Wednesday, 23 April 2008

Professor Grayling's Enlightenment Club

It is not often that a philosopher plays the role of fish in a barrel, and still rarer that one who does has a name that is most appropriate to the sport; so it is with the keenest sense of opportunity that I aim a few shots at the esteemed Professor A.C. Grayling as he disports himself in the clear waters of simplicity. Now, be it said that when philosophers are wrong, they are usually — as a matter of professional pride — wrong in the most complicated manner imaginable, but since we are speaking of roles, we might note, as a possible excuse for his simple wrongness, that Professor Grayling is not merely a philosopher: he is also a public intellectual, a man of the press, a book-flogger, a political communicator, even a terrible little simplifier — the sum of which, though embulgent to wallet and influence, can be most dangerous to a philosopher’s speech, not to say to his intellect, and which, in the case of the clever Professor Grayling, might account for his piscine disportment.
     The simple wrongness of which I speak concerns a view of the Enlightenment, and — if we are to get straight to the heart of the matter — it concerns Professor Grayling’s professed claim that men of his kind, that is to say, modern liberal-leftists, are its rightful heirs at the exclusion of other claimants. This view is as follows:
As to the weary old canard about the 20th-century totalitarianisms: it astonishes me how those who should know better can fail to see them as quintessentially counter-Enlightenment projects, and ones which the rest of the Enlightenment-derived world would not put up with and therefore defeated: Nazism in 17 years and Soviet communism in 70. They were counter-Enlightenment projects because they rejected the idea of pluralism and its concomitant liberties of thought and the person, and in the time-honoured unEnlightened way forcibly demanded submission to a monolithic ideal. [1]
The principal error here is not so much the belief that totalitarianism is quintessentially a project of counter-Enlightenment — although that is a belief which oddly fails to acknowledge the essential role that the Enlightenment played in its development — as much as the belief that the projects of Enlightenment were solely, uniquely, or even mainly devoted to the idea of pluralism, that is, to the idea that there is a diversity of goals and ways of life, the validity of which ought to be acknowledged, and the existence of which ought to be tolerated and even preserved, an idea which in fact stands in stark contrast to the rationalistic universalism and monistic systemisation of some currents of the Enlightenment. [2]
     Professor Grayling’s identification of pluralism as a necessary criterion for projects of Enlightenment has an interesting consequence: for, if projects which reject the idea of pluralism are thereby projects of counter-Enlightenment, and if the universal projects of the Enlightenment rejected the idea of pluralism to the degree and in the nature by which they were universal, then the universal projects of the Enlightenment were projects of the counter-Enlightenment to the degree and in the nature by which they were universal.
     But, in leaning over to take a few preliminary shots at Professor Grayling, we ourselves had better not be seduced by simplicities, lest we too become the sport of others. First, then, let us make a few admissions and disclaimers.
     We must first of all admit that the Enlightenment was a process of emancipation from traditional authorities and strictures, but that it was a complex and dialectical process between a large number of critical and conservative ideas, in currents that were rationalistic and anti-rationalistic, radical and moderate.
In disregarding the variety of the currents we risk projecting our own aspirations and aversions upon a self-made image of the past. [3]
