The Enlightenment. It has become an ordinary and familiar thing; like a Marcel Duchamp sculpture, what was once subversive and novel, the quarrel with Christianity and that people of different religious affiliations could live peacefully together, has now become an ordinary and familiar thing, appropriated and colonized as part of an industry of ideas and re-branded as the extraordinary and enigmatic, fetishized into something of the cultural dialog, and drawing new attention to it. You have to wonder if what passes for the Enlightenment today, the Hitchens/Dawkins tandem, is not more akin to Charles Baudelaire and his “artificial paradise”, a closeted space removed from the here and now that reinforces aristocratic esthetics; Today’s torch bearers of the enlightenment, and Chomsky can be included as well, do not particularly challenge existing power structures in the West; instead seemingly deflecting attention from significant issues and spinning the narrative in a way that a Thomas Jefferson may not have approved…
It is not customary to consider Thomas Jefferson ( 1743-1826) a figure of the Enlightenment, yet in a sense he was one of its greatest men. This was not because his philosophic views coincided with those of the Paris Philosophes like Condorcet, Diderot or Voltaire, though they did and remarkably so. Like Voltaire, Jefferson dabbled in science, and as president of the American Philosophical Society he delivered a learned report on fossil remains.
Like most French philosophes, many of whom he met during his diplomatic sojourn in Paris between 1784 and 1789, he distrusted priests, hated “every form of tyranny over the mind of man,” looked on Jesus as the “benevolent Moralist” and upon Francis Bacon, Newton, and Locke as “my trinity of the three greatest men the world has ever produced.”
What truly made Jefferson a great Enlightenment figure was something else. He was the Enlightenment in action, for he took the Enlightenment’s ultimate principle; the faith that men are noblest when they are free; and helped give that principle its necessary political form: the form of a republic constituted for freedom and self-government. In doing so, Jefferson made the Enlightenment more than a passing phase in the history of “ideas.” He, more than any other single man, made it a permanent presence among men.
( see link at end) :Thomas Jefferson, “Notes on the State of Virginia:
A black, after hard labour through the day, will be induced by the slightest amusements to sit up till midnight, or later, though knowing he must be out with the first dawn of the morning. They are at least as brave, and more adventuresome. But this may perhaps proceed from a want of forethought, which prevents their seeing a danger till it be present. When present, they do not go through it with more coolness or steadiness than the whites. They are more ardent after their female: but love seems with them to be more an eager desire, than a tender delicate mixture of sentiment and sensation. Their griefs are transient. Those numberless afflictions, which render it doubtful whether heaven has given life to us in mercy or in wrath, are less felt, and sooner forgotten with them. In general, their existence appears to participate more of sensation than reflection. To this must be ascribed their disposition to sleep when abstracted from their diversions, and unemployed in labour. An animal whose body is at rest, and who does not reflect, must be disposed to sleep of course. Comparing them by their faculties of memory, reason, and imagination, it appears to me, that in memory they are equal to the whites; in reason much inferior, as think one could scarcely be found capable of tracing and comprehending the investigations of Euclid; and that in imagination they are dull, tasteless, and anomalous. It would be unfair to follow them to Africa for this investigation. We will consider them here, on the same stage with the whites, and where the facts are not apocryphal on which a judgment is to be formed.It will be right to make great allowances for the difference of condition, of education, of conversation, of the sphere in which they move. Many millions of them have been brought to, and born in America. Most of them indeed have been confined to tillage, to their own homes, and their own society: yet many have been so situated, that they might have availed themselves of the conversation of their masters; many have been brought up to the handicraft arts, and from that circumstance have always been associated with the whites. Some have been liberally educated, and all have lived in countries where the arts and sciences are cultivated to a considerable degree, and have had before their eyes samples of the best works from abroad. The Indians, with no advantages of this kind, will often carve figures on their pipes not destitute of design and merit. They will crayon out an animal, a plant, or a country, so as to prove the existence of a germ in their minds which only wants cultivation. They astonish you with strokes of the most sublime oratory; such as prove their reason and sentiment strong, their imagination glowing and elevated. But never yet could I find that a black had uttered a thought above the level of plain narration; never see even an elementary trait, of painting or sculpture. In music they are more generally gifted than the whites with accurate ears for tune and time, and they have been found capable of imagining a small catch. Whether they will be equal to the composition of a more extensive run of melody, or of complicated harmony, is yet to be proved.Read More:http://louisproyect.wordpress.com/category/philosophy/