Last Crusade: The Impartiality of Reason
The Last Crusade is the eternal war against all Hellish things. The visible parts of the war, fought with sword or spear, bullet or bomb, are but sorties of a larger siege that is fought, oddly enough, with prose and poem, with spirit and prayer.
One matter where the Last Crusade must plant a banner around which to rally is what seems at first to be minor. The matter is courtesy.
But it leads to a deeper matter, perhaps the deepest: because the question of courtesy leads to the question of the role of reason among rational creatures.
Courtesy is a deeper thing than it seems. Please note the unrelenting resolve, over a period of years, during which the Enemy has branded all formalism, good manners, and good breeding to be either absurd, or unwelcome, or even sinister. If a man prefers you call him by your last name, this is regarded as standoffish and pompous. If a man prefers not to hear gutter language, blasphemies and scatological Anglosaxonism, he is unfriendly, unrealistic, and perhaps a hypocrite. If a gentleman holds a door for a lady, or a man refuses to strike a woman in the face, he is a sinister oppressor, and an enemy of women.
All these ideas are blatantly absurd. The Left has convinced the world that courtesy is rude.
They have made a tremendous effort at it. Merely watch a few black and white movies, and see how people address each other, or in what language, if you doubt me. Not only were people more polite, but they reacted with more stoic reserve and dignity to lapses of politeness.
Political correctness has politicized courtesy, so that now words found harsh or untoward are matters for lawsuit, or riot, rather than matter for an apology. In political correctness, every nuance of spoken and unspoken thought may at an moment be declared a micro-aggression, so that every ear overhearing your most casual joke might hide an expected enemy with license to attack without remorse, ruin your job, ruin your reputation, ruin your life. This substitution of mutual hatred and animosity for mutual respect was not done overnight, nor easily.
So something important must be behind it, or else the Left would not for so long and so consistently have exerted themselves.
I propose that that there is a reason we have seen a loss of courtesy in society. It is a loss of reason.
In this day, all disagreement is disagreeable.
The time was when two gentlemen could voice contrary opinions, even on deep matters, could each give his side in hopes of persuading the other, but, if none were persuaded, nonetheless shake hands and part friends.
Those times are gone.
Reason has been in a posture of retreat since the Thirteenth Century. In the Twenty-First, it has vanished from our public forums entirely.
Name-calling, character assassination, rioting, and the suppression of unwanted opinions has not stopped, but the polite and reasoned exchange of opposing views has. Think back: how long has it been since you saw a news program giving both sides of any issue, calmly, reasonably, without interruption?
Let us not concern ourselves with what person called for a halt to polite and rational disagreement. Behind every man is a spirit, an idea, that pilots him. What idea halted all the courtesy of adversaries?
The humility of philosophers is that they follow an argument to the ends of the earth, wheresoever reason shall lead. The pride of philosophers is that they will not stir a foot if reason leads not. What idea quelled the humility of philosophers? To what idea did they surrender their pride?
To answer this, we must first say what ideas are involved in the war of ideas, and how the enemy gained so appalling a victory.
The enemy in this generation is gathered in visible strength on the political Left, in the ranks of faithful socialists and their Siamese twins the fascists, and roughly one hundred million murders in the Twentieth Century can be laid to their charge, not counting prenatal infanticides. But their invisible strength is in words and in the spirit, both in the words of heretics like Mohammed, heathens like Nietzsche, and in every starlet in Hollywood who holds forth on deep issues witlessly, for hers is the spirit of the world. The invisible strength of Hell is more to be feared, for it is everywhere, and it has a stronghold in my own heart, and in the heart of every sinner.
The most frequent way to say it, these days, is to say that politics is downstream of culture. That is, if the foe, by means of prose and poem, captures the heart of the culture, it is but a matter of a generation before he captures the head. Prose includes lessons to students, opinions of judges, and opinion pieces in newspapers and books. Since the enemy has no real argument to give, nearly all this output is sophistry, rhetoric, and merely ornamental language surrounding an unspoken core of falsehood.
Far, far more potent is poetry, and, indeed any and all forms of art and entertainment. Once the child has seen the homosexual Muppet singing and joking on Sesame Street, or the evil white businessman menacing Superman or Captain Planet, no rational argument is needed to make him hate homophobes, hate capitalists, hate Climate Change Deniers, or hate anyone else it is convenient for the Party to direct him to hate. The child’s imagination is captured, and only a miracle can unwind a snare that is part and parcel of his early personality and development. For it is by his conscience he is snared.
But the most frequent way of saying it, is perhaps misleading. For it is not culture that determines politics, but cult. Cult includes religion, philosophy, worldview. Those things which a man thinks beyond discussion control what he discusses. Those things for which he is willing to die dictates how he shall live. The ultimate things determine the practical things.
