Wednesday, October 2, 2019

The Weak Reed of Reason

The truth is the truth
And so all you can do is live with it.

-          Repentance, Dream Theater

A second video from Jean-Luc Marion (my review of an earlier video is here): The Only Way to Truth is by Love.

When the debate goes to truth, you cannot pretend to remain neutral.  You may love the truth or hate truth, depending on the issue.

He offers the example of a trip to the hospital.  When the doctor comes out to give you the test results, you may love the truth or hate the truth.  But the truth is the truth; all you can do is live with it – certainly if you intend to confront and deal with it.

Nietzsche was right: he was the first to explain that in the alleged conflict between faith and reason, the weakest of the two competitors was reason, not faith. 

Marion describes the strength of the faith in the believers of the horrendously deadly twentieth century “isms,” and how faith so overwhelmed any behavior that could be considered reasonable.

We have downsized reason to the universal knowledge – the part of rationality which always succeeds.  This is what can be measured and put into order. Rationality is meant to know only this.

Only this.  Our mind, our body, religion, God…. Everything is reduced to an object.  If it cannot be measured or tested or falsified, then it doesn’t exist.  It is not reasonable to believe anything that cannot be measured, tested, or falsified.  Which pretty much removes any ability to comprehend human beings and human action.

It is an interesting point – and certainly for students of or proponents for Austrian Economics.  We have come to a time where the only rational economics is economics based on measuring and quantifying – and we as a society (and, I suspect, even much of the economics profession) have come to accept this despite realizing full well that what is measured is not important, and what is important cannot be measured.

All aspects of our relationships are subject to mathematical measurement.  For example, the state desires to reduce discrimination in hiring – the only way they can ultimately deal with this is to measure the racial, gender, and age components of hiring decisions.

This does not mean reason [as defined above] is not working.  The problem is that the more it is working, the less it addresses the real issues.

Everything is reduced to its cash value – nothing has value in its own right, it only has value that is given; a valuation by another.  Inherently, reason is weak as it can only give us an evaluation.  My bathroom scale can do the same thing.

I suspect this is one reason – in the long line of reasons – why mainstream libertarians have such difficulty with Murray Rothbard.  He came down clearly on the side of objective value when it comes to issues of ethics and morality, and the necessity of objective values in morals and ethics if one is after liberty.

Marion goes on to make a very interesting and perhaps provocative point:

This weakness of reason is perhaps most obvious yet nevertheless not well known in the current situation.  Regarding politics, for example, in the US and in Europe, we are not in a situation of crisis.  In a situation of crisis, it is possible to take action and improve the situation by deciding something.

Many reading this blog know that some very fundamental things regarding economics, politics, and overall social interaction must change in the larger society if the coming pain is to be minimized; I suspect many who are causing the pain know this as well but want to continue to ride the gravy train in the meantime.

But in the situation where we are, the political leaders appear powerless and in fact not leading anything.  Not that any possible program will prove inefficient and we don’t know exactly what is the right option.  But we know that there is no right option.  That is the difference between crisis and decadence.  We are in a situation of decadence, not in a situation of crisis.

I would say that there are better or worse options, but none that will avoid meaningful pain for many members of society.

It is worth defining the word decadence:

o   the act or process of falling into an inferior condition or state; deterioration; decay
o   moral degeneration or decay; turpitude.
o   unrestrained or excessive self-indulgence.

I think this describes the current situation of the West quite precisely.  While the defining event is certainly World War One, the downturn began when Western man killed God – pure reason.

Decadence is a situation where no crisis is possible anymore.  Everyone sees the problems, yet denies the issues or is unable to face them.  This is a result of the current weak understanding of reason.

It seems to me that Western man has spent better than two-hundred years exhausting whatever is possible with pure reason – call it reason without God or artificially separating reason and faith.  With reason – not only exhausted but also having led us to this point – and God eliminated, Western man has nowhere to turn for answers.

Marion then turns to the Christian point of view – the action to be taken:

To be a believer is not to be an activist.  The political and social commitment is very important, but it should not take the style of being an activist. 

The experience of the two last centuries has shown this.  Each time believers have become involved in activist causes, they end up behaving the same way as the competitors, because there is only one way to become an activist.

The way for believers is different, and much more powerful in public.  The Christian is one of the few that can stand on true reason – the broader reason, wider than our own individual consciousness.

It’s why we are rooted in tradition.  It is to know that you are part of a story that started before you and without you, and is much stronger than you are – and much stronger than you could ever imagine.  You are supported by your tradition – the story of the people who lived the same experiences as you but perhaps in another way, making you the heir of these experiences. 

