The Nature of Reason: Crucial to Saving the Republic
Americans can be divided into two main factions, conservatives and progressives, who are vying for the soul of the republic. On each side of the highly contentious issues facing this country, these factions have opposing views of what is “reasonable.” Grasping this fundamental issue of philosophy is crucial to preventing the dissipation and destruction of our Constitutional republic.
On the issue of reason, many conservatives look to the founding, which was based on an Enlightenment view rooted in Aristotelian philosophy. Leftists are irrational in the sense they do not believe in the Aristotelian view of reason, but rather argue that reason is determined by “discourse.”
The leftist program itself is specifically destructive of reason through its denial of objective reality and its embrace of Hegelian and Marxist dialectical philosophy. It is thus no exaggeration to call much of modern leftism solipsistic.
But there is another faction to consider: the “moderates” who view themselves as “reasonable” in the sense that they wish to avoid extremes. Many self-described “independents” seek to extricate themselves from the political conflict by not taking sides, while others simply feel that the “reasonable” view is not represented at all.
Reason, in the Enlightenment sense, can be seen as a faculty of the human mind that one uses to determine truth based on logic, evidence, and history. This view of reason can roughly be termed the “Aristotelian view” of reason, due to the great thinker’s codification of logic, his argument that objective reality exists independently of the mind, and the law of identity, which effectively states that A = A.
The primary philosophical rival of Aristotle, according to most accounts, was his teacher Plato. Plato used the ancient form of dialectics, meaning the ascertainment of truth by argument, most famously employed by the philosopher Socrates. The Socratic dialogues show his interrogation of the “sophists,” those who cynically manipulated the language to justify any position. Socrates, who was nicknamed the “gadfly” of Athens, was famously executed for his challenging of tradition and religion.
While Plato’s collectivist view of the ideal “Republic” prefigures communism, Plato’s view of attempting to ascertain truth by dialogue and questioning should not be seen as the antithesis of Aristotle’s method. The starkest contrast for both Aristotle and Plato are the sophists, who are emblematic of civilizational decline as manifested by their abuse of language.
One of the clearest illustrations of how the deterioration of language leads to stasis or revolution and chaos is Thucydides‘ The History of the Peloponnesian War. In this first “modern” history, Pericles is the demagogue who manipulates the Athenian mob into continuing the war against Sparta, despite the Athenians‘ decimation by plague. Later, in the ultimate sign of hubris, the Athenians are persuaded into launching a disastrous expedition to Sicily, where they are promptly routed by the Syracusans and the Spartans.
Such we can see in ancient history the theme of Aristotle as the elucidator of reason as a human faculty capable of knowing objective reality, Plato as the expositor of reason as discourse, and the sophists as the propagators of anti-reason. Logos in ancient Greek means not only reason, but language. By implication, the destruction of language is the destruction of reason.
The Romans borrowed heavily from the ancient Greeks and applied the Aristotelian view of reason to make great strides in law and engineering. After the Roman empire collapsed in the West, the Europeans fell into a period of superstition and obscurity, known popularly as the “Dark Ages.” While many challenge that there was such a period of civilizational stagnation in Europe, they are merely bridling at the implication that collectivism is a dysfunctional political and societal ordering principle. But the proof is in the pudding – the Roman achievements in engineering, law, and literature still stand, and post-Roman Europe, up to around the tenth century, is a rabble of disconnected artifacts.
The rediscovery of Aristotle by scholastic thinkers such as Thomas Aquinas paved the way for the scientific revolution of the sixteenth century. Since that period, men began to systematically question and sweep away the dogmas of the day, the human mind again being seen as an instrument of observing and making sense of objective reality. The true leap forward in logic and empiricism ushered in astounding progress in the fields of astronomy, anatomy, chemistry, physics, and the natural sciences.
But in the spirit of skepticism inherent in the Enlightenment project of dismantling superstition and illogical beliefs lay a seed of anti-reason. In the newly found freedom of inquiry, intellectuals began to dismiss the logical and empirical foundations of scientific thinking and to attack reason and thinking itself.
The Romantic period can be seen as a transition in human thought from the Enlightenment conception of reason, rooted in an Aristotelian view of reality, to a new view of reason, one stressing reason as discourse and deliberation. Romanticism fed a desire by many to “escape from reason” and objective reality by retreating into sentimentalism, collectivism, mysticism, and tribalism. But it only presaged the eventual backlash and assault on reason that came with Frederic Nietzsche’s nihilism and the dialectics of Hegel, and his pupil, Karl Marx.
