Soon after 9/11, I wrote a column about Immanuel Kant’s connection to that act of war against the U.S., against the West. I cannot recall when or where it was first published; it was long before I began penning articles for Rule of Reason; it was certainly before I had finished writing Sparrowhawk, which is also the subject of the essay. That essay and this one share the same title.
At any rate, I wish to thank John Webb in Britain for jarring my memory about the essay here and about the source of this column’s title by referring his correspondents to a site called, Counting Cats in Zanzibar and “Nick M’s” column on the 100th anniversary of the beginning of World War I, a conflict which heralded the self-destructive decline of the West. As John points out in his comments on the article, the chief culprit was a German (or Prussian) philosopher, Kant. He quotes Heinrich Heine’s response to Kant’s Critique of Pure Reason, aided and abetted by David Hume, who sustained a “philosophical mutual admiration” society of two with Kant. John noted:
“Hume’s principle contribution to philosophy was to invalidate the conceptual faculty…. In the process he reduced man to the level of an animal dependent on instincts.
He denied the validity of the senses, undermined our awareness of entities, he destroyed the the law of cause and effect, made reality unknowable, volition unsustainable, abstraction impossible. and turned all necessary truths into mere conventions…..
Kant just took the very worst of Hume and combined it with the very worst Plato – destroying the Enlightenment and setting the future Germany on its inevitable crusade against mankind.
Heine was no hero either but when he described Kant as “world-annihilating” he wasn’t wrong.”
I couldn’t have put it better. I can always count on John to synthesize essentials.
I’m writing this also on the occasion of the “ceasefire” between Israel and its mortal enemy, Islam, this time in the person of Hamas, the terrorist gang, and because the Foreign Policy article by former President Jimmy Carter and former president of Ireland Mary Robinson is a perfect example of the lunacy rampant in today’s political climate. Read the article. I would say that their article not only incorporates Kant’s and Hume’s principal tenets, but goes them one better by believing that a Hegelian melding of “thesis and antithesis” is possible, workable and in the interests of world “peace.” (I dramatize the essentials of this Ouija board philosophy in my detective novel, Presence of Mind., available on Kindle, as a print book, and on audio.)
Here is my original essay, unedited. I trust readers will see the connection between Kant and a world that is descending into a madness by clinging stubbornly to the irrationality of altruism, by deprecating reason, and by denying the evidence of our senses in a quest for nothingness.
In 1781, the year of America’s decisive victory over Britain at Yorktown, there appeared in Europe a book of philosophy called the Critique of Pure Reason. When he read it, a friend of the author wailed and called his colleague “the smasher of everything.”
The Critique did not lay the groundwork for the attack on America on September 11, 2001; that act’s perpetrators were applying the fundamental tenets of a creed founded in the 7th century. What that book did, aside from heralding a sustained, wholesale repudiation of reason and the pro-man Age of Enlightenment, was ultimately sanction that creed and disarm America. The author hijacked the term “reason” in order to destroy reason, just as Islamic militants hijacked the products of reason to destroy their symbols. His entire career was devoted to rescuing Christianity from the mortal influence of reason; his purpose, therefore, differed in no instance from the purpose of the plane hijackers and their superiors, which is to save Islam by becoming “smashers of everything” Western.
The author’s name is Immanuel Kant. He was a professor of logic and metaphysics at a university in authoritarian Prussia. He taught that man can know nothing, and that things could be and not be at the same time. His intellectual descendents have a near-monopoly on the teaching of philosophy in politically correct American universities.
This writer has struggled with the problem of how to tie the events of Black Tuesday with the theme of Sparrowhawk, without appearing to promote the book for reasons other than edification. The 18th century and the 20th and 21st centuries are ostensivly irreconcilable. From a literary standpoint, the chasm between our own time and the 18th century, when Kant thrived, seems vast and unbridgeable, separated from our interrogatory quest not only by the magnificent benevolence, progress, and confidence of the 19th – all that by grace of reason – but by our ignorance of both centuries.
The contrasts between the politics, science, art, and Enlightenment philosophy of that era, and what passes for culture and enlightenment in our own, are violent and, at first glance, incomprehensible. Yet, the contrasts and their causes can be grasped by a mind willing to address the task, provided it employs the faculty of reason, man’s only tool of survival. Anyone willing to accept that task is advised to adopt the motto of a fictional 20th century detective, who specialized in solving moral paradoxes: “Nothing that is observable in reality is exempt from rational scrutiny.” Then perhaps the fundamental causes of the events of September 11th will come into sharp, merciless focus.
Sparrowhawk: Book One –Jack Frake, as well as subsequent titles in this series of historical novels, is about men who adopted that motto without ever giving it formal expression. Like its successor titles, which deal with other characters confronted with the same questions, Book One dramatizes the spirit of America by following, in word and deed, the infancy and development of a rational epistemology in the person of Jack Frake between the ages of ten and fifteen. Jack, like other men whose minds and spirits have not been corrupted, cowed, or crippled by doubt, fear, or education, is not concerned with the metaphysics of his own existence or that of the universe. For him, these are irreducible primaries.
In the novel, Jack’s concern is with his place in the world and his relationship to other men; that is, with morality and politics. The question of his place requires, for him, but a brief query: He existed, and was responsible for his own being and happiness. Every breath, every movement of his limbs, every act of thought, was caused by him and by him alone, for his own sake. By what right, he asks, do other men claim to have a divine or temporal interest in or power over him? None, he concludes. No one – not George the Second, not Prime Minister Robert Walpole, not Parliament, not God – had a right to one moment or one particle of the marvelous fact of his own existence. In this way, he contradicts the metaphysics of those who lived for and by others through guile, fraud, or force. And so, in an age prepared by Newton and Locke, and celebrated by Handel, Vivaldi, and later by Mozart, Jack becomes an outlaw in mid-18th century England.
