Sunday, December 2, 2007

Ideas Have Consequences, 7

Last year I mentioned Ideas Have Consequences at an online discussion forum, and wrote a summery of the book that focused on Chapter seven. I’d intended to revamp that info into a post for this blog series but owing to my daughter’s illness (I’m headed back to the hospital and will be staying with her until she comes home later this week — forgot to mention that in the previous post) I’m just going to repost here what I wrote back then and hope that it will add something of value to the discussion.

Be sure to read Cindy and Dana for a much more thorough and thought-provoking treatment of the book.

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Chapter VII: The Last Metaphysical Right

“A man’s character emerges in the building and ordering of his house.” I loved that statement last year when I read Ideas Have Consequences for the first time, and I love it still. Hopefully I’ve been able to grow in character in the intervening year.

I’m almost done reading this book. I meant to save my comments until I’d finished it, but it’s slow going - the concepts and his language are so far above my ability to comprehend. But now I’m to the chapter on private property and I wish I’d written something down for each chapter.

I don’t know how to articulate what this book has done for me, except to say that reading it inspires me to live faithfully to my calling. It can be summed up in Weaver’s statement that “a man’s character emerges in the building and ordering of his house.”

I was asked to explain that quote, so this is what I wrote a few days later:

First, Weaver says that private property must be recognized as actual, physical property. We are losing this sense of property because so much of our property is abstract - stocks, bonds, “the legal ownership of enterprises never seen. (p. 132)” *

This abstracting of property destroys the connection between a man and his property. “[R]eal property… is the individual’s surest protection against that form of dishonor called adulteration, (p. 139)” i.e. decline in craftsmanship.

Quote:
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In former times when the honor of work was upon us, it was the practice of a maker to give his name to a product, and pride of family was linked up with maintenance of quality. Whether it was New England ships or Pennsylvania iron or Virginia tobacco, the name of an individual usually stood behind what was offered publicly as a tacit assumption of responsibility. But, as finance capitalism grew and men and property separated, a significant change occurred in names: the new designations shed all connection with the individual and became “General,” “Standard,” “International,” “American,” which are, of course, masks. Behind these every sort of adulteration can be practiced, and no one is shamed, because no one is identified; and, in fact, no single person may be responsible. Having a real name might require having a character, and character stands in the way of profit. (p. 141)
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He goes on to describe how modern businesses will “buy up an honored name and then… cheapen the quality of the merchandise for which it stands. (p. 142)”

He describes the effect of this decline in craftsmanship by pointing out that truly well-made, high quality items are either super-luxuries or museum pieces.

Then he gives the example of housing. One hundred fifty years ago, men built houses for their own families with the intention that his family should still be living there three generations hence. Many of these homes are still standing today. Writing in 1947, Weaver says:

Quote:
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Let us look next at the modern age, in which houses are erected by anonymous builders for anonymous buyers with an eye to profit margins. A certain trickiness of design they often have, a few obeisances to the god comfort; but after twenty years they are falling apart. They were never private except in a specious sense; no one was really identified with them. Thus our spiritual impoverishment is followed by material impoverishment, in that we are increasingly deceived by surfaces. (p. 143)
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He had just mentioned on the previous page that we can’t really be sure that the world is growing richer, unless we measure wealth as “a multiplicity of gadgets.”

Next he goes on to discuss various nations’ economic policies in the wake of the two world wars, noting that authoritarian government can bring economic order in the midst of chaos, but at what price?

Quote:
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The idea of metaphysical right subsumes property, and it is this idea that was lost to view in man’s orientation away from transcendance [and toward nominalism]. If material goods had been seen as something with a fixed place in the order of creation rather than as the ocean of being, on which man bobs about like a cork, the laws of economics would never have been postulated as the ordinances of all human life. But this again requires belief in nonmaterial existance. (p. 144)
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Near the end of the chapter, Weaver says, “It it likely… that human society cannot exist without some resource of sacredness. Those states which have sought openly to remove it have tended in the end to assume divinity themselves. (p.146)” And he closes the chapter by saying:

Quote:
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We are looking for a place where a successful stand may be made for the logos against modern barbarism. It seems that small-scale private property offers such an entrenchment, which is, of course, a place of defense. Yet offensive operations too must be undertaken. (p. 147)
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So this is the context in which in that statement about a man’s character was made.

Quote:
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Private property, in the sense we have defined it, is substance; in fact, it is something very much like the philosophical concept of substance. Now when we envision a society of responsible persons, we see them enjoying a range of free choice which is always expressed in relation to substance…. It is… important to keep substance in life, for a man’s character emerges in the building and ordering of his house; it does not emerge in complaisance with state arrangement, and it is likely to be totally effaced by communistic organization. Substance has a part in bringing out that distinction which we have admitted to be good [that there is a world of ought, that the apparant does not exhaust the real (p. 130)]; it is somehow instrumental in man’s probation.

The issue involves, finally, the question of freedom of the will, for private property is essential in any scheme which assumes that man has choice between better and worse. It is given him like the Garden of Eden, and up to now he seems guilty of a second forfeit of happiness. (p.146)
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Lengthy, I know, but I hope all that helps.

Kelly

*He doesn’t even address the fact that very, very few actually own our homes. Initially, mortgages were 3, 5, or 7 year loans and were lengthened to 15 year loans during the 30s, I believe, but 30 year loans were unheard of before the 60s. IOW, at the time Weaver was writing, “homeowners” expected to get the loan paid off and actually possess the title to their home in very short order.

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