Just as the pursuit of perfection can often end in the sacrifice of what is good so too the worship of reason often results in the exaltation of mediocrity and the circumscription of reasonable thought and action.
Daily the Progressives aggressively push forward against positions which have long been the traditional battle lines of the conservative movement. The front lines in the culture war move ever closer to the transformed America they envision. First prayer was expelled from School. Then the sexual revolution wave peaked with the nullification of state abortion laws by the Supreme Court and then crashed into the mainstream with condoms and birth-control distributed to school children. Divorce became common-place, and out-of-wedlock births account for the majority in several demographics. Pornography is a constitutional right and as close as a mouse click away in most homes.
Those who want to hold on to the America we were raised in are ridiculed in the press, movies, and by our elected officials as a wild-eyed fringe of traditionalist America-firsters clinging to our guns and Bibles. This is why it is important to examine the place of reason as opposed to tradition in the operation of society.
To paraphrase the infamous phrase of George Bush the Younger, “I have sacrificed free market principles to save the free market system,” I would say, “At times we must suspend the rule of reason for reason to flourish.” Or follow in the footsteps of David Hume who was said to have turned against the Enlightenment its own weapons to whittle down the claims of reason by the use of rational analysis.
It is the ability to think in symbols and imagine abstract things that sets man apart from the rest of the animal kingdom. Therefore at the outset let me say this is not an appeal for irrationality or any type of transcendental mysticism. It is instead meant to be a rational examination of the anti-rationalistic position which is necessary for the preservation of individual freedom, personal liberty, and economic opportunity, and the only conditions under which reason can flourish and evolve. For the attempt to apply reason and reason alone to the organization of society’s intricately woven interface of conventions stifles creativity, leaves no place for innovation, and is ultimately unreasonable.
When we attempt to apply the laws of science or the mechanical practices of engineering to human activity we run the risk of building a maze so perfect the mouse can never find the cheese. Or in other words we can seek to make our processes so ideal that there is no room for free thinking, free action, or for the splashes of genius that are the real catalysts of societal evolution.
Those who stand by the idea that reason and reason alone should shape the future must of necessity seek to abandon tradition; for traditions are not built upon reason. They are built upon trial and error. That which doesn’t work is discarded, and that which works becomes accepted through use and time. However it is impossible to completely disregard tradition. Every day each of us moves through life acting upon hundreds of unconscious rules and procedures that we don’t think about because they were bred into us by those who raised us. It is the consensus of a common culture and heritage which makes a people one, E Pluribus Unum.
Those who worship reason believe that they can design a perfect society, a utopia, and that all of their dreams of perfection will stand the light of day. History proves over and over that those who seek to guide the evolution of man through the evolution of society do not create the heaven on earth they advertise.
Look to the French Revolution which cast down Christ and enshrined Reason as their God. It didn’t produce the liberty, equality, and fraternity it promised; instead it brought forth Terror, dictatorship, war and ruin. The Russian Revolution overthrew the absolute monarchy of the Romanovs and installed an even more absolute dictatorship that promised a worker’s paradise and delivered the gulags, starvation, and collapse.
When those who think they are wise enough to make everyone’s decisions about everything try to manufacture a society that looks like their computer models they must use coercion to force those who do not accept their vision to act as if they did. Rules, regulations and red tape bind the human spirit and prevent the growth of the un-designed, the unforeseen, and smother the spark of genius. As counter-intuitive as it may sound a free society will always be in large measure a tradition bound society. For traditions, though they may seem unbreakable at times, are always evolving while rules are cast in concrete.
Patrick Henry told us, “Virtue, morality, and religion. This is the armor, my friend, and this alone that renders us invincible. These are the tactics we should study. If we lose these, we are conquered, fallen indeed . . . so long as our manners and principles remain sound, there is no danger.”
John Adams said, “Our Constitution was made only for a moral and religious people. It is wholly inadequate to the government of any other.”
Our virtue is embodied and defended in our traditions. Once these walls have fallen how can our virtue stand unprotected assailed on all sides in what is becoming an alien culture?
The ethics of virtue tells us “virtue is determined by the right reason. Virtue requires the right desire and the right reason. To act from the wrong reason is to act viciously. On the other hand, the agent can try to act from the right reason, but fail because he or she has the wrong desire. The virtuous agent acts effortlessly, perceives the right reason, has the harmonious right desire, and has an inner state of virtue that flows smoothly into action. The virtuous agent can act as an exemplar of virtue to others.”
The virtuous person acts in the way they do because it is their nature. They have imbibed the virtue of their society and they act naturally as an embodiment of the good. They have absorbed the traditions and they act as they do without thought, without regard or reliance on reason. They do not question what is right or wrong. They know what is right or wrong and act accordingly. They follow tradition.
The worshippers of reason reject the traditions that have grown up organically in society and design their own. They reject the good and seek the perfect. The problem is that perfection is impossible in this life. Perfection does not belong to the realm of man. The air castles and utopias of the rationalistic social engineers may look good on paper; however they never materialize into anywhere we can live.
Why is it hell the Progressives will deliver instead of the heaven they promise? This is what has traditionally happened and that’s the reason.
Dr. Owens teaches History, Political Science, and Religion. He is the Historian of the Future @ http://drrobertowens.com © 2014 Contact Dr. Owens [email protected] Follow Dr. Robert Owens on Facebook or Twitter @ Drrobertowens / Edited by Dr. Rosalie Owens