It is not to be doubted that liberty of thought and deed was one of the demands of the Enlightenment, but, before we get carried away with words, let us recall Lord Acton’s saying: “At all times sincere friends of freedom have been rare.” [4] And let us recall that equality was a demand of the Enlightenment too — and who can calculate the cost to liberty and plurality that the ideal of equality has incurred? From Spinoza and Van den Enden, through Radicati and Rousseau, down to Robespierre, Saint-Just, and the Jacobins, the radical current of the Enlightenment conceived of liberty on the basis of equality and in reference to the general will. [5]
     The idea of the general will, a term first coined by Diderot but tracing back to Spinoza, found in Rousseau its most influential expression, at least for the later revolutionaries:
In order . . . that the social compact may not be an empty formula, it tacitly includes the undertaking, which alone can give force to the rest, that whoever refuses to obey the general will shall be compelled to do so by the whole body. This means nothing less than that he will be forced to be free. [6]
In Rousseau’s scheme, the general will is the sovereign power, whereby individual particularities and paths are obstacles and deviations from the fulfilment of the potential of that will as embodied in the people, nation, or society, and wherefrom there is to be no freedom. It is also therein that we see the traces of modern nationalism that first come to constitutional form in the moderate phase of the French Revolution. Article 3 of the Declaration of the Rights of Man and Citizen stated:
The source of all sovereignty resides essentially in the nation; no group, no individual may exercise authority not emanating expressly therefrom. [7]
Later, on the eve of the radical phase of the Revolution, the National Convention unanimously approved Jean-Paul Rabaut de Saint-Etienne’s Project of National Education, which sought to give “the same, uniform ideas” to all Frenchmen. [8]
     We see in Rousseau’s scheme, not only a rejection of pluralism, not only the promotion of collectivism and the beginnings of modern nationalism, but also the idea of social utility, whereby the criterion of what is good is determined by fitness to the general will. Only that which serves society as a whole deserves to be called good — and only that deserves to be preserved.
If the State is a moral person whose life is in the union of its members, and if the most important of its cares is the care for its own preservation, it must have a universal and compelling force, in order to move and dispose each part as may be most advantageous to the whole. [9]
A scheme for the movement and disposal of individuals by a universally compelling State at the behest and advantage of the whole is the essential definition and conditio sine qua non of totalitarianism, which is not mere absolutism or despotism, but rather an ideal, a practice, or its approximation that seeks to absorb the individual without differentiation into the whole, whether that whole be called people, nation, or society, and whether it be defined by the prejudices of democracy, nationalism, or socialism.
     Other figures of the radical Enlightenment had similar conceptions, whether of communism or proto-socialism, general-will absolutism or inchoate modern nationalism, though few were so central or influential as Rousseau. [10] Now, if Jean-Jacques Rousseau was not a figure of the Enlightenment, then I’m a national-socialist Dutchman. [11] It is therefore neither an exaggeration nor a weary old canard to say that some projects of the Enlightenment were themselves totalitarian in character or that they were an inspiration to subsequent regimes. Indeed to the degree that the very idea of a social project of mass-mobilisation towards a collective goal was, in modern times, not found until it was expressed in the ideals and projects of the Enlightenment, we can take as a clue to the origin of totalitarianism in these times.
     There is plenty more to say about Rousseau himself; but there is really no better argument against him — or rather, against Professor Grayling’s beliefs about the Enlightenment — than simply to read his books. [12]

