Search the Northvegr™ Site

Powered by
Find out more about Nordic Magic Healing: Healing galdr, healing runes by Yves Kodratoff and how to get your copy.
  Home | Site Index | Heithinn Idea Contest |
NESP Reviews

The Dictatorship of Reason in the West
By John Ralston Saul
The Free Press, 1992, 640 pages

Review by Sweyn Plowright

The first question is “why am I reviewing this book?” Only because it was recommended by certain Asatruar as a justification of their perspective, and represents one of the least admirable trends in parts of Asatru, most of Neo-Paganism, and all fundamentalism; the flight from reason. One must ask, if their faith is as well founded as they claim, why do they fear the light of day?

The book itself is less deserving of comment than is the ignorance it promotes. So I will keep the review mercifully more concise than the book itself.

The premise is the familiar “post-modernist” complaint that all of the ills of the world are the fault of science and Western reason. It is typical of the long-winded whining style of the genre, and reads as an interminable list of one sided and paranoid rants against the establishment. It may be obvious by now that I resent having my time wasted on reading such unrelenting and nauseating “blamism”. “The military-industrial complex is to blame”, “rationality is to blame”, “society made me do it”. Although this and its chronic pessimism give the book the despairing feel of post-modernism, it falls a little short of the jargon and obscurantism that identify a truly post-modernist book.

The author uses the same kind of selective examples and arguments as do the conspiracy theorists, and with similar effect, no doubt without any sense of hypocrisy at his reliance on the computers on which the book was written and published, the aircraft on which he travels to promote the book, etc. Neither does he offer any suggestion of a solution to the problems he makes so much fuss about.

The only point in which I find some agreement, is in the way bureaucracies often interfere with the ideals of democracy. While Saul blames this on the rationalism of governments, I think it is more a product of what the majority wants. The Church taught people to be dependent. People want their governments to provide ever increasing services and security. Saul complains that people are talked down to. Unfortunately, the founders of western democracy imagined a society where all citizens were educated, enlightened, and reasonable beings. The reality is that the majority, although proportionally a lot smaller than it was, are still as they always were, substantially ignorant, driven by greed and fear. They make bureaucracies necessary.

That is as much comment as the book itself warrants, particularly in light of its irrelevance to the Northern Traditions. The anti-science lobby has been disturbingly effective in promoting confusion for the last 20 years, even in the academic world, with disastrous consequences for the quality of scholarship and education in our institutions, although the tide seems at last to be turning. Do we really want to associate the Northern Traditions with this kind of irrationalist escapism? Anyone can see that there are inequities and greed in the world, but can we really blame reason, and abandon common sense?

As tempting as it may be to take the easy way out to justify our spiritual perspective by denying the reality of the physical world, or the validity of scientific knowledge, it in fact merely illustrates a profound misunderstanding of both spirituality and science. Having spent much time in both realms, I have seen nothing to justify the claim that the two are opposed. Look to Midgard for science, and Asgard for religion. If you find the silence within, you will see where the worlds intersect. Faith should not require an escape into fantasy. If you feel the need for such an escape, you have not found faith.

Much of the anti-science myth originates in the nineteenth Century romanticism in which the “noble savage” was seen as living at one with nature. Archaeology has since found a different picture. The world is littered with the remains of native societies that failed after destroying their environment, deforesting their surroundings, or driving their prey to extinction. It is obvious that recent human activity has also degraded the environment in more significant ways, but what is the alternative?

Consider the world without the benefit of the “Baconian Programme”, the scientific method. Without systematic and cooperative science, we would now be relying on pre-industrial technology. To some, this is their idea of utopia. However, there is no reason to believe that we would have any fewer people in the world than we have now, despite the higher infant mortality, and occasional plagues that would have resulted. In fact the less technological societies are the ones with the higher population growth rates. Without electricity, the forests of Europe would have been stripped for firewood long ago. Deforestation is highest in the less developed countries. The argument that we would be kinder to nature without science just does not wash. If anything, science has reduced the impact of humans on our ecology, and will be the only way to reduce and repair the damage of continued overpopulation.

The post-modernist myth that science is somehow anti-nature could not be further from the truth. From the beginning, the method of knowledge developed by Francis Bacon, which became science, was designed to understand nature in order to be able work in harmony with it, for the benefit of humanity. We can only improve our physical circumstances by understanding and obeying the laws of nature. Scientists still hold this view. As I have argued elsewhere, I believe that Bacon's method was based on Germanic common sense and pragmatism, as an alternative to the plainly inadequate papist dogmas of the day.

