On September 15th, 2016, less than two months until the U.S. presidential election, the New York Times posted an opinion editorial titled When a Crackpot Runs for President, which asked — or, rather, fervently challenged — if the media is failing in their duties to honestly frame the narrative of Donald Trump relative to Hillary Clinton (Kristof 2016). The looming subtext that lies in the shadow of the left-right rhetorical jabs of framing Trump as the climate-change-denying-crackpot is: What happen to reason? Hegel once proclaimed, “reason rules the world” (Hegel 12) and in light of that we can look at the reasonable efficacy of Trump’s limelight-laden candidacy as representing either a challenge to the governing authority of Reason or, with heavy hand, a challenge to the Hegelian proposition, eo ipso, as wholly and fallaciously false. The staunchly attentive run-of-the-mill liberal response to the aforementioned inquiry would surely go as the New York Times opines and see Trump as a challenge to reason and definitely not a challenge to Hegel. And, notwithstanding that opinion and Trump’s fascist underpinning, the devout Hegelian may see Trump as a personification of Reason’s antithesis and will remain woefully idealistic and await the dialectical resolve as Reason acquiesces itself as being both in itself and for itself — there is a Reason for everything, even Trump. With that, and that, said, the purpose of this reflection is not to echo the persistent opinion that Trump is a threat to reason, nor is it to rescue Hegel by reveling in the ignorant veil of the known-unknown of Absolute Spirit, but, rather I ask, is Trump a challenge to Hegel?
For now I am going to toss Trump on to the back burner and examine the Hegel proposition in isolation. The proposition “reason rules the world” can be teased apart to say: there exists a system of reason-guided governance that dictates all matters of natural fact and all human affairs. When the weight of this proposition is read out of Hegelian context it could be argued via Hegel that if reason is the governing body of human affairs; then it could be said that reason is master and humans are slaves to said master; therefore, reason qua oppressor, human qua oppressed and, a fortiori, reason becomes oppressed in the dialectal slave/master relationship and humans become the oppressor of said system. If that was so, it’d imply that reason fully developed is not Reason becoming aware of itself, but rather it is Reason finding dialectical resolve with the human agents it engages with. The means of digging our way out of this oppressive relationship would be pursuing the synthesis between the reason that rules the world and the humans governed by said reason, but what does this look like and how is this possible?
Hegel, on the other hand, completely sidesteps this criticism by conjuring a Cartesian trick by elevating Reason qua Spirit qua Freedom as being equal to God and, henceforth, making his concept of Reason as omnipotent and transcendental — therefore, rendering it as bulletproof to the aforementioned criticism and, moreover, analytic retorts, such as Gödel’s incompleteness theorem, et al. For the purpose of a) returning to our question at-hand and b) highlighting the weak underbelly of Hegel’s system we will suspend disbelief and disregard Hegel’s appeal to God and analyze the system as a system reasoned by humans for humans. If Trump’s appearance on our political map was merely an outlier then we could, perhaps, chalk this up as a historical fluke that Reason will correct eventually, but the rise of nationalism in Europe coupled with the fact that this is the second time Reason has been challenged both politically and philosophically in the last 100 years, gives way to implicitly illustrating the exigence for the owl of Minerva to do a daytime fly-by.
I will begin this fly-by by drawing from Jacques Derrida’s (in homage to the brilliant foresight of Edmund Husserl) by using his maritime metaphor (borrowed from Husserl) that argued that if Reason runs aground (as implied by Trump campaign) it is either because a) reason inadvertently grounds itself by attempting to pass through non-passable waters or b) reason intentionally grounds itself as a process of avoiding catastrophe (Derrida 13-15). These two processes are no different than the options mentioned in the first paragraph: Trump is either a challenge to Reason, as reason intentionally grounds itself to prevent catastrophic ends and we should trust that Reason will persevere (which could be interpreted that Trump is foreshadowing a looming catastrophe and defeating him and allowing reason to triumph is evident of the active and intentionality of Reason); or Trump is a challenge to Reason eo ipso, as it inadvertently grounds itself in an attempt to reason its way through dangerously shallow waters (and casting a bright light on it’s shortcomings). I will, at this point, part ways with Derrida, as the ethos of his essay was not to challenge Reason, but rather it was to save the honor of Reason and that self-fulfilling prophecy handcuffed the fully developed maturity and trajectory of his inquiry. If, the proposition “reason rules the world” is false, then what, if anything, would replace Reason as the system that governs human affairs?
If Reason ran aground by attempting to transverse through waters it was ill-equipped to pass, then isn’t it the Ego of Reason that has poorly guided us by miscalculating the limits of Reason (itself)? If Reason was to acquiesce to the forbearance of another driving force, such as the Ego, then surely it could be argued that if Reason can be driven by egocentric forces then surely it could be said that the qualities of Reason mirror the qualities (and flaws) of the human condition. Could it be further said, that it is not reason that rules the world, but rather, the human ego that rules the world? It is both plausible and in the spirt of Hegel to perceive the development of reason in history to mirror the development of a human, as establishing a foundation to argue that a maturely developed historical Reason has also taken on other human characteristics, such as an Ego (and the irrational). And, is it not in the spirit of the Ego (capital E) to champion itself as justified, rationalized and well reasoned? If Reason oppressed its human subjects by egotistically forbidding claims to the irrational, then it could also be said that Reason becomes oppressed by this dynamic by its persistence in forbidding the irrational and paving the way for it to run aground from time to time to let the irrational come out and play — and, otherwise, challenge Reason by showing that it is not the only force capable of governing the affairs of human action. If humans can be compelled by the rational and the irrational, then what would be the dialectical synthesis between the (ir)rational forces and the human subjects who are forever enslaved to said forces? I could, capriciously so, state: there exists a system of human-guided governance that dictates all matters of natural fact and all human affairs. But, doesn’t the anthropocentric underpinning of that proposition make the back-handed claim to the aforementioned argument that it is the human ego that rules the world? If this is so, then rightfully so for the sake of this argument, it is the Hegel Ego that rules the world — although I don’t expect that Trump has read Hegel or could comprehend him. But, it is of great importance that in the shadow of a crackpot candidate we don’t lose site that it is feasible that Hegel was wrong and also feasible that a fully mature human, family, state and history may need to save the honor of both the rational and the irrational. For, if any reason at all, simply because it “…it’s a healthy thing now and then to hang a question mark on the things you have long taken for granted” (Bertrand Russel) — even reason itself.
Derrida, J. (2003). THE “WORLD” OF THE ENLIGHTENMENT TO COME (EXCEPTION, CALCULATION, SOVEREIGNTY). Research in Phenomenology, 33, 9-52.
Hegel, G. W., & Rauch, L. (1988). Introduction to The philosophy of history: With selections from the philosophy of right. Indianapolis: Hackett Pub.
Kristof, N. (20016, September 15). When A Crackpot Runs for President. The New York Times. Retrieved September 15, 2016, from http://mobile.nytimes.com/ 2016/09/15/opinion/when-a-crackpot-runs-for-president.html?_r=0&referer=