Towards the end of the eighteenth century, several philosopher-enlighteners in Germany, most notably Immanuel Kant, were prompted to ask: what is enlightenment? Our question, however, is significantly different; for whilst theirs was primarily a question of the definition of an ideal and the means by which it might be realised, a question which, though it elicited a retrospection of the process of enlightenment thitherto, remained nevertheless wedded to the hopes and intentions for its effects, ours here is primarily a question of the Enlightenment as an historical process: from ideals through means to effects. So, though the two questions are not fully independent of one another, we see that the answers might tend towards two different poles: — on the one side: well-paved roads of intentions, good and bad; and on the other: heaven, hell, and other destinations.
     “Our age is the age of criticism, to which everything must be subjected,” [13] said the great Kant, thereby giving voice to one of the moving spirits of the Enlightenment that found one of its principle forms in rationalism — to be understood in the loose sense of making reason the primary basis or determinant of authority in all areas of human life.
[Enlightenment] is nothing more than the effort of the human spirit to bring to light, according to principle of a pure doctrine of reason and for the promotion of utility, all the objects of the world of ideas, all human opinions and their consequences, and everything that has influence on humanity. [14]
So said Andreas Riem, who well expressed the optimism amongst some of the enlighteners, the desire amongst them to see utility extended to all areas of human life, and above all the belief that human reason is so powerful, or the world so simple, that the enlighteners would be able unfailingly to determine the consequences of their ideas before they were put into action. In that happy fancy, there is no law of unintended consequences, the understanding of which is itself the consequence of the bitter lesson that ideas and deeds have countless and unforeseeable consequences extending to the nth degree; no, for these enlighteners, one need only bring an idea under the light of reason to determine all its consequences.
     Immanuel Kant’s more famous definition of enlightenment — “mankind’s exit from its self-incurred immaturity” [15] — looks fine at first sight, so long as we do not take it to refer to an actual and general process in the so-called Age of Enlightenment. But, as Johann Georg Hamann, friend of Kant but foe of Enlightenment, was quick to point out: one need not wonder for long who would be the guardians of the so-called immature ones until they reached their maturity — the enlighteners themselves, perhaps even with the help of a well-disposed monarch with a “well-disciplined army” [16] to back them up. “My transfiguration of the Kantian definition” said Hamann, “comes to this: true enlightenment consists in an emergence of the immature person from a supremely self-incurred guardianship.” [17]
The enlightenment of our century is . . . a mere northern light, from which can be prophesied no cosmopolitical chiliasm except in a nightcap & by the stove. All prattle and reasoning of the emancipated immature ones, who set themselves up as guardians of those who are themselves immature, but guardians equipped with couteaux de chasse and daggers—all this is a cold, unfruitful moonlight without enlightenment for the lazy understanding and without warmth for the cowardly will—and the entire response to the question which has been posed is a blind illumination for every immature one who walks at noon. [18]
Another critic of the Enlightenment, Friedrich Heinrich Jacobi, one of the first classical liberals in Germany, deplored the enlightened despotism to which so many of the enlighteners prescribed.
The great mass of our thinkers . . . want to see the essentially true and the essentially good spread by power, and want to see every error suppressed by power. They would like to help promote an enlightenment — elsewhere than in the understanding, because that takes too long [—] . . . toward the greatest good on earth; forward, on the path of violence and subjugation! [19]
As such critics pointed out, the self-incurred guardians of the Enlightenment took themselves to be the sole judges of enlightenment, the determiners of the true and of the good.
We see incontrovertibly that men who are not themselves in the position to know what is good for them and to strive for it are even less able to owe their well-being to the virtue of a guardian who is without a judge and who will never allow them to achieve maturity. [20]
Herr Jacobi’s words are an epitaph to private freedom that should be inscribed over every door to every parliament in the world; for this self-incurred guardianship has not gone away, but, on the contrary, has grown stronger by the year, as a matter of political freedom; and if you are looking for the roots of that freedom and that seemingly indefatigable confidence of bureaucrats and social reformers by which they presume to meddle in every aspect of your life, you will find it here in self-incurred yet immature guardianship — which has as its ostensible aim your welfare and that of all your fellows.
