Jewish World Review May 19, 2011 / 15 Iyar, 5771
Critique of Pure Reason
By Paul Greenberg
http://www.JewishWorldReview.com | "I followed his argument
With the blank uneasiness which one must feel
In the presence of a logical lunatic." . . .
He would be the lunatic of one idea
In a world of ideas, who would have all the people
Live, work, suffer and die in that idea
In a world of ideas. . . .
His extreme of logic would be illogical.
But he had to give up both college and the magazine, which he called Reason, when the first symptoms of his mental illness appeared. He wouldn't appear in the public prints again until his obituary was published in the
Before he dropped out of sight, he'd had time to issue Reason's manifesto, charter, and ideological battle cry. Marked by typos, misspellings, ALLCAPS, and general pizzazz-and-vinegar, it was as clear a paean to the goddess Reason as any pronunciamento since the French Revolution. To quote its first issue:
"When REASON speaks of poverty, racism, the draft, the war, studentpower, politics, and other vital issues, it shall be reasons, not slogans, it gives for conclusions. Proof, not belligerent assertion. Logic, not legends. Coherance, not contradictions. This is our promise: this is the reason for REASON."
If that paragraph had been a musical composition, it could have been titled Fanfare for a Magazine. You can almost hear the drums and bugles.
And if young Friedlander hadn't been so ardent a pamphleteer, he might have made an even more effective graphic designer, for his cover art and illustrations were among the most striking and effective since the Soviet poster art of the 1920s.
The Times, whose obituaries remain the best thing about that newspaper as it steadily dissolves into general NPRness, described Reason's founder as "an intuitive genius of design, publishing issues in the magazine's post-ditto period that had stark, evocative graphics; coolly elegant sans serif typefaces; and layouts that reinforced the editorial content." He seemed well on his way to stardom as a graphic artist with a minor in political philosophy of the Ayn Rand school.
For an ideologue dedicated to the worship of reason,
Then something happened. The something had a name, or at least a catchall label: schizophrenia. It struck him in his early 20s and set him adrift. Unable to cope, Reason's editor and publisher had to sell the magazine to a group of its writers.
The magazine would eventually become a glossy publication with a circulation of 50,000, complete with a website that now records four million hits a month. Not to mention Reason.tv, which offers both original broadcasts and archival videos online. But its founder foundered.
An opponent of the draft, he enlisted in the
After that, he slipped from sight.
Then, last December, after Reason ran an article about recent advances in genomics -- the study of genes and the mapping of the genome -- the magazine's science editor got a letter from Mr. Friedlander. "I think you should take your thinking one step further," he wrote the editor, "and write about the prospects of immortality in the immediate future. I also wonder if magicians can reverse the effects of old age." The letter ended: "P.S. I started
Maybe he'd written the letter from one of the succession of psychiatric hospitals where he would largely spend the rest of his life. Or he might already have moved to the Veterans Affairs halfway house in
No more was heard of him till his obituary appeared. ("
Who knows what contributions such a mind unhindered by his mania might have made to the American political tradition? He might have founded a party of Pure Reason, or become a raging liberal in his old age, or somehow steered past the libertarian shoals and found safe harbor in the traditional conservatism of a Burke or Tocqueville.
Lest we forget, the godfather of American neoconservatism,
In the eyes of those who make a cult of reason, politics (and everything else in life) is reduced to a problem in logic, and the answer -- to everything -- should be as clear as a proof in plane geometry. That, too, is a form of madness.
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