Not as silly as she sounds

by Chris Bertram on March 29, 2006

Madeleine Bunting is getting a real kicking from various “decent left” blogs for the following paragraph about the Enlightenment:

[Jonathan] Ree countered by saying the Enlightenment had never happened – or at least certainly not in the shape we think it did. It was a retrospective creation in the nineteenth century designed to make the eighteenth century look silly – the gist was that excessive pride in human rationality was a story which had ended in tears in the brutal terror of the French Revolution. Ree pointed out that all the great thinkers attributed to the Enlightenment such as Hume, Locke, Kant were actually religious believers and none of them believed in progress.

Three initial remarks: (1) Bunting is reporting what she remembers from an exchange involving others; (2) as she notes, she is not a philosopher (or an intellectual historian); and (3), she probably wrong about Hume (though his religious views remain a matter of controversy).

Nevertheless, it would be uncharitable not to notice both that it is certainly correct to say that the Enlightenment and “the Enlightenment project” are movements and events that were discerned in retrospect, that the contours of those events remain in dispute, and that the figures that we today think of as central to the Enlightement didn’t think of themselves as belonging to any current under that description. The idea of reason’s over-reaching ending in tears in the Terror is also, recognizably, the story Hegel tells in the Phenomenology and elsewhere.

There are many ironies in Bunting’s critics waving the flag of Enlightenment as they do. Among them is the fact that as Robert Wokler explains in his The Enlightenment, the Nation State and the Primal Patricide of Modernity (pdf), many of the central ideals of the Enlightenment were lost to the rise of the modern nation state. As Wokler puts it:

Not only individuals but whole peoples which comprise nations without states have found themselves comprehensively shorn of their rights. At the heart of the Enlightenment Project, which its advocates perceived as putting an end to the age of privilege, was their recognition of the common humanity of all persons. For Kant, who in Königsberg came from practically nowhere and went nowhere else at all, to be enlightened meant to be intolerant of injustice everywhere, to pay indiscriminate respect to each individual, to be committed to universal justice, to be morally indifferent to difference. But in the age of the nation-state, it is otherwise. Thanks ultimately to the father of modernity [the abbé Sieyès] , ours is the age of the passport, the permit, the right of entry to each state or right of exit from it which is enjoyed by citizens that bear its nationality alone.

The fact is, of course, that far from being advocates of the kind of cosmopolitan universalism championed by Kant, most of the “decent” left are actually advocates of or apologists for some form of 19th-century ethnic nationalism. Of course, the case for and against such nationalism has to be argued on its merits, but there is something radically inconsistent in simultaneously banging on about the Enlightement and endorsing nationalisms antithetical to the ideals of thinkers like Kant and Voltaire. (The Wokler piece, by the way, appears in The Enlightenment and Modernity edited by Robert Wokler and Norman Geras.)

UPDATE: Stop reading here and go over to The Virtual Stoa for some sensible reflections on the whole business of defining the Enlightenment.

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Will Wilkinson / The Fly Bottle » Blog Archive » Cosmopolitan Universalism vs. the Left
03.30.06 at 10:06 am

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1

Brendan 03.29.06 at 4:32 am

It really doesn’t help that Bunting is an idiot, and that (to be fair, she admits this) she doesn’t really know what she is talking about.

But nevertheless, the alleged ‘debate’ between something that was, allegedly, termed the ‘Enlightenment Project’ and something that was (presumably) termed ‘the anti-Enlightenment project’ is so vapid, so ill informed, and so much of a waste of time that I don’t really know where to begin.

However…..

‘Everyone’ when beginning this ‘debate’ quotes Kant in his essay ‘what is enlightenment’. But look at the date of publication: 1784. In other words, assuming that we act under the working definition of the Enlightenment: ‘a description of intellectual trends in Europe in the 18th century’ Kant was writing very much at the end of this movement. Kant was writing much closer to the publication of Lyrical Ballads than he was to the writing of ‘A Treatise on Human Nature’. Blake’s ‘Songs of Innocence’ was only five years away. In other words, this was (almost) a retrospective work, on a ‘movement’ that had passed.

But even this doesn’t go far enough. Neither Hume nor Locke, or Diderot ever sat down in a pub and said ‘right lads we’re going to have this thing called the enlightenment so we need to sit down and plan what we all believe in’. In other words, in a very real sense, Bunting was right: there was no ‘Enlightenment Project’ as a unified project with shared aims and goals. For a start there was a huge gap between the Scottish and English Enlightenments (Empiricist) and the French (generally speaking, Rationalist). Then there is the problem of Rousseau. Was he an arch proponent of ‘Reason’ and Enlightenment? Or was he the first Romantic, the first opponent of Enlightenment? Depending on whether or not you include him in the movement, the whole ‘Enlightenment Project’ can look very very different. (Or what about Kant himself? He obviously thought of himself as an Enlightenment thinker, but his major influence was on the Romantics. And what about Goethe? And so on).

The problem is if one is very specific about the ‘enlightenment’ and very ‘tight’ in the definition then the movement starts to look very timebound and very much constricted by 18th century assumptions. But if one ‘broadens it out’ and simply uses it as a euphemism for ‘belief in science’ or whatever, then the name could be applied to many different schools of thought in many different times. Was Kant any more of a fan of science than, say, Francis (or Roger) Bacon? Did the Enlightenment thinkers believe in progress any more than, say, the Humanists a couple of hundred years earlier? Was Hume any more of an atheist than Christopher Marlowe, or any more of a sceptic than Montaigne?

I don’t know much about this (and intelligent comment by people who know what they are talking about is much welcomed) but I could well believe that it wasn’t until the 19th century that belief in an actual ‘enlightenment project’ started to gain ground, in the same way that people who lived in ‘the renaissance’ (or at least, the early renaissance) did not wake up each morning and clap each other on the back and say ‘gordon bennet i’m glad I’m living in the renaissance don’t you think Bob? Better than those bloody middle ages we had a while back, don’t you think?’. Belief that there was an actual event in time called ‘the renaissance’ developed slowly, and the actual ‘movement’ was nearly over before this became a commonplace.

So whereas I think it’s unlikely that the 18th century thinkers (to use a much more neutral phrase) were particularly anti-Muslim (most of them loathed imperialism and european supremacism, and in fact frequently used Chinese culture and Islam as an excuse to bash Europe) it may well be the case that the semi-mythical ‘Enlightenment Project’ as codified in the 19th century has been so used.

Needless to say, not one post at Harry’s Place, or one column by Nick Cohen has ever suggested or implied that any of the commentators at HP, nor Cohen (nor Aaronovitch) have ever actually read a word by Hume or Kant or Diderot let alone any of their critics.

2

Chris 03.29.06 at 4:44 am

I have no idea how stupid or otherwise Bunting is.
But she does have an agenda – established over quite a number of articles and interviews – as an apologist for radical Islam.
This article is simply a new angle – an attack on rationalism: radical Islam’s opposite.
To respond by demonstrating one’s knowledge of the history of the enlightenment, or the writings of Hume, Kant, Diderot or Donald Duck is completely beside the point.

3

soru 03.29.06 at 4:55 am

The fact is, of course, that far from being advocates of the kind of cosmopolitan universalism championed by Kant, most of the “decent” left are actually advocates of or apologists for some form of 19th-century ethnic nationalism.

That seems sufficiently bizarre and contrary to typical usage of the words involved that I think you need to explain it before I can even disagree properly.

As I see it, the right says ‘my country is great’, the standard left says ‘my country is far from being the great thing it should or could be’, and the other side (‘decent’ left) says ‘this is not about countries, it’s about people and systems of government’.

4

Chris Bertram 03.29.06 at 4:57 am

To respond by demonstrating one’s knowledge of the history of the enlightenment, or the writings of Hume, Kant, Diderot or Donald Duck is completely beside the point.

So you don’t think that it is to the point to observe that many of the Enlightenment’s self-styled defenders have commitments at variance with the ideals of with what the key thinkers of the Enlightenment actually thought?

So much easier to ascribe “agendas” to people than to attend to what they say!

5

abb1 03.29.06 at 5:03 am

The ‘decent’ left says: ‘my country is the greatest’.

6

Brendan 03.29.06 at 5:09 am

‘So you don’t think that it is to the point to observe that many of the Enlightenment’s self-styled defenders have commitments at variance with the ideals of with what the key thinkers of the Enlightenment actually thought?’