In all governments there may be odious tyranny, monopolies, exactions, and abominable abuses of nearly all kinds; but the idea of a bureaucracy is not fulfilled till we add the pedantic element of a pretence to direct life, to know what is best for us, to measure out our labour, to superintend our studies, to prescribe our opinions, to make itself answerable for us, to put us to bed, tuck us up, put on our nightcap, and administer our gruel. This element does not seem possible without a persuasion on the part of the governing power that it is in possession of the secret of life, that it has a true knowledge of the all-embracing political science, which should direct the conduct of all men, or at least of all citizens. Hence any government that avowedly sets before its eyes the summum bonum of humanity, defines it, and directs all its efforts to this end, tends to become a bureaucracy. [21]
It is perhaps not necessary here to make explicit the connection between bureaucracy and totalitarian government, except to say that humanity, as both find it, is ever too wayward and imponderable in its behaviour to be the perfect material for an efficient order, but that both of them must ever work, so far as their scopes allow, to reduce all differences for the sake of a one-size-fits-all solution to the problem of control.
The Enlightenment was a complex process, having many, diverse, and sometimes opposing currents; and if it is odd to say that it has brought us no benefits, so too is it odd to say that it has brought us no detriments. By no means were all enlighteners themselves sanguine about its future, especially after the French Revolution. For members of the Mittwochgesellschaft, a secret society in Berlin composed of “Friends of the Enlightenment”, who were broadly of the moderate current, the question as to the nature of the Enlightenment was a burning one, and several worried about the deleterious effects it might have on society, of how it could undermine morality and authority. Even Moses Mendelssohn, one of the bolder members of the society, was displeased with the radicalism of some of his contemporaries, and was even willing to concede that the Enlightenment might have to be checked lest it wreck public order. [22]
     Friedrich Karl von Moser, an advocate of enlightened absolutism, was even more doubtful of some of its trends:
My short and candid avowal is this: all enlightenment that is not grounded in and supported by religion . . . is not only the way to destruction, immorality, and depravity but also to the dissolution and ruin of all civil society, and to a war of the human race within itself, that begins with philosophy and ends with scalping and cannibalism. [23]
One must doubt that this accords with Professor Grayling’s idea of enlightenment; for if anyone is looking for a lively impression of an eighteenth-century anti-religious firebrand, A.C. Grayling is the man:
There is no greater social evil than religion. . . . For whenever and wherever religion manifests itself in the public arena as an organised phenomenon, it is the most Satanic of all things. [24]
Professor Grayling, authentic to his imposture, speaks as if the last two centuries had never happened, as if he could truthfully say that “the philosopher has never killed any priests, whereas the priest has killed a great many philosophers”. [25] Worse still, however, is his imposture as exclusive heir-claimant to the Enlightenment, an imposture whereby he constructs a fake view of the Enlightenment in which its projects were only those which had pluralism as their aim or indeed as their effect. Yet, principally, the idea of pluralism, as we now know it, arose as a reaction to those rationalistic and universalistic schemes of the Enlightenment which had as their goal the total movement of society towards some monolithic ideal, a reaction led by men who are with some justification said — following Isaiah Berlin’s terminology — to belong to the Counter-Enlightenment, men such as Johann Georg Hamann, advocate of the particular over the universal; Friedrich Heinrich Jacobi, one of the first classical liberals in Germany; and Johann Gottfried Herder, instigator of the idea of Volksgeist, inadvertent father of romantic nationalism, and defender of cultural diversity.
Because we tend to assume a natural affinity between the Enlightenment and liberal politics, we forget that many Aufklärers were not liberals, [and] that some of the more ardent liberals were by no means well disposed toward the Enlightenment. [26]
The modern liberalism to which Professor Grayling subscribes draws much from the radical current of the Enlightenment, and bears only some relation to classical liberalism or to the liberality as professed by some of the moderate enlighteners. Voltaire, for instance, one of the most celebrated liberals of the Enlightenment was not a modern liberal, that is to say, he did not believe in liberal democracy, but rather in enlightened despotism. Indeed, if, at a dinner-party hosted by some nice modern liberals, you were to utter the various opinions of Voltaire as if they were your own, you would likely cause your hosts to choke on their terrines de canard.
At the door of Professor Grayling’s Enlightenment Club, there is a sign which reads:
~Modern Liberal Pluralists Only~
Gentlemen-Enlighteners from the Age of Enlightenment
Demonstrate their Credentials to the Doorman.
Any Gentleman Thereof
Found in Possession of Universal or Rationalistic Schemes
for Social Systemisation or Enlightened Despotism
Will Be Asked to Leave.
Claims of Historical Legitimacy to the Name of Enlightenment
Will Not Be Accepted
The Decision of the Management is Final

