Beware the Jaws of Ruthless Reason

“Imagination does not breed insanity.  Exactly what does breed insanity is reason.” 

G. K. Chesterton, Orthodoxy (1908)

I think we must grant that the Left is more slavishly addicted to Reason than the Right—or at least than the genuine Right.  There are, needless to say, many spurious men of the Right who betray their spuriosity by boasting about their ruthless reasoning; but genuine men of the Right have always been chary of Reason because they see that Reason is ruthless.

And because Reason is ruthless, they see that it must be kept on a very stout chain.

When I say that Reason is ruthless, I mean that it respects nothing but itself, and that when it is let off its chain, it will therefore chew to pieces anything with which it disagrees.  To see what this means, you have only to look at any specimen of modern architecture.  Reason chewed away any ornament that did not answer the demands of Reason, and the naked box that remained was utterly inhuman.

When the men who destructed architecture finished and said that the naked box was good, I think we had proof of insanity.

If I were to likewise identify with Reason, I would have to likewise begin chewing things to pieces, not only yielding, but eagerly assisting, when Reason told me to forsake my religion, betray my country, pimp out my children, or blow out my brains.

Reason is, after all, an exceedingly jealous God.  “Thou shall have no other gods before me,” thunders Reason.  Whereupon every true man of the Right snaps his fingers, turns on his heels, and goes “whoring after strange gods.”

And in this case, “whoring after strange gods” is the sane and sensible thing to do.  As Hamlet said to Horatio, so every genuine man of the Right say to Reason:

“There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio,
Than are dreamt in your philosophy.”

* * * * *

A man of the Right does not deny that Reason is often a very good thing.  But because it is not the only good thing, he knows it would be very bad to let it off of its chain to mutilate and maul everything else that is good.  He finds that Reason turns up its nose at other things he approves, both in the world and in himself.

And that Reason will chew these things to pieces if he lets it.

On what grounds does he approve these things?  Some he approves because they are lovely and fill him with a nameless wonder.  Some he approves because to do otherwise would be black disloyalty.  And some he approves simply because they exist, and because their existence implies that they are approved by some being with reasons of its own.

Richard Weaver called this attitude piety, and defined it as acceptance of “the right to exist of things larger than the ego, of things different from the ego.”*

Despotism is the opposite of piety.  As a term of political theory, it denotes a ruler who treats everything in his kingdom as private property that is subject to his will and his whim.  The word comes from the Greek despotēs, which means the master of a house, and to be master of a house is to maintain that nothing but the ego of the master has a right to exist in that house.

And a despot is insane.

* * * * *

Political theory is produced almost exclusively by the Left, for they have an idea that human felicity requires the discovery and universal application of a despotic principle.  Equality is the despotic principle of the overt Left; Freedom is the despotic principle of the covert Left or spurious Right.

Now a genuine man of the Right does not deny that Equality and Freedom can often be very good things, but because they are not the only good things, he knows it would be very bad for them to become despotic principles that will mutilate and maul everything else that is good.

Here is an example of a spurious Man of the Right who has gone insane on unchained Reason and the despotic principle of Freedom.  At the blog Red State, Jeff Charles writes:

“I am in no way defending pornography or the porn industry. I agree with Walsh‘s contention that it is a profoundly harmful activity. Nevertheless, it is not the state’s role to prohibit people from consuming it.”**

If it is not the state’s role to suppress “a profoundly harmful activity,” one has to wonder just what the role of the state might be.  Mr. Charles appears to be a libertarian, so I suppose he would say the enforcement of contracts and the protection of property rights.  Contract breaking and theft are, I grant you, profoundly harmful activities, but to a purist they must also appear as glorious expressions of freedom.  And if parents are entirely responsibility for keeping pornography out of the hands of their children, shouldn’t businesses be entirely responsible for enforcing their own contracts and protecting their own property rights.

I mean, the drug cartels seem to manage without an unseemly reliance on the State.

* * * * *

A genuine man of the Right will wish to conserve many principles.  He sees that reason is good, but that despotic Reason will destroy loveliness and loyalty.  He sees that equality is good, but that despotic Equality will destroy justice and love.  He sees that freedom is good, but that despotic Freedom will destroy decency and solidarity.  I could go on.

Because a genuine man of the Right piously believes all of these principles have a right to exist, he is anxious to see that none rises to despotic primacy and none are chewed to useless pieces.  But he is not clamped in the the jaws of ruthless Reason, so he loses no sleep over contradictions in his theory or inconsistencies in application.


