Right and Reason

by Michael Potemra

Jonah, I’m glad you, too, endorse that letter. And you call to mind a deeper issue: I’m not a big fan of people who deploy what they believe to be “ruthless and unforgiving logic.” I am regularly informed by pro-choicers — to take one example — that because I support the legal protection of unborn life, I must favor the incarceration of the millions of American women who have had abortions; and I have even been told that I have to support clinic bombers (isn’t it just like killing a concentration-camp guard? huh? huh?).

George Will has often been quoted as saying, “The four most important words in politics are ‘up to a point.’” I’m not sure he said it, and I’m sure that if he did say it he did not intend it as an endorsement of an unprincipled, irrationalist approach to politics. But it is a valuable observation about the limits of logic when it is applied in rhetorical situations. Sometimes the people who most flatter themselves about their devotion to logic are the least reasonable. As Chesterton once famously put it: “The madman is not the man who has lost his reason. The madman is the man who has lost everything except his reason. The madman’s explanation of a thing is always complete, and often in a purely rational sense satisfactory. Or, to speak more strictly, the insane explanation, if not conclusive, is at least unanswerable.”

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