We can imagine Voltaire and Rousseau, standing outside, sharing a Gauloises, having been thrown out by the doorman:

VOLTAIRE: Bloody liberals.
ROUSSEAU: Oh, I don’t know. I’m beginning to warm to ’em.
* * *
[1] A.C. Grayling, “Through the looking glass”, The New Humanist, Vol.122:4, July-August 2007. (It seems that, according to some usages, a weary old canard is a truth that just won’t go away, no matter how many times one calls it a weary old canard.)
[2] As Isaiah Berlin succinctly put it: “The Enlightenment supposed that . . . [t]here was some particular form of life and of art, and of feeling and of thought, which was correct, which was right, which was true and objective and could be taught to people if only we knew enough.” The Roots of Romanticism, ed., H. Hardy, (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1999), p.105.
[3] Louis Dupré, The Enlightenment and the Intellectual Foundations of Modern Culture (New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 2004), p.xiii.
[4] J.E.E Dalberg-Acton (Lord Acton), “The History of Freedom in Antiquity” (1877), reprinted in Selected Writings of Lord Acton, Vol.1: Essays in the History of Liberty, ed. J.R. Fears (Indianapolis: Liberty Classsics, 1985), p.5. [Note added 25/09/14: Having given it a little thought, I now understand these words from Lord Acton to be drivel.] As a mere matter of consequences, let us also acknowledge that from the fact of a plurality of views, derived from the call for the equal right of every man to express his own, it does not follow that any one of those views itself will have as its object, let alone its effect, a plurality of views, that is to say, that any view will itself be in favour of pluralism.
[5] For a history of this radical current, see Jonathan I. Israel, Radical Enlightenment: Philosophy and the Making of Modernity, 1650-1750 (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2002).
[6] Jean-Jacques Rousseau, The Social Contract; or Principles of Political Right, (1762), tr. G. D. H. Cole, Book I, Section 7, online at The Constitution Society.
[7] Article 3 of the Declaration of the Rights of Man and Citizen, approved by the National Assembly of France, 26th August 1789, online at The Online Sourcebook.
[8] Quoted by David. A. Bell, The Cult of the Nation in France: Inventing Nationalism, 1680-1800 (Cambridge, Massachusetts and London: Harvard University Press, 2003), caption to Fig.1, p.4.
[9] J-J Rousseau, op. cit., Book II, Section 4.
[10] Alberto Radicati, one of the most radical of radicals, was of the opinion that “no man should be distinguished from another” and that “in a government really democratical, men ought to have things in common, and be all equal”. (Twelve Discourses concerning Religion and Government, inscribed to all Lovers of Truth and Liberty (London, 1734), p.46, quoted by Jonathan I. Israel, op. cit., p.273. Rousseau had an interesting mix of both radical and moderate elements.
[11] That Rousseau was also an inspiration to romanticism is no counter-claim; for romanticism was born of the Enlightenment.
[12] Let us for now be satisfied with Samuel Johnson’s opinion: “Rousseau, Sir, is a very bad man. I would sooner sign a sentence for his transportation, than that of any felon who has gone from the Old Bailey these many years.” (As quoted by James Boswell, 15th February 1766, Life of Johnson, ed., R.W. Chapman (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1998), p.359.)
[13] Immanuel Kant, Critique of Pure Reason, footnote to the Preface to the First Edition, tr.J.M.D. Meiklejohn, ed., V. Politis (London: Everyman, 1993), pp.4-5. (I wonder whether Kant felt that the proposition that everything must be subjected to criticism ought to include itself.)
[14] Andreas Riem, “On Enlightenment: Is It and Could It be Dangerous to the State, to Religion, or Dangerous in General? A Word to be Heeded by Princes, Statesmen, and Clergy” (1788), tr. J. Kneller and reproduced in What is Enlightenement? Eighteenth-Century Answers and Twentieth-Century Questions, ed., J. Schmidt (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1996), p.169.
[15] Immanuel Kant, “An Answer to the Question: What is Enlightenment?” (1784), tr. J. Schmidt, in What is Enlightenement?, op.cit, p.58; original emphasis omitted.
[16] Immanuel Kant, ibid., p.63. The monarch in question is Frederick the Great.
[17] Johann Georg Hamann, Letter to Christian Jacob Kraus, 18th December 1784, tr. in What is Enlightenement?, op.cit, pp.147-8; original emphasis.
[18] J. G. Hamann, ibid., p.147. (Couteaux de chasse = hunting-knives.)
[19] Friedrich Heinrich Jacobi, “Something Lessing Said: A Commentary on Journeys of the Popes”, (1782), tr. D.E. Snow, in What is Enlightenement?, op.cit., p.192.
[20] F. H. Jacobi, ibid., p.199.
[21] Richard Simpson, “Bureaucracy”, in The Rambler, 11th February 1859, reprinted in Selected Writings of Lord Acton, op. cit., p. 519.
[22] James Schmidt, “Introduction: What is Enlightenment? A Question, its Context, and some Consequences”, in What is Enlightenment?, op.cit., pp.4-6.
[23] Friedrich Karl von Moser, “True and False Political Enlightenment”, (1792), tr. J.C. Laursen, in What is Enlightenment?, op.cit., pp.214-5. (It is well to remind oneself that von Moser died in 1798, and so never lived to see Kolyma in the 1930s, Bergen-Belsen in the 1940s, or Ashton-under-Lyne last Friday night.)
[24] A. C. Grayling, Life, Sex, and Ideas: The Good Life Without God, (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2003), pp.34-35, quoted by William F. Vallicella, “Is Religious Instruction Child Abuse? Is Religion the Greatest Social Evil?”, The Maverick Philosopher (weblog), 8th November 2007. Regarding his political orientation, A.C. Grayling says he has a “permanent list to port”. (“On Becoming A Philosopher”, I’d say he was unseaworthy — or, to revert to our piscine metaphor: floating on his side in a barrel.
[25] Attributed to Denis Diderot.
[26] James Schmidt, op.cit., p.13.


