Wednesday, January 21, 2015

"Who Killed the Enlightenment?" is the Wrong Question

The idea of the 18th century Enlightenment was ideological. It was to create a cultural and political movement to overthrow the dark night of religion and superstition, and replace it with the bright light of reason. In particular, its leading lights wanted to chop the trunks of kings and princes away from their divine roots, the association of kingliness with godliness. Guess who would replace the benighted priests and the unjust kings?

But as soon as the Enlightenment had got fairly started, it faced a Romantic rebellion at the turn of the 19th century. Romanticism pointed out that while reason might be necessary, it certainly wasn't sufficient. What about instinct, creativity, genius? Where is their place on the lighted stage of reason? The modern era has been impaled upon the horns of this dilemma ever since.

The problem is obvious when you try to understand modern government and the modern exchange economy. The more you try to reduce government and business to a rational system the more you create a structure that is as fragile as glass. If you touch it, the whole thing collapses. See Soviet Union, collapse of. On the other hand business, which is said to be utterly mechanical and soulless, keeps coming up with unexpected surprises -- cheap textiles, steam transportation, electricity, the internal combustion engine, electronics, information -- which it then tries to reduce to a rational system that lasts until the next surprise knocks everything into a cocked hat.

Inquiring minds have tried to square this circle between reason and creative surprise with the idea of emergence. They talk about the consequence of the flap of the wings of a butterfly and chaos theory and "emergent phenomena."

Therefore, to complain that liberals "killed the Enlightenment" misses the point, as much as conservatives that claim to represent reason while liberals rely on "feelings." Strictly speaking, the Enlightenment has been dead for 200 years. Creativity, not Enlightenment, is the god of the enlightened and evolved.

For me the last nail in the coffin is the moment in The Dialectic of Enlightenment when Horkheimer and Adorno write:
What men want to learn from nature is how to use it in order wholly to dominate it and other men.  That is the only aim...

Enlightenment is totalitarian...

Enlightenment behaves towards things as a dictator towards men. He knows them in so far as he can manipulate them.
The point of the Enlightenment was that it was a cultural and political movement to take over the religious and political power in 17th and 18th century Europe. And it succeeded rather tragically in France in 1789. Period, end of story.

But let us continue to talk of reason.

Jonathan Haidt in The Righteous Mind argues that reason was developed by humans to to rationalize. From my "Critique of Social Mechanics:"
[Haidt] found that people do not use reason to form moral ideas.  They have moral instincts and they use their reasoning minds to rationalize their instincts.  Moreover they do not use their reason to analyze their instincts; they use reason to criticize the moral judgments and behaviors of other people, and so he confirms the analysis of Horkheimer and Adorno that reason seeks to dominate.
The Enlightenment was a political project. It was a group of thinkers that wanted to sweep away the power of bishops and kings and princes and landed aristocrats and replace them with people like them. So the new class of intellectuals declared ideological war on the superstitions of religion and the injustices of absolute monarchy.

Why did they have to declare ideological war? Because that's the nature of politics. Government is force, so if you want to obtain control of the government it means that you must develop an agenda that relies on force, so you must gin up a justification for force. The usual thing to do is to accuse the current government of monstrous and evil injustice. We are used to modern accusations of injustice, but the same thing applied in the old days, when it was marcher lords like Harry Percy from northern England raging about the injustices of Henry IV down in London.
Disgraced me in my happy victories,
Sought to entrap me by intelligence;
Rated mine uncle from the council-board;
In rage dismiss'd my father from the court;
Broke oath on oath, committed wrong on wrong,
And in conclusion drove us to seek out
This head of safety; and withal to pry
Into his title, the which we find
Too indirect for long continuance.
Really, nothing has changed. Liberals were saying exactly this during the presidency of George W. Bush. Only they rated Bush as stupid, not cunning like Henry IV.

In the 18th century the Enlightenment thinkers were raging against Throne and Altar. But in the 19th century the educated youth found a new source of injustice in the wake of the extraordinary rise of industrial capitalism: the bourgeoisie. The capitalist bourgeoisie were exploiting the factory hands in the new manufacturies and Marx and Engels offered to lead the working class to smash the bosses and give back to the working class what the bosses had stolen from them.

This strategy was effective because the working class did feel exploited and did think that force was the only remedy. The Marxist ideology dominated the next century either in its pure form or in a diluted form, with Fabianism in England and Progressivism in the United States.

In the 1920s the Frankfurt School extended the exploitation theory from the working class to blacks, women and homosexuals. Thus the class conflict theory of exploited workers against the bosses, which needed the intervention of government force on the side of the workers, was extended to other marginalized groups. Government force would be needed not just to fight for the workers but to right the injustices committed against these other groups, and not to agree was to be a racist, sexist, or homophobe.

You can see the brilliance of this ideology. Nobody has discovered a way to push back against this agenda. You can gin up anything -- rape on campus, glass ceilings, police brutality -- and gin up a rent-a-mob and cry discrimination and injustice. Since the mainstream media always comes down on the side of the apparent victims, and anyone opposing the "social justice warriors" is automatically named and shamed as racist, sexist, homophobe, there seems to be no way to push back.

Then came the migration of people from Muslim lands, and Muslims were added to the cultural Marxist agenda. To criticize Muslims became "islamophobia." Any time that there was an Islamic terror event, the ruling class and its bribed apologists immediately worried about "islamophobia" and a "backlash." Never mind that at all times in the US the incidence of anti-semitism is about five times the incidence of anti-islamism.

But there is a problem. People expect the government to keep them safe. That is the number one core function of government. If Islamic fighters are killing people in Boston or in Paris, the people -- women, especially -- expect government to do something about it.

But that knocks the whole cultural Marxist game into a cocked hat, because the whole point is to keep the majority population cowed and afraid to criticize the ruling class by ginning up offence-taking in the marginalized groups, the little darlings of the ruling class, and threatening to name and shame anyone guilty of "hate speech."

And that's where we are today. The educated ruling class's ruling ideology is threatened by its internal contradictions. How can they stigmatize people for "Islamophobia" when the Islamists are actually out there beheading and shooting people?

This creates an opening for a conservative push-back against cultural Marxism. Politics requires an enemy, an "other" for "us" to fight against. For years, conservatives didn't have an "other", especially after the end of the Cold War. But now we do, and it's one of the groups that our liberal friends the world over have taken to their bosom as their special snowflakes.

Stay tuned, because it's going to get worse before it gets better.

But is has nothing to do with the death of the Enlightenment.

1 comment:

  1. "The educated ruling class's ruling ideology is threatened by its internal contradictions."

    Breitbart goes into detail: