Monday, February 26, 2018

The irony of the masters

The Enlightenment: History of an Idea
Vincenzo Ferrone

It just doesn't stop.
Paraphrasing the great Karl Marx in the Manifesto of the Communist Party, one might say that a specter is haunting Europe: it is the specter of the Enlightenment. It looks sad and emaciated, and, though laden with honors, bears the scars of many a lost battle. However, it is undaunted and has not lost its satirical grin. In fact it has donned new clothes and continues to haunt the dreams of those who believe that the enigma of life is all encompassed within the design of a shadowy and mysterious god, rather than in the dramatic recognition of the human being’s freedom and responsibility.

After the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989, some thought that it was time to liquidate what was le of the heritage of the Enlightenment. Surely they could now, nally, lay to rest that ambitious and troublesome cultural revolution, a movement that in the course of the eighteenth century had overcome a thou- sand obstacles to overthrow the seemingly immutable tenets of Ancien Régime Europe. One could at last put paid to the fanciful Enlightenment notion of the emancipation of man through man, i.e., to the idea that human beings could become enfranchised by their own forces alone, including the deployment of knowledge old and new that had been facilitated by the emergence of new social groups armed with a formidable weapon: critical thought.

Sapere aude—dare to know. Come of age. Do not be afraid to think with your own head. Leave aside all ancient auctoritates and the viscous condition- ing of tradition. us wrote the normally self-controlled Immanuel Kant in a moment of rare enthusiasm in 1784, citing the Enlightenment motto. However in our day, under the disguise of modern liberals, some eminent reactionaries have even entertained the dream that it might be possible to restore all the Ancien Régime’s reassuring certainties without ring a single shot. ey would all come ooding back: God’s rights (and therefore those of ecclesiastical hierarchies), inequality’s prescriptive and natural character, legal sanction for the rights of the few, the primacy of duties over rights, the clash of communities and ethnicities against any cosmopolitan or universalistic mirage.
"...it is the specter of the Enlightenment. It looks sad and emaciated, and, though laden with honors, bears the scars of many a lost battle. However, it is undaunted and has not lost its satirical grin."

Alex Rosenberg says academic philosophy is non-hierarchical, or "flat". Younger academic pedants disagree.  Leiter calls it a "slave rebellion"

"Irony is the glory of slaves." Milosz was a humanist. The satirical grin of the Enlightenment was the grin of those who lost.

Pinker's book is being mocked. Ferrone's is being taken very seriously.

How many times?

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