Days of Reason

Fig. 1: how to avoid genocide

Two items today.

First item, the Mayor of Charlotte, NC, and current Transportation Secretary Nominee, Anthony Foxx declared last Thursday, May 2, a Day of Reason and a Day of Prayer.

Now comes the Fox News Crazy, Penny Nance, CEO of Concerned Women for America:

NANCE: Clearly, we need faith as a component, and its just silly to say otherwise. You know the Age of Enlightenment and Reason gave way to moral relativism. And moral relativism is what led us all the way down the dark path to the Holocaust…Dark periods of history is what we arrive at when we leave God out of the equation.

First, to iron man: nothing crazier than Thomas Aquinas here, declaring reason alone insufficient for human salvation.  If we have to depend on our own lights, in other words, we’re going to blow it.

But iron manning this argument hides crucial insufficiencies.  Moral relativism had nothing to do with the Holocaust, and there isn’t a slippery slope from reason to genocide.  Sure, you can have reasons for genocide, but they’re bad reasons.

Second item.  In another almost comical display of incompetence, Laurence A. Tisch Professor of History at Harvard University Niall Ferguson lays bare the shortcomings of the work of economist John Maynard Keynes.  Here is an account.

Speaking at the Tenth Annual Altegris Conference in Carlsbad, Calif., in front of a group of more than 500 financial advisors and investors, Ferguson responded to a question about Keynes’ famous philosophy of self-interest versus the economic philosophy of Edmund Burke, who believed there was a social contract among the living, as well as the dead. Ferguson asked the audience how many children Keynes had. He explained that Keynes had none because he was a homosexual and was married to a ballerina, with whom he likely talked of “poetry” rather than procreated. The audience went quiet at the remark. Some attendees later said they found the remarks offensive.

That’s right: Keynes is wrong because he’s gay.  I’d feel crazy had I used that argument as a fictional example of an ad hominem.  But alas.  I don’t go often enough to the well from which this sprung.  Check out the link, turns out the “Keynes is gay” charge is quite the right wing meme.

5 thoughts on “Days of Reason”

  1. One minor quibble,

    “Moral relativism had nothing to do with the Holocaust, and there isn’t a slippery slope from reason to genocide. Sure, you can have reasons for genocide, but they’re bad reasons.”

    That would depend on how you define moral relativism. Historian David Cesarini believes that lack of an ethical core made the holocaust possible. Nazism didn’t really have a transcendent morality, just a belief in competing tribes, and a desire to see their own come out on top. Extreme ethno-centrism combined with moral relativism.

  2. Hey Ben,

    A more plausible proximate cause for the Nazis’ obsession with Jews, etc. might refer to Catholicism’s long history of anti-Semitism. You didn’t need moral relativism to round up Jews into a Ghetto. That was the Pope’s idea.

  3. John,

    Good points. Moral relativism wouldn’t cause someone to hate Jews, but it might make them less constrained in how they act on their beliefs. Cesarani and others have marveled at the seeming lack of any moral constraints on the thinking of high ranking Nazis. It’s not like the Nazis were generally nice people who just really didn’t like Jews, they were absolute barbarians, , just one example.

    But, the deeper question we ought to ask is: when “the folks” complain about moral relativism is there something of value underlying it? Is moral relativism the type of thing we ought to be wary of? In my opinion we should, regardless of whether it contributed to the holocaust or not. I have a hard time imagining a morally relativist society would be a pleasant place to live.


  4. Hey Ben,

    Maybe. In any case, non-Christian thinking does not entail moral relativism, or otherwise empirically lead to it, as the person in the post alleged.

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