Richard M. Weaver lived a life of hard work, self-sacrifice, and quiet virtue. Although he taught English at the University of Chicago for the bulk of his career, he remained deeply attached to the traditions of his upbringing in North Carolina. The part of his Southern heritage that Weaver treasured above all was the “social bond individualism” that he pitted against what he called the “anarchic individualism” of the North. This social bond individualism coupled individual liberty with duty and social responsibility to advance a concept of “disciplined freedom.” Throughout his entire career Weaver defended the values of this social bond individualism, tracing its antecedents through the arc of Western intellectual history. Interestingly, he considered the Middle Ages to be the period that, more than any other, shaped the understanding of liberty that developed in the modern West. Thus, Weaver appreciated the British heritage of liberty under the common law, because such heritage was derived from the medieval model.
Weaver vigorously defended the inviolable right to private property, naming it “the last metaphysical right.” He used this nomenclature to emphasize that the right to private property exists independently from, if not regardless of, its social utility. This metaphysical nature of private property rights derives from the natural connection between honor, responsibility, and the relationship of a person to property. Weaver also contended that work, honorable in itself, tends to result in the accumulation of property. Hence property becomes an extension of one’s labor—and of oneself. Weaver believed that property constitutes a great source for personal growth because of the inalienable bond between a person’s labor and property. Weaver also noted that the ownership of private property can serve as a check on the pressures of majority opinion, allowing anyone to think and to act as he or she chooses without having to appease the majority opinion to secure a place to live or food to eat. Another reason that Weaver labeled private property as a metaphysical right was to show that it is based not in the changing, temporal material order, but rather in the unchanging, eternal order of the spiritual. For Weaver, rights and obligations correlate with each other. To properly preserve the right to property, an obligation to engage in proper stewardship must also be recognized in order to prevent property from being spoiled from use by successive generations. Property rights then essentially promote a communal continuity between the dead, the living, and the unborn. Weaver never tired of advancing these convictions, always confident that these convictions truly reflected reality.
Hero of Liberty image attribution: University of Chicago Photographic Archive, [apf1-08597], Special Collections Research Center, University of Chicago Library.