Raging Right Wing Republican

For those of us who are politically informed, and therefore Republican.

Thursday, February 07, 2008

Michael Oakeshott on Rationalism

The general character and disposition of the Rationalist are, I think, not difficult to identify. At bottom he stands (he always stands) for independence of mind on all occasions, for thought free from obligation to any authority save the authority of 'reason'. His circumstances in the modern world have made him contentious: he is the enemy of authority, of prejudice, of the merely traditional, customary or habitual.

His mental attitude is at once sceptical and optimistic: sceptical, because there is no opinion, no habit, no belief, nothing so firmly rooted or so widely held that he hesitates to question it and to judge it by what he calls his ‘reason’; optimistic, because the Rationalist never doubts the power of his 'reason' (when properly applied) to determine the worth of a thing, the truth of an opinion or the propriety of an action.

Moreover, he is fortified by a belief in a 'reason' common to all mankind, a common power of rational consideration, which is the ground and inspiration of argument: set up on his door is the precept of Parmenides—judge by rational argument. But besides this, which gives the Rationalist a touch of intellectual equalitarianism, he is something also of an individualist, finding it difficult to believe that anyone who can think honestly and clearly will think differently from himself.

(Michael Oakeshott, "Rationalism in Politics," in his Rationalism in Politics and Other Essays, new and expanded ed. [Indianapolis: Liberty Fund, 1991], 5-42, at 5-6 [italics in original] [essay first published in 1947])

Note from mAc: Progressives (ie., liberals) are rationalists. Their belief that everything ought to be questioned stops when that question is reason's ability to answer all of them. Hence the belief that society can be designed from the ground up, as if all of human activity can be subsumed under the scope of an engineering project. But there is more to life than that which can be quantified by reason: love, courage, sacrifice, virtue, free will, beauty, and the like. Because reason cannot account for these, rationalists simply deny that they exist; they are an illusion.

This is in contrast to conservatism.


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