sunset of a new dawn

The Enlightenment. Its the basis of our secular society and ints values underpin much of the consumer economy. Its values have dominated the public sphere since the dawn of the industrial age. This liberal, rational, humanitarian way of thought has enjoyed near hegemonic status and is and has constantly being attacked from within and without. Fascism may even be one of its bastard children. Is the Enlightenment still relevant?

In retrospect, the Enlightenment is more complicated and more reasonable than before. The reforming condition has become our natural reflex whether we admire it or are indifferent it is often a compelling force to be used as an alternative to public hangings of politicians, reigns of terror, heretics pitched into the flames; or has it evolved into ingenious mechanisms for public control, stifling of dissent, and a safety valve against fundamental and profound social change as opposed to half -hearted, tepid and pacifying measures.

Franz Xaver Messerschmidt.---The New Atheists believe that they are carrying out the once stalled project of the enlightenment (See Richard Dawkins Foundation For Reason and ScienceMission. ), of freeing minds from the shackles of religious fundamentalism and superstition so that they can perceive the unadulterated “scientific” truth about the nature of reality. This is a noble desideratum; the problem is that the real shackles of the mind–at least in the Western world–are not chained to religion but rather to mainstream political narratives. During the enlightenment, thinkers like Jefferson, Diderot, and Voltaire assailed religion and the churches that propagated it precisely because it was a dense and powerful curtain that was drawn over the eyes of humans. In the contemporary United States, however, the church is no longer an inordinately powerful institution and religion, even among believers, is not the most potent mythology. The most potent mythology is neoliberal nationalism and the most powerful institution is the corporation. In other words, the New Atheists have retained the outdated substance of the enlightenment but have left its vital spirit behind, have, as it were, mistakenly dragged a 200 year old corpse into the modern world.---Read More: image:

Maybe it all comes down to method. The secularism of the philosophes was at last partly a sectarian quarrel with Christianity. The philosophes paid a price for their bellicosity: being at war, they had no perspective on what they persisted in thinking of as the enemy; they could never fairly assess the contours of Christian thought, Christian art, Christian humanitarianism. In short, Christian civilization. Like today’s exposure of the wickedness of priests and the continuing contradictions in Holy Writ, the philosophes back then started this cycle of questioning; reaching the sacred precincts that normally escape scrutiny which is the basis for our own dissent industry and targets of choice of Academia for better and worse: The legitimacy of dominant authorities, the conduct of the ruling business class, and the logic of state religion and ideology.

Peter Howson. Hades IV. --The year 1848 saw revolutionary movements break out throughout Europe. The working class took its first steps as an independent political force. This had profound reverberations among all strata of society. Following the events of 1848, the philosophical reaction against Enlightenment rationality becomes more conscious of its aims. If the original opposition to the Enlightenment in the eighteenth century came from the monarchists, landholders and the church, the nineteenth century saw a new wave of opposition to the legacy of the Enlightenment emanating from those forces who felt most threatened by the emerging bourgeois society. They looked back longingly to a mythical golden age in a medieval past. 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.---Read More:

Gibbon’s cynical observations on the religious policies of the Roman emperors and Voltaire’s sardonic dissection of the apologetic gymnastics of contemporary theologians may have been deficient in humanity, but they point directly to the Enlightenment’s most significant contribution to its time, and if we will only listen, to ours; they are direct assaults on the formidable citadel of untested belief and can be linked, questions of academic merit aside, to the Norman Finkelsteins, Hitchens, Zizeks, Hedges, Naomi Klein’s et al. who parry and jab and who in turn followed the trail of Marx, Nietzsche and Freud who exercised their critical faculties and devloped their critical techniques not for some malicious private pleasure but to penetrate beyond appearances to realities, to see through the cant of theologians, politicians, and historians to expose people’s unconscious self-deceptions for the sake of greater jurisdiction over events.

Today, our self doubt seems as reasonable as the Enlightenment’s self-confidence. The threat and temptation of unreason is everywhere. It is not merely that we have discovered the powers of unreason; reason itself seems to have gone mad. The worst creations of our time such as consumerism and complementary manipulation, trans-global capital flows, mass murder; are all products of invention, of calculation, of experiement of practical reason. The Enlightenment’s Frankenstein in the service of profit, degradation and the killing machine. Science is equally known for its collateral damage, a long and treacherous road from Francis Bacon’s time.

Louise Bourgeos- eye to eye-1970. ---Heidegger also believed that “being” is not a stagnant state. Existence is constantly changing, which harkens back to the philosophy of Heraclitus. This chaotic world, according to Heidegger, generates far more than mere angst. He took angst one step further to its depressingly logical conclusion called nihilism. He felt that this hopelessness and despair and sense of the meaningless of life was a relatively new mindset brought about by the Industrial Age that was turning humanity into a race of lemming-like automatons. He lauded the ancient Greeks for their more positive outlook on “being.” This had been dampened and subsumed by a couple of millennia of Western thought. There is no shortage of philosophical arrogance in this theory. Heidegger infers that those truly “in the know” are the ones tortured with angst and dread about the nature of things and their own eventual demise.---Read More: image:

Still, with all our anguish, there are certain elements of soundness that keep things stuck together. Somehow. The implosion of part of Europe, the failures of foreign policy, the Arab revolts, suggest that amidst turmoil, ugliness and suffering, a better global civilization may be approaching. Just as four hundred years ago thinkers advanced the novel and utterly subversive notion that people of different religious persuasions could actually live together in the same land mass, under the same sovereign, so we are witnessing the spread of equally wild ideas that warfare with overarching objectives is impractical and impossible and that corporate power is ample cause for concern in this age where the corporation disposes more wealth and clout than many countries. What we have today is better than Nothing. And the rebellions with Occupy Wall Street and the great political divides are still rich in ambiguous and unexplored possibilities.

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