- The Washington Times - Tuesday, December 29, 2009

ANALYSIS/OPINION:

In “Utopian new left just like old left” (Nation, Thursday), Kim R. Holmes draws on Jean-Francois Revel to suggest that the left finds constant inspiration in Jean-Jacques Rousseau’s “denial of reason,” which supposedly has “manifested itself in the utopian ideologies of communism and fascism.” This kind of hyperbole and misinformation itself targets reason.

If one takes care to read Rousseau’s writings, one finds that though he does speak with reverence for our pre-rational ancestors, he is happy with the historical turn of events in human evolution that begat reason and morality. In the preface to his play “Narcissus,” Rousseau reminds his readers: “It is mankind’s fate that reason shows us the goal [justice], and the passions divert us from it.” In his “Social Contract,” he observes: “There is a universal justice emanating from reason alone.” Such sentiments are peppered throughout Rousseau’s works.

While he wanted people to be cautious of the misappropriation of reason to rationalize the unconscionable, he also knew that proper use of reason is the best bet to solve our problems. This hardly resembles the “fascism” that Mr. Holmes casually accords one of the greatest Western philosophers, much less a rejection of reason in any sense whatsoever.

DAVID LAY WILLIAMS

Associate professor of philosophy and political science

University of Wisconsin at Stevens Point

Stevens Point, Wis.

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