Tradition therefore gives you not only a present, but a future.  So, what are the options for believers?  From the beginning, they did not fight back; they argued.  Consider Justin Martyr.  He argued philosophically with the emperor. 

Consider the early Church.  How on earth did it conquer an empire (with the good and bad that came with that) given the impossible situation from the beginning, with both Jewish and Roman leaders aligned against it?

It is compulsory for Christians to use arguments, says Marion.  Consider 1 Peter 3:15 – 16:

15 But sanctify the Lord God in your hearts: and be ready always to give an answer to every man that asketh you a reason of the hope that is in you with meekness and fear: 16 Having a good conscience; that, whereas they speak evil of you, as of evildoers, they may be ashamed that falsely accuse your good conversation in Christ.

There is a logos to support our hope, and there is a duty to give this logos to anyone who asks that we do.

You can translate logos by principle; you can translate logos by speech; you can translate logos by argument.  Logos is not optional for us; we have to be logical.


John1: 1 In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. 2 The same was in the beginning with God. 3 All things were made by him; and without him was not any thing made that was made. 4 In him was life; and the life was the light of men.

Why do too many Christian leaders run away from this?


Consider all of the “isms” that have attempted to and continue to attempt to replace the loss of Christianity as a foundation.  These range from communism, socialism and fascism on one side, to objectivism, (classical) liberalism, and libertarianism on the other.

I keep returning to the following, as it so succinctly captures Western man’s dilemma, from Christopher Mastropietro:

There is nothing obvious to replace the archetypal image of Christ to the West; there’s no obvious substitution.  Every substitution that we grasp at is a pale image in a different set of vestments.

Do you want to find liberty?  This would be a good place to start.  The other paths have demonstrated their impotence and destruction.


  1. "It is compulsory for Christians to use arguments, says Marion"

    I agree. It's difficult enough to try and justify that Jesus condoned violence even in self-defense, let alone that He condoned an aggressive state engaged in aggressive expropriation and redistribution of wealth at home and warfare abroad or an armed revolution against such an entity. There is maybe one instance that lends credence to the first proposition and none that do the same for the second. I believe Bob Murphy won the debate about Jesus and self defense with Tom Woods. It's be interesting to hear that if they ever release it.

    As for the two passages that so many statists fall back on to justify the aggression in their hearts...

    I see the "render unto Ceasar" passage as not only a clear instruction for the immunity of the Church from temporal governance, but also a recognition of the influence of a corrupt state on His homeland, i.e. give Caesar back all his money, and perhaps you will remove his influence from your life, leaving more room for the influence of God.

    And I see Romans 12 meaning that to the extent an authority is Godly, i.e. punishing and preventing actual crimes in accord with justice, we must obey them. We don't have to honor them for killing innocent pine nut farmers with drone strikes, but we can honor them for convicting cops who kill innocent men. And I think St. Paul was saying that God allows all authorities such as they are to exist, not that He ordains all authorities that have ever existed and ever will.

    I think He allows them to exist, because He allows us free will. He gives us freedom, but often we use that freedom to construct prisons, armies, and death camps. We reap what we collectively sow.

    1. I think the point 9f Romans 13 is like you say. The point is that the church isnt to seek overthrowing government or to establish Gods physical kingdom. Yet.

  2. Any and all governments that do not rule justly and promote evil have no authority and are usurpers.
    But, we are to be wise as to how we behave under such circumstances ... and that is a long discussion.

    1. Depending on how bad government gets and how many others you can count on as allies against it, I think this basic decision structure is a good starting point:

      1. Resist with words if resistance is survivable and injustice is moderate.
      2. Revolt with arms if there is a good chance of success and if there is great injustice.
      3. Resolve yourself to carry on quietly under oppression in hopes of better days to come once tyranny collapses of its own inertia.
      4. Remove yourself and your family if facing certain extermination.

    2. "Why do too many Christian leaders run away from this?"

      It's much easier to flow with the stream than to plant your feet and fight against it.

  3. Something struck me, as I read this.

    Mathematics is often called a language and, as such, you should be able to say just about anything in it. However, mathematics (by definition) is the realm of the quantifiable. The subjective cannot be expressed in mathematical terms nor is there any understanding of it - in mathematics, the subjective does not exist.

    I have explored the idea that the language of a people shapes how that people see and understand things. A people who speak in a language which only comprehends the quantifiable would not be able to express, or perhaps even understand, the subjective.

  4. This reminds me of M E Bradford’s “A Better Guide Than Reason.”