The View From 1776
Friday, August 05, 2011
The Paradox Of Reason
Liberal-progressivism’s earliest claim was its supposed foundation in scientific rationality. Historical experience has demonstrated, instead, the irrationality of liberal-progressivism.
Liberal-progressives’ abstract “reason” is the impulse behind Nancy Pelosi’s ferocious belief that the Democrat/Socialist Party knows what is best for you, displayed in ram-rodding Obamacare into law over objections of the majority of citizens. It is displayed in the Democratic/Socialist Party belief that it can deliver welfare-state entitlements that can be funded only with the creation of fictitious, fiat money. It is displayed in the Democrat/Socialist Party’s embrace of inflation as the way to deal with our exploding national debt.
Liberal-progressivism’s infatuation with abstract “reason” began in the 18h century with a radically new conception of human nature.
Universal experience over the ages is that humans have the potential for both good and evil and that the moral precepts of religion, enshrined in custom, are essential to social order. As John Adams expressed it in 1798, “We have no government armed with the power capable of contending with human passions, unbridled by morality and true religion. Our constitution is made only for a moral and religious people. It is wholly inadequate to the government of any other.”
The ill-named French Enlightenment turned this conception upside down. Enormous advances in the physical sciences, mathematics, and physics during the 17th century seemed to French philosophers of the bloody and tyrannical French Revolution to have enabled humans to conquer nature, to make of themselves and society whatever their imaginations conceived.
Just as Newton had discovered the laws of physics that governed the movement of the planets, expressed in the exactitude of mathematics, philosophers anticipated discovering sociological laws governing human conduct. Intellectuals would be able, applying their superior knowledge, to create policies based on those laws that would guide human society into a path of perfection.
Jean-Jacques Rousseau was the quintessential early voice of that hubristic presumption. Underlying it was his theory that humans, in the primordial state of nature, all had been good and benevolent. The advent of private property had changed this idyllic condition, unleashing greed, crime, and wars. The road back to this Garden of Eden could be opened by removing the institution of private property and restructuring the political state that supports property rights. Today we see it in the Democrat/Sociaist Party’s fierce devotion to taxing “the rich” and redistributing income according to their designs.
Even Rousseau acknowledged, however, that there existed no historical evidence to support that thesis. His “reason” assured him, Rousseau said, that his musing had to be correct.
French revolutionaries thumbed their noses at God, establishing the goddess Reason as their ruling deity. Subsequently, Auguste Comte conceptualized the Religion of Humanity, of which he said that belief in a Creator God was nonsense outmoded by the progress of abstract History; the proper object of worship was another abstraction, Humanity itself. This amounted to looking into a mirror and worshipping oneself.
Experience in the French Revolution was shortly to prove that these lofty and superficially high-minded beliefs could be instituted only with the brute force of the political state. The Reign of Terror slaughtered more than seventy thousand French citizens deemed enemies of the Revolution. Lenin and Stalin took liberal-progressive “reason” to its logical conclusion: liquidating tens of millions of people in the name of the greater good of humanity. They were hailed by American liberal-progressives in the 1920s through the 1960s as voices of Reason, humanity’s hope for change.
The enlightenment of liberal-progressive reason, it turns out, is really Arthur Koestler’s Darkness at Noon.