And reason opens the ultimate things to discussion.
Nowadays, it is commonplace to use the word “reason” to mean only logic, which is said to apply only to statements of mathematics or empirical science. But reason also includes a proper sense of judgment, of balance and of due proportion. An hysteric who overreacts to true but trivial things is not a reasonable man, nor is the dullard who treats weighty matters lightly. Reason finds the happy medium.
A man who rides the wreckage of a perfectly true idea taken to its most Draconian logical extreme off the waterfall edge of sound judgement, and goes down with the ship, can be saluted for the precision of his logic, perhaps, but no one calls him a reasonable man. He is a fool and a fanatic.
All this is true for a society as well as for an individual. The consensus need not agree on all things, but they must agree on certain basic ideas and ideals in order to be a society.
When the consensus departs from the bounds of reason, the crowd around us has suffered either a loss of logic or a loss of sound judgment, and we suffer the madness of the crowd. Nations can be obsessed, or paranoid, or melancholic, or choleric no less than Tom o’ Bedlam. Being a member of a mob saves no man from madness, and may contribute to it. Lemmings do not throw themselves from sea-cliffs into the deadly sea one by one.
So, then: Politics is downstream of culture; culture is downstream of cult, that is, from the consensus opinion on unquestioned and ultimate issues; but the ultimate issues are discovered and defended by reason.
In the lunatic politics of the modern day, where goods can be consumed without producing them, or wars fought without publically declaring them, or a man who dons lipstick and long wig be ushered into schoolgirls’ locker rooms with all the panoply of the law upholding him, and where everything depends on what the word “is” is. Such rank nonsense cannot gain a foothold until reason is dislodged, and men lose faith in common sense and sound judgment.
The impartiality of reason was impeached as a true judge of disputes between men for the same cause that the majesty of truth was dethroned.
The disputes of the Reformation and Counterreformation ended in a compromise declaring ultimate truth to be relative. Ultimate truth became a national matter, not universal: whatever the king or parliament determined should be the religion of the people, would be. Cuius regio, eius religio.
For obvious reasons, this proved to be insufficient: What reasonable man would risk eternal damnation merely because his temporal king was heretical? for what mortal king has authority to declare what truths bind the conscience of an immortal soul? During the benighted period called the Enlightenment, this authority was vested on the individual. Ultimate truth became a personal matter, not universal.
This leads to the defining feature of the modern age, which is limited government. Limited government is a tactic agreement to recognize certain matters as sacrosanct, that is, innately beyond the authority of any king or parliament. The private is severed from the public, and the public sphere only exist to maintain the peace and order of society, that is, to protect the private sphere.
The paradox is that this agreement to shelf ultimate issues beyond the reach of temporal authority is itself an ultimate issue, for it deals with the definition of what is sacred or profane. If man is merely a mutant ape or meat robot, and if the contents of his brain are merely the by-product of subconsciously determined Freudian complexes, genetically determined Darwinian imperatives, or socially determined Pavlovian programming, then holding life, liberty or property to be sacred is ridiculous.
Decreeing religion to be a private matter unleashes ideology to occupy the throne religion vacates, and to be the final arbiter of ultimate issues. Now, in theory, ideology in theory only touches political matters, but in practice ideologues claim everything is a political matter, including such things as pronoun use and private thoughts.
It should be noted that it is for this reason conservatives say conservatism is not an ideology. The conservative philosophy places religion in command of ultimate issues, not politics. By this definition, the Founding Fathers of the American Revolution were conservative, since they were not fighting for an ideology, that is, not fighting for a substitute religion. The partisans of the French Revolution and Russian Revolution, on the other hand, were: they meant their ideology radically to re-engineer society from top to bottom, including re-engineering brain content to bring all into conformity with the ideological demands.
Now, this leads to a paradox. If ultimate issues are matters of private conscience, but ideology is the public and political agreement on ultimate issues, then the content of the private conscience becomes a matter of public and political agreement. Your conscience is sacrosanct only for so long as your political masters agree to recognize it as such.
So what is the role of reason when ideology replaces religion as the source of ultimate truth? They become rivals. While, at least at first, ideologues claim to be paragons of reason and enemies of superstition (by which they always mean Christians and never mean Mohammedans). They claim at first to base their metaphysical conclusions on empirical science. They claim statistics, or scientific socialism, or social justice, or some other form of intellectual arglebargle upholds their ideological talking points.
As soon as schoolboys of average intelligence point out the paradoxes and self-refuting contradictions of their ideology, the ideologues must undermine the role of reason and impeach it as a judge, or otherwise reason condemns them.