While Nietzsche can be seen as someone who sincerely desired to liberate the mind from ancient superstitions, including in his view, religion, ultimately he urged the “will to power” by those whom he called “the supermen,” and the creation of mythos to turn men back from the brink of self-destruction.
While Nietzsche can be seen as the modern “gadfly” of our age (although he was no fan of Socrates), it took Hegel and Marx to codify a systematic philosophy of anti-reason, which was ushered in by the great leveler of reason, Immanuel Kant. Kant built on David Hume‘s dismissal of causality as happenstance to compose destructive critiques of reason.
Immanuel Kant was admired by Hegel, and Kantian thinking turns up in several of Hegel’s passages. But Hegel’s adaptation of his rival Fichte’s dialectical reasoning was the symphony of destruction needed to undo the gains of the Enlightenment, both intellectually and politically.
Hegelian dialectics is a self-contained, self-referential philosophical system that in its simplest popular form means that “thesis and antithesis results in synthesis.” It is a view of human history and reality that is the obliteration of the Aristotelian law of identity, A = A, which is the touchstone of the founding philosopher of objectivism Ayn Rand.
It took Karl Marx to take the limitations of dialectics as a phenomenon of mind and instrumentalize it as a weapon to be put into practice by developing his key approach of “dialectical materialism.” Marx thus brought to fruit the teachings of the old master Hegel by “turning him right side up.” Hegel was a believer in the “unity of the particular and the universal” and a proponent of “freedom in the state.” In this way, he is a philosopher often credited with fathering the twentieth century left and right totalitarianisms of communism and fascism, respectively.
But Marx’s masterstroke, by reversing Hegel, was being able to make an argument that his dialectical materialism led to ultimate freedom from the state. Yet the application of Marxism, since it is a philosophy that is “free” from the objective reality of scarcity, leads itself to totalitarianism without any miraculous “redemption” at any unspecified point in the future. It is simply destruction: of reason, of economy, of society, all the way down.
In some ways, the structure of American government facilitated the traction of dialectical reason because the representative bodies were founded on deliberation and discourse. Freedom to debate truth in a marketplace of ideas led to the apprehension of the process of debating truth as reason itself. But reason is not about the process, it is about ascertaining truth as grounded in objective reality, with the assumption that there is such a thing as cause and effect.
A transitional thinker in the history of liberalism, and one who can be seen as a fulcrum in the shift from classical liberalism to modern liberalism is John Stuart Mill. Mill’s On Liberty, though a marvelous work in many regards, shows signs of the replacement of the Aristotelian view of reason with the view of reason as discourse and deliberation.
It is with the deep drive for liberty in the thinking of some Enlightenment philosophers that freedom begins to intellectually cannibalize itself through a focus more on language than on objective reality. “Freedom” becomes unhinged from the moorings of Aristotelian rationality and begins to embrace aspects of nihilism, leading to modern liberalism.
Within the modern liberal left developed left and right flanks, Marxism and progressivism, respectively, around the turn of the twentieth century. While Marxists were revolutionaries eager to destroy the “bourgeois” state and the prevailing capitalist economy, the progressives were incrementalists who sought to usher in the Hegelian triumph of the Idea.
The problem with Marxism is that though its program was perfectly destructive, its explanation of reality and history is simply wrong. It failed to predict spontaneous socialist revolutions in advanced capitalist states, and the cooperation of workers worldwide to break the horror of World War I. The “vulgar” sentiment of nationalism overwhelmed the workers and convinced the Marxists that their assessment of the power of socialism as an idea was mistaken.
This led to a resurgence of Hegel on the left, and an adoption of a program by leftists in the most advanced capitalist states to proceed with socialism, or more accurately, the destruction of capitalism, incrementally. This impetus gave birth to both Fabian socialists and neomarxists, the twin heads of the progressive program to transform capitalist societies; the economic and the ideal spheres of the New Left, respectively.
Since America, the land of the free, embraced the model of reason in government as deliberative discourse according to the “will of the people,” the creeping introduction of socialistic ideals led to a situation where capitalists, whose model of economy explicitly embraced an Aristotelian understanding of objective reality through scarcity, supply-and-demand, and the free operation of prices, were forced to “compromise” with the undoing of the system; that is, they had to introduce unreason and unreality into government and economy.
The earliest paragon of the “third way” between capitalism and socialism is best exemplified by Benito Mussolini. As Jonah Goldberg details in Liberal Fascism, Mussolini was a Marxist who opportunistically exploited rising Italian nationalism and the corporatism of Benedetto Croce to found a “mixed economy” where capitalism still existed, but property was owned and controlled by the state, while labor was directed by the state.