Ah but Chris (Bertram) it makes life so much easier for you if you argue that you don’t ‘actually have to read’ what Kant etc. actually said. For a start the works of Kant and Hume are actually quite long and difficult and would eat into your time if you actually spent the time to read them and see what they said. Time that would be much better spent standing outside the Danish embassy with a (very)few bedraggled friends, waving silly placards.

Incidentally: ‘This article is simply a new angle – an attack on rationalism: radical Islam’s opposite’. Well I’m not enough of a scholar to argue about ‘radical’ Islam’s opinion on Rationalism: doubtless you have studied the matter deeply, presumably in both Arabic and Persian. However I do know that many scholars argue that Hume, at least, has long been considered the enemy of some forms of rationalism. E.g. Bertrand Russell argued that Hume’s rejection of induction and causality was at the root of European irrationalism. Hume was an Enlightenment thinker last time I checked.

7

rd 03.29.06 at 5:09 am

Wait, who on the “decent left” is a proponent of “ethnic nationalism” that in any way denies “the common humanity of all persons”? Aggresive promotion of universal human rights and democracy has always seemed to be their calling card. Or are we defining “ethnic nationalism” as any belief that justifies a certain attachment to your own country and its history? If the latter, is it really ruled out automatically as a vicious prejeudice by Enlightenement thought? Do we really think Hume, say, had no tincture of it? Furthermore, it seems precisely wrong to say that ninteenth century nationalism abandoned the enlightenment and brought in the era of the “age of the passport, the permit, etc” since of course it was the golden age of unrestricted travel, only ended by World War One and its aftermath…

8

des von bladet 03.29.06 at 5:12 am

Donald Duck is mostly seen as a counter-Enlightenment figure, stressing (contra Kant) that the universe is not necessarily an ordered and intelligible place, but rather a source of endless vexations and perplexities. (And of course we know of his views only through the writings of Barks _et al_, and there are the usual disputes about accuracy of their transmissions.)

But it was surely a rump of the Even More Than Usually Indecent Left who opposed the Mesopotanian Uppmessning on the grounds that international law enshrines the principle of the sovereignty of nation-states? (Saddam’s wickedness notwithstanding I for one remain unconvinced the new principle — that nations have what sovereignty they have not in their own right but by America’s grace — amounts to a net gain. And I am so unspeakable cosmopolitain that I support Chelsea and everything.)

9

Brendan 03.29.06 at 5:17 am

‘As I see it, the right says ‘my country is great’, the standard left says ‘my country is far from being the great thing it should or could be’, and the other side (‘decent’ left) says ‘this is not about countries, it’s about people and systems of government’.’

Oh come ON. This is absolutely about countries: two countries in particular. It is about Iraq, and it is about the United States, and the relationship between them. It is not, and never has been, about the UK or the United Nations (despite Blair’s pious hopes) or for that matter, about France or Russia. (it might soon be about Iran though).

And to return this thread back on topic: the relation of the ‘decents’ to the ‘Enlightenment Project’, insofar as it means anything, is this (I think). The ‘decents’ seem to be arguing that if David Hume or (for that matter) Adam Smith, or Diderot, were put into a time machine and zoomed forward to 2003, and given a bit of background, they, too, would be clamouring for an American led invasion of Iraq. If that’s not their argument, then all the talk about the alleged ‘Enlightenment Project’ is simply so much hot air.

My own view is that the ‘time machine’ scenario is not a likely one, even given the invention of an actual time machine.

10

Chris Bertram 03.29.06 at 5:21 am

Or are we defining “ethnic nationalism” as any belief that justifies a certain attachment to your own country and its history?

Not at all.

I was taking it to mean the view that there nations should have the right to self-determination coupled with a view of what a nation is that employs some more or less ethnic criteria of membership.

Note that I didn’t say that such a view is necessarily wrong, just that it isn’t part of the “Enlightenment” view.

11

soru 03.29.06 at 5:36 am

I was taking it to mean the view that there nations should have the right to self-determination coupled with a view of what a nation is that employs some more or less ethnic criteria of membership.

That seems to be a argument of the form ‘Decent Leftists use computers, Enlightment-era people didn’t, so …’

Who in contemprary politics is seriously proposing a short-term alternative to nation-states?

12

rd 03.29.06 at 5:38 am

“I was taking it to mean the view that there nations should have the right to self-determination coupled with a view of what a nation is that employs some more or less ethnic criteria of membership.”

OK, but wouldn’t the “decent left” view be that not just their nations but all democratic ones should enjoy the right of self-determination? That the problem with dictatorships is precisely that they deny the sovereign people the right to choose for themselves, which justifies outside interference against them in the name of popular rule. That view would be a form of nationalism, possibly a simplistic and harmful one, but its not an ethnic nationalism that denies the equal worth of other peoples and its not obviously inconsistent with the Enlightenment, unless we believe that project demands world govt. As for the belief in an “ethnic criteria” for membership, maybe that describes Harry’s Place, I would have to read it more regularly to know, but would it really describe the views of someone like Norm Geras or even Christopher Hitchens?

13

abb1 03.29.06 at 5:42 am

This is the flag of Kurdistan in my lapel.

14

Bob B 03.29.06 at 5:45 am

By accounts, David Hume (1711-76) only permitted publication of: Dialogues Concerning Natural Religion, after his death for (understandable) reasons of prudence:
http://www.anselm.edu/homepage/dbanach/dnr.htm

The text leaves little scope for speculation or controversy about his views on religion. Unlike his friend Adam Smith, Hume was never appointed to a professorship at any of the Scottish universities, which has been widely attributed to suspicions prevailing at the time about his views on religion. A biography of Hume I read many decades back recounts how James Boswell (Samuel Johnson’s biographer) made almost daily visits to see Hume when he was dying (probably from cancer) to inquire as to whether Hume had made a conversion to religion. As reported, Boswell always went away disappointed.

15

Simon Gold 03.29.06 at 5:58 am

It seems pretty obvious to me. Harry’s Place et al are all fierce defenders of Zionism. Which is fair enough, but you can’t defend a species of Herderian nationalism and claim to stand for Enlightenment values at one and the same time.

16

DC 03.29.06 at 6:07 am

“The fact is, of course, that far from being advocates of the kind of cosmopolitan universalism championed by Kant, most of the “decent” left are actually advocates of or apologists for some form of 19th-century ethnic nationalism.”

I genuinely don’t understand where you’re getting that. (Not least the “of course”.)

17

abb1 03.29.06 at 6:14 am

There is a difference between sovereign state (organized community) and blut-und-boden-style nation-state. The latter concept certainly does violate the idea of universal justice, but I don’t see how the former does. Am I wrnog here?

18

brendan 03.29.06 at 6:38 am

I think the problem here is that Christ Bertram is assuming (rightly, I think) that the views of the American neo-conservative and the views of the ‘decent’ left are more or less identical. This is hardly an outrageous or misleading comparison. After all, Oliver Kamm, recently published a book which made this very claim.

Now, as Irving Kristol once wrote: ‘one can say that the historical task and political purpose of neoconservatism would seem to be this: to convert the Republican party, and American conservatism in general, against their respective wills, into a new kind of conservative politics suitable to governing a modern democracy. That this new conservative politics is distinctly American is beyond doubt….. First, patriotism is a natural and healthy sentiment and should be encouraged by both private and public institutions. Precisely because we are a nation of immigrants, this is a powerful American sentiment. Second, world government is a terrible idea since it can lead to world tyranny. International institutions that point to an ultimate world government should be regarded with the deepest suspicion. (http://www.weeklystandard.com/Utilities/printer_preview.asp?idArticle=3000&…).

The fact is that, as Kristol correctly points out, neoconservatism is a indigenous political movement of the United States. It owes little, if anything, to more ‘traditional’ Right Wing thought in Europe or elsewhere. Kristol goes on to point out something that the ‘decents’ seem to barely notice or register, the overwhelming military superiority of the US to any state country or movement that exists now or which has ever existed. Kristol points out that this is a fact whether one likes it or not and points out that it is simply ridiculous to posit the idea that the US is ‘just like any other country’ when it has this overwhelming superiority. Because the US is in this special position, it should NOT behave (and indeed cannot) behave ‘just like’ other countries.

I hope the links between neoconservatism and American Exceptionalism should be self-evident.

The problem with American Exceptionalism (and therefore neoconservatism) and ‘liberalism’ as that it generally understood (whatever relationship that has to ‘the Enlightenment Project’) is that liberalism is a Universalist doctrine. It presupposes that all peoples, in all countries, at all times, are more or less the same and that they have more or less the same needs, wants, desire for human rights and democracy an so forth. The ‘decents’ and the neoconservatives agree with this. However, logically, if one follows the logic of liberalism through, since liberals assume that the individual (not the state or the tribe or the race) is the ‘basic unit of analysis’ therefore countries are merely collections of individuals.

