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is toward this final conclusion that the second part of this essay is primarily di- rected.

In their analysis of Weaver’s writing, Richard Johannesen, Rennard Strickland, and Ralph Eubanks criticized Weaver’s scholarship. With regard to Weaver’s treat- ment of Lincoln, they expressed their concern that Weaver had failed to “indi- cate whether he based his generaliza- tions on a careful examination of the entire corpus of the martyred president’s oratory.”72 They expressed a similar con- cern with respect to Weaver’s treatment of Burke. Weaver’s examples “failed to indicate whether his generalizations rested on a scrutiny of all Burke’s speeches, letters and essays.”73 Although such criticism is superficial and fallacious, it would be difficult to raise even the suggestion that Weaver lacked familiar- ity with the work of Milton.

While it is well-known that Weaver completed his Ph.D. studies at Louisiana State University in 1943 and that his dis- sertation, posthumously published as The Southern Tradition at Bay (1968), was on the literature of the post-bellum South, Weaver’s graduate work often escapes notice. He finished a year of graduate study at the University of Kentucky (1932- 33) but enrolled at Vanderbilt University in 1933, where he completed both his coursework and his master’s thesis, “The Revolt Against Humanism: A Study of the New Critical Temper,” under the direc- tion of John Crowe Ransom in 1934. Ac- cording to Ted J. Smith III, Weaver then spent the next two years at Vanderbilt “completing coursework and other pre- liminary requirements for the doctorate” and, in June 1936, he began “searching for a full–time teaching position to support him while he wrote his dissertation, a study of Milton, once again under Ransom’s direction.”74

Weaver frequently referred to Milton in categorically positive terms; Weaver drew parallels between Milton’s A Ready


and Easy Way to Establish a Free Common- wealth and the manifesto of the Southern Agrarian movement, I’ll Take My Stand (1930).75 The inseparability of freedom and right reason, the necessity of which pervades Weaver’s philosophy, he identi- fied as “the Miltonic doctrine.”76 Weaver levied criticism at social scientists for their inability to conceive of “a dominant image of man” that offered “unconditional reason for trying to save him from his threatened collapse.”77 In “‘Parson’ Weems: A Study in Early American Rheto- ric,” an essay which Ted Smith III believed was first intended for the Ethics,78 Weaver praised Weems by identifying the similar- ity between Weems’s style and Milton’s.79

Even without the parallel between the structure of the Phaedrus and the struc- ture of Weaver’s Ethics, in which the noble lover, like Milton, is the last to be consid- ered, it is clear from his other writings that Weaver did not equate liberalism with evil. Rather, liberalism was for Weaver middle-of-the-roadism, a position he makes clear in two separate essays, “The Middle of the Road: Where It Leads,” pub- lished in 1956, and “The Middle Way: A Political Meditation,” in 1957. Therein Weaver reiterated that the liberal is inca- pable of dealing with ideas and can only be compelled by circumstances. “Circum- stance is not the only the last, it is the only refuge of those who have given up faith in ideas.”80

If Burke is a liberal who, by Weaver’s definition, lies between “‘extremists’ of whom the conservative is pictured as one,”81 it stands to reason that there must be two, not one, extremism. Lincoln being one, Milton must be the other extremist by default, there being but three options and Burke already occuping the middle position. All that remains, then, is to de- termine who is the noble and who is the base orator, and the evidence stacks up pretty heavily in favor of Milton.

Revisiting the Ethics and repositioning his ideal rhetor have significant implica-

Winter 2006

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