Thursday, October 06, 2011

Was "The Enlightenment" All That?

From an essay/review of a new book, (The Better Angels of Our Nature: the Decline of Violence in History and Its Causes by S. Pinker.) 

The review is by John Gray.

...Like other latter-day partisans of “Enlightenment values,” Pinker prefers to ignore the fact that many Enlightenment thinkers have been doctrinally anti-liberal, while quite a few have favoured the large-scale use of political violence, from the Jacobins who insisted on the necessity of terror during the French revolution, to Engels who welcomed a world war in which the Slavs—“aborigines in the heart of Europe”—would be wiped out.

The idea that a new world can be constructed through the rational application of force is peculiarly modern, animating ideas of revolutionary war and pedagogic terror that feature in an influential tradition of radical Enlightenment thinking. Downplaying this tradition is extremely important for Pinker. Along with liberal humanists everywhere, he regards the core of the Enlightenment as a commitment to rationality. The fact that prominent Enlightenment figures have favoured violence as an instrument of social transformation is—to put it mildly—inconvenient.

And Gray didn't even mention Rousseau, whose ideas about social agreements are, frankly, ridiculous.

As to the "Progressives," (both Lefty and faux-'conservative'), Gray has this:

There have been countless attempts to apply evolutionary theory to social life but, since there is no mechanism in society comparable to natural selection in biology, they have produced only a succession of misleading metaphors, in which social systems are mistakenly viewed as living organisms. Indeed, if there is anything of substance to be derived from an evolutionary view of the human mind, it must be the persistence of unreason.

Other thinkers refer to the 'persistence of unreason' as a manifestation of Original Sin--perhaps the most visible and influential manifestation.

And that 'living organisms' thing?  Think "sinful structures," the approximately-opposite number of which is "social justice," a term which is un-reasoned on its face.

HT:  Grim

1 comment:

Badger Catholic said...

Yeah that Committee of Public Safety steeped in the Enlightenment... they had it right. Great group of folks there.