Therefore liberals believe and must believe that all countries are pretty identical in terms of their capacities and responsibilities.

Therefore, liberals tend to be in favour of the UN, the EC, a (possibly reformed) world bank, and so forth. These are trans-national organisations that presuppose ‘one country one vote’, because to believe that all countries are essentially equal is to believe that they MUST all have ‘one vote each’.

This is where they part company with the neocons and the ‘decents’. Neoconservatives do not and cannot believe this. This is sometimes confused because neoconservatives sometimes explicitly state that they believe that all countries are NOT equal and the ‘decents’ join them in this. But in face the neoconservative case goes much further than this. Neocons believe that democracies are superior to non-democracies but they ALSO believe that the US is intrinsically superior (ethically, militarily, politically) to all other countries per se.

Neoconservatives believe in democracy promotion, it’s true. But they believe that the United States, and only the United States has the right to engage in such promotion, not France or Russia or Venezuela. Nor do neoconservatives believe that in the pursuit of such goals, the US should be judged by other countries that are not exceptional in the same way that the US is. Hence the US opposition to the ICC international law in general, and so forth.

Now: the final piece of the jigsaw. In theory the ‘decents’ do not agree with this. In theory the ‘decents’ are in favour of liberalism, the UN etc. But the fact that in practice only the US engages in ‘democracy promotion’ (by definition because that phrase is defined and used only by the US), and the ‘decents’ are duty bound to support this, in practice the ‘decents’ do buy into American exceptionalism.

This is why the ‘decents’ continually use the language of liberalism and universalism while at the same time working tirelessly to undermine their basic tenets.

19

brendan 03.29.06 at 6:39 am

sorry misprint: i didn’t mean to turn Chris Bertram into the messiah. Although for all i know he might be.

20

soru 03.29.06 at 6:42 am

Harry’s Place et al are all fierce defenders of Zionism.

Can you clarify what you mean by ‘Zionist’ here? Do you mean ‘anyone who thinks invading and occupying Israel is not a worthwile and practical project’, or is it an ethnic label, or what?

21

brendan 03.29.06 at 6:52 am

From Wikipedia: ‘Zionism is a political movement and ideology that supports a homeland for the Jewish People in the Land of Israel, where the Jewish nation originated over 3200 years ago and where Jewish kingdoms and self-governing states existed at various times in history. While Zionism is based in part upon religious tradition linking the Jewish people to the Land of Israel, the modern movement was originally secular, beginning largely as a response to rampant antisemitism in late 19th century Europe and Muslim World. After a number of advances and setbacks, and after the Holocaust had destroyed Jewish society in Europe, the Zionist movement culminated in the establishment of the State of Israel in 1948.’.

HP supports Zionism in this sense, yes?

22

soru 03.29.06 at 7:02 am

HP supports Zionism in this sense, yes?

In the sense that everyone who posts there is living at a time post-1948?

Without speaking for anyone else, if Israel didn’t exist, I would certainly feel no obligation to create it.

Equally, I see no big gain to be had from destroying it. If that makes me a Zionist, then who here is not?

23

Jim 03.29.06 at 7:20 am

That brendan chap is a bit up himself, isn’t he?

24

abb1 03.29.06 at 7:21 am

One should be able to have an opinion about ethnocentric ideologies without trying to destroy anything in the process.

25

abb1 03.29.06 at 7:22 am

I mean ‘to form an opinion’, of course.

26

Jeremy 03.29.06 at 7:27 am

If that makes me a Zionist, then who here is not?

Eh, Chris (or, are you with Bunting)?

27

David T 03.29.06 at 8:47 am

I wouldn’t describe myself as a supporter of ethnic nationalism.

I am not sure what you regard as constituting apologetics for ethnic nationalism. I certainly do not think that existing regional minorities, in existing nation states, should be merged against their will into other nation states: although of course they are free to choose to do so. I am also inclined to think that nation states tend to break down, economically and politically: although not if their populations are threatened with disempowerment or death if they choose to do so.

28

Steve LaBonne 03.29.06 at 8:49 am

One should be able to have an opinion about ethnocentric ideologies without trying to destroy anything in the process.

Amen, and another good example is that supporting the invasion of what had been known as one of the least religious countries (but won’t be once we’ve finished facilitating its Iranization) in the Arab world is not exactly apropos if one is concerned with registering one’s opposition to radical Islam.

29

Amir 03.29.06 at 9:07 am

Leave it David T – E’s not worth it…

30

Hektor Bim 03.29.06 at 9:09 am

Chris Bertram,

Can you please write a post where you actually take an affirmative view, as opposed to attacking the critics of someone else?

Attacking the critics of On Beauty, attacking the critics of the Israel lobby paper, attacking the critics of the Bunting, etc. You’re falling into exactly the trap that HP falls into – excessive carping.

Bunting is an apologist for radical Islam and seems somewhat confused. What distinction is there to get involved in an argument between people you don’t respect?

31

Chris 03.29.06 at 9:24 am

“What distinction is there to get involved in an argument between people you don’t respect?”

To reinforce one’s own sense of superiority perhaps??

32

Jacob T. Levy 03.29.06 at 9:34 am

the great thinkers attributed to the Enlightenment such as Hume, Locke, Kant were actually religious believers and none of them believed in progress.

What can it possibly mean to say that Kant didn’t believe in progress? Or really Hume– unless by “progress” we mean “necessary, unstoppable, and rapid progress”? To say nothing of Smith or Montesquieu, and still less of any encyclopedist.

it is certainly correct to say that the Enlightenment and “the Enlightenment project” are movements and events that were discerned in retrospect

Well, yes, but. “The Enlightenment” is a term of later creation. “Lumiere,” “Aufklarug,” “light,” and “enlightenment” were perfectly common usages of the day, however– after all, this is when the Dark Ages became Dark, and some were quite fond of the contrast between their era and the superstitious barbarism that had come before. In a sense it would have been strange for enlightenment-era thinkers to come up with the definite article, if they believed that history had turned an important corner and that intellectual and moral progress would be ongoing henceforth. “The” Enlightenment only becomes bounded and finite when it ends.

That there was a lot going on in 18th-c. thought, that it was complex and multistranded and internally divided even without Rousseau– yes, yes. But– Chris says “discerned in retrospect,” which is nicely put. To discern requires thatthere be a genuine object whose shape is being perceived, no?

Ms. Bunting is going in for a very odd “There’s no such thing as the Enlightenment and it was all about Islamophobia too” strategy. As for the Persian Letters… sigh.

33

Chris 03.29.06 at 9:38 am

You don’t understand.
I have already been told off for suggesting that Ms Bunting has an “agenda” of that sort…despite the fact that a perusal of her articles and interviews will quickly reveal a genuine object the shape of which can all too clearly be perceived.

34

Backword Dave 03.29.06 at 9:47 am

Er, Hektor, I know there have been a lot of posts on CT lately, but it’s only four days since Chris wrote this, which reads like an affirmative view to me.

35

brendan 03.29.06 at 9:51 am

‘To discern requires thatthere be a genuine object whose shape is being perceived, no?’

Well yeah, obviously. But that doesn’t prove your point.

Everyone knows the feeling when you get beyond a certain age of looking back at decades which didn’t seem to have any ‘theme’ or ‘unity’ at the time, and being able to see with the benefit of hindsight, that everyone shared assumptions and approaches that weren’t obvious at the time.

Likewise, obviously 18th century thinkers had something in common: specifically, that they all lived in the 18th century.

My whole point is that there was and is no such thing as THE enlightenment PROJECT (i.e. a definite movement with shared aims and goals).
It’s not like Futurism or something where you can tell exactly who was a futurist by who signed the manifestos, and where there definitely WAS a shared programme.

36

Monte Davis 03.29.06 at 9:52 am

…discerned in retrospect… contours remain in dispute… figures that we today think of as central didn’t think of themselves as belonging to any current under that description…

Arguably this can describe virtually any “movement” or “epoch” of comparable scope. IOW, doesn’t it explain (or explain away) too much?

37

Chris Bertram 03.29.06 at 9:53 am

I was pretty affirmative about Zadie Smith too, as it happens. (I bet Madeleine Bunting loved White Teeth by the way.)

38

Eric 03.29.06 at 10:02 am

After all the posts about “War on Science” on this blog, you put a post defending Bunting’s insanity?

