Samuel Johnson, as quoted by James Boswell, 28th April 1778, Life of Johnson, ed., R.W. Chapman (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1998), p.973.
Thursday, 24 April 2008
 Martin Amis: You Ask The Questions, The Independent, 15th January 2007.
Wednesday, 23 April 2008
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. 
In disregarding the variety of the currents we risk projecting our own aspirations and aversions upon a self-made image of the past. 
.....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. 
The source of all sovereignty resides essentially in the nation; no group, no individual may exercise authority not emanating expressly therefrom. 
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. 
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.
[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. 
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. 
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! 
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. 
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. 
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. 
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. 
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. 
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. 
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.
 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.)
 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.
 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.
 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.
 J-J Rousseau, op. cit., Book II, Section 4.
 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.
 That Rousseau was also an inspiration to romanticism is no counter-claim; for romanticism was born of the Enlightenment.
 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.)
 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.
 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.
 Immanuel Kant, ibid., p.63. The monarch in question is Frederick the Great.
 Johann Georg Hamann, Letter to Christian Jacob Kraus, 18th December 1784, tr. in What is Enlightenement?, op.cit, pp.147-8; original emphasis.
 J. G. Hamann, ibid., p.147. (Couteaux de chasse = hunting-knives.)
 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.
 F. H. Jacobi, ibid., p.199.
 Richard Simpson, “Bureaucracy”, in The Rambler, 11th February 1859, reprinted in Selected Writings of Lord Acton, op. cit., p. 519.
 James Schmidt, “Introduction: What is Enlightenment? A Question, its Context, and some Consequences”, in What is Enlightenment?, op.cit., pp.4-6.
 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.)
 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”, acgrayling.com) I’d say he was unseaworthy — or, to revert to our piscine metaphor: floating on his side in a barrel.
 Attributed to Denis Diderot.
 James Schmidt, op.cit., p.13.
Monday, 21 April 2008
Friday, 4 April 2008
 As reported by Thomas Landen, “Dispatch from the Eurabian Front: Austria, European Parliament, the Netherlands, Belgium”, The Brussels Journal, 1st April 2008. (H/T: Malcolm Pollack, “Silence!”, Waka Waka Waka (weblog), 2nd April 2008.)
 For example, see the recent case of Ryan Palin and Craig Dodd: “Jail term cut for ‘feral’ killers”, BBC News Online, 8th November 2007.
Thursday, 3 April 2008
 Byline to John Crace, “Getting the hump”, Comment is Free (The Guardian’s weblog), 3rd April 2008.