“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.