bosphorus said...

If you'll allow a professional philosopher a very simple compliment--wonderful!

Deogolwulf said...

Very kind of you to say so, Bosphorus.

Anonymous said...

Very enjoyable. I have long been puzzled -- from a distance -- by the exuberant intolerance (to be fair, a merely intellectual intolerance) expressed by many of those who deplore the intolerances of the past. But I have a degree of intolerance myself for the misuse of "principle" for "principal"; is this a sign of old age?

Deogolwulf said...

Arrgh! Much obliged, Anon. You are quite right to be intolerant of this "principle" error.

dearieme said...

How I admire "embulgent"!

Deogolwulf said...

Glad you like it, Dearieme. It nearly didn't make the final cut.

Recusant said...

Oh, splendid. Really. Quite splendid.

The Tin Drummer said...

Wow, great post: I especially like the bit about "weary old canards" which is increasingly used as a way of saying "well I disagree with you but I can't really be bothered to argue it so I'll just attempt to discredit its usage instead".

Malcolm Pollack said...

A fine and piercing piece of work, D., and I now find myself chastened to have cited with such glib approbation, in a recent piece of my own, the very same passage of Mr. Grayling's for which you strappado him so effectively here. Indeed, in the same way that Scripture can be taken to support virtually any viewpoint whatsoever, Mr. Grayling prefers to see of the polychromatic Enlightenment only that residual glimmer that passes through his own polarizing filter.

I should point out, though, that the essay from which this passage was taken was written was offered in response to remarks by John Gray to the effect that the horrors of 20th-century totalitarianism occured precisely in virtue of those regimes' irreligiosity. I do agree with Mr. Grayling that that was not the problem at all; indeed, in my view it was their hijacking of the conveniently pre-existing social apparatus that religions have built into human societies over the eons that made these foul systems so hideously effective.

I must join dearieme in complimenting you on "embulgent": a splendid coinage!

dearieme said...

Mind you, part of the problem is talk of The Enlightenment in the singular. They were plural; even if one were to adopt the crude approximation of there being only two, one could contrast the Good Guys' Enlightenment, in Edinburgh, and the Bad Guys' - resulting in the slaughters, The Terror and the invading armies of the French Revolution. And my point is that Grayling must know that.

ACGrayling said...

Either there is a gremlin in the works or censorship has returned? In response to your ornate prose I pointed out yesterday just two of a number of things (but time presses) wrong with your account. First, Rousseau was a Romantic, not a votary of Enlightenment - not by a long chalk - and therefore you are the sort of Dutchman you said you would be if he were not the latter. And second, the logic of pluralism is this: that it is a necessary consequence of liberty of thought, and once gained, a necessary condition of liberty of thought's continuance. I see now that your dissertation was based on my review of John Gray's book, and not my fuller length treatment in 'Towards the Light'; if you consult the latter, I think you will see where we differ and why you are, with respect, wrong.

Deogolwulf said...

Thanks, Recusant. By the way, I rather liked your comment over at Laban's the other day:

"[S]ome women have spent a long time emasculating men only to finally turn round and say - 'I don't like you; you've no balls'."

Tin Drummer, indeed, "weary old canard" has become weary.

Malcolm, I certainly meant no chastening of you! And I am happy to join both you and Professor Grayling in declaring John Gray an arse.

Dearieme: "Mind you, part of the problem is talk of The Enlightenment in the singular."

Though I still think it makes sense to take "the Enlightenment" in the singular to refer to an integrated Europe-wide cultural movement in which ideas in one part inspired ideas in another part, and back and forth, and so on.

Professor Grayling, welcome.

"Either there is a gremlin in the works or censorship has returned?"

No censorship has been exercised at this blog yet. (No fruity language, mind.)

"Rousseau was a Romantic."

I did wonder if anyone would try that one, but I thought it not worth the bother. I thought a footnote would suffice to head 'em off at the pass, as it were:

"[11] That Rousseau was also
an inspiration to romanticism is no counter-claim; for romanticism was born of the Enlightenment."

I did give passing mention to his intellectual descent in the radical tradition of the Enlightenment (though it is true to say he had an interesting mix from both the radical and moderate currents of the Enlightenment), but really, his centrality to the High Enlightenment is not usually a matter of dispute. Indeed it would leave some people scratching their heads to think that he was not; for it is not just his mere presence in the High Enlightenment that marks him as an Enlightenment figure, it is the very descent and character of the ideas he held.

But if you're not happy with the evidence of those ideas, or much impressed by a mere blogger saying so, then let the expert, Jonathan I. Israel, professor in the School of Historical Studies at the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton, have his say:

"[I]f Rousseau's philosophy proved vastly more attractive and influential, and was deeper and more original than that of most other philosophes invoked by the Revolution, it is no more true of him than of such derivative (and, in some cases, hack) utopians, proto-socialists, and atheistic materialists as Morellet, Mably, Mirabeau, d'Holbach, Naigeon, Marechal, Saint-Just, and Babeuf that the core radical ideas arose, or were principally shaped in the later eighteenth century. Nor, any more than Voltaire or the others, does Rousseau represent a basically new set of concepts and approaches. On the contrary, any proper appreciation of Rousseau's role and greatness has to concede that his thought springs from a long, and almost excessive dialogue with the radical ideas of the past -- in many cases as filtered through the mind of his former comrade Diderot."

