enlightenment by design: build a better world?

The Enlightenment. This is our tradition. Our world view. The liberal, rational, humanitarian way of thought that have persisted since Adam Smith’s Wealth of Nations, the French Revolution and had earlier seeds in the likes of Spinoza, among others. It is also the tradition against which much our idea of “rebellion” arises. Is the rebellion relevant  or the tradition irrelevant? And ultimately, was the Enlightenment complicit in the rise of fascism? …

The quality of the enlightened mind deserves emphasis, for it separates the eighteenth-century from its predecessors and places it into direct relation to our own. Voltaire saw history aspiring to the condition of a science; Adam Smith dismissed the “political arithmetic”  of earlier economists as inadequately precise; the authors of the Federalist Papers spoke proudly of the advances that the “science of politics” had made in their own time. All wanted to establish objective, general truths about man and his conduct, and to establish these truths principally for the sake of improving man’s lot.

Feininger. Carnival in Chicago. 1911.---Despite their very real differences, liberalism and socialism share these fundamental characteristics. But fascism does not. Indeed, the origins of fascism can be traced back to the late eighteenth- and early nineteenth-century intellectual current that some scholars call the Counter-Enlightenment. This reactionary current included many thinkers, including the linguist Herder, the royalists de Maistre and Bonald, the libertine and pornographer the Marquis de Sade, and the racial theorist Arthur Gobineau. Quite clearly, then, the thinkers of the Counter-Enlightenment were a fairly diverse group. And it would be neither true nor fair to call them fascists or even protofascists. But it is true that they were (in Keynes's famous phrase) the "intellectual scribblers" who supplied the themes, the ideas and ideals -- the intellectual ammunition -- that twentieth-century fascists carried and used with deadly effect.---Read More:http://faculty.deanza.edu/stockwellbob/stories/storyReader$118 image:http://www.artnet.com/magazineus/features/kuspit/lyonel-feininger-at-the-whitney-7-12-11_detail.asp?picnum=5

The pervasive hope that animated the eighteenth-century did not emerge from intellectual inventions alone. All around them, men saw evidence of improvement, most of all in medicine. Eighteenth-century medicine looks unimpressive to us, even deadly; but its contemporaries found it enormously promising. We are more skeptical in assigning causal importance to a single element; we are inclined to doubt that the disappearance of pestilence and the reduction of famines, like the palpable increase in population all across Europe, were somehow the work of improved medical attention. But the eighteenth century found the scanty statistics spectacular and gratifying: they took the growth of population as a good sign, as a sign of rising hopes for all. The pessimism of Thomas Malthus came at the end and in many ways it marked the end of the age of the Enlightenment.

---"We soon come to the heart and soul (what an irony) of the chapter: a comparative analysis of Sade and Nietzsche . The proto-fascist character of both could not be more obvious. Sade is unmistakably a creature of the Enlightenment. I believe that somewhere Horkheimer and Adorno want to argue that Nietzsche flows from this tradition as well, but here I see only the proto-fascist reaction against it. Now if the linkage is Enlightenment-Sade-Nietzsche-fascism, one could argue that fascism is contained in the seeds of the Enlightenment, but I am not satisfied with the conceptual structure that seems to underlie this system of linkages. The case of Sade, however, surely reveals the underside of Enlightenment, though just why, remains to be adequately clarified. To be sure, Horkheimer and Adorno go some distance. Sade's Juliette is revealed to be a Cartesian dualist . The nature of sexual pleasure enunciated by Juliette and that of pleasure in Sade and Nietzsche generally reveal a dualism between physicality and spirituality, intellect and affect. "Nietzsche recognizes the still mythic quality of all pleasure." This dualism justifies the ideology of cruelty argued by Sade and Nietzsche. It is also seen to be a patriarchal male logic that takes revenge on the weakness of "minorities" (women and Jews are named here) for having the nerve to circumvent their weakness by surviving ." So the linkage, Enlightenment-Sade-Nietzsche-fascism, is being made by Adorno & Horkheimer. This linkage means that one can argue that fascism is contained in the seeds of the Enlightenment.---Read More:http://sauer-thompson.com/conversations/archives/002785.html image:http://www.artnet.com/magazineus/features/kuspit/ben-grasso5-9-11_detail.asp?picnum=2

This was not all. The conduct of all classes, even the upper classes, seemed to be improving. There was more talk and less violence. Reforming causes like the anti-slavery crusade were receiving a serious hearing; even Horace Walpole, no optimist, thought it a splendid century. Although prejudices and tyrannies survived, they at least produced no new “persecutors or martyrs.” It was remarkable Walpole thought, “No prime ministers perished on the scaffold, no heretics in the flames, a Russian princess spared her competitor; even in Turkey the bowstring has been relaxed.”

Not so fast. The improvements were hardly universal. The poor remained as poor, short life expectancies remained, and while famine officially disappeared, many unofficially still starved to death. Exploitation did not vanish with the new industrial techniques that spread, slowly at first, and then more rapidly through England and across Europe. It merely took new and often more savage forms. The law, a cherished province of the reforming philosophes, grew more repressive as the possessing classes sought to protect themselves from the most petty thievery by enlarging the list of crimes for which the death penalty could be imposed. Nonetheless, it still remained true that the general color of life was brighter and that hope grew , lie a beneficent weed, unchecked.

---Vico believed in the primacy and universality of religion: “All the people have a religion; official marriages are celebrated among them and the burial of the dead is a properly human and universal custom.” (4) He believed the universal religious virtues of Piety and Modesty were pillars of political stability. As these pillars weakened civilization degenerated into barbarism. The Enlightenment’s relentless critique of religious superstition was destroying these pillars. Failure to prevent this destruction, like the failure to manage the dissonance arising from the persistence of primitive castes, was a religious failing. To Vico, myths were not merely inaccurate beliefs waiting to be dispelled. Poetry was not merely an embellishment of what could be better said in ordinary prose. Myths and poetry embodied the authentic vision of the world. Myths and poetry appear irrational yet weave together the family of families that constitute ‘a people’. Vico was outraged by the Parisian arbiters of ethics who viewed as backward, and sought to undermine with science, the unique lands of Italy. Vico cursed these servants of science without conscience. They were sewing dragon seeds and would reap a whirlwind of chaotic evil during the next tumble of the kaleidoscope. Despite rationalist vanity, the irrational flame grows imperceptibly in every age of reason.---Read More:http://www.ecofascism.com/article15.html image:http://www.artnet.com/magazineus/features/kuspit/sokari-douglas-camp12-9-10_detail.asp?picnum=1

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