In 1959 Richard Weaver (photo right), author of Ideas Have Consequences, gave a talk in Chicago on "how to argue the conservative cause." He lamented that on American campuses "liberalism" was "the hidden premise of many if not most of the courses" taught there. "The chances are that three out of every four of the student's teachers will be professing liberals." Weaver once defined a liberal as "a person who is not a communist but who cannot give any good reason for not being one." His conservatism was not merely political but cultural and included the spiritual side of man, with a resolute insistence that our rights come from God and are "anterior to the state," as proclaimed in the Declaration of Independence.
Perhaps his observation about an untapped source of renewal applies today as much as it did in 1959:
"A certain timidity about going to the bottom of things may explain why conservatives in this country have overlooked one very important source of impulse and strength. The desire to have more, to enjoy more, to become more comfortable is not the only driving force in human nature. There is alongside this, though sometimes buried, a desire to sacrifice, to be hard on oneself. This may sound paradoxical to some, but then human nature is not a simple equation. In our very great material success, we have largely forgotten this other reservoir of force. It is an indisputable fact that people can be appealed to on the basis of self-sacrifice. Many persons get a greater thrill or sense of reward out of this than out of anything else in their lives. There is a strong psychological attraction in the idea of strenuousness and self-discipline…. You do no have to promise every man a feather bed at the end to get him to do something that requires vigorous and disciplined effort. The sense of achievement and of good accomplished may be quite enough."
He believed the communists to be "ahead of us" on that score, but not for a good cause. In 2015, we are seeing youth attracted to radical jihadism in part because it seems to offer a thrilling prize for sacrifice. What is there today in western liberalism worth dying for?
For Christians, of course, there is no greater cause than the Gospel. It would be odd if the Church did not also embrace this "ascetic" perspective, especially in light of her own Lord's perfect example of servanthood, humility, and sacrifice. Yet how often do churches timidly shy away from the call to repentance and endurance and self-control, and promote instead their brand as the most successful and affluent and personally fulfilling, appealing to comfort and self-satisfaction? Who preaches: Come to Jesus, read the Bible, and let the Spirit of God reveal your myriad sins so you may repent and become more like Christ?
Two impulses:, then: the desire for more, to consume, to take ease, or to labor, to give of oneself, to be poured out. We have a God-given capacity to find true fulfillment in giving rather than receiving, not to be served, but to serve. Culturally (and politically), Weaver's 1959 talk was followed on January 20, 1961 with John F. Kennedy's famous challenge: "Ask not what your country can do for you but what you can do for your country." Who would dare make such an appeal today to self-sacrfice? In Chicago, as in many places in the nation, the motto seems to be at times, "Where's Mine?"
Worth Reading: J. I. Packer in this interview, "Losing His Sight But Seeing Christ," seems to fit the pattern of a godly Christian man not full of himself, who has served his fellow Christians and seeks to serve Christ.