The Age of Unreason

by Paul Mero

America owes a great debt to the philosophers of the Enlightenment over 300 years ago. Many democratic virtues are the result of liberal ideas formed in the 18th century leading up to the American Revolution. Unsurprisingly, illiberal ideas sprang from the Enlightenment as well – label these ideas “if a little is good, more is better.” As the ink was drying on our new Constitution and its initial amendments, the French Revolution proved to the world that more is not always better.

Illiberalism was invented through zeal and excess in the Age of Reason. These excesses included rejecting civil authority while rightly rejecting monarchy; rejecting moral authority while rightly rejecting theocracy; rejecting community while rightly recognizing individualism; and, rejecting intellectual integrity while rightly pursuing democratic equality.

This last example of illiberalism has been on my mind lately. Integrity is not only revealed through material transactions. It is revealed throughout the very American ideals we claim to revere. Just this week we have witnessed one bad example of lost integrity after another. Consider these three examples:

  • Participating in the nationwide school walkout in support of gun control, one student said, “If we don’t take action, who will?” Followed by another student who lamented that we need a national conversation about gun control.
  • White evangelical Christians continue to double down in support of Donald Trump.
  • And, congressional House Republicans, including Utah’s Chris Stewart, continue to deny that Russia involvement in the presidential election benefitted Trump.

This week’s examples of lost integrity continue to highlight today’s illiberalism in the Age of Unreason. Of course, there are many other examples, including promiscuous Hollywood’s outrage over sex abuse, student protestors against granting free speech on college campuses, and feminist women complaining about the bad behavior of feminist men. But our three examples will do for now.

Children in favor of gun control touch our own sense of outrage over mass shootings. That said, children are often outraged over many things such as curfews and bedtimes and car privileges. In each case, these children agree that adults do not know what they are doing. Imagine the child who said, “If we don’t take action, who will?” unaware that the gun debate has been going on for a long, long time. And, when a city council or legislature somewhere responds to these child protests, the kids become convinced that they are better and more effective than adults. Maybe we should drop the voting age to twelve?

But we do not drop the voting age to twelve because in the heat of the political moment this whole kids-are-smarter-than-adults experience is a mirage. For instance, where has been the moral outrage from these white, suburban kids for the devastating effect of guns over decades among black inner-city kids? As one commentator said, “It’s profoundly painful for [inner-city] kids to hear a different tone of conversation when the gun violence is directed at kids who are mostly white and largely middle-class.” White kids disturbed from their smartphones and social media in a serious moment of tragedy, kids who otherwise have done nothing prior to the tragedy, are hardly great examples of moral integrity and policy wisdom.

Intellectual integrity flies out of the window especially when we consider how white evangelical Christians support Donald Trump. The hypocrisy is hard to miss. Conservative commentator Michael Gershon sums up best how support for Trump will be catastrophic for the evangelical faith over time, “This is the result when Christians become one interest group among many, scrambling for benefits at the expense of others rather than seeking the welfare of the whole. Christianity is love of neighbor, or it has lost its way.”

And, lastly, the sycophantic political loyalty of House Republicans for Trump over the Russia scandal displays the least amount of intellectual integrity. The Trump loyalists argue that even though Russia intervened in the presidential election, it did so to defeat Hillary Clinton, not to support Donald Trump. Even hardliner Trey Gowdy could not endorse the fraud. He said, “A negative outcome for Clinton necessarily meant Russia had a preference for candidate Trump….”

We do live in the Age of Unreason. Trump, protesting kids and college students, do-nothing-defend-anything politicians are only symptoms of illiberalism. But there is a silver lining: Illiberalism gives rise to conservatism and it makes us guys look as wise as the ages.

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