For these reasons, it is a commonplace talking point these days to hear that no man is impartial, that all men are conditioned and limited by their genetic and cultural background, so that no man in the majority can use his reason to point out bad judgments or logical errors in the reasoning of any member of a minority.
Apparently only minorities can rule on the reasoning of other minorities. This is a rehash of the idea that only the English King can rule on ultimate issues of Englishmen, merely using race rather than nation as the collective whose voice is now the voice of God.
Like Quasimodo carrying Esmerelda from the scaffold to the steps of the cathedral, this talking point grants sanctuary to all ideologues.
As Esmerelda was rendered immune from the headsman, so now ideologues are immune from criticism. Now, the ideologue himself might be a majority, but if he claims to speak for a minority, he wraps himself in the sacred mantle of their alleged victimhood. They may now spout any nonsense they wish, and any logical examination of their false claims is decreed to be racism, or a phobia, or some other form of mental or moral defect.
Reason is thrown out of the jury box, on the grounds that the nature of man does not allow for reason to be impartial. Of course, logically, if these were valid grounds for impeaching reason, then by definition the grounds would be invalid: because if no man’s reason can be trust as impartial, then the reasoning he uses to reach the conclusion that no man’s reason can be trusted itself cannot be trusted. It is self-refuting statement.
Let us turn to a deeper question. If a man disagrees with you, and your reasoning is sound, then he is either unable or unwilling to follow the argument, that is, he is either mentally deficient or morally corrupt. On what grounds, then, will you hold him to be worthy of courtesy, and his foolish words to be treated with dignity, and given a fair hearing, and heard without interruption until he has had his say?
Why should you treat a man who disagrees with you with dignity? Why give him a fair hearing?
There are only two answers: the pluralistic answer or the Christian answer.
Either the fool is to be treated with dignity because there is no such thing as right and wrong in reasoning, and therefore all things are matters of personal opinion, none better than the other, ergo no such thing as wisdom or folly; or the fool is to be treated with dignity because he is made in the image and likeness of God, and therefore his conscience, even if corrupt, is sacrosanct.
The Christian must treat even stupid or wicked children of God with dignity for the same reason a patriot treats even a torn or stained flag with dignity: the cloth is not valued in and of itself, but for the republic for which it stands.
The Christian is not only allowed, he is required, to treat enemies with dignity and even love. It does not matter what the man says or thinks, the man himself is still an immortal soul reflecting the image of God. There is no exception. Even an enemy on the battlefield, or the felon in the electric chair, merits the honor of chivalrous behavior, or a last meal, a last prayer, and a Christian burial. This is not due to any merit of their own.
But the pluralistic answer has one exception: reason.
If a man bases his criticism of another on sound judgment or logical consistency, then that man’s criticism is objective, and not a matter of arbitrary personal opinion. So the reasonable man violates the unspoken agreement to spare the feelings of all ideologues to decree all opinions to be equal and equally meaningless. The reasonable man, by referring to the rules of reason or the experience of sound judgment, makes an objective claim.
This means that pluralism must denounce reason as unreasonable. More to the point, the pluralist loses any reason to treat the reasonable man with respect and dignity. The reasonable man is now a pariah, and reason is a hate crime.
And, naturally, once reasonable men are condemned as fools and idiots, and they do not abide by the mutual ceasefire of pluralism which calls all opinions equal and equally meaningless, then the pluralists are free to condemn the reasonable men for their mental and moral defects.
And, lo and behold, even a cursory examination of the works and words of the Enemy shows that at no point do they uphold the ideals of extending tolerance, courtesy and dignity to opponent, except when they complain opponents are not being tolerant to them. The tolerance of the Left is nothing but toleration demanded by the Left that their intolerable behavior be tolerated.
Courtesy and dignity is never extended by the Left to their opponents: demonization, vilification, and character assassination comprises the whole of what they bring to the debate.
Outside of the Christian worldview, there is no case to be made for treating opponents as meriting dignity, because there is no worldly reason for it. You and your opponent are not equal in moral and mental faculties, not in rank or status, wealth or influence, or in any other way. Any worldly reason placing you high in the world’s hierarchy of dignity will fail in time, as illness and senility and old age approach.
If all opponents are demons and villains, why be polite? For that matter, why be peaceful? Why not use riot and the threat of riot to intimidate anyone who offers you a platform to speak?
The causes and reasons for the loss of simple courtesy, chivalry and decency is deeper than it seems. It springs from the loss of reason as the judge to arbitrate polite disagreements between reasonable men. It springs from a desire to justify the use of violence, including mob violence, to silence anyone who dissents from Leftist orthodoxy.
When reason is lost, all is lost.