Shayne Wissler
“… to understand is, above all, to unify.” – Albert Camus

The Rule of Reason

February 06 2016

If a rational idealism is ever to rule the political realm, which is to say, if the term “political philosophy” (i.e. political ideas backed by rational justification) is ever to have any meaning or application in the world, then certain radical changes in how we do politics need to come about.

Political philosophy is “rocket science”, in the sense that a rational justification of this or that political act usually requires a sophisticated argument. If it were otherwise, the history of the world would be different – our ancestors would have automatically figured out what was the correct way to organize their governments, and we’d be living under the rule of reason today. But sophisticated arguments are only comprehensible to a sophisticated intellect. The radical change implied here is: if reason is ever to rule, then the “drones” that now make up the bulk of humanity cannot. Democracy then is an institution that undermines the rule of reason, for drones can only be extended superficial choices in the political realm; on fundamental issues they should have no say.

What makes a drone? I’d put forth a simple determinant: if you don’t think “reasons why” are important, or if you don’t understand “reasons why”, then you are a drone. Or, if you understand “reasons why” in some areas of politics but not in others, then with respect to those areas you don’t understand, you’re a drone. Note that unless you think reasons why are unimportant, “drone” is not synonymous with “bad”, “evil”, “stupid”, etc. It merely refers to someone who does not yet grasp the reasons why things in the political realm should be the way they should be. And if you don’t understand these reasons, then clearly, it is irresponsible for you to exert political influence.

And yet, today we live in a world where drones are encouraged to engage politically, indeed they are made to feel proud of their political engagement. But in fact, anyone who attempts to assert political control over another without first understanding why their assertions are right, is reckless and culpable, a moral “bull in the china shop”, and therefore, ought to be ashamed of themselves. Such people are in fact useful idiots; they are tools for demagogues. If you don’t know what you are doing in the political realm, there’s no shame in that; be proud to let those who do know decide for you, until such time that you come up to speed.

Demagogues will ever seek to inflame the drones, but chief barrier to the rule of reason is not demagogues and their drones, but rather, the political passivity and default of those who should know better. A rationally organized polity is a vast achievement, and it will only be possible when there comes to be a society of of people such that many of these have embraced the virtue and practice of leadership. That drones need to be led is obvious, but everyone benefits from leadership, and indeed, in the healthy society, rational individuals provide individual examples of leadership to one other. No single person is capable of leading society; an army of rational leadership is required. If you want a rational world, you need to set an example, by taking your own steps down that path, and by rallying and joining forces with others who are going in that direction.

Without addressing these two vicious facets of present society – the activity of drones and passivity of the rational – a rational and therefore a just politics is impossible. Some who feel superior and like to think themselves rational have embraced what they consider to be a third alternative: to become demagogues themselves, to craft appeals aimed at the minds of the drones (for they constitute the majority), in order to get them to do the “right” thing. These attempts at mass manipulation only achieve what they really aim at: fools leading fools. They do not achieve the “right” thing, because what is “right” is, again, a sophisticated matter. To try to water it down is to actively propagate falsehood and injustice, in spite of any superficial use of the words “justice” or “liberty.” If you try to take short-cuts, you absolutely undermine what you claim to be aiming at.

There is no easy path here, because a just society needs a sophisticated array of rationally constructed and governed institutions. For real progress to be made, we need to revisit the best examples of institutional genesis of our past, and then try to recapitulate. Observe for example Francis Bacon’s Novum Organum, the Age of Reason he inspired, the French Encyclopedists, the genesis of many of our branches of science around that time. In essence, we need to learn how these men accomplished what they did in applying reason to the pursuit of science, and then recapitulate in the field of ethics and politics. Barring that, no real progress will be made. At best, this or that political emergency might be temporarily remediated, but all other political activity is, at best, a waste.