Shayne Wissler
Imagine a world where we figured out the right direction to push, and then we pushed in that right direction…

“Did the Enlightenment Lead to Modern Day Tyranny?”

April 27 2022

Someone asked me for my thoughts on this Auron MacIntyre interview, “Did the Enlightenment Lead to Modern Day Tyranny?”:

So this is just the age-old debate about whether reason or emotion should be our primary guide. I’m reminded of what Voltaire said of Rousseau: “No one has ever employed so much intellect to persuade men to be beasts. In reading your work one is seized with a desire to walk on all fours. However, as it is more than sixty years since I lost that habit, I feel, unfortunately, that it is impossible for me to resume it.”

I am left with a basic question. I think at 16m Marc did a good job asking the question, but Auron never really answers it.

The basic question is entailed in “aren’t you necessarily using reason to make all of these arguments against the Enlightenment?” Auron then says that attempting to solely use reason to answer such questions is “dangerous”. He never substantiates why it’s “dangerous”, but instead makes a series of wild and unsubstantiated claims, such as (1) the claim that Nazi Germany was trying to solely derive its policies from reason, or (2) the claim that we can’t have meaningful communities with long-range goals without contradicting our reason.

Regarding (1), where’s the evidence that Nazi Germany was even attempting to solely use reason to answer such questions, let alone the evidence that they really were in fact solely using reason (as opposed to incompetently bumbling and being really bad at using reason)? Nowhere. Auron just made it up. (If you want to see how absurd Auron’s point is see Leonard Peikoff’s “The Ominous Parallels,” which explicitly demonstrates that reason is exactly what the Nazis were NOT using.)

Regarding (2), Auron just blithely assumes that “to follow reason” means pursuing short-term greedy hedonistic thinking rather than long-range thinking, without offering one iota of evidence let alone convincing argument. It’s of course granted that Auron himself, who clearly seems to be practicing what he preaches, may only be able to muster this weak and juvenile concept of “reason.” Auron is clearly confusing “rational philosophy” (something Auron is bad at) with “sophistry” (something he is good at) here.

Rational philosophy is concerned with universal truths that apply not just to ourselves right now, but to all people at all times and places. Ergo rational philosophy endorses freedom of speech, not just for ourselves, but for our enemies as well, even when we hate what they say. Sophistry aims to make arguments that bear a certain resemblance to rational arguments, but are really counterfeit arguments aimed squarely at short term narrow self-interest. Ergo it would argue for free speech when convenient to itself, but then turn around and hypocritically argue against free speech for its enemies. You know the type.

I can’t accuse Auron of solely using reason to buttress his own arguments, but I’m left wondering why on Earth he should expect anyone else to buy them. That’s not a rhetorical question. If he’s not relying on reason in order to convince us, then why in the end should we be convinced? He engages in fear-mongering with “because what you’re doing is dangerous”, but he doesn’t substantiate that. But if he did substantiate it, then he’d find he had given what is solely a “rational argument”, and would be contradicting his own advice.

So I’m quite curious. Exactly why are we supposed to be convinced? Is this even a question he can answer without directly contradicting himself?