The justifications for the increasing power of the state was pioneered in the modern era by neomarxists, most notably those of the Frankfurt School of Critical Theory, such as the Italian Communist Antonio Gramsci, and the Hungarian communist Gyorgy Lukacs.
The Frankfurt School, led by Theodore Adorno and Max Horkheimer, drew on the work of Hegel to develop sophisticated forms of propaganda that would erode capitalist and Christian societies and usher in their demise. Gramsci urged communists to penetrate every sphere of culture and use it to urge members of “democracies” to capture the state. Lukacs essentially codified ways to pervert the youth to rebel against Christianity.
The chaos and discontent of the late 1960s led to radicals seeking to specifically undo any reason that might be drawn upon to make sense of their destructive program and to head it off before it was too late. Many entered academia and began the project of codifying unreason. This was not only done through the teaching of Marx, but by the adaptation of Alinsky’s principles to teaching, specifically, speaking to one’s audience in the language the people will understand.
During this turbulent period, Cloward and Piven harnessed Gramscian theory to persuade the less well-off to make incessant demands on the welfare state, as established by the pseudo-fascist FDR and continued by Lyndon Johnson. Alinsky was a field general in organizing communities to make increasing demands on the system, propelling it to collapse.
Jurgen Habermas is a modern philosopher whose “intercommunicative rationality” has persuaded elites that discourse is reason. Subjectivism, as encapsulated in postmodernism, has stymied the penetration of evidence into the minds of leftists to provide counterfactuals and to illustrate the destructive nature of their worldview. Thomas Kuhn transformed science from the Popperian philosophy of science as the falsification of theory to the Kuhnian one based on “paradigms” and “consensus.” Kuhnian science can be demonstrated most readily by the incessant refrain from elites that the “debate is over” regarding the theory of anthropogenic global warming, which has been falsified six ways from Sunday by satellite data and other empirical evidence.
In such a view of the world as the elites now propagate, evil is not evil, good is not good, there is only the gray area that is “reality.” In this worldview, private property is negotiable, individual rights are expendable, and the Constitution is subject to “interpretation.”
The destruction of reason as a means to ascertain truth using logic and evidence is the destruction of the free society, which only exists in objective reality, not in the utopian constructs of the systematically unhinged mind.
The universities have become institutions of systematized insanity, factories for the training of unreasonable foot-soldiers who only know the refrain, “we want,” “we demand,” and “we have a right.” Whether those “rights” infringe on the fundamental rights of others is beyond their comprehension; to reason as such would be a destruction of their “have their cake and eat it too,” “that’s a false choice” mentality.
As George Orwell noted, “Political chaos is connected with the decay of language.” And the language of the left is not only decayed, it is twisted, manipulative, and perverse to its very core.
The full import of the argument of this article is that there is no reasoning with the elites currently directing American society and economy to its necessary destruction.
The elites have no need for the average American’s “common sense,” the logic and fact-based reason of conservative spokesmen, or the demonstrable history of republics that descend into democratic chaos and ultimately, tyranny.
There is literally no traction for truth based in reality in the minds of elites, there is only their innate drive for power, influence, and the admiration of their elite peers. Their scorn of tea party activists is predictable, and their inability to see how the statist program they view as a “reasonable mix of capitalism mixed with socialism” (or “mixed economy”) undermines the freedom that is the foundation of their worldview is intellectually ingrained.
Those who see reason as “discourse,” those self-described moderates and independents, cannot be persuaded by moderation itself, but by a forceful articulation of the antithesis of the left’s ideas, not only on the basis of the substance of particular issues, but on that of the fundamental approach to government-individual relations as articulated by the Constitution as framed by a proper understanding of reason.
The Constitution is the best known political guideline for society not because it implies a philosophy that we desire to be true, but one that simply is true. The success of the United States, far from being the result of injustice, was due to the proper understanding of reason and reality by the founders as applied to the framing of the Constitution.
Only those who are strict adherents to the Constitution, therefore, must be elected. Whether or not we can save ourselves from the element of “reason as discourse,” which is eroding the fundamental individual rights of life, liberty, and private property, is very much in doubt.
Increasing numbers of moderates, however, are slowly being persuaded through living evidence of the error of the “third way” of economics; though the Marxists, who are intent on destruction as they carry out their demented plan of “liberation,” will only push harder.
Armed with the truth and the proper understanding of reason and reality, we can bring to bear the best possible defense of our republic. Only by showing and displaying to the moderates and independents the light of reason can we possibly hope to realign the aims of on an increasingly tyrannical government with the constraints of objective reality; this would do much to lighten the burden on those who bear the costs of ignorance.