There have been many arguments in the philosophy of logic about the impossibility of attaining perfect knowledge of the World. Bacon himself pointed out that science would be an ongoing and evolving process, reaching toward truth, but always aware that refinements would be needed when new information was discovered. Like its forerunner, common sense, science can only be judged by its effectiveness in Midgard. Call me a heretic, but I would put more faith in a 747 than in a flying carpet.

The post-modernist fashion has been to claim that the impossibility of logically proving absolute truth makes all knowledge or truth relative. The extreme form of “relativism” insists that scientific knowledge, and even reality itself is socially constructed. I would personally like to see them socially deconstruct the laws of gravity after leaping off the top of a high cliff. Ironically, it is actually the excessive use of logic (without common sense) that has led to the most ridiculous examples of political correctness, and anti-science confusion. Even worse, and of greater concern for the Northern ways, is how this fad encourages the use of pseudo-science to promote questionable political ideologies.

I can leave the defence of science to those who have already debunked the post-modern nonsense. I am here interested in the defence of our Northern birthright, the faculty of common sense. We already know that our ancestors saw the worlds as separate realms. Although the realms may intersect in subtle ways, we live in Midgard. We know from experience that the Orlog of Midgard is consistent, and can be discovered with careful observation, so that with common sense we may avoid making dumb and fatal mistakes.

Almost everything humans do is artificial, that is, made by artifice or skill. Clothing, shelter, food, tools, & weapons are all items of artifice, and all were vital to the survival of our ancestors. Without a good common sense knowledge of nature, such artifice is impossible. Science and technology are merely the extension of this process, which extends our reach in Midgard. If we are to survive, we will need the understanding and the tools that enable us to bring ourselves into harmony with nature. The old tools are no longer sufficient. The world has moved on, and there is no way back.

To retreat into denial, rejecting the tools we have created, rejecting the common sense foundation of our understanding of nature, is to loosen the bonds of Fenrir. There is no future in a world that rejects reason, nor in a philosophy which prescribes such a course. Religious or cultural groups that espouse escapist or irrational philosophies are doomed to become millennialist cults, destined for, and deserving of a merciful extinction.

© 2004-2007 Northvegr.
Most of the material on this site is in the public domain. However, many people have worked very hard to bring these texts to you so if you do use the work, we would appreciate it if you could give credit to both the Northvegr site and to the individuals who worked to bring you these texts. A small number of texts are copyrighted and cannot be used without the author's permission. Any text that is copyrighted will have a clear notation of such on the main index page for that text. Inquiries can be sent to Northvegr™ and the Northvegr symbol are trademarks and service marks of the Northvegr Foundation.

> Northvegr™ Foundation
>> About Northvegr Foundation
>> What's New
>> Contact Info
>> Link to Us
>> E-mail Updates
>> Links
>> Mailing Lists
>> Statement of Purpose
>> Socio-Political Stance
>> Donate

> The Vík - Online Store
>> More Norse Merchandise

> Advertise With Us

> Heithni
>> Books & Articles
>> Trúlög
>> Sögumál
>> Heithinn Date Calculator
>> Recommended Reading
>> The 30 Northern Virtues

> Recommended Heithinn Faith Organizations

>> Transcribe Texts
>> Translate Texts
>> HTML Coding
>> PDF Construction

> N. European Studies
>> Texts
>> Texts in PDF Format
>> NESP Reviews
>> Germanic Sources
>> Roman Scandinavia
>> Maps

> Language Resources
>> Zoëga Old Icelandic Dict.
>> Cleasby-Vigfusson Dictionary
>> Sweet's Old Icelandic Primer
>> Old Icelandic Grammar
>> Holy Language Lexicon
>> Old English Lexicon
>> Gothic Grammar Project
>> Old English Project
>> Language Resources

> Northern Family
>> Northern Fairy Tales
>> Norse-ery Rhymes
>> Children's Books/Links
>> Tafl
>> Northern Recipes
>> Kubb

> Other Sections
>> The Holy Fylfot
>> Tradition Roots

Search Now:

Host Your Domain on Dreamhost!

Please Visit Our Sponsors

Web site design and coding by Golden Boar Creations