The Paradox of Reason
By: Thomas E. Brewton
Liberal rationality leads to chaos, thence to tyranny
The foundation of liberal-Progressive-socialism, beginning with the pre-Revolutionary French Encyclopedists, has been belief in the supremacy of human reason as the sole guide to social order. In practice it turns out to be a foundation of sand, always washed away in the deluge of political tyranny.
Reason as the only source of wisdom was almost immediately stripped of such pretense and revealed as naked savagery in the French Revolution’s Reign of Terror, instituted to compel conformity to the revolutionists’ political aims.
After the 1789 Revolution, France was reeling under wild swings from monarchy, to attempts at constitutional government, to the rule of street mobs. Matters came to a head with the execution of King Louis XVI in January, 1793. The Assemblyâ€™s Revolutionary Tribunal and the Committee of Public Safety announced.
It is wholly necessary to establish briefly the despotism of freedom in order to crush the despotisms of Kings. (quoted in AndrÃ© Maurois, A History of France).
What â€œthe despotism of freedomâ€ meant was the bloody Reign of Terror. The Revolutionary Tribunal, during fourteen months of continuous sessions, condemned more than 70,000 people to the guillotine: children, men and women, old and young, aristocrats, monarchs, priests, ordinary citizens, and peasants.
Similarly, sixty years later with the advent of Darwin’s hypothesis of evolution, liberals began the destruction of the English and American foundations of constitutional democracy. As Darwin’s champion Thomas Huxley declared, the morality of Judeo-Christianity was ignorant superstition. There was no such thing as sin, no such thing as right or wrong; there was only the struggle for survival.
This clearly had great appeal to the newer generation, the Baby Boomers of their day, swept up in admiration for science and confident that man had nearly conquered nature and was sure to complete the job shortly. If man ruled nature, he had the means to control and reform human nature itself.
Unfortunately, this sophism also postulated chaos, the absence of any order. Because for them there is no God, life was, and still is, envisioned by Darwinians as purposeless and without design. What is, just “happened” by blind chance, energized only by reactions to changing material circumstances.
In such a world, there is nothing â€“ absolutely nothing â€“ in “reason” to gainsay the slaughter of tens of millions of people by Lenin, Stalin, Hitler, or Chairman Mao. If there is no morality, no higher law, no God, we are left with a simple guiding principle to order life: might makes right. Whatever, and I do mean whatever, the ruler can impose is to be the law.
The working out of this principle in the United States since imposition of socialism under Franklin Roosevelt’s New Deal in the 1930s is evidenced in the Darwinian concept that the Constitution really didn’t mean to make amendments difficult and time consuming via the provisions of Article V. Rather, say our sophistic liberal-Progressive-socialists, “evolving” public opinion effectively amends the Constitution, because majority rule, right or wrong, has the power of numbers to force whatever it wants. Forget the Electoral College; forget the federalism of state and national powers, balanced between The House’s representation on the basis of population, and the Senate’s equal votes for each state. Such niceties stand in the way of the Federal steam roller.
Thus we have the steady erosion of the inalienable individual rights, especially private property rights, enshrined in the Bill of Rights. The might of the mob, intent upon grasping ever more welfare-state benefits, must triumph over the rights and responsibilities of individuals. How, ask the liberals, can the rights of an obscure individual stand in the way of Progress and the “common good,” defined as the welfare state’s egalitarian redistribution of wealth and income?
Thus we have judicial activism and legislation, not by Congress, but by arbitrary and capricious diktats of thousands of quasi judicial agencies and regulatory bureaus.
As the Old Testament Book of Ecclesiastes tells us, “There is nothing new under the sun.” The Greek philosophers had long before wrestled with the pernicious doctrine of Protagoras that, “Man is the measue of all things.” Protagoras, who lived in the fifth century BC, was said to be the original Sophist, whose doctrine is defined as plausible, but fallacious logic.
In the 1820s and 30s, Auguste Comte’s version of Protagoras was his Religion of Humanity (quoted in A General View of Positivism):
Deriving its subjective principle from the affections, [the Positive Synthesis] is dependent ultimately on the intellect for its objective basis…..Such a center we find in the great conception of Humanity, towards which every aspect of Positivism naturally converges. By it the conception of God will be entirely superseded, and a synthesis be formed, more complete and permanent than that provisionally established by the old religionsâ€¦.Towards Humanity, who is for us the only true Great Being, we, the conscious elements of whom she is composed, shall henceforth direct every aspect of our life, individual or collective. Our thoughts will be devoted to the knowledge of Humanity, our affections to her love, our actions to her serviceâ€¦.the conception of Humanity as the basis for a new synthesis was impossible until the crisis of the French Revolution.
In the century after Protagoras, Plato expended much of his energy in confuting Sophism. Sophists argued exactly as do liberal-Progressive-socialists today: all that counts is material comfort, wealth, and power. Humans are ordered only by lust for these things. In our present-day social sciences, psychologists and Freudian psychiatrists start at a slightly more fundamental level: water, food, sex, clothing, and shelter. Both they and the original sophists, however, regard material things as the only motivators of human action.
In Theaetetus, Plato attacks this doctrine directly, in an argument which runs along the following lines:
If wisdom and knowledge are the same, what is knowledge? What is its nature in the abstract? Can one understand something without knowing its nature? Can humans know the mystery of an art without experience? without deep study? without Divinely inspired intuition?
Is there not a great difference between surface impressions and fundamental nature? Isn’t public opinion merely superficial, momentary impression, rather than real knowledge?
Is there no knowledge or wisdom that exists independent of the individual’s perception?
Is knowledge perception alone? Such is the doctrine of Protagoras, who says that man is the measure of all things, which means that each person’s perceptions are for him the only reality. If I feel cold, then it is too cold, though you may feel too hot. Such is the relativistic nature of volatile public opinion as the sole basis for political governance.
Are we not running into a contradiction? If perception is the measure of the reality of existence, and if perception is knowledge, how can reality, in the sense of fundamental nature, be both hot and cold? Are we not forced into the position of moral relativism, in which there are no standards at all beyond momentary opinion, based on sensual perceptions, perceptions that are continually changing at the mercy of random chance in material conditions?
In effect, for Sophists and liberal-Progressive-socialists, there is no end point, there is no Being, just Becoming in an ever changing, meaningless world without point beyond survival at the lowest animal level.
Reason as the sole guide turns out to be a contradiction. If there are no standards, no human nature to be understood beyond the Darwinian belief that there is no fixed being, no fixed human nature, that instead humans are becoming, or evolving, then there is no point in seeking a good or just political society. Whoever comes along with sufficient power to impose his will upon us cannot be denied, because he is a Darwinian, material, evolutionary factor shaping the presumably ever-changing
nature of the human animal.
In such a world, Al Queda has as much claim to legitimacy as liberals or Judeo-Christian traditionalists. Hence, we are back to square one, the French Revolution’s Reign of Terror, executed today by Islamic suicide bombers.
Thomas E. Brewton is a staff writer for the New Media Alliance, Inc. The New Media Alliance is a non-profit (501c3) national coalition of writers, journalists and grass-roots media outlets. His weblog is THE VIEW FROM 1776 http://www.thomasbrewton.com/
Thomas E. Brewton is a staff writer for the New Media Alliance, Inc. The New Media Alliance is a non-profit (501c3) national coalition of writers, journalists and grass-roots media outlets.