Radical Enlightenment: Philosophy and the Making of Modernity, 1650-1750 (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2002), p.718.

You would be hard pushed to find a historian of ideas who would deny Rousseau's status as a central figure of the Enlightenment, let alone just a minor figure. No one denies his inspiration to romanticism - nor should anyone deny his inspiration to later developments. But if you're going to discount Rousseau from the Enlightenment, then you're probably going to have to discount an awful lot of others -- including some of its initiators!

What you take to be enlightenment as an ideal is not the same as the Enlightenment as a complex process of many, diverse, and sometimes opposing ideals, just as the Enlightenment was not the same as the ideal or definition of enlightenment as given by any one of the enlighteners themselves. That was half the point of my post.

"The logic of pluralism is this: that it is a necessary consequence of liberty of thought, and once gained, a necessary condition of liberty of thought's continuance."

In essence: Liberty of thought leads necessarily to pluralism which is a necessary condition to the continuance of liberty of thought.

It fails. There is no necessity from liberty of thought to pluralism, for pluralism is an idea about the desirability of plurality, and if there really is liberty of thought, then I am free to come up with other ideas, even ones that might seek to reduce the liberty of thought in my rivals, ideas that are explicitly anti-pluralistic, Indeed, given the urge to dominate that we find amongst humans, that wouldn't be a surprise to find -- indeed as we do find.

As I put in footnote [5]: "As a mere matter of consequences, let us also acknowledge that from the fact of a plurality of views, derived from the call for the equal right of every man to express his own, it does not follow that any one of those views itself will have as its object, let alone its effect, a plurality of views, that is to say, that any view will itself be in favour of pluralism."

But this is rather by-the-by as far as the post is concerned; for, as said therein, right from the beginning of the radical current of the Enlightenment, liberty was conceived, in a very odd way, as being based on equality and tied to the general will. Pluralism wasn't on their minds - nor on the minds of all those universal systemisers which you seem to have overlooked.

My argument isn't that the Enlightenment had no good ideas conducive to liberty of thought; only that it had some very bad ones -- which is just as one would expect when you have liberality of thought.

Semaj Mahgih said...

I too admire 'embulgent'. This is going to take some internalizing.

bruno said...

i ought to forgive you for not posting for so long. i've been reading a handsome of essays from isaiah berlin and the subject has been on my mind for some time now. to the extent i even took it to my law philosophy classes. now i have a seminar to present and i must say i'll inspire myself in you.

Deogolwulf said...

Thanks, Bruno. Yes, Berlin is a good writer, though I am always a little wary of what he says.

Semaj Mahgih said...

Took some time.

First the signature sign off of the two rejectees - well maybe.

"It is therefore neither an exaggeration nor a weary old canard to say that some projects of the Enlightenment were themselves totalitarian in character or that they were an inspiration to subsequent regimes."

In temporal terms a truism indeed but the ultimate black joke is the metaphysical underpinning of the essential purpose of the wonderfully misnamed Enlightenment [I refer to it as the Darkening] which led man down hopeful country lanes only to be caught in the quagmire beyond.

This is the sum total of philosophic thinking which takes not into account the metaphysical aspects of life. In short, it was a superb con, appealing to the Babel-like egotistical presumption of the capacity of man to out-G-d G-d but without the perceptive capacity to achieve this end.

Like a dog chasing its tail.

So paying its dues to its powerful antecedents in such movements as the French Revolution, which in turn paid its dues to the inevitably inept godless morality and subsequently spawning delusion in the form of otherwise sentient thinkers such as François-Marie Arouet, who under the guise of "freedom of religion" actually set up the mechanism for its suppression, religion being merely the moniker applied by those who would have spiritual connection of humans deflected, then the Darkening was on a hiding to nothing.

And even today with the Grayling delusion couched in professional philosopher approved intellectual tones, the myth is perpetuated that the explanation for humankind can exclude consideration of the spiritual aspects which make possible the eventual understanding, given the initial spirit of enquiry and intellectual equipment to be able to discern and differentiate the wheat from the chaff and posturing from imposture.

In short, it's the most natural and logical think in the world that totalitarianism should sprout from the fertile bed of Enlightenment manure, itself patiently laid by the most perniciously cynical demagogue of all.

