I've read and reviewed this book at least three times and pulled it out for reference a few times most years. The review linked above is excellent, and while everyone left or right ought to read the fairly short book, not reading the linked review is hard to forgive.This book was first published in 1948 and it is scary to see how far we have tumbled down the predicted cliff toward the ultimate demise of Western Civilization since then.
Weaver points out that without first principles, there is no way to know where we went astray or why, and he is very clear and simple on the causes.
"This was a change that overtook the dominant philosophical thinking of the West in the fourteenth century, when the reality of transcendentals was first seriously challenged."Since man moved away from the idea of transcendentals to the idea that "man as the measure of all things", the Whig theory of history quickly developed -- "the belief that the most advanced point in time represents the point of highest development". Today this banner is carried by "progressives" -- the firm belief that a drop of hootch excreted from the still today is better than 40-year-old Scotch.
"For four centuries every man has been not only his own priest, but his own professor of ethics, and the consequence is an anarchy which threatens even that minimum consensus of value necessary to the political state."At least he isn't always his own bartender! Weaver links transcendentals primarily back to Plato, although the connection with religion obviously seeps through. For the common man, the doctrine of Christianity is what would be infinitely more beneficial to both the eternal soul and temporal existence here on earth than the worship of the relativist pagan state.
"The issue ultimately involved is whether there is a source of truth higher than, and independent of man; and the answer to the question is decisive for one's view of nature and the destiny of humankind. The practical result of nominalist philosophy is to banish the reality which is perceived by the intellect and to posit as reality that which is perceived by the senses."
"The denial of everything transcending experience means inevitably -- though ways are found to hedge on this -- the denial of truth. With the denial of objective truth there is no escape from the relativism of man is the measure of all things .... The witches spoke with the habitual equivocation of oracles when they told man that by this easy choice, he might realize himself more fully, for they were actually initiating a course which cuts one off from reality. Thus began the "abomination of desolation" appearing today as a feeling of alienation from all fixed truth"."Nominalist" meaning denying that things that transcend the physical universe exist. ("matter" is all there is) Not simply however "god" -- since our own abstract thoughts and to some degree language stretch the old meaning of "physical".
It is a book I could go on and on quoting from, but that breaks my promise to explain what the book means to me and encourage others to read it.
Ideas set humans apart and make us what we are. When we are focused at the highest levels of our brain --- reason, abstraction, ultimate, patterns, relations, connections, etc., we are most human in the sense of unique from animals -- with an eternal soul, a soul that wants those transcendentals. It drives us to look for ultimate and eternal causes, the explanation for WHY things are as they are.
When I was in college, a favorite professor described the difference between the university and the vocational school up the hill as basically "Down here we learn WHY the computer works as it does, up the hill they learn only HOW to operate or program following a specific path, not the reason why that path may be optimal, easy, efficient or what alternatives there are to the specifics being taught".
"Ideas" is a critical book about first principles to understand the universe, our place in it, and how to reach for "the good life", as in the spiritual life that has eternal meaning (although it is not a "religious" book).
"Ideas" is a cornerstone of what I'm re-reading and attempting to weave together as my personal "Canon of Christian Conservatism" at this point in my life -- the basis of what I have come to believe about life, the universe and everything! It was previously discussed here, as well as here.
At its base "Ideas" is "God" (transcendence), Yes or No, and what is likely to happen to both you and your civilization depending on how you choose!
The linked review closes with this, and I shall as well;
A year before he died, Weaver wrote that “[t]he past shows unvaryingly that when a people’s freedom disappears, it goes not with a bang, but in silence amid the comfort of being cared for. That is the dire peril in the present trend toward statism.” Sixty years later, the trend Weaver feared has further advanced in all Western countries. He did not live to see the progressives of the 1960s gradually infiltrate and takeover in the West’s cultural institutions and produce a cultural decay that makes the world of 1948 seem like a glorious age of conservatism. And he did not live to see the culture of abortion on demand, euthanasia, widespread acceptance of pornography, the sexualization of children, the normalization of deviance, and other maladies that afflict our contemporary world. Ideas–especially bad ones–do, indeed, have consequences.