Ideas Have Consequences Book Club: Ch. 2 – Hierarchies & Distinctions

I hope you’ll join us this week for our discussions! Hop right on in and read along or participate in the comment-section discussion, whether or not you’ve read the book.

Definitions

  • Jacobin: a leftist or extreme political radical (originally the group that supported Robespierre)
  • materialism: preoccupation with or emphasis on material objects, comforts, and considerations, with a disinterest in or rejection of spiritual, intellectual, or cultural values.
  • egalitarianism: belief in the equality of all people, especially in political, social, or economic life.
  • chimerical (p.41): wildly fanciful; highly unrealistic

Wow. I need to add chimerical to my working vocabulary! What a great word.

Summary

Bourgeois materialism

If society is something with can be understood, it must have structure; if it has structure, it must have hierarchy. […] [People] have been taught a perversion which makes their chance of obtaining [truth] less every day. This perversion is that in a just society there are no distinctions.

To exist, society requires:

  • distinctions
  • order
  • hierarchy
  • structure
  • fixed points of reference (better v. worse; non-relativism; truth)
  • differing functions

The rise of the middle class is part of the problem

The middle class owes to its social location an especial fondness for security and complacency. Protected on either side by classes which must absorb shocks, it will forget the hazards of existence.

  • The lower class is close to the reality of its neediness and “develops a manly fortitude.”
  • The upper class bears responsibility and “cannot avoid leading a life of drama because much is put into its hands.”

Do even these statements about upper and lower class apply in America today with its entitlement and welfare mentalities in the poor and the more celebrity than ruling upper class?

The middle class, loving comfort, risking little, terrified by the thought of change, its aim is to establish a materialistic civilization which will banish threats to its complacency.

And so the state becomes a “vast bureaucracy designed to promote economic activity.”

Equalitarianism

Where there are no higher ends acknowledged and no certain place granted to people, the only ends left are convenience and pragmatism. Pure democracy cannot stand for any unifying principle.

  • Modern society wants all men to be free and equal, not only before the law, but in every respect. This is nonsensical, and primarily a tool used by those who want to become a new ruling class by toppling the established ruling class. It defies logic and common sense, creates envy and suspicion, and negates trust and loyalty.

Where men feel that society means station the highest and lowest see their endeavors contributing to a common end, and they are in harmony rather than competition.

  • We think we want equality and democracy to ensure each individual’s chance at success, but allowing success means admitting to a heirarchy where one is better than another. An emphasis on equality and pure democracy results instead in an emphasis on conformity.

If [democracy] promises equality of condition, it promises injustice, because one law for the ox and the lion is tyranny. […] Nothing but a despotism could enforce anything so unrealistic [as economic equality] and this explains why modern governments dedicated to this program have become, under one guise and another, despotic.

And, you know what? Our society by and large wants a despotic government for precisely this reason.

Comments on Comfort

Weaver quotes DeTocqueville:

Comfort becomes a goal when distinctions of rank are abolished and privileges destroyed.

I have perhaps an odd perspective on this, due to my pastor. One of his “things” is comfort. Real comfort. It’s ok for real comfort, for certainty, to be a goal.

It turns out, an emphasis on comfort isn’t an exclusively modern idea. The crafters of the Hiedelberg Catechism in the seventeenth century chose comfort as one of the unifying themes of the catechism, setting the tone with the first question: What is your only comfort, in life and in death?

The catechism not only starts there, it continues to bring up this concept of comfort throughout, asking what comfort comes from this truth and that truth. My pastor likes to say that all true doctrine will bring comfort if it is rightly understood. It’s just part of its nature.

So perhaps the modern emphasis on material & physical comfort grows out of a rejection of the mental & spiritual comfort of knowing truth. Without truth, we cannot have spiritual & mental comfort, so instead, in our materialism, we seek after the only comfort left to us: creature comforts. The comfort that comes from knowing I am not by own, but belong body and soul, in life and in death, to my faithful Savior Jesus Christ, is a comfort that eternally mine (even if I sometimes ignore or reject it; it remains true and available). It is a rock. Physical comforts are a shifting sand. If we make them an idol, then the only certainty is that eventually God will topple it, sometimes on the individual level and eventually on the societal level. And a toppling, however uncomfortable, will be for our good.

A Metaphysic

At the end of the chapter, Weaver returns again to the idea of a metaphysic, of a unifying principle, of a purpose to life; today we would say ‘a worldview.’

If we feel that creation does not express purpose, it is impossible to find an authorization for purpose in our lives.

