Scientism, Democracy, and Totalitarianism

Commentary “Relieving people of the burden of freedom in order to make them feel safe is a recurring theme in the history of authoritarianism.”—Frank Furedi Egon Friedell committed suicide in 1938. The author leapt from his apartment window in Vienna, warning the crowd below to spare them from his ruin. It was his last selfless act. Friedell was an extraordinary polymath, and a mensch who had long bravely dissented from the scientism of his day. It had terrifying consequences. Friedell’s parents were Jewish. The Nazis had annexed Austria, and the SA had come to arrest him. Scientism describes the belief that moral or evaluative judgements are merely subjective and that only the “hard” sciences—think physics, chemistry, or biology—furnish legitimate objective knowledge. The belief is self-refuting insofar as it’s a subjective moral evaluation of what is legitimate. The charge of intellectual dishonesty and amorality did not discourage the Nazis. The Nazis’ …

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