The Party of Scientism, Not Science

obamaIn a commencement speech at Rutgers, President Obama took an indirect shot at Donald Trump and the Republicans:

Facts, evidence, reason, logic, an understanding of science: These are good things. These are qualities you want in people making policy . . . We traditionally have valued those things, but if you’re listening to today’s political debate, you might wonder where this strain of anti-intellectualism came from.

Obama here indulges one of the hoariest progressive clich√©s: that they are the party of enlightenment, reason, and fact, while conservatives are ignorant obscurantists, “bitter clingers” to the superstitions of religion and tradition. This prejudice is false about both conservatives and progressives. Most of what many progressives think is science is, in fact, scientism: the application of the methods, techniques, and jargon of genuine science to subjects for which they are inappropriate.

Indeed, leftism was born in scientism. Karl Marx believed that his ideas about the historical development, economics, and human nature comprised “scientific socialism,” as true as the laws of natural science. As Friedrich Engels said at Marx’s funeral, “Just as Darwin had discovered the law of development of organic nature, so did Marx discover the laws of human history.” Of course Marxism is no such thing. It is a reductive view of human nature and action, based on selective evidence, unexamined assumptions, and jargon modeled on real science.

As we now know, Marxism is in fact a political religion based on faith more than reason. It identifies the good (the proletariat and the intellectual left) and the evil (capitalists and petty bourgeois); promises an earthly paradise (a society of equality and justice without private property); and provides a totalizing narrative that explains everything (historical progress driven by the struggle for control of the means of production). And despite its bloody failure, a Marxism dressed up as “democratic socialism” still attracts leftists like Bernie Sanders who fancy themselves thinkers of cool reason and empirical evidence.

Or take eugenics, an expression of progressivist ideology that dominated American social policy from around 1900 until the Second World War. The most prestigious universities and professors in the country preached eugenics and the “scientific racism” on which it was based. Its authority came from Darwinism and its theory that natural selection favored the fit, including humans. As Darwin said in The Descent of Man, “At some future period . . . the civilized races of man will almost certainly exterminate, and replace, the savage races throughout the world.” Calling on Darwinian ideas, Margaret Sanger created Planned Parenthood in part to keep the “less fit” races from overbreeding and hence overwhelming the “more fit” Anglo-Saxon and Nordic races.  For the same reason, state governments passed forced sterilization laws upheld by the Supreme Court in the 1927 decision Buck v. Bell. Of course it was all scientism, fake science based on biased observation, the confusion of culture with nature, and quantitative silliness like measuring skulls.

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