Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Power or Reason?

Just ran across this excellent quotation in Richard Weaver's Ideas Have Consequences:

It may indeed appear before the struggle is over that the attack upon private property is but a further expression of the distrust of reason with which our age seems fatally stricken. When it is no longer believe that there is a restraining reason in accordance with which men may act, it follows that the state cannot permit individual centers of control. The repudiation of transcendentalism compels the state to believe that individual centers of control will be governed by pure egotism, as indeed they largely are at present. At the same time, this repudiation pushes aside the concept of inviolability. The modern state does not comprehend how anyone can be guided by something other than itself. In its eyes pluralism is treason. Once you credit man with the power of reason and with inviolable rights, you set bounds beyond which the will of majorities may not go. Therefore it is highly probable that subconsciously or not, the current determination to diminish the area of inviolable freedom masks an attempt to treat man as a mere biological unit. For liberty and right reason go hand in hand, and it is impossible to impugn one without casting reflection on the other.

In other words, since according to popular, liberal conception, reason has no power over men, all interest boils down to arbitrary exercise of egoism, which knows no bounds. In this conception, the only force restraining this chaos is the state.

One aspect of silliness here is that the state is somehow exempt from being an exercise of any egoism, despite it being just another human institution, and subject to all human foibles of anything created by these (supposed) biological units. I'm pretty sure this is another reflection of the being implicit divinization of the ego, or at least certain egos, that occurred with Cartesian dualism. When Descartes split the spirit from the body (making the person not a whole, but two wholes), he effectively made an element of the individual transcendent in a way that only God truly is.

Somehow the collective Ego has gained a property (infallibility) not present in the constituent individual egos. This sort of implied emergentism is enough to make one suspect that what's true of the state, might be true of an individual: maybe we humans aren't just agglomerations of molecules in motion driven by selfish desire, but wholes capable of rational self-determination! Naaaw!

Richard M. Weaver, Ideas Have Consequences (Chicago: Phoenix Books, 1948), 137-138. (I clipped the actual text from this ISI page.)

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