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FOUNDING DOCUMENTS #4

Man so far as he is a being who, gifted with an intellect, possessing the ability to choose his course of action and thus able to take moral decisions, raises himself above the animal world can likewise sink far below their level, as for instance when he goes to war with his fellows, a phenomenon which we should seek in vain among animals of the same species. Even so he is still true to his nature in seeking reasons for his action, in possessing the impudence to excuse himself for his zoological nature or even boast of it. In short, in using his intelligence to be “far beastlier than any beast.”

It is precisely the mistake of rationalism to be led astray by a boundless trust in the intellect, to regard it as a never failing guide and to forget the deeper meaning of the Biblical story of the Fall; “ye shall be of the gods knowing good and evil.” The mistake lies in the belief of no possibility of mistake, in disregarding every warning signal, protective railing and signpost, and failing to observe all those uncanny and malicious complications, deceptions, traps and paradoxes of which the human intellect is capable and which can lead finally to anti-intellectualism, anti-humanism, and irrationalism; in short to the betrayal of humanity. It may appear very surprising but anyone who has thought about these matters can scarcely doubt that it was a kind of misuse of the intellect which, with a small and seemingly innocent lapse here, with colossal misuse there, has inconspicuously influenced human thought during the past few centuries to act in a way which has led to the wretched conditions of things in the world of today. The latest and lowest step along this road of misguided intellect to which men of unbounded optimism and unbelievable confidence in the intellect have been led, is that of fully doubting the possibility of intellect and giving themselves up with rational over-sophistication to irrationalism, emotionalism, to the worship of blood and instinct or whatever one likes to call it.

This misuse of the intellect which springs from overlooking its limitations and conditions stands in strong contrast to the arrogant superiority with which the intellectualist and the rationalist is in the habit of approaching us and laughing at our humble recognition of the limiting factors of the intellect as a form of simplemindedness. We are not reproaching him with too much use of the intellect but with a misuse of it, a false one. Since we can only take a false step when we do not recognize that is is false it is too little intellect that we attribute to the erring rationalist, and hence it is an additional amount of thought and reasoning which we are demanding and not less. It is fundamentally false thinking which we would make responsible for the condition of the world and of humanity and it is correct thinking from which we hope the world’s salvation may come. And incidentally are we therefore not reproaching the rationalists in spite of all their thinking with not having thought a little further? And are we not accordingly of the opinion that this deficiency has proved a world calamity? This is in fact our opinion and we do not mind whether for that reason we are classed among the rationalists or the romanticists. Such neat classifications are no small part rationalism which takes a delight in labels and tickets and which regards these as adequate scientific analysis. But tickets and labels are quite immaterial to us so long as we only understand the thing itself and agreed in the simple requirement that false thinking should be corrected by thinking properly.

Let us repeat: our thought always takes the wrong road when it follows its unfortunately inherent tendency to stray, to dogmatisation and to seek after absolutes while forgetting the conditions, and limitations to which it is subject…

Civitas Humana
Wilhelm Röpke
1948

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About AC Stewart

This poor yeoman follows humbly in the footsteps of his masters.

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