from Jonah Goldberg’s Dispatch, Bugged Out. A very clever piece that demonstrates the limits of reason. I subscribe to his substack and recommend it.
I’ve written countless times about the differences between left and right. Thomas Sowell describes it as the difference between the unconstrained and constrained vision. Yuval Levin argues that the fault line is between those who see politics as the task of directing all of society toward a fixed destination and those who think the point of politics is to create zones of freedom for individuals and institutions to flourish. My own view, which is deeply influenced by and related to both, is that the left believes in what you might call the “unity of goodness” while the right is comfortable with contradictions and social distinctions that serve the common good. Whatever school you subscribe to, it’s worth emphasizing that these are broad generalizations. After all, the line between Locke and Rousseau runs through every human heart.
But there’s an important difference between competing factions of them. The left’s unconstrained vision drinks deeply from a strain of Enlightenment thought that Jonathan Ralston Saul called “the dictatorship of reason.” Bugs are good protein and don’t belch bovine levels of gas, therefore any reluctance to eat them is grounded in superstition and irrationality.
I’m a big fan of reason, but Saul (and Schumpeter, Deneen, et al) have a point. Making reason the only criteria for a decision cleanses society of the nooks and crannies of meaning that make life worth living and the pursuit of happiness possible. The purely rational soldier will not fight, Chesterton observed. The purely rational man will not marry.
Putting pure reason on the throne leads to the same problems as putting a specific faith on the throne: It gives those in power permission to do whatever they want. It assumes that the planners and priests start with the authority—intellectual, political, and moral—to do what they want and the burden of proof falls on the resisters to explain why they shouldn’t go along. Worse, it stipulates the terms for what counts as a persuasive argument. Tell a hyper-rational technocrat that you don’t want to eat bugs because you think they’re gross, and you’ll be met with eye-rolling disdain. Tell the priest you don’t want to sacrifice your oxen to Baal, and you’ll get the same look. And if the regime is true to its principles you’ll be eating bugs or slaughtering Bessy in no time.