In dispraise of enlightenment

My Chief Texas Correspondent, of all people, directs my attention this morning to an article by a certain Yoram Hazony, in the Wall Street Journal. It is entitled, “The Dark Side of the Enlightenment,” and is several cuts above the usual op-ed standard. It is worth busting in, for anyone who has the means to get through their pay wall. I would go farther than Mr Hazony, myself, but he goes far enough for the first mug of coffee, in dismembering the premisses under recent books by e.g. David Brooks and Steven Pinker. I noted, and was delighted by, a nice swift kick at Immanuel Kant — who, to my mind, was almost personally responsible for resetting the default of Western Civ to “agnosticism.” We must toggle it back, to “faith and reason.”

Reason belongs in all those areas to which reason can be applied. It is not opposed to, but complementary to, Faith. “Rationalism” is not reason, but its deification, in the same relation as “scientism” to science. It produces strange monsters, and a lot of bloodshed, and is paradoxically rife with superstition and the sort of priestcraft that comes in lab-coats. (“Science” says this and “science” says that, and we must run and do whatever Al Gore tells us because of “settled science.” In Russia they had seventy-five years of settled “scientific socialism.”) Mr Hazony’s opposition of genuine scepticism to the posturings of the enlightened is right on.

Many so-called “conservatives” are enlightened. Brooks is a jackass, and yet he counts as a “conservative,” at least for the purposes of tokenism in the New York Times. Pinker is a jackass, too, I say, though from another stable: reason and rationalism all jumbled together. (Or mule, if you prefer, in light of cross-breeding between Houyhnhnm horse and pack asinus.)

As gentle reader may know, my view of Darwinism — a key component of modern, enlightened, progressive thinking — is not favourable. In thinking about it recently, I remembered that while I’ve been anti-Darwinian since about the age of twelve, I didn’t come to it by my own genius. It was a remarkably impressive biology teacher, a certain Mr Henry (American), who got me started, in the (very backward and British-colonial) Bangkok Patana School. Apart from what seemed an encyclopaedic knowledge of every living creature and how it works, he was contemptuous of textbook evolutionism, saying we cannot prove descent from the mere fact of chronological succession. And indeed, the DNA revolution is still toppling the “settled” family tree, and shredding all its branches.

I mention this because, contrary to the teaching of Enlightenment, we do actually depend on teachers and precursors to get at any knowledge. An important conceit among the enlightened is that they alone know everything from scratch and experiment. On closer inspection, they don’t know squat. From Mr Henry, among other sources such as my father, I acquired that “scepticism.” It is not the same as doubting everything you are told, except what you are told by the cool people.

You know there is such a thing as Truth, and will not be put off it by bullshit. You know that the truth is not something that changes. What was true yesterday, stays true today. The task is to discover what the truth is, not to gauge which way the wind is blowing.

Mr Henry was, incidentally, sacked for teaching that the biology textbook was full of … whatever. He knew his subject inside out, and he was dead right. He was a quiet, rather timid man, but he wouldn’t knuckle under. Nor had this anything to do with his religion: I don’t think he had any.

That’s just Darwinism. The project of the Enlightenment is larger. It is totalitarian in nature, was from the beginning, and will be until by God’s grace, it ends.