So, here’s a challenge. Do you have a “conception of metaphysical reality”? Do you have an answer to the following questions and do you make your decisions in light of them or in light of convenience and pragmatism?

  • Why was man created? What is his purpose? (I am assuming here most of my readers at least begin with the assumption that we are created and therefore can have purpose; accidents by definition have no purpose)
  • What is the purpose of life? What is our aim in living? To what sort of life does God respond with “Well done, good and faithful servant?”
  • What is the purpose of the world, from the creation through to the end? What sort of a story is it? Can you start from “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth” and end with “Then Jesus returned to judge the quick and the dead” and tell a cohesive narrative about what God is doing?

What Weaver is saying in these two chapters so far, and probably for the entire book is my guess, is that if you either don’t know an answer to these questions or have never thought about it or have accepted a theory that makes these questions nonsense (there is only purpose if there is a designer; if evolution is true, relativism and pragmatism are the only options, and they exclude truth and morality), then you cannot and will not make choices that are consistent or meaningful. Without the grounding in a “metaphysical dream of the world,” then there is no basis for authority or order or logic or morality or duty and obligation.

If you do want those things, then solidify your answers to those three questions. It will be well worth the time and energy and possibly even anguish.

Your Posts



9 Responses

  1. Dana
    |

    Filling in at work for an employee who is on vacation, so my extra-curricular reading time is taking a hit this week. I am commenting in order to read what others have to say.

    However, I must mention that I cannot look at the word *comfort* without seeing the Latin *cum* and *forte*. Those help me understand the strength that is required and/or given in true comfort.

    • Mystie Winckler
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      I had never broken down the word before, Dana. What a great insight.

  2. Lisa H.
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    When an unbelieving friend or relative grows angry at the state of things in the world, I always ask: “By what standard is your opinion regarding ‘such and such’ correct?” They sometimes don’t “get it” and answer, “Mine!” “Other times they say, “It’s just common sense.” I(hopefully humbly) respond, “No, you are working from a standard, and though you won’t like to hear this, it’s God’s standard as revealed in the Bible.” Most do not like to hear this.
    I asked myself why I existed when I was 8 years old, and God faithfully led me to Him at 24. While our only comfort in life or death is Jesus Christ, the blessed “unfairness” of God as He apportions situations to His creatures is for our good. His providences (class, station, giftedness) are His benevolent despotism. As the author points out, “Where men feel that society means station the highest and lowest see their endeavors contributing to a common end, and they are in harmony rather than competition.” It is “the Body” working together. If all of us were mouths, where would the hearing be?
    Not all can be equal. God is not a god of conformity. He is so much more creative than we have the capacity to imagine.

    Thank you, Dana, for pointing out the Latin. I’d overlooked that most important real meaning of the word. Man, in his brute-force weakness, can only offer the despair of uniformity. God, in His genius and masterful creativity and sovereignty, gives us strength, comfort and hope.

    • Mystie Winckler
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      The discord between many and one, distinction and unity, has always been a philosophical question, and only in the Trinity can it be resolved. God makes many one while the many retain their individuality; and God makes many one even *because of* their differences all working together.

  3. Kelly
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    In Greek mythology, the Chimera was a horrifying, fire-breathing monster, part lion, part goat, and part serpent, whose appearance always forbode disaster — storms, volcanoes, shipwrecks. She was killed by the hero Bellerophon. I love the word chimerical, too. Can’t read it without seeing that whole story played out in my mind’s eye.

    • Mystie Winckler
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      Well, I didn’t know about Chimera, either! :) That certainly makes the word all the more rich.

  4. Brandy @ Afterthoughts
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    Your questions at the end made me thankful for learning my Catechism! It really *is* grounding…

  5. Brandy @ Afterthoughts
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    I was thinking today that this recent thing Obama said about business owners and entrepreneurs was a sign of this desire to “make no distinction.” It was the whole attitude of if you are successful, you really can’t take credit for it because you didn’t work harder or smarter than everyone else, but you had a “good teacher” and the government built the Internet for you. Yada yada.

    Well, the DoD *did* build the Internet, and I actually think all of this is President O. paving the way for Internet taxation–he’ll frame it so that the gov’t “deserves” a cut because it invented something.

    However, comma, the great debate has become whether or not some people actually *do* work harder and smarter than others. The debate seems to end up being between those who believe in distinction and hierarchy, and those who don’t.

    • Mystie Winckler
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      What an absolutely nonsensical great debate…..wow.

      I think I’m glad I never hear anything the president says. :D Yay for isolationism!