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Free Citizen

This writer espouses individual liberty, free markets, and limited government.

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Location: Jackson, Mississippi, United States

Wednesday, March 03, 2010

Richard Weaver's Centennial

A few minutes ago, I happened to stumble upon the fact that today is the 100th anniversary of the birth of Richard Weaver (1910-1963), author of the classic book, Ideas Have Consequences (1948). I think it only fitting that I post something about this great man on such a noteworthy day. ~~ SR

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by Thomas E. Woods Jr.

Along with Russell Kirk and Robert Nisbet, Richard Weaver was one of the most influential intellectuals of the postwar conservative renascence in America. A professor of English at the University of Chicago, Weaver was also a scholar of Southern history, and his defense of Southern civilization was at once so elegant and insightful that historians continue to study and discuss his work some forty years after his untimely death. Although despised in fashionable circles, the South, Weaver believed, possessed insight and wisdom that a world increasingly enticed by liberalism (in the American sense) neglected at its peril.

In 1830, one of the most famous debates in American history occurred between Massachusetts Senator Daniel Webster and South Carolina Senator Robert Hayne. Weaver analyzed the debate in his essay "Two Orators," and much of what in Weaver’s judgment separated North and South politically, culturally, and ideologically came through in this celebrated exchange. Before a packed and rapturously attentive Senate chamber, the two men delivered a total of five speeches, in which they examined the nature of the American Union.

According to Hayne, the American Union was formed by distinct American states, acting in their sovereign capacity to establish a federal government to act as their agent in a few clearly specified areas. The political consequences of this view were plain. The United States was composed of independent, sovereign political communities, which retained all powers not delegated to the federal government, and which as sovereign states could, through secession, recall the powers delegated to that government. That Hayne’s position possessed merit was evident in the grammatical construction people generally used when speaking about the United States: the United States are rather than the United States is.

Webster, on the other hand, argued that the Union had been formed by the entire American people in the aggregate. In Webster’s conception, therefore, secession (and the less extreme method of resistance to unconstitutional federal action known as nullification) was metaphysically impossible. The Union was not, at root, a confederation of states, but rather an indivisible whole.

Weaver frequently observed that the Southerner was very much a local person, devoted to his particular plot of land and skeptical of distant authorities or grandiose political schemes – and he perceived this attachment to the locality in Hayne’s remarks before the Senate. Hayne’s historical argument, Weaver wrote, "was devoted to the proposition that the United States had been founded primarily to secure the blessings of liberty. For Hayne the implication was clear that liberty required the independence and dignity of the parts, with local attention to and disposition of local affairs. In what may seem to many an excess of particularism, he opposed local improvements financed by funds of the general government. Yet from a strict point of view Hayne was but facing and accepting the price of liberty. Freedom is something that gathers around the hearth, inheres in local associations, and endears to a man his place of habitation."

The issue could also be conceived another way: was the American Union... Read more>>>>

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