The Enlightenment Legacy

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					The Enlightenment’s Legacy
       Prof Mark Knights
              Key questions
• Why is it important for modernists to
  understand the Enlightenment?
• What was its legacy and why is that legacy a
  controversial one?
• Isms: liberalism, socialism, conservatism,
  romanticism, fascism, colonialism,
• Is the Enlightenment a useful term, does it
  have a coherence, a common set of values?
   The Enlightenment Legacy for the
            Modern World
1) Liberalism: toleration of
   opinion and of religions;
   separation of church and
   state; consensual
   government; free
   speech; free market
   (social progress through
   the market;
   capitalism); natural
   rights (right to resist
   tyranny in self-defence,
   natural equality and
   liberty, sexual liberty).
   1859, John Stuart Mill,
   On Liberty
  2) Socialism
• Brotherhood and sociability
• Rousseau’s Social Contract
• Natural equality. Rousseau’s A
  Discourse on Inequality (1754).
• Utilitarianism – the greatest
  happiness of the greatest
• The French revolution and
                                    "Liberty Leading the People", (Eugene Delacroix, 1830).
  social revolution
• Rational planning. Henri Comte
  de Saint-Simon (1760-1825),
  founder of French socialism,
  influence on Karl Marx –
  eradicating the hand of greed;
  planned society
• Charles Fourier (1772-1837),
  another Utopian socialists
  thinker – decent minimum
  wage to eradicate poverty and                 Fourier’s Phalanstère (1834)
  communal approach to society
  3) Scientific and medical mentalities
• Confidence in
  scientific approach
• Public health,
• Scientific societies
  (Lunar Society)
• Museums and
• Science and industry
• Scientific truth
       4) International

• C18th era of warfare – large-scale wars on a frequent
  basis. 7 Years War 1756-1763: war on a global scale.
  Wars against France 1792-1815
• Enlightenment critique of war based on emergence of
  international law – right of states to defend themselves
  but also benefit of peaceful co-existence
• Saint-Pierre, Project for Settling an Everlasting Peace
  (1712); Jean-Jacques Rousseau and Immanuel Kant
  both wrote schemes for ‘perpetual peace’ via
  international communities
• League of Nations 1919-45, United Nations (1945),
  European community
      Rejecting or questioning the

Important to recognise that ‘enlightening’ was a
  contested process in the eighteenth century.
  Strong adherence amongst some to the
  ‘ancien régime’, including at the popular level.
A satire of Joseph Priestley and Tom Paine, supping
     with the devil and depicted as dangerous
               1) Conservatism
• Particularly in
  response to the
  French revolution
• Edmund Burke,
  Reflections on the
  French Revolution
  (1790), rejected
  natural rights in
  favour of what was
  tried and tested eg
  monarchy and church
• Joseph de Maistre
  (1753-1821) stressed
  hierarchy, order,
  church (catholic)      Burke’s Reflections bearing down on Dr Price

• Regimes of 1849-1918
•   Edmund Burke's Philosophical
    Inquiry into the Sublime and
    Beautiful (1757)
                                            2) Romanticism
•   Influence of Jean-Jacques Rousseau
    (the Enlightenment critiquing
    itself): reaction against the
    excessive stress on reason, instead
    emphasising emotion and feeling,
    including rapture of nature. The
    Confessions (completed 1770, pub.
    1781) – self-conscious
    autobiography. ‘I must have
    mountain torrents, steep rocks, firs,
    dark forests, mountains, roads
    to climb or descend, precipices at
    my side to frighten me’.
•   Brothers Grimm’s folk tales (1812-
•   Romantic movement of 1790-1840s
•   Irrationalism 1880-1920s
•   psychology
                     3) Colonialism