Bertram, you are losing your grip in your obsession about attacking the decent left.

Grow up.

39

Louis Proyect 03.29.06 at 10:12 am

Kant on race:

Montesquieu is correct in his judgment that the weakheartedness that makes death so terrifying to the Indian or the Negro also makes him fear many things other than death that the European can withstand. The Negro slave from Guinea drowns himself if he is to be forced into slavery. The Indian women burn themselves. The Carib commits suicide at the slightest provocation. The Peruvian trembles in the face of an enemy, and when he is led to death, he is ambivalent, as though it means nothing. His awakened imagination, however, also makes him dare to do something, but the heat of the moment is soon past and timidity resumes its old place again…

full: http://louisproyect.wordpress.com/2006/03/29/enlightenment-racism/

40

Chris Bertram 03.29.06 at 10:19 am

And you, Eric, are clearly losing your capacity for the elementary comprehension of English.

41

John Emerson 03.29.06 at 10:21 am

Can’t we just stipulate that many or most “movements” were defined either retrospectively, or polemically by adversaries, or both?

The cash value of this stipulation would be that every time someone says “There really was no X”, everyone in the room will give them a loud raspberry, or make gagging sounds.

Exceptions should be allowed in cases when a reasonable claim is made that certain groups or movements or events or activities did not exist at all or never happened — e.g., “No Jews were poisoning wells in XVIc Poland.”

42

brendan 03.29.06 at 10:22 am

‘Bertram, you are losing your grip in your obsession about attacking the decent left.’

Yes, Chris. I mean you must have some sort of bizarre obssession.

Meanwhile on HP. An attack on Faisal Bodi (the second). An attack on Madelaine Bunting (again, I think the second…the first was on the grounds that the boys at HP think she is ugly). Then one in a regular series of attacks on Iran. An attack on Ken Livingstone. An attack on Billy Bragg (for writing a song that alludes to the Palestinian situation). An attack on the SWP and RESPECT…(in which Oliver Kamm, yet again, claims that RESPECT and the BNP are essentially identical).

Sadly no attack on George Galloway today (although the ten attacks in the last month alone should make up for it).

What’s the phrase? Oh yes….grow up.

43

Jason Kuznicki 03.29.06 at 10:25 am

I entirely agree wtih Jacob T. Levy, #32 above.

I would also note that the philosophes — in France at least — were primarily defined by what they opposed, not by what they believed in.
They saw themselves as united in their opposition to religious tolerance, cruelty, and superstition. Other issues were for the most part secondary.

To the extent that these were real issues at the time, and that an identifiable cohort intervened in them in relatively predictable ways, I have no problem with speaking of the Enlightenment, even if this term was mostly applied retrospectively. (It should be noted that in France, the contemporary enemies of this movement certainly saw it as a coherent project; they almost uniformly spoke of the “philosophical party” with contempt, and they identified all the usual suspects as members of it.)

44

Herman 03.29.06 at 10:26 am

How dare people attack Iran on a blog. They fly kites there you know.

45

Jason Kuznicki 03.29.06 at 10:26 am

Err… Opposed to religious intolerance.

46

Hektor Bim 03.29.06 at 10:28 am

Chris Bertram,

Yes, but the post on “On Beauty” was largely content-free except to express your astonishment at people who disliked it. And predictably, people piled on to make fun of people who were put off by the book.

Backword dave,

Yes, but that was a puff piece. Political and even aesthetic arguments seem to be largely confrontational.

The point remains – why defend Bunting when she is at least partly wrong? Is she worthy of respect? You don’t respect the HP guys either, so why get involved? What points are being scored here?

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Hektor Bim 03.29.06 at 10:35 am

Brendan,

That’s the whole point. The HP people do very little positive work – it is almost all carping and attacks on their erstwhile comrades (their work on the Iranian bus drivers excepted). A lot of heat and little light.

But why defend the likes of Bodi, Galloway, and Bunting? They aren’t leftist or liberal in any meaningful sense, having dispensed with both leftist antipathy to religion and belief in religious freedom, not to mention democracy and human rights. Only the economic orientation remains, and is that really enough?

48

immanuel von bladet, königsberg 03.29.06 at 10:38 am

Was _ist_ zis Aufklärung auf vitch you speak?

49

brendan 03.29.06 at 10:51 am

Oh Christ. I do apologise to the readers here and, in fact, the rest of the human race for raising this subject, but my point was not to start a pointless and endless debate about whether the enlightenment ‘existed’ or not. My point was that it’s basically impossible to ‘abstract’ a series of propositions that would constitute the ‘Enlightenment Project’ that all those thinkers would agree with, without coming up with a list of truisms. So Jason weighs the scales by only discussing the French ‘enlightenment’ and then coming up with their ‘project’ as being to be ‘united in their opposition to religious tolerance, cruelty, and superstition.’ Well, yes, but if that was all the Enlightenment was about then it was hardly very innovative was it? There were hundreds of thinkers in Europe (not to mention across the world) who could have claimed the same. Almost every thinker in the Buddhist tradition, for example, could and would have described themselves as being against ‘cruelty’ (so would most Christians for that matter). Protestants described themselves as being against superstition. Religious tolerance has deep roots in, for example, Poland (cf the Warsaw Confederation). According to Wikipedia ‘Freedom of worship in India was encapsulated in an inscription of Asoka:

King Piyadasi (Ashok) dear to the Gods, honours all sects, the ascetics (hermits) or those who dwell at home, he honours them with charity and in other ways. But the King, dear to the Gods, attributes less importance to this charity and these honours than to the vow of seeing the reign of virtues, which constitutes the essential part of them. For all these virtues there is a common source, modesty of speech. That is to say, One must not exalt one’s creed discrediting all others, nor must one degrade these others Without legitimate reasons. One must, on the contrary, render to other creeds the honour befitting them.’

Islam always had a much more profound tradition of religious tolerance in (e.g.) the middle ages than Christian countries. And so forth.

If on the other hand, instead of talking about ‘the Enlightenment Project’ one wants to talk about the theories of specific individuals then THAT makes perfect sense (better still, making reference to specific works). Unfortunately, neither Hume nor Kant nor even Rousseau ever wrote books advocating an invasion of Iraq, so there you go.

Defend the invasion of Iraq if you want. But don’t pretend that you decided on the efficacy of military action after a long period of study of the works of Diderot or Voltaire.

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roger 03.29.06 at 10:53 am

I’m taking your side, Jason, with a few modifications, on this. You can’t read Voltaire’s correspondence — which, because he was such a correspondo-maniac, and because he seemed to know everybody, is a pretty central document — without coming to see that the philosophes did feel that they were programmatically connected, even if the program was not spelled out in some central text. My modification to your point is that the oppositions you name are one aspect of the positive program — which does have to do with progress. Ferguson’s notion of the evolution of civil society, Robertson’s essay on the progress of freedom in European history (in the intro to the History of Charles V) and – to get back to my man Voltaire — the philosophical asides about the progress of mitigation of moeurs scattered throughout the historical works, which is where you’d look for evidence about the notion of progress, right? So I would say that there was more to the enlightenment than opposition to intolerance — there was also a sense of the positive and the accumulative benefits of tolerance, mitigated by two factors: the often unpredictable results of human action, and the role played by blind chance. And how can one understand the rage that Rousseau evoked among many of the philosophes if it wasn’t for this shared sense of the progress of civilization?

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tom bach 03.29.06 at 10:59 am

Brendan,
I find this claim:
“there was no ‘Enlightenment Project’ as a unified project with shared aims and goals. For a start there was a huge gap between the Scottish and English Enlightenments (Empiricist) and the French (generally speaking, Rationalist). ” odd.

Are you not here confusing a difference in methods (one which breaks down on close examination) with aims and goals. Surely, those who wrote about necessary reforms, even if the basis for arriving at the reforms differed, agreed in the aims (to reform) and goals (to make things better). Lance Armstrong pedals at high rpm Jan Ulrich at low both have the same aim and goal; they just use different methods.

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brendan 03.29.06 at 11:15 am

OK to put it absolutely at its simplest: I am claiming that the so-called ‘Enlightenment Project’ is a ‘family resemblance’ situation.

I’m not even going to the next stages of the standard HP argument, that because the so-called ‘Muslim’ (or ‘Arab’) world has not yet had an ‘enlightenment’ therefore blah blah blah.

Finally: please for God’s sake: if you want to bomb Iraq (or Iran) hey, be my guest. But don’t pretend that it’s what Voltaire would have wanted.

