The other day, I sympathized with Oakeshott's anti-rationalism. Bang on cue, rationalist-in-chief Richard Dawkins showed one of the weaknesses in rationalism. He tweeted:
Date rape is bad. Stranger rape at knifepoint is worse. If you think that’s an endorsement of date rape, go away and learn how to think.
I don’t think rationalists and sceptics should have taboo zones into which our reason, our logic, must not trespass...
I deliberately wanted to challenge the taboo against rational discussion of sensitive issues.
What this misses is that taboos exist because humans are emotional creatures. We feel upset and disgust, and taboos exist to protect us from such feelings. Introducing rape gratuitously into a public discussion upsets some people unnecessarily. Etiquette dictates that we don't do this - just as it dictates that, on meeting Professor Dawkins, one should say "hello" rather than "you're a cunt aren't you." And disgust, like it or not, is the basis for some moral judgments - such as the belief that some things such as human organs or sex be not traded in markets.
Demanding that there be no taboo zones and that reason and logic go everywhere is, in this sense, a demand that people be dessicated calculating machines devoid of emotion. Even if this were desirable - which is very dubious - it is a futile call.
Reason is, and ought only to be the slave of the passions, and can never pretend to any other office than to serve and obey them...
Where a passion is neither founded on false suppositions, nor chuses means insufficient for the end, the understanding can neither justify nor condemn it.
I'll confess that this is true for me; my antipathy to inequality is, at root, an emotional one and my apparently rational arguments are the slave of that passion. I suspect - though cannot prove - that the same is true of Dawkins. Reading The God Delusion gives me the impression that Dawkins is motivated by an emotion of disgust at some of the effects of religion. I happen to share that feeling in many ways, but it is a feeling.
Here, I suspect, Dawkins is being inconsistent. What he's demanding is not so much that everyone be dispassionate but that they share his disgust at some things and his lack of disgust at others. He's complaining: "Why can't everyone be like me?"
And this brings me back to Oakeshott. The rationalist, he wrote, is:
something of an individualist, finding it difficult to believe that anyone who can think honestly and clearly will think differently from himself...
His ambition is not so much to share the experience of the race as to be a demonstrably self-made man.(Rationalism in Politics, p6-7)
In this sense, rationalism is close to narcissism.