Wednesday, April 12, 2017

Rational Insight Demands Action: Plato’s Philosophers are Obliged to be Kings, Even If Against Their Wills

Human action, and the psychology which drives it, explain the course of society, culture, and civilization. An insight into the deliberate choices which people make carries with it the power to act on that knowledge.

That power, in turn, might carry with it the obligation to act: to move from the potential of acting to the reality of acting. As economist Hans-Hermann Hoppe writes:

Just as rationalism implies the desire for system and completeness, so it implies political activism. To rationalists, human beings are above all rational animals. Their actions, and the course of human history, are determined by ideas.

People self-consciously redesign their societies by means of reflection and action based on reflection.

The power of an idea is such that it creates both the desire and the moral obligation to put it into practice.

In the economic realm, this property of ideas guides the introduction of new products into the marketplace, and new technology into manufacturing. In the arts, this principle leads to new styles and genres.

In politics, it is motivates every sincere effort, and distinguishes the sincere efforts from cynical efforts toward merely obtaining power for power’s sake.

Ideas can be true or false, but only true ideas "work" and result in success and progress, while false ideas lead to failure and decline. As the discoverer of true ideas and eradicator of false ones, the scholar assumes a crucial role in human history. Human progress is the result of the discovery of truth and the proliferation of true ideas - enlightenment - and is thus entirely in the scholar’s hands. The truth is inherently practical, and in recognizing an idea as true (or false), a scholar cannot but want it to be implemented (or eradicated) immediately.

The thinker’s desire or obligation to instantiate a thought explains both every failed revolution and every successful one, because revolutions are above all ideological (a coup, by contrast, is a mere seizure of power and not a true revolution, even if its perpetrators use the word ‘revolution’).

The danger exists, however, in our hyper-Romanticist and postmodernist world, that feelings or emotions usurp the role of thought, even among scholars.

When videos, soundbites, and 144-character messages replace the art of the political essay, then passion has replaced reason and feelings have replaced thought. A fictional character in a Star Wars movie advises: “Feel, don’t think!”

The imperative for modern people who seek justice in any form, who seek what’s best in culture and society, who seek to improve government and civilization, is: “Think!”

One need not, and should not, lapse into the opposite extreme. We do not issue the imperative: “Don’t feel!”

It would be foolishness to attempt to prohibit or ignore emotion, exactly as it is foolishness to privilege passion over reason.

Knowledge and reason beget power, and power, as numerous proverbs tell us, brings with it responsibility.