. Westman


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