“Returning form Syracuse?” ….Four hundred years ago, the French “politiques” advanced the novel, and totally subversive notion of the time that people of different religious persuasions could live together, in peace, in the same country and under the same sovereign. In our time, an equally subversive and novel idea had dawned on us, that being that all out war is nonsensical, impractical and impossible. Looking back at the twentieth century, that seems to be cold comfort. However, we are still here; and that, in the face of Nothing, is better than the nothing that could have been. We can equally look at the rebellions through the Occupy movements, the Arab Spring uprising and other popular manifestations as problematical and perplexing to the ruling classes, but equally, rich in ambiguous and unexplored possibilities.
The decisive question, of course, is what will we do with it all? Either we will become victims or guides. And it is here that the Enlightenment continues to have validity for us and may still exercise a significant and beneficent influence in our civilization. For what the Enlightenment did , with its championship of criticism and its insistence on the right of uncompromising examination of everything, was to show people the way of autonomy; that is, to responsible freedom. Even though many do not want it or prefer to be led or can articulate a critique of freedom that is compelling if freedom is found floating aimlessly without relation to some fixed points.
Autonomy, Kant said, speaking for the Enlightenment in the years of its close, is the freedom to obey rational laws. This dictum looks at first glance a little obscure. What freedom is there in obedience and who determines what is and is not a rational law? In its own way, and Kant’s views had many flaws, the way is summed up with splendid economy, the meaning of the Enlightenment’s critical method. It holds that to obey every fleeting impulse, to follow every whim, to surrender to every passion, is not freedom but anarchy, which is merely another form of slavery. Even if anarchists such as Chomsky, so embedded in the atheistic extreme of Enlightenment would quarrel, the Enlightenment posits that free people follow the law, but their freedom lies in the knowledge that they have freely made that law and that it is legislation that has emerged from their continuous and critical examination of their environment, possibilities, and themselves. A tall order indeed.
Such law gives not merely self-control but control of one’s fate to the extent that it lies within people’s control. Only by following this method, and by rejecting easy compromises and the strangely seductive charms of despair, can people master the world they have made. The vision of the secular utopia…
In Germany especially where the bourgeoisie had still to establish its political hegemony, the birth of political Romanticism found resonance among the peasantry and the middle class, which felt most threatened by the democratic revolutions that began to challenge the old order in the Europe of the 1840s. This played into the hands of the dukes, princes and landholders who had no desire to share political power. In 1841, 10 years after Hegel’s death, the Prussian authorities brought in his former roommate and philosophical nemesis, Friedrich Schelling, to lecture in Berlin….
…With Schelling’s later philosophy we can say that the Romantic reaction against the Enlightenment found its first philosophical voice. Schelling sought to replace the Enlightenment’s concern with reason, political freedom and social equality with a rejection of reason in favor of revelation and elitist values. Schelling’s later system consecrated an appeal to myth and authority.
Consequent on the defeat of the 1848 revolution, the anti-rationalist tendencies expressed in the later philosophy of Schelling found fertile ground. The promise of the French Revolution, which seemed to inaugurate a new era in human history, was transformed into the nightmare of Prussian reaction. Instead of celebrating new possibilities, the prevailing spirit was one of resignation to a very narrowly circumscribed avenue of political practice. The notion of freedom was redefined subjectively, as an inner state that can be maintained despite the vicissitudes of political life. This was combined with a deep pessimism toward the ability of human agents to create a more humane society. The name of Arthur Schopenhauer will forever be linked to this strand of subjective idealism.Read More:http://www.wsws.org/articles/2000/apr2000/heid-a05.shtml