Richard Weaver wrote a book in 1948 entitled Ideas Have Consequences. The goal of his book was to diagnose the decay of Western civilization, especially in America. His basic premise is that as society as a whole begins to dismiss the transcendentals—as people begin to disregard, or to question even the existence of, transcendent, absolute standards of truth, goodness, and beauty—people no longer have intellectual, moral, or spiritual moors to ground them, and to draw their thoughts beyond themselves and beyond their own personal desires and impulses, to an objective standard to guide them toward virtue and wisdom.
Weaver says if we continue down the road we’re on, we’ll end up with a society of spoiled children who don’t have the capacity for either humility or critical thought, who, whenever something doesn’t go as they wanted or as they expected, the only way they know how to react is to throw a tantrum. That sounds familiar doesn’t it?
So what is Weaver’s prescription? What’s his suggested solution to this predicament? He says the answer is in a return to a proper understanding of what education is—as the cultivation of virtue and wisdom by nourishing the soul on truth, goodness, and beauty. As Weaver makes clear, this pursuit is not only for your own personal benefit; it has radical effects on society as a whole.
Your grades in school, the prestige of your alma mater, the standing of your career, the numbers in your salary—none of that ultimately matters if your beliefs, morals, and affections have not been rightly ordered and shaped to pursue virtue and wisdom for the rest of your life.
The cultivation of virtue and wisdom is primarily about the ordering of the soul—the ordering of our beliefs, morals, and affections. And as you go out into the world, you must be aware that it is a devastatingly disordered world. If you’ve not gained a foundation that has oriented you to objective standards of truth, goodness, and beauty, rooted in the character of an unchanging, holy God, to whom you are accountable for how you live, what you believe, and what you love, then when that disordered world seeks to pull you away from those moors, you’ll have a much harder time staying the course, because the world seeks to drag you down not primarily by changing your mind, but by capturing your heart.
So, students, I urge you, as you leave the harbor of home and enter the uncharted waters of independence and responsibility, to continue to pursue virtue and wisdom like your life depends on it—because, as Solomon makes clear, it does.
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