Global empires, c.1750. The Enlightenment was strongest in colonising nations
             4) Racism: ambiguities
• On the one hand a drive against
  intellectual slavery
• On the other, the C18th
  witnessed the enslavement of
  many (6 million Africans
  transported by Britain, France,
  Spain, Holland)
• Categorisation of exotic peoples –
  notions of primitive, savage.
  Enlightenment could lead to a
  sense of alienation over the
  people or things that were
  dominated. Cultural superiority?
• Rousseau and Denis Diderot
  attempted to praise ‘noble
  savage’; and Voltaire attacked the
  fact that the price of sugar
  consumption was slavery; but
  more done against the slave trade
  by evangelicals?                     A Maori chief as drawn by Sydney Parkinson,
                                               Thomas Cook’s artist (1769)
             5) Sexism: ambiguities
• Some traditional ways of thinking:
  Rousseau in Emile (1762) ‘Sophie
  should be a woman as Emile is a
  man.… woman is specially made
  to please man’.
• Attacked by Mary Wollstonecraft,
  A Vindication of the Rights of
  Women (1792) : Is one half of the
  human species, like the poor
  African slaves, to be subject to
  prejudices that brutalise them,
  when principles would be a surer
  guard, only to sweeten the cup of
  man? Is not this indirectly to deny
  woman reason? for a gift is a
  mockery, if it be unfit for use
• Marquis de Sade, Juliette (1797),
  sexual freedom – what were the
         6) Fascism and absolutism
• Jean-Jacques Rousseau’s
  Social Contract (1762): the
  force of the general will,
  forcing to be free
• Enlightened absolutism:
  harnessing enlightened
  ideals to enhance the
  power of the state,
  particularly in eastern
  Europe (Prussia, Russia,
  Austria). Bureaucratic
  domination. All subjects
  become instrumental to
  the state. Theology
  displaced by a form of
Francisco de Goya, The Sleep of
   Reason Produces Monsters,
   Etching and aquatint
   (Caprichos no. 43: El sueño
   de la razon produce
   monstruos.), 1796-1797
   The critique of Theodor Adorno & Max
Horkheimer, Dialectic of Enlightenment [1944,
       “The flood of detailed information and candy-floss
entertainment simultaneously instructs and stultifies mankind;
progress becomes regression…. Enlightenment is as totalitarian
                          as any system”
     "In the most general sense of progressive thought, the
  Enlightenment has always aimed at liberating men from fear
   and establishing their sovereignty. Yet the fully enlightened
               earth radiates disaster triumphant”
 ‘Mankind, instead of entering into a truly human condition, is
              sinking into a new kind of barbarism’
  ‘We are wholly convinced that social freedom is inseparable
from enlightened thought. Nevertheless, the notion of this very
    way of thinking already contains the seed of the reversal
                   universally apparent today’
  Irresponsible, fantastical utopianism
• Thinkers as dreamers, enthusiasts whose cult of reason was
  irrational. Adorno and Horkheimer, ‘Pure reason became
• Belief in human perfectibility and progress is naïve and
• Progress and reason defeat themselves: ‘Progress has a
  tendency to destroy the very ideas it is supposed to realise
  and unfold. Endangered by the process of technical
  civilisation is the ability of independent thinking itself.
  Reason today seems to suffer from a kind of disease. This is
  true in the life of the individual as well as of society. The
  individual pays for the tremendous achievements of
  modern industry, for his increased technical sill and access
  to goods and services, with a deepening impotence against
  the concentrated power of the society which he is
  supposed to control’.
     7) The postmodern challenge
• Critical of the Enlightenment’s
  notion of ‘truth’; post-modernism stresses relativism
  notions of class, gender and race
  meta-narrative of progress of Western civilisation and
  claim to be the ‘origins’ of modernity
  confidence in human agency – rather post-modernism
  stresses the way in which cultures shape individuals
  its sense of domination – intellectual, cultural, colonial,
  environmental (has a scientific way of thinking about
  crop production been a good thing?)
                  Useful term?
• Is the Enlightenment a useful term, does it have a
  coherence, a common set of values? It has
  evolved to mean many different things.
• ‘the’?
• Enlightenments – according to time and place?
  According to status, gender, race
• Do the ideas of the Enlightenment still have any
  use for us in the C21st? Is it the cause of all ills? Is
  its approach wrong-headed? Do we have
  confidence in progress and reason?
    Kant, An Answer to the Question:
         What is Enlightenment

Enlightenment is man’s release from his self-
  incurred tutelage. Tutelage is man’s inability to
  make use of his understanding without
  direction from another. This tutelage is self-
  incurred when its cause lies not in lack of
  reason but in lack of resolution and courage to
  use it without direction from another. Sapere
  aude! Have the courage to use your own
  reason! That is the motto of the