*) Richard Weaver, Ideas Have Consequences (1948), chap. 9.

**) Jeff Charles, “Here’s Why Matt Walsh is Dead Wrong on Banning Porn,” Red State Blog December 8, 2019.

20 thoughts on “Beware the Jaws of Ruthless Reason

  1. Reason is profoundly limited. Funny, I just had a conversation about this. I heard a talk by a catholic priest where he said that the diabolic has the greatest ability to influence our imagination, an ability to influence our reason, but the least ability to influence our intuition.

    Intuition is the direct experience of reality. It’s not emotion, although it may be described as a “gut feeling” (although I believe we often often carve off emotion as something separate from the rest of us but that’s a topic for another day).

    We obviously need reason, doctrine, and imagination and I believe even intuition is of course subject to human frailty and original sin. It’s just that reason is paralyzing, hence the madness, because we can never have enough of it for practical decision making. There are always too many unknowns, too many variables. It cannot provide desire or incentive qualities. Any man who tries to pilot his car by reason alone won’t get out of the drive way.

    • One of the hazards of reason is that we are taught to trust it as our most reliable faculty. That is an interesting notion about the diabolic having the least sway over intuition. It is exactly opposite what social scientists would like us to believe.

  2. I asserted in an article on my blog that Tyranny is a positive assertion that some moral evil is in fact a moral good, or vice versa. Everything else is either ignorance or incompetence. These insane men of the right fear Tyranny, but what they really mean is a government which has the power to assert and enforce its prerogatives. Asserting and enforcing prerogatives is authority. So these insane men of the right conflate any exercise of authority as Tyranny, and back themselves into a corner in doing so. Banning porn would be a moral good, and its benefits would be felt immediately in large swathes of american society. For the government to assert and enforce the banishment of porn would thus be a moral good, and not an oppressive act. The assertion that the banishment of porn is tyranny is a positive assertion that a moral good is a moral evil. Therefore, these insane men of the right reveal themselves not just to be insane, but to be tyrants. And this is why they never hold power for long: as tyrants, they come to fear themselves, and quickly squander any opportunity their brief dance with power afforded them.

    • Men who are themselves in the jaws of Reason assume that everyone else is in a similar position, so they propose to govern society by presenting rational arguments. As you say, anything other than rational arguments and free assent strikes them as tyranny. They really need to get out more. A great many people cannot follow a rational argument and must be taught by authority of one sort or another.

    • Men who are themselves in the jaws of Reason assume that everyone else is in a similar position, so they propose to govern society by presenting rational arguments. As you say, anything other than rational arguments and free assent strikes them as tyranny. They really need to get out more. A great many people cannot follow a rational argument and must be taught by authority of one sort or another.

  3. It seems that by Reason you mean Rationalism, more or less.

    Equality is the despotic principle of the overt Left; Freedom is the despotic principle of the covert Left or spurious Right.

    I would say Freedom is the despotic principle of both the overt Left and the spurious Right. Equality is a corollary.

    Now a genuine man of the Right does not deny that Equality and Freedom can often be very good things, but because they are not the only good things…

    Well, I might deny that Equality and Freedom can be good things (though I’ll leave it to others to judge whether I am a genuine man of the Right). Unless they are defined according to the Christian understandings of these things (e.g., freedom from sin, or the freedom to do good). But that’s not what anyone ever means when he speaks of freedom and equality in a political context.

    Mr. Charles appears to be a libertarian, so I suppose he would say the enforcement of contracts and the protection of property rights. …

    I wonder what libertarians would think of the fact that the most ‘libertarian’ society that’s ever existed in the West was probably medieval feudalism.


    Nice to see that Matt Walsh is evidently advocating banning porn. I saw a headline from Ross Douthat a while back in the NYT that also appeared to be advocating banning porn. That’s a small hopeful sign that even mainstream conservatives are openly advocating for such things.

    • I take Rationalism to mean what I call despotic Reason: the belief that reason is sufficient on its own. That’s more or less what I took from Michael Oakeshott. You’re right that freedom and equality dance a strange tango in our politics of left and right, so that it sometime means we are free to do exactly the same things, which isn’t free at all. A democracy cannot ban a vice to which large numbers are enslaved, so pornography will probably be with us to the end. It does serve the good purpose of exposing libertarians as spurious men of the Right.

      • I read Oakeshott’s Rationalism in Politics last year. Pretty good.

        A democracy cannot ban a vice to which large numbers are enslaved, so pornography will probably be with us to the end.