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Chris Bertram 03.29.06 at 11:20 am

OK folks, you can stop reading here and go over to Chris Brooke’s site for some sensible reflections on the whole question of what the Enlightement was:

http://tinyurl.com/gzlxt

(I’ll post an update above too)

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tom bach 03.29.06 at 11:22 am

What do you mean by the “‘Enlightenment Project’ is a ‘family resemblance’ situation.”?

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JR 03.29.06 at 11:25 am

The Enlightenment was not a “movement” in the sense that early Christianity, abolitionism, feminism, etc were or are movements. The Enlightenment was a historical period identified by a collection of events and ideas that share a period in time and space – in the same way that the Bronze Age, the Renaissance, the “long 19th Century,” and the 60’s are historical periods. Certainly the Enlightenment contained movements, but it was much broader and a different category of event than that described by the word “movement.”

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Doctor Slack 03.29.06 at 11:28 am

Hektor: The point remains – why defend Bunting when she is at least partly wrong?

The obvious reason would be that Bertram thinks she’s at least partly right in some way that’s worth defending. If you think not, how about actually engaging that argument instead of just carping about supposed “carping”?

Is she worthy of respect?

It’s obvious enough why certain people might try to claim otherwise. Bunting has, for instance, consistently opposed a pair of disastrous invasions, opposed Islamophobia and called for responsible critiques of Islamic extremism that don’t merely pander to racism and the “clash of civilizations” (she’s even — horrors! — quoted Muslims in a non-condescending way), and criticized self-styled “muscular liberals” for their hubristic invocation of “the Enlightenment” as an excuse for their cheerleading of militarism, imperialism and (in some cases) cultural parochialism. She has also implied that an understanding of rationality that treats 18th-century thinking as a be-all and end-all is impoverished and insufficient to our times.

All of those propositions are virtually guaranteed to infuriate and provoke the bile of members of the militarist left. But yes, they’re perfectly defensible and worthy of respect, meaning you’re not going to be able to credibly dismiss either Bunting or Bertram’s post about Bunting with broad rhetorical swipes about being supposedly “an apologist for radical Islam” who “seems somewhat confused.”

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abb1 03.29.06 at 11:43 am

Attack, Chris, attack ‘em bastards; don’t hold any punches. It makes interesting threads here.

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Hektor Bim 03.29.06 at 12:37 pm

Doctor Slack,

I’m perfectly willing to have that debate with you. But it’s this whole second-tier argumentation going on that is depressing to read. I don’t respect the HP people or Bunting very much, so I don’t see a whole lot of point in trying to pick out pieces of their arguments. Bunting’s piece is an attack piece, the HP respond with an attack piece, and the cycle continues until everyone interesting has left the room.

It does not follow that being against the Iraq war and against Islamophobia means that one should give up human rights, democracy, and religious freedom. I don’t support either group, so I find their spats incredibly unedifying.

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Brendan 03.29.06 at 12:47 pm

‘Consider for example the proceedings that we call “games”. I mean board-games, card-games, ball-games, Olympic games, and so on. What is common to them all? — Don’t say: “There must be something common, or they would not be called ‘games’ “-but look and see whether there is anything common to all. — For if you look at them you will not see something that is common to all, but similarities, relationships, and a whole series of them at that. To repeat: don’t think, but look! –‘(Wittgenstein)

‘The idea of family resemblance is Wittgenstein’s answer to the idea of fixity of meaning….In order to show the error in this way of thinking, Wittgenstein uses the metaphor of family resemblance. If we gather together five members of the same family, they probably look alike, although there is no distinctive feature that they all share in comm on. A brother and a sister might have the same dark eyes, while that sister and her father share a slightly turned-up nose. They have a group of shared features, some of which are more distinctly present in some members of the family, while some features are not present at all. Wittgenstein argues that the different uses of one word share the same family resemblance. There is no single defining characteristic of all uses of the word “understanding”; rather, these uses share a kind of family resemblance with one another.’

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Hektor Bim 03.29.06 at 12:54 pm

Here’s a quick test for you. As far as I can tell, the EU is a prime example of the ideals of the Enlightenment made flesh. It’s as near as we get to a supranational institution, and it deliberately weakens the power of nation-states.

What are the positions of Bunting and HP on the EU? As far as I can tell, they are both against it.

Her column on the Enlightenment is confused. The idea of human rights grow pretty much directly out of Enlightenment ideals and the “rights of man”. The bit about 200 year old ideas is laughable on its face – should we stop reading Plato because he is old?

As for Bunting, the way she approaches Hizb-ut-Tahrir and Qaradawi is instructive. She wouldn’t interview neo-Nazis, but religious theocrats are ok.

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Franco 03.29.06 at 2:12 pm

Chris,

Here’s how your post seems to have played out so far:

1. Defining the Enlightenment is a legitimate historical and philosophical exercise, indeed rather entertaining.
2. Bunting tries to subvert “hard” liberals’ invocation of the Enlightenment against contemporary Islamism by pretending it was/is either a) a European weapon against Islam, or b) a social construct.
3. You have long been irked by the positions of some prominent “hard” liberals on the Iraq invasion, Iran, the motoons, etc. and see another opportunity to snap at their heels.
4. So (with a gesture of faux contrarianism) you try to defend 2. in order to achieve 3.
5. Your effort falls flat and you end up sounding, well, as silly as Bunting.
6. You try to salvage some dignity by insisting it was all about 1. and that we should head over to Chris Brooke’s blog.

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tom bach 03.29.06 at 2:17 pm

Bredan,
Thanks for that. But this

“For if you look at them you will not see something that is common to all, but similarities, relationships, and a whole series of them at that.”

doesn’t preclude the creation of a shared project based on “similarities” in desired outcomes and modes of thinking and “realationships . . . a whole series of them at that” actuall suggests that a group of thinkers with shared ideas would or in any event could create a project. How does this definition or characterization, when applied to individuals as opposed to meaning, preclude projects?

As is alluded to above and made explicit on the “more sensible” site, the Enlighteners engaged in a wide-ranging correspondence, in which they discussed, debated, disagreed, and collaborated on a whole range of issues and, in some cases, work in complex networked relationships to bring about a shared goal, like the expansion of practical and theoretical knowledge (the Encyclopedia) which was a kind of a project, no?

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Brendan 03.29.06 at 2:28 pm

Tom
I’m more than happy to continue this debate over at the Virtual Stoa, which has an excellent discussion of these issues. But I think we are getting off topic (which was about Bunting at least to begin with). However, here’s some questions from Stoa that I think are apposite.

If you are going to argue that there really was an Enlightenment Project, then you should be prepared to deal with these points:

‘When do you think the Enlightenment happened?

Even those contemporary historians who are happy to talk of a single “Enlightenment” disagree about what the key period we’re talking about actually is. For Jonathan Israel (Radical Enlightenment), it’s the late C17th and early C18th. As he writes, “even before Voltaire came to be widely known, in the 1740s, the real business was already over”. Is he right, or not?

For a long time, when people wrote of the Enlightenment, they were thinking about France in general, Paris in particular, and – even more particularly – the small group of people clustered around the Encyclopédie of Diderot and d’Alembert. Lots of people want to make “Enlightenment” a broader category than that, but how broad should it go, in geographical terms? Does it include Eastern Europe (apart, perhaps, from Königsberg)?

Was there one Enlightenment, or several?

As we make “Enlightenment” include more than just Paris, we can still ask whether Paris remains a privileged centre or not? Are you “Enlightened” insofar as you are reading the same books as the people in Paris and arguing about them in a language they would understand, or are there alternative ways of being “Enlightened” in the eighteenth century that bypass Paris altogether?

If you talk about the “Scottish Enlightenment”, for example, as people in the last fifty years have quite often done, is this in order to distinguish it from the “French Enlightenment” or the “German Enlightenment” or the “Neapolitan Enlightenment”, or is it to indicate that Scotland was participating in a much broader set of international developments? ‘

Etc. etc. etc.

Link here: http://users.ox.ac.uk/~magd1368/weblog/2006_03_01_archive.html#114363269204153837

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Chris Bertram 03.29.06 at 2:50 pm

Franco, since I didn’t defend either of the propositions you mention Bunting as endorsing, I’ll put you down as a troll.

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Doctor Slack 03.29.06 at 3:01 pm

Hektor:

1. Bunting’s piece has a polemical slant, but given the generally polemical environment of contemporary “discussion” about the so-called “clash of civilizations” it’s hard to particularly fault her on that score.

