… is from page 419 of George Will’s important 2019 volume, The Conservative Sensibility:
The largest and most lethal eruptions of irrationality have occurred in the name of reason.
DBx: Reason is indispensable for human flourishing. It is an essential tool for gaining understanding and even wisdom. Yet reason itself reveals the unreasonableness of treating artifactual abstractions as if these are concrete realities – artifactual abstractions ranging from large and often ominous, such as “the will of the American people” and “the white race,” to smaller yet still-pregnant-with-mischief notions such as “the steel industry,” “Italy’s national income,” and “the elasticity of demand for low-skilled workers.” None of these things has a concrete reality independent of the particular ways that we humans define them.
Some such notions, although not all, when used by people who understand them as being the artifactual abstractions that they are, can be useful for analysis and teaching. Yet in all cases too many individuals throughout history have mistaken an ability to conceive of certain artifactual abstractions about humanity and the economy – and to attach to these abstractions concrete names (for example, “national competitiveness” and “the U.S. trade deficit”) – as achievements sufficient to enable them, and those with power whom they advise, to engineer society as an industrial engineer might optimally design the operation of a factory that produces toothpaste. This mistake, mistaken as the application of reason, is wholly unreasonable. In fact, it’s downright mystical – and often fatal.