My mention of Immanuel Kant, over at Catholic Thing yesterday, was to a single purpose: reminding the philosophical types of his role, anticipating Hegel’s, in shaping our modern or post-modern notion of History, and thus the full modern jet stream of “progress.”

Kant came late in the Enlightenment, as the Prussians generally came late to things, therefore had the advantage of his precursors. The hose of the Enlightenment was already flowing copiously. What Kant did was to choke the nozzle, in order to increase the spray velocity. He was a Christian, at least in his own mind: a forward-looking, “Evangelical” Christian (in the conventional Lutheran sense). But the fluid passing through the hose of the Enlightenment was not Christian. It was the aspiration to a pure Reason, which could be pursued without any need of Revelation.

Two things were being accomplished, by focusing this stream. The first was to make religious belief “optional.” Without, I think, intending it, Kant helped to re-set the default position of Western Civ to Atheism, from Christian Faith. This he did for the benefit of intellectuals and elites in society, who would actually be attracted to his impenetrable jargon. But the loss of faith is something that trickles down — like cowardice, from a field commander.

It would of course be devilishly unfair, to say nothing of untrue, to give Kant sole credit. As I say, he only worked on methods for narrowing the nozzle, at the delivery end of the hose. Many others contributed to the pneumatic adjustments (replacing water with air), and the swirling techniques.

Kant’s other transcendental accomplishment was to secure the triumph of “theory” over “praxis.” This latter term is inadequate, and perhaps a better juxtaposition would be, theory over knowledge. The latter presupposes, among many other things, an intangible which we might label “wisdom.” The former, to paraphrase Laplace, has no need of that.

In the old intellectual regime, which had largely survived the Reformation, hypothesis had not yet graduated in the elegant robes of Theory. I don’t think they even knew what it was. True, by acts of theological reductionism, the human brain had already been made self-idolizing. And the greatest accomplishment of all had been that of René Descartes — the man of awesome genius who had “split the atom,” of body and soul. (In the Anglosphere, Francis Bacon is usually credited with inventing our “scientific method” but, alongside Descartes, he was a conceptual bumpkin.)

This is rocket science. Normally one mentions these names as part of a paean to modernity — liberation, democracy, penicillin, and so forth. “Ideas have consequences,” as the Owl of Minerva mutters at dusk, and these were the men whose ideas cleared the ancient, church-ridden ground for the factory of science and technology. Their portraits are hung like those of Marx, Engels, Lenin, above the reviewing stand in modernity’s Red Square.

They are the prophets of speed; a speed disencumbered from the old constraints of wisdom and experience, anchored as they were in the hard goo of Revelation. While the utopian conception of where we are going can itself be shrugged, as a thing of the past, we may nevertheless boast that we are getting nowhere faster and faster.

Yet the signpost persists of that old destination: a cradle-to-grave Nanny State embracing the whole planet, from which everything “non-rational” has been scoured, by the hose of pure Reason. I mentioned Kant in this connexion for it was he who drew the arrow pointing “forward” in his Idea for a Universal History with a Cosmopolitan Purpose. Philosophers could thenceforth forget about God, and focus on the velocity issues.

We need to draw an X through that arrow, and scrawl underneath the words, “Wrong way!” For it is because we have come such a long way, that we have such a long way to go: backwards.