2. I’m not going to argue that the piece linked here is her strongest writing or anything, but your complaint that it’s “confused” seems, ummm, confused to me. The column takes confusion as its overt theme — basically saying “here are a bunch of conflicting views about the Enlightenment, and I’m not sure who’s right but I’m troubled by people who invoke ‘the Enlightenment’ too readily to defend ‘muscular liberalism'”. Obviously it doesn’t succeed as a thoroughgoing critique of “the Enlightenment,” but this strikes me as irrelevant, since it makes to pretense to being such.

3. I completely agree with you that her statement “why do people think an understanding of rationality which is over 200 years old is useful now” is silly and sloppy. In context with her prior commentaries, though, it seems to me that what she was probably trying to get at is that it’s questionable to what extent 18th-century philosophy should be invoked for moral authority and as a defense of ideological narrowness today. And that basic point is valid enough.

4. I’m not familiar with her positions on the EU and therefore can’t comment on them. However, in gneral it wouldn’t seem to me to follow that a disagreement with this or that potential form of the EU inherently constitutes rejection of “the Enlightenment.” (I think it can be fairly said that much anti-EU sentiment does take advantage of crude nativism, but there’s more going on than that.)

5. Indeed it does not follow that opposing Islamophobia and attacks on the Muslims world means that one must “give up human rights, democracy, and religious freedom” — and nor does it follow that Bunting belongs to a “group” that advocates any such thing.

While you say you dislike HP-style “decent leftists,” your attempted broadsides against Bunting as a suppoed Islamist “apologist” seem to me to be cut from much the same intellectual cloth. For isntance, you appear to view the mere act of interviewing a controversial Muslim figure* as somehow “instructive,” presumably about her supposed apologetics for theocracy. This, to me, is very reminiscent of a “muscular liberal” rhetorical milieu that tends to thrive on accusing such-and-such party of failing to demonize such-and-such Muslim sufficiently for their tastes, which failure is supposed to make them an “apologist” or “appeaser.”** If in fact this is not your grounds for your accusation against Bunting, then you’ll need to get a lot more specific about what your actual objection is.

[* I mean, really, what do you imagine this demonstrates? Are we supposed to remain carefully ignorant of the views of someone like Qardawi because they don’t paint inside the lines of Western liberal sensibility? People do interview members of groups like the Gush Emunim, the American Patriot movement and European neo-Nazi groups (all of which strike me as being considerably more extreme than Qardawi in various ways), without the need to demonize them — would you rather this didn’t happen? Does the fact that some of the journalists who interviewed such groups haven’t interviewed such-and-such Muslim militant mean that they’re “apologists” for those groups?]

[** It’s a specific example of a more general type of argument that’s familiar from, for instance, critiques by various groups about putative “media bias,” usually adapting some form of “How dare [X media outlet] comment on [X group that author despises], and completely fail to call them [X appropriately disparaging term] and talk about all the ways they’re just like [Hitler/Stalin/Mao/Pol Pot/The Dark Lord Sauron]? Coddlers!”]

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tom bach 03.29.06 at 3:25 pm

Brendan,

I have visted the other more reasonable and important site and looked at the questions and the responses. I have also read Isreal, Berlin, Gay, Hazard, Goodman, Van Kley, Bell, Gordon, Maza, Ozouf, Baker, Darton, Habermas, so on and etc as well as a large number of the relevant primary sources, Locke, Wolff, Thomasius, Voltaire, Rousseau, Diderot, Smith, Hume, Ferguson, Kant, Baumgarten, Monty, Condorcet Bayle, so on and so forth and blah blah blah.
Indeed, I have spent quite some time fiddling around, for fun but little profit, with the idea of the Enlightenments (high, low, counter, radical, religious, national and etc).

My interest here is not in what people I have already read had to say but rather with your rather aggressive claim that “In other words, in a very real sense, Bunting was right: there was no ‘Enlightenment Project’ as a unified project with shared aims and goals.”

The last query about the Encyclopedia was actually meant as a real question about an specific document, which would seem to be the sort of thing you thought a more legitimate avenue of investigation: “better still, making reference to specific works,” and designed to indicate of what an, although perhaps not the, Enlightenment Project might consits.

The mention, by others at VS and here more accute than I, of the networks of correspondence that linked together the various individual thinkers conventionally gathered together under the rubrik of “Enlightenment” draws necessarily our attention to a group identity in play for the participants of the Enlightenment(s). Participation in formal and informal communication networks is at least one way of showing the links between these boychiks.

These networks were a means of exchanging information and other more material goods (See Darton). In some cases the material goods exchanged were jobs. In particular men like Voltaire used their position in the center of these networks of communication and clientage as a means of promoting like-minded men and excluding opponents from positions of increased authority.

It may be the case that acted as brokers and patrons only to enjoy the power and prestige that comes from being a broker or a patron. However, it is difficult to believe that this was the sole reason for creating patron-client and informational networks. These networks and their practical results, placing like-minded men in positions of power, increased the likelyhood that reform and change (political, economic, literary and etc) in the 18th century would be guided by these men.

In short, the existence and use of the networks indicates the existence of a project designed to control the nature, pace, and direction of change of the 18th state and society with the ultimate aim (misguided though it may have been, which is only to say that bad things happened)of improving the condition of mankind, which is to say a project dedicated to the progress in perfection of the human race through the use of reason.

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neil 03.29.06 at 4:03 pm

chris, any evidence for the claims you make in your concluding paragraph?

If one assumes by “decent left” you mean those on the left who supported the war in Iraq then it’s hard to see how that position is in any way inconsistent with Enlightenment principles.

It’s hard to know what you mean by “advocates of or apologists for some form of 19th-century ethnic nationalism” as you give no specifics.
(Do you mean that supporting Kurdish or Bosnian self-determination is antithetical to the Enlightenment?). It seems to me that in the cases were the decent left have supported some for of ethnic nationalism, such as with the Kurds and in Bosnia, that was in the context of primarily opposing tyranny. But it’s not a support of nationalism but support exactly for “cosmopolitan universalism championed by Kant” since it is premised on the international community’s obligation to over-ride the principle of national sovereignty for humanitarian purposes.

It’s mildly surprising to see you use this piece by Bunting to make a case against the decent left when she concludes with the pomo attack on reason which would be more pertinent to the current CT theme of defending science.

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Hektor Bim 03.29.06 at 4:11 pm

Doctor Slack,

There are more than two sides here, after all, and neither Bunting nor the HP people represent the full spectrum.

Her article was “confused”, because it’s trying to use a question of academic interest: “What exactly was the Enlightenment?” as a cudgel to go after the “muscular left” and she just suceeded only in trying to limply attack the Enlightenment itself.

The problem with Bunting comes out in the interview, not the mere fact of the interview. It is important to understand what Qaradawi says, but her interview is filled with questionable statements: “Widely regarded as the foremost scholar of Sunni Islam” (by who, exactly?), “Yet western governments need Qaradawi”, “he calls for a peaceful coexistence between Islam and the West”, “He emphasises the need for a Muslim ummah (nation of believers) capable of defending its political and material interests and mentions developing military technology several times”, “Already associated with the radical Islamist Muslim Brotherhood”. This interview was revealing because she asked him no specific questions about his association with the Muslim Brotherhood, nor for example its actions in Egypt, etc. Who are Qaradawi’s associates, what are his political opinions, what is his view of the role of sharia in Muslim democracies that he claims to favor, etc?

It gets worse when she interviews British Muslims. She presents British Muslims as a fairly undifferentiated lot with a religious orientation and a strong identification with their Muslim identity, as opposed to other identities they might have. You wouldn’t know from her stories that gay Muslims exist, or secular Muslims, or atheist people of Muslim descent, or Muslims who decided to convert to other religions, etc. It’s even worse when she holds up Tariq Ramadan as an examplar. Sharia (as traditionally understood) is fundamentally at odds with our traditional conceptions of human rights and political rights. Pretending it is is just trying to pull the wool over people’s eyes, and that is what Bunting is doing.

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Brendan 03.29.06 at 4:11 pm

‘In short, the existence and use of the networks indicates the existence of a project designed to control the nature, pace, and direction of change of the 18th state and society with the ultimate aim (misguided though it may have been, which is only to say that bad things happened)of improving the condition of mankind, which is to say a project dedicated to the progress in perfection of the human race through the use of reason.’

I’m sorry but I just don’t agree, and again I invoke the idea of a family resemblance. You can only make that case if you include some thinkers (and not others) in your list of ‘Enlightenment Thinkers’. And by what criteria do you do that?