        All the more reason to discard democracy!

        Agree that you can’t eradicate pornography, but banning it would still be useful in creating a stigma against it and suppressing it to some extent. I for one think it would be better for prostitution to be legal and pornography illegal than the other way around.

      • Yes. “Banning” simply means raising the cost to peel off marginal consumers. We have set the cost of murder as high as we can, but some people still “consume” that solution to their problems.

      • @Ian – I for one think it would be better for prostitution to be legal and pornography illegal than the other way around.
        Agreed. But good that we should consider why it’s not that way and why it is the way it is.
        The arch-tyranny is Commercialism-Consumerism. There’s not even a competition, there’s no ideology, there’s nothing else.
        In strict usurious terms “Companies” are entities for ‘creating’ money, as much money as possible and preferable other people’s money. Out of 100 biggest Multinational Companies, 52 are American, 20 Chinese, 5 British etc.
        The other is target/the enemy they want dead (the dead don’t compete for natural resources, markets etc) but also to buy products and relinquish as much resources as possible before they keel over through poison, stress, debt, infertility etc. But why kill the consumer? Because there’s more where that came from, so many global millions clamoring to become middle class. The current middle class is too pushy in the eyes of globalists and is slated for dilution&eradication with profits to be made of course. To create a better, more pliable consumer. Always ‘market-oriented’ as they are.
        Pornography kills&humiliates the consumer, it’s easy to reproduce and disseminate, it creates addiction, it’s a revenue stream easy to stack into large centralized systems with way less people involved.
        On the other hand you can begin to see how prostitution creates small-scale competition, it involves more people, more independent systems, it’s a superior product, it can’t be reproduced, it doesn’t stack, it doesn’t centralize, doesn’t ‘integrate’ vertically, doesn’t ‘streamline’ etc
        Where’s that Feminism to argue for the latter? You see there’s no ideology on the other side, there’s just the GloboHomoCorpo and Usury. Big Tech, the power-multiplier of the few, will compound that problem going forward, the 60s generation was bought with short term perks of Usury but now with AI/BT they’re looking at us like horses off to the glue factory.

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  5. I don’t really accept the premises here. Neither that of GKC, that reason leads to insanity. I did some psychiatry training, and I can assure GKC that real mad people are not exceptional for their reasoning.

    Nor yours that the Lefts is more slavishly addicted to reason than the Right.

    The post 1960s New Left is much less reason based than the Marxist/ Fabian Old Left – how could it be, when it is based on greivance identity politics? Are antiracists, feminists, climate change advocates etc. renowned for their addiction to reasoning?

    Not sure who you mean by the Right (I would regard all mainstream politicians and parties and on the Left, and reserve the Right for those who believe that religion should come first0 – but the most reason oriented people in mainstream politics seem to be ‘centre right’, libertarian types.

    • Perhaps it would help if I had made a clearer distinction between what I mean by Reasoning and Rationality. As I just said in answer to another comment, my despotic Reason is the same as Oakeshott’s Rationalism and denotes an exclusive reliance on intellect. Chesterton was thinking of one very specific sort of insanity, which guess I would call mania. We see this in many conspiracy theories, where there is plenty of evidence and logic, but the whole thing is still crazy. (I don’t think all conspiracy theories are crazy, by the way.) I would say that Leftists have always been much more likely to evolve elaborate theories, write fat books, and engage in endless disputation. I think antiracists, feminists, etc. are wrong and probably insane, but they are much more “intellectual” than, say, gun right’s advocates. This is why we have departments of women’s studies in universities, but no departments of gun rights.

  6. Reason is pretty much an information processing machine, like software. It processes input and generates output.

    AFAIK Chesterton’s case about insanity was that e.g. someone who believes the whole world is out to get him does reason correctly with a very limited and narrow set of inputs or facts, thus it comes from basically closing oneself to a lot of other potential inputs and facts that do not fit into the picture. So the problem is with input selection. Like with software, garbage in means garbage out.

    Insanity is filtering for garbage input, from which Reason and Logic generates garbage output.

    It follows that input selection cannot entirely be rational in itself. Partially yes, we have thought out a hypothesis and now are looking for evidence for or against it. But there just have to be some extra-rational, such as instinctive or emotional filters.

    For me, as a not very spiritual type, the way to deal with this is empiricism in the broadest sense: just trying to experience things first-hand. The problem comes from not really knowing what experiencing things exactly is. We experience the properties of things like weight or size, but we also experience qualia. Is how my mind reacts to an experience part of the experience? After all my mind could react wrongly.

