Unreasonable Reason

by Don Boudreaux on March 11, 2010

in Hubris and humility, Man of System, Seen and Unseen

Here’s a letter that I sent to the Washington Post:

George Will wisely warns against reason unreasonably applied (“As a progressive, Obama hews to the Wilsonian tradition,” March 11).  Pres. Obama and his ilk are guided by an irrational faith that human reason is so potent and encompassing that it permits the Best and the Brightest to consciously design society, or at least to successfully rearrange significant parts of society (such as the health-care industry).

This hubris is dangerous.

F.A. Hayek, defending reason reasonably applied, wrote more than 60 years ago that “the fundamental attitude of true individualism is one of humility toward the processes by which mankind has achieved things which have not been designed or understood by any individual and are indeed greater than individual minds.  The great question at this moment is whether man’s mind will be allowed to continue to grow as part of this process or whether human reason is to place itself in chains of its own making.  What individualism teaches us is that society is greater than the individual only in so far as it is free.  In so far as it is controlled or directed, it is limited to the powers of the individual minds which control or direct it.  If the presumption of the modern mind, which will not respect anything that is not consciously controlled by individual reason, does not learn in time where to stop, we may, as Edmund Burke warned us, ‘be well assured that everything about us will dwindle by degrees, until at length our concerns are shrunk to the dimensions of our minds.’”*

Sincerely,
Donald J. Boudreaux

* F.A. Hayek, “Individualism: True and False,” Chapter 1 of Hayek, Individualism and Economic Order (U. Chicago Press, 1948).

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