No society took to the enlightenment with the same vigor as the Germans. Granted, the French butchered each other and regularly overthrew their republican governments in their illuminated fervor, but they do not compare to the Germans when it comes to how deeply the enlightenment took in the middle and professional classes. One might question what drove this exceedingly advanced attitude--and unusual stability--I do not know quite enough to say, but I intend to find out.
This advanced society continued to flourish as the most progressive and cultivated society of the middle 19th and early 20th centuries. None equaled them in the field of academics, in the sciences or humanities. Yet all know that this great society went on to wage war against most of the world, and to kill off large segments of its own people, many of whom were the best and brightest of German progress.
They held the single most evil belief which has ever infiltrated the human race; they believed in the perfectibility of humanity. That through the magic of technological, literary, and sociological advancement a lasting, peaceful, society might be attainable. All that is necessary to the completion of the project, the accomplishment of this greatest human goal, is to remove all those who would resist perfection. To remove the ultimate roadblock to universal love, one must remove the unlovable and unloving.
The Jews have always been a people apart, governed by their own rules, customs, and quirks--really kind of amusing and lovable in a modern context. Quaint, perhaps. To the Germans, however, they represented two elements. One, they were an element which would not conform and consent to lose itself in the national whole, which made them the second element, the enemy within, who must be crushed and subjugated for the sake of national unity. After all, the ends justify the means, and a unified people, working together, is a prerequisite for societal well-being.
No society is ever perfect, so those who believe in perfection only know that something must be changed. Furthermore, since we are presently embroiled in injustice, a change from where we are must be for the better, and those who oppose this change, it follows, are not only the enemies of change, but the champions of injustice; monsters, to be dealt with firmly.
Change is a constant, and societies must obviously change to adapt to revelations in science and shifts in demographics. The point of difference comes with the view taken on change. To change suddenly and without thought is to invite disaster. In the case of Germany, an eternity of national regret, and universal embarrassment for more than half a century--not to mention having fostered the most--ok, Stalin wins--second most monstrous deeds of the age.
All change must be proceeded by careful thought and examination. Change for the sake of change is not good, any more than stasis for stasis sake is any good. I believe that governments primary duty is to protect the life, liberty, and property of its citizens, and thereafter, to encourage them in virtue. Yes, I believe that government has an interest in creating virtuous citizens by encouraging sound mores, so long as these measures do not impinge on life, liberty, or property.
Yet, as I reflect, the best virtues for the maintenance of peace and order in the city are not strictly rational. The human capacity for rationality is infinitely limited. I, perhaps egotistically, consider myself well beyond the norm in terms of the degree to which I engage rational thought in my everyday life, but purely rational--read calculating--thought would not be a great guarantor of my good behavior. I am, however, possessed of an irrational religious idea that it is my duty to be good, to accord basic dignity and respect to those I meet, and to hold--or try to hold--to a stark moral code.
Examine, again, the Germans. The greatest atrocities they committed came after German faith had waned. The enlightenment was not kind to either the Lutherans or the Catholics in Germany. Faith in a merciful God, who would, nonetheless, come again to judge the nations, ceased to be a serious part of the physiognomy of the German mind. Man was God, his kingdom would come, and it would never end.
Rationality is cold. The hot juices sloshing around in side us might lead to mistakes, but those same hot juices are the stuff of friendship, love, and Gemütlichkeit. I have never heard of love founded on cold rational.
I will not believe in the perfectly rational human for two reasons. First, because he does not exist. Second, God save us if he does.