On the other hand if you really want to include ALL ‘enlightenment’ thinkers, then you end up with a definition that is so broad as to be meaningless. Your attempted definition above is an example. It has two sections: ‘ a project designed to control the nature, pace, and direction of change of the … state and society with the ultimate aim …of improving the condition of mankind.’

But that could be said of almost any movement, including Christianity, Confucianism, Buddhism, Islam (or ‘Mohammedism’) etc. Hardly anyone actually sets out to make the condition of mankind WORSE.

The second part is: ‘project dedicated to the progress in perfection of the human race through the use of reason.’

But what about Hume in that case? ‘Reason is and ought to be the slave of the passions’ (which some people have thought to be the basic statement of Romanticism). Or what about Rousseau? Or Kant? Or Goethe? You could define any of these thinkers as being ‘of the Enlightenment’ or proto-romantics. As I pointed out before, Bertrand Russell thought that Hume was the origin of modern irrationalism. Kant has been posited as the originator of romanticism and (yes!) cultural relativism (look at the Wikipedia entry on cultural relativism).

As for the existence of networks, so what? I’m part of a ‘network’ by being part of this site. I’m also part of many other social/intellectual networks, via email, inernet discussion groups, blogs, seminars, conferences, unions, and so forth. Doesn’t mean I necessarily agree with many (or any) of these people, let alone that we have a shared approach to anything. And what about as it were ‘anti-networks’ i.e. people who hated each other? Rousseau had a spectacular falling out with Hume (and with almost everyone else). Reid and Hume quarelled bitterly about ‘commmon sense’. Despite Berlin’s heroic attempts, almost every one of the thinkers who he defines as ‘anti-Enlightenment’ have been defined as ‘enlightenment thinkers’ by other thinkers.

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MikeS 03.29.06 at 4:47 pm

“The fact is, of course, that far from being advocates of the kind of cosmopolitan universalism championed by Kant, most of the “decent” left are actually advocates of or apologists for some form of 19th-century ethnic nationalism.”
Pure assertion. What evidence do you have for this? Presumably a Humpty Dumpty definition of “decent left”. Sickening.

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douglas 03.29.06 at 5:03 pm

Brendan,

You are too brainy. Something certainly went on circa 17th/18th c and it made a difference to how we live now. It could reasonably be summarised by the Gallilaen revolution, when idiotic church placemen refused to look through a telescope. It was around about then that evidence based thinking started to replace faith. The world, as it is, owes a debt to folk like Gallileo, Copernicus, and every great thinker who came after them. It is perhaps difficult for you to appreciate that your very ability to join networks is part and parcel of a scientific revolution which was as much of a revolt against consensus belief systems, such as God worship. However the benefits are here for you to see. Descent health care, descent communications, an interest in what the Universe actually is, etc, etc. You have inherited these ideas, whether you are aware of it or not.

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douglas 03.29.06 at 5:08 pm

Descent should, obviously, read decent.

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tom bach 03.29.06 at 5:13 pm

Brendan,

There are several possible answers here. One is that in terms of specifics each author regardless of how tightly bound he may be intellectually or otherwise to a movement is going to produce a text that differs, almost as a matter of necessity, from other members of that same movement. It is not only Enlightenment figures who differed on issue large and small or argued with one another at the drop of various hats. Even so, the Enlightenment figures, as Wolker points out, shared a basic set of ideas that allow them to be grouped together.

The same is true of, for example, the Reformers, no? Melancthon and Luther did not agree on everything but worked, nonetheless, hand in glove to promote the work of reformation. The same is true of Pascal and Nicole or Calvin and Beza. But you wouldn’t argue that these duos didn’t belong to the Evangelical confession, Jansenism, or the Reformed confession, would you?

Why I would bet dollars to donoughts that the American “Founding Fathers” tore at one another hammer and tongs yet they belonged to an identifiable movement with practical outcomes based on shared assumptions. The fact that a movement is sprawling and produces contradictory texts within a shared intellecutal orientation does not mean that it is not a movement.

One would expect to find in a movement dedicated to open intellectual inquiry a great deal of conflict and controversy and among a large or small group of the like-minded great personal hostility.

In terms of Rousseau’s quarrel with Hume, didn’t it result from an invitation from Scot to the Swiss to come and find a safe harbor during a particularly stormy time in the Genevan’s complicated life? Wouldn’t this suggest, at the very least, that the Scot extended to the Genevan the hand of comradeship despite the realization that they differed on key issues? Furthermore, did not Rousseau have some sort of a mental as opposed to intellectual crisis on arriving and it was this precipitated the quarrel? Are not the concrete causes of the tiffs and shenanigans as important as you claim the intellectual difference between the thinkers to be?

Speaking of which, did not Rousseau defend Helvitius, when his book was burnt, even though the Genevan disagreed violently with the Helvetious’ materialism? Where there not as many cases, in other words, of Englightenment thinkers acting in solidarity when confronted with outside pressure as there were internal fissures?

Surely there is a difference between an informal network designed to circulate ideas and patron-client network designed to find consequential employment for fellow travelors. Or that other movements in the past and present rife with internal disagreements did not pursue a similar path in the hope of gaining control of the levers of power in the search of a shared outcome.

You cannot mean to argue that unions do not seek to find employment for fellow memebers and once so employed all do not seek to leverage those positions to the greater advantage of their fellows. Even if they disagree on specifics or have personality conflicts. The one union to which I belonged was riven by internal strife, on a wide array of issues, yet presented to the world a more or less united front and worked to protect and expand its influence.

In other words, individuals can disagree on specifics and yet still undertake a project designed to bring about a shared vision of the future.

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Doctor Slack 03.29.06 at 5:34 pm

Hektor:

1. Her article was “confused”, because it’s trying to use a question of academic interest: “What exactly was the Enlightenment?” as a cudgel to go after the “muscular left” and she just suceeded only in trying to limply attack the Enlightenment itself.

I’d say this characterization was defensible only insofar as one assumes Bunting’s reportage of this or that viewpoint to be uncritical endorsement thereof — a contention I find highly dubious — or that one takes her “200 years” comment to be a comprehensive philosophical statement rather than a poorly-thought-out rhetorical slip. You’re welcome to those opinions, but it seems strange to me that you would default to them and then complain about how it’s Bunting and her HP interlocutors who are guilty of being dull and over-polemical.

2. As to “the problem with Bunting,” it seems to me that (for instance in the case of the Qaradawi interview) you’re trying much too hard to discern positive assertions from absences in Bunting’s writing, an activity that’s always chancy and often leads to mistakes. I’m glad you clarified your stand because at least it establishes that you’re not quite taking an HP-style sort of line, but I see a family resemblance between “why didn’t the reporter ask X question” and “why didn’t the journalist call them X instead of Y.” It’s obviously tempting from a polemical standpoint, and I completely understand that, but when push comes to shove I don’t think a journalist who interviewed Ariel Sharon and failed to bring up Sabra and Chatila would have been an “apologist” for those actions, and ultimately I don’t see a justification for playing that game with Bunting.

And guess what? Virtually any newspaper article will contain assertions that some people find “questionable” or contestable, and will fail to address pet issues that this or that reader thinks are absolutely crucial. Guess what? They’re newspaper articles, not monographs or dissertations. If you’d like to contest a statement about Qaradawi you should do so; but we could use a lot less of people jumping into conversations with “she doesn’t structure her columns around my views about Sharia and the West, ergo she must be an apologist for evil.” Again, it strikes me as incoherent to do this sort of thing and then complain about how other people are “carping” or being boring polemicists.

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roger 03.29.06 at 6:44 pm

Hey, to skew the discussion a bit, there is a distinct, early 18th century Arabic (or North African) view of what was going on in Europe. Go to a nice little article in the Journal of Early Modern History (Spring, 05) by Nabil Matar entitled: Confronting Decline in Early Modern Arabic Thought — which has an overview of the reaction to Early modern science and the first budding of the European Enlightenment by Arabic thinkers of the time Matar starts with a dialogue in a book to teach french that appeared in Egypt in 1701. It has some great dialogues between a party attended by French Capuchin, Egyptian Christians and Moslems.

“The speakers discuss topics such as the baking of bread, shopping for jubn
ifranji (French cheese), and the after effects of wine. A saqqa (wine-server),
by the name of Nasir, complains that “before the war of the Muslims with the Venetians, we used to import wine from Crete; now it comes only from Cyprus and Syracuse.” Still, despite the poor quality of that wine, the saqqa praises it for dilating the mind; if the water of the Nile were wine, he says, I would turn myself into a fish and swim there forever— words that bring a firm reprimand from the qissees (priest).”