America is such an outlaw, in the eyes of the chronically envious, such as Europe, in the eyes of dedicated, obsessive nihilists, such as the men who hurled planeloads of men, women, and children into the symbols of its outlawry, the World Trade Center and the Pentagon. It is an outlaw in the sense that America contradicts every tenet of the multifarious ethics that men exist solely for the state, for the collective, or for some Supreme Being. The World Trade Center was a symbol of man’s successful living on earth; the Pentagon, of the successful defense of his life. In the eyes of our enemies, however, these symbols were as offensive as the sight of a leper, as threatening as a poisonous snake. They were metaphysical facts that their creed commanded them to wound, maim, or destroy. America is to them the “Great Satan,” and these were the badges of its pride and efficacy.
The Founders of this country, together with their intellectual ancestors, John Locke and Aristotle, were responsible for those symbols. (Oh, yes, our Founders were intellectuals who performed a task since abandoned by most modern intellectuals, that of protecting this country from sabotage by Kant’s fifth column subversives in our universities.) And when these symbols were attacked, so were the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution, capitalism, and life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.
It was an act of war, a war whose end is to end America, and to replace it with a static, suffocating nothingness – if “nothing” in this sense can be defined as a huddling collection of anonymous subhumans whose miserable existence is sustained by and dependent on unthinking allegiance to God, Allah, or some form of dictatorship or totalitarianism – by allegiance to anything but themselves as proudly free and unconquerably rational men.
The Founders, most of whom were Deists, went to great lengths to separate church from state. Their sense of God distanced Him from the affairs of men on earth; indeed, it removed Him from interference anywhere in the universe. This view of God and man, so feared by Kant, was a consequence of the Enlightenment.
In this country, liberty’s enemies preach an end similar to that of Islam’s, or to that of secular totalitarians; the reader is referred to Jerry Falwell’s and Pat Robertson’s vicious remarks in the aftermath of the attack of September 11th and to recent, ill-disguised assaults on the Second Amendment by politicians and the courts.
The Founders were conscious of the danger of a state church, and sought to eradicate the danger by separating church and state, their reasoning being that since the state existed to protect an individual’s rights, what the individual did to preserve his own soul was both his natural right and his business.
No such breach is possible in Islam. In Islamic philosophy, Allah and the state are inseparable. An encyclopedia description of Islam is “the religion of which Mohammed was the prophet, the word signifying submission to the will of God.” It is all or nothing for the individual: complete and unquestioning submission to Allah and his will, or the eternal status of “loser” in the eyes of Allah and the Muslim collective. Allah is the source of all law, civil and religious; Allah is universal and all encompassing.
This is why our politics has never successfully dealt with Muslim regimes. Our policymakers cannot credibly or effectively argue against the contradictions in Muslim “universal law” (never mind those present in Christian dogma) when they are the clueless heirs of Kant’s dictum, transmitted by 19th and 20th century philosophers in a variety of forms in our universities, to “Act as if the maxim from which you act were to become through your will a universal law of nature” (from The Fundamental Principles of the Metaphysics of Ethics, 1785).
By Islamic precepts, all Christians, agnostics, atheists and others not of the Muslim faith are unbelievers and infidels, and, by extension of Allah’s will, damned and dispensable. The creatures who ploughed into the World Trade Center and the Pentagon and the field near Shanksville, Pennsylvania willed their own destruction and the deaths of their victims in the name of a “higher duty,” one which, in all but name, can be classified as a Kantian “categorical imperative.” Hatred is based on fear, and these automatons hated America for its steady erosion of a stagnant, life- and mind-stifling, undemanding credo, one in which self-loathing and self-sacrifice are supreme virtues. They achieved their maxim: death and destruction of the good for being the good, good being that which they could never achieve or be in life.
“…The struggle against terrorism is ultimately a struggle of ideas, which can be dealt with only by intellectual and philosophical means,” wrote Dr. Leonard Peikoff, foremost authority on Objectivism, the thoroughly, top-to-bottom pro-reason philosophy of Ayn Rand, after Black Tuesday on the requirements for defeating terrorism and the crucial necessity of persuading America to abandon its own suicidal policies. The Founders did not have the advantage of such a philosophy; they accomplished the best possible politics with what they inherited from the Enlightenment. We owe them a debt of gratitude.
But Americans must pick up where they left off, if they are to preserve themselves and this country, Western civilization, and all the glorious things possible to it and us. They should not mistake their nihilist enemies for “misguided idealists”; those enemies have marked us for extinction, and the notion that we are the objects of such malign “idealism” ought to be as outrageously repellent to them as it is to this writer, and send them running for their weapons like the Minutemen of old. Nor should they underestimate the scale of warfare that lies ahead; the enormity of the conflict surpasses that which caused the American Revolution.
From the beginning, one of my primary goals in Sparrowhawk was to dramatize what was required of men to accomplish not only political freedom from tyrants, but intellectual and psychological independence from any need of them. Free men, after all, are their own rulers. In that sense, Jack Frake and his brothers-in-spirit throughout Sparrowhawk will, I hope, serve as models of the kinds of men Americans might and ought to be. Then, perhaps, they will acquire the confidence and ability to fight and defeat the “smashers of everything,” those beyond our shores, and those who assault them in our schools and universities.
© 2001 by Edward Cline
25 September 2001