Semaj Mahgih said...

My error - please insert: such movements as the French Revolution and long before e'en to 1688 and earlier, which in turn...

If one argues that it did not fir into a specific time frame, that is but was rather an attitude or state of mind.

Deogolwulf said...

Mr Higham, I am not at all sure what you are talking about.

"paying its dues to its powerful antecedents in such movements as the French Revolution."

What was paying its dues?

Lil Jimmy said...

The French Revolution was one of the consequences of the consequences of Enlightenment thinking:

"The effect of the Enlightenment on the French Revolution has created a debate which will not soon be resolved. But, in general, it can be said that there is no causal relationship between the philosophes of the Enlightenment and the outbreak of the French Revolution. Few philosophes, if any, advocated revolution and the reason is fairly clear. No philosophe advocated the violent overthrow of the existing order of things because violence was contrary to human reason. But because the philosophes of the Enlightenment attacked the established order together with authority of any kind, their ideas helped to produce what can only be called a revolutionary mentality."

There is another angle, the Churchillian about:

"this world wide conspiracy for the overthrow of civilization and for the reconstitution of society on the basis of arrested development, of envious malevolence and impossible equality, has been steadily growing.

It played a definitely recognizable role in the tragedy of the French Revolution. It has been the mainspring of every subversive movement during the nineteenth century" ... and so on.

In metaphysical terms, it is entirely necessary to separate man from his Maker and the tools were at hand in the overthrow of the religious oppression via the Enlightenment.

In practice, every time this has been tried it ends up in bloodshed because there is no regulatory mechanism any more.

This is the essential dilemma of academia today - it admits no metaphysical role in both the Enlightenment and its consequences.

In sociological terms, one can ascribe the causes as the 1st, 2nd and 3rd estates, divine right of kings, the state of the law and finances at the time plus the American rumblings. Yes, true.

But the state of mind of the people was what tipped the scale - the quite criminally inept way the country was run - entirely un-Christian in nature but displaying all the trappings and high church gobbledegook so that Christianity was blamed instead of the state wedded Church.

Voltaire and many others, therefore, blurred the distinction and the sum total of thought at the level of the intelligentsia was anti-deist.

At the level of the peasantry, the State/Church was perceived as the dragon.

So the baby was thrown out with the bathwater because the precepts of Christianity are altrusitic and did have a regulatory affect on the populace, if not on the baronry.

Hence, in the revolution, it took only the agents provocateur to light the fuse, all bets were off and no code regulated behaviour. Hence the ongoing violence.

We're there again now. Two generations have seen off the genuine teaching at home level of the precepts of Christianity and all that is left is a Williams shell of high church again.

On the other hand, the views of the rationalists are still going strong.

To come back to your original question, dear Deogolwulf:

What was paying its dues?

... the rationalist thinking of yesterday and today [leaving aside Rousseau and Co] owed a certain amount to the French Revolution which in turn owed to the Enlightenment, which in turn owed to the eternal anti-deism which pops up from time to time.

Not in sociological causality but in the realm of the mind and overall mindset of enough people to count.

Mr. Obsidian said...

A superb little treatise, deogolwulf.
I especially enjoyed your treatment of Rousseau.
Too often he is held up by proponents as some sort of recondite sacred cow-- unassailable and misunderstood due to everyone else's general intellectual deficiency.

Conrad H. Roth said...

I greatly enjoyed seeing Hamann propped up here, an all too rare pleasure. On Rousseau as Romantic vs. Rousseau as Enlightenment: it is with specific cases like these that the two labels really cease to have any merit or use. The labels--like "Renaissance", "mediaeval", "liberal", and so on--can be used profitably only as shorthand among those already in agreement about fundamental definitions. As the locus of intellectual argument they are mere retardants.

Israel himself, despite two great books on the subject, and I believe a third on its way, is guilty, like all of his cinematoscope predecessors, of a pretty partisan account of his topic. He is rather keen on liberal democracy, for one thing.

Malcolm Pollack said...

It seems you have some new readers lately, D.! Pity they haven't the decency to comment in English...

Deogolwulf said...

Yes, this "Youyou" is infecting my archives. Anyway, what are you doing poking around in them?

Malcolm Pollack said...

Everyone else having left, it was so nice and quiet in here - didn't think you'd mind.

Deogolwulf said...

You are of course welcome. Just no barbecues or loud music after 11pm.