November 19, 2013

The Lack of Contemporary Systematic Thinking

By In C.Jay Engel

In the preface to Man, Economy, and State Murray Rothbard laments the loss of “old-fashioned treatise on economic ‘principles’” during the mid to late twentieth century.  He goes on to argue that the disappearance of this type of treatise gave rise to a new genre of economic discussion, which was simply “myriad bits and pieces of uncoordinated analysis.”  Rothbard’s main complaint here is that post World War II scholars, economists, and theorists failed to present economics as a holistic framework, with inherent “principles” and a “comprehensive edifice.”  Rather, the trend was to present economics in an “appallingly fragmented, dissociated” manner.

I like to echo that frustration and generalize the issue as a deeper and more systemic cancer in contemporary scholarship.  The problem is that intellectual leaders today tend to leave behind the systematic and traditional logical formulation and have subsequently adopted a more “readable,” easier format.  This trend has trickled throughout the masses to the point where today, millions of people have lost a desire to construct a system of beliefs.  Instead, opinions are developed arbitrarily and based on emotional commitments.  It is almost as if we treat any given subject matter as existing within a vacuum and refuse to acknowledge its dependence on the nature of reality as a whole.  What is in question here in economics, and in theology, law, politics, and philosophy in general, is this: the era of systematic thinking, with few exceptions, is largely marginalized in favor of a theme-based analysis of the topic at hand.  In other words, thoughts are not constructed deductively and thoroughly, but rather sporadically, emotionally, and without regard to a philosophical or theological foundation.

But this is God’s world.  He is the necessary foundation and nothing exists without Him at the basis.  Therefore, things do not exists arbitrarily.

John W. Robbins says it like this in his discussion of Gordon H. Clark:

“Continuing with the idea of logical deduction, the [Westminster] Confession says: ‘The whole counsel of God, concerning all things necessary for his own glory, man’s salvation, faith, and life, is either expressly set down in scripture, or by good and necessary consequence may be deduced from scripture: unto which nothing at any time is to be added, whether by new revelations of the Spirit or traditions of men.'”

God has built a system that is coherent and consistent because it flows from His nature.  The essence of God has poured forth into the creation of the world and therefore reflects Him in every way.  Scripture is the axiom.  Everything else is deduced from principles that are learned there.

Everything relates to something else in the sense that all effects have a cause.  Nothing exists in a vacuum.  It would be healthy for the modern intellectual or scholar to realize this and apply it to his study.  Even for the layman, this is vital.  It makes the world make sense.

Written by C.Jay Engel

Editor and creator of The Reformed Libertarian. Living in Northern California with his wife, he writes on everything from politics to theology and from culture to economic theory. You can send an email to reformedlibertarian@gmail.com