    So I observe that when I watch porn and khm do stuff, I don’t ever feel happy afterwards. This is an input for reasoning. I also hear the same things from other people. I also hear from people how a porn habit is holding them back and are trying to have periods of absence, and it is not religious people, it is average modern people who never thought there could be anything wrong with it, but their experience that in fact it is a bad thing in their lives that holds them back from achieving their goals. I also hear people recommending “incels” to try a prostitute and then others say “eh, no, you somehow hate yourself even more after that”.

    It is either that so many people’s bodies and minds just do no react correctly to porn and prostitute sex, or the other option is that there is maybe something really, actually wrong with it.

    I also observe that when was young and hunting for sexual adventures in the bars, a strictly one night stand did certainly feel good in a way, as it simply proved my masculine attractiveness. Actually earned success always has a good feeling in it, even if it would be about a clearly bad thing like a burglar managing to pick a difficult lock. He is not supposed to feel morally good about burglary but it does make sense that he feels good about his lock-picking skills.

    And yet in these adventures there was clearly something missing. Either the lack of a relationship afterwards, or the lack of reproduction or at least giving it a chance. It is impossible to use a condom and then not feel afterwards that this sex act was somehow fake, not a real one.

    So these are the inputs, experiences I can use with my reasoning.

    I don’t think I can deduce the whole of Christian sexual morality from these inputs, nor would I want to. But when wife and me decided to have a baby, that was the first time sex felt truly 100% authentic without anything fake in it. And children need fathers.

    So I can at least deduce that porn and sex are not unproblematic things at all, most modern approaches to it are plain simply fake and perceptive people will feel and experience that they are fake, they just suppress that into the subconscious. And when it is not fake then you better be married and committed.

    So the problem is with inputs, not Reason.

    But it might be just me. The only thing I really hate and always have really hates is fakeness. From my angle, you do you, I don’t really judge people. But what I do judge people for is doing things they, too, deep inside despise. I can smell people desperately trying to convince themselves that whatever they are doing is okay and yet only halfway manage to, and it smells very fake. If I would ever start a religion, the zeroeth commandment would be to never lie to yourself. I can somehow smell that, and dislike it a lot.

    • I agree with your reading of Chesterton’s “insanity.” It is actually rather disturbing for those of us who have dissident opinions. On the other hand, it helps me avoid the behavior most people associate with a maniac. Your observations on the experience of sexual immorality are interesting, and generally congruent with mine. As I said in the title of an old post, after lust, disgust. Like you, I took that disgust as data that had to be processed, and that eventually guided me to sexual experiences that did not entail a hangover of disgust afterwards. Of course there are all sorts of theories that attempt to “reason” you out of this disgust by putting it down to irrational prejudice and archaic morality, but a rational man takes this disgust as data.

  7. Didn’t st Thomas Aq. say something about humanity not being able to reason the nature even of a fly? If it’s so limited then why worship it? Do we know the nature of electricity or are we merely harnessing it? What about the nature of consciousness? The Science Cult likes to presume to know more than it does because being so much more intelligent than the average Joe is an experience they built their egos upon. For an intelligent person encountering the average is perhaps a bizarre and unsettling experience while encountering their superiors is crushing their sense of worth and will to live.
    What if tradition is a supercomputer much more intelligent than reason itself?

    The way super-wealthy intelligent people look upon billions of people on this planet is a cause of concern because they’re going for a future of ‘multilateral multinational private-public partnerships’ designed to co-opt the sovereignty and self determination of peoples, deny access to traditional agriculture, co-opt land for corps, pack them into pod-slums, all facilitated by AI systems, high resolution drones and sensor grids. The belief system to facilitate this death agenda is ostensibly Global Climatism, Earth Cult, Overpopulation Scare all of them guarding against what the globalists consider “emerging security threats”.

    I know this is written from a leftist POV but you may find it interesting:

    • I can’t say what it is like for a genius to encounter a person of normal intelligence. I doubt it is exactly like a person of normal intelligence encountering a retarded person, since normal intelligence is fully functional and is not prone to mistakes. When a person of normal intelligence encounters a genius, however, they are at once impressed with the narrow focus of the genius. I’m including many very smart people in the category of normal intelligence here. The expression “head in the clouds” attempts to describes this narrow focus, although many people who are not geniuses act as if their heads were in the clouds.

  8. Pingback: JM Smith On Reason – Motus Mentis

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