However, after a while the dialogue turns to — underdevelopment. Or, why are the Europeans monopolizing the production of wine? So the speakers start speaking about wisdom. “Murad declares that mankind’s ancient wisdom began among the Chaldeans, then moved to the Egyptians, the Greeks, the Arabs, and finally to the Latins, “I mean the ifranj [French, Europeans] among whom there are now more learned scholars than in the past.”

So Ali retorts:

Ali: Hasibtu al-Arab mua’llimeen al-dunya. [I thought the Arabs were the teachers of the world.]
Murad: Keef mua’llimeen al-dunya. Qul wa tusduq fi kalamika in ma baqa baynahum la ilm wa la aalim. [Why do you think they are teachers of the world: say and believe what you say, neither knowledge nor teachers are left among them.]

Ali becomes emotional and draws Murad’s attention to the knowledge of jurisprudence among the Arabs, and to the number of sheikhs whowere masters in preparing talismans, in sand prognostication, and in soothsaying. “Ah, Ah, Ah,” replies Murad, “is this how you prove the
wisdom of the Arabs?! Believe me, this is proof of their ignorance.”

A conversation that has been going on for centuries.

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tom bach 03.29.06 at 8:20 pm

Brendan,
I said we can think of the Enlightenment “project [as] dedicated to the progress in perfection of the human race through the use of reason.” You suggested that Kant, for one, doesn’t agree. Although violating your own strictures you mentioned not a specific text but rather the projected compendium of all human knowledge Wikipedia (think all the folks involved in the project and movement agree about the number of angels that can dance on a the head of garlic or the role of common sense in figuring out eternal truths?)

I direct your attention to “The Prinicple of Progress.” There our pal Manny writes: “I will therefore, venture to assume that as the human race is continually advancing in civilization and culture as its natural purpose, so it is continual making progress for the better relation to the moral end of its existence, and that this progress although it may be sometimes interrupted will never be entirely broken off or stopped.” Sounds like a belief in the progress in perfection to me.

What, the inquiring mind wants to know, does Manny say about reason’s role in this little ungoing historical drama?

He writes: “I neither can nor will regard [mankind] as so sunk in evil that the practical moral reason could ultimately fail to triumph over this eveil, even after many of its attempts have failed.” Sounds like a positive evaluation of reason’s role in the constant movement towards a paradise even on this ball of dirt, we call earth.

For the struggle between Kant as upholder of reason and those who would undermine him see Beiser, Frederick, _The Fate of Reason_

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John Landon 03.29.06 at 9:34 pm

I find this commentary by Bunting disorienting, but then after a generation of postmodernism, it shouldn’t be surprising.
We have lost the ability, it seems, to defend a crucial turning point in history, and get distracted by debates over progress and rationality.

I can only recommend a close look at the eonic effect, http://history-and-evolution.com. There we see that the issue is the modern transition, which includes to total effect of the period of transition starting with the Reformation and leading to the Great Divide, i.e. the period the Enlightenment.
This transition, then, includes The Reformation, The Scientific Revolution, modern philosophy from Descarte to German Classical Philosophy, Hume, the Industrial Revolution, the birth of modern capitalism, the birth of democracy….
That’s a short list.
Does Madeleine Bunting wish this never happened, and prefer to let the status quo ante stand as superior? Yes or no?

Asking why Islam had no Reformation is an excellent question. Here again the question requires perception of the eonic effect.

It is important to understand the immense counterrevolution being attempted against this phase of history. So I think it important to recast the whole issue in a new updated form without the Eurocentric nonsense that has temporarily derailed the question.

In general, debates over rationality can be useless. Such quibbles. We see that the Enlightenment itself includes its own ‘dialectic’ here, and Kant’s ‘critique’ of reason is one of the seminal sources of the very opposition to the Enlightenment we see, as a sort of postmodern backwash.
These issues, then, are dwarfed by the transition factor, which includes a comprehensive, truly massive social transformation that rapidly began to globalize in the nineteenth century. The Enlightenment is just one small aspect of that total transformation.
Part of the problem is the narrow definition of the Enlightenment in terms of ‘reason’. But even this is a small universe of discourse, between the philosophes, Kant, Hegel, and many others. The Enlightenment as a periodized cultural totality inside the still greater totality of the modern transition is beyond definition, being a greater dialectical unity, as Hegel well understood. Thus postmodernism is simply a leaf from the Enlightenment book, a moment in the progression started by Kant.

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Brendan 03.30.06 at 2:25 am

‘Descent health care, descent communications, an interest in what the Universe actually is, etc, etc’

You see this is the sort of thing I am talking about. ‘descent’ (sic) health care (by which I presume you mean the NHS, or epidemiology or something) is because of Voltaire? Bollocks.

As for the claim that before the 18th century nobody had an interest in ‘what the Universe actually is': double bollocks.

Gallileo and Copernicus were not Enlightenment thinkers by any definition. Nice to be accused of being ‘too brainy’ though. That’s the sort of insult I can handle.

Incidentally I never claimed that Kant ‘didn’t believe in progress’ (I started out by quoting or describing a primary source which showed perfectly well he did), I said that he had been linked (and not just by Wikipedia) as being associated with cultural relativism. And if there’s one thing the ‘decents’ hate it’s cultural relativism…..

I’m afraid the way this ‘debate’ has developed confirms my feeling that the whole ‘debate’ is just ridiculous. My basic point remains: if you want to bomb Iraq (or Iran): fine. But don’t pretend you are doing it because there is something called the ‘Enlightenment Project’ that states (apparently, somewhere) that it’s the right thing to do.

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abb1 03.30.06 at 2:43 am

In short, the existence and use of the networks indicates the existence of a project designed to control the nature, pace, and direction of change of the 18th state and society with the ultimate aim […] of improving the condition of mankind, which is to say a project dedicated to the progress in perfection of the human race through the use of reason.

I think that this idea that a bunch of individual heroes just decided to get together and start working on perfection of the human race through the use of reason and this is what produced the enlightenment – this approach itself is extremely romantic. Here’s an alternative view you may want to consider.

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soru 03.30.06 at 5:57 am

Historical materialism is not so much an alternative view, as the other side of the same coin. It explains why what they did was not impossible, as it would have been in other places and times. It doesn’t provide a usable deterministic explanation for what they individually and collectively did, any more than you can usefully predict the behaviour of a biological system from a knowledge of chemistry, but not evolution.

Back on topic, you could do a simple materialist analysis of Salman Rushdie’s security costs versus income from Arabic-language book sales. If that came out the way I would suspect, then that would show that Rushdie is a member of a class that cannot exist solely within Arabic/islamic culture, just as a hunter-gatherer village with no production surplus cannot support specialist nobles, soldiers or capitalists. On that analysis, he, like several other authors and commentators, only survives by being ‘propped up’ by westerners buying his books and western governments providing free security. This situation should be a familiar analogy to any student of 19C imperialism (although these days he is more like an ex-monarch in exile, as I don’t think his books are widely read by people who self-identify with Islamic culture).

The class in question is the class of non-clerics, non-politicians, non-soldiers, non-aristocrats who get paid for having a publicly expressed, distributed and influential opinion on morals and politics – in Marxist jargon, the intelligentsia.

The extent to which that class exists within the arabic-speaking/islamic world is the extent to which that world has gone through the same set of historical-materialist developments as the western world did in the Enlightenment era.

See also: Iraqi blogs.

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tom bach 03.30.06 at 6:45 am

Abb1,

I don’t recall calling anyone a hero or that the use of networks produced the Enlightenment.

Brendan,

Well put, after all I have several times made reference to how I see the Englightenment Project justifying bombing Iraq. Wait, no I didn’t. No I don’t.

In terms of all the “linking” (by contemporary Encyclopedists and unnamed others) of this or that thinker to some later movement or set of ideas raises the question: Are we to judge the meaning of actions and ideas in their context or by their later interpreters? This is a popular strategy among opponents who argue (wrongly) that Darwin was responsible for the Holocaust.

The other oddity in all this is that your rejection of the coherence of the idea of an Enlightenment Project includes the use of other, potentially, ficitive totalizing concepts, like Romanticism. (On the multivocality of which see Lovejoy.) Why is that you accept or seem to accept the existence of one while rejecting another? Surely, if one is undermined by the debates and disagreements among alleged members so too is the other, no?

If that is so, that is if disagreements and disputes between individuals precludes their inclusion in a group, then, given that no one agrees all the time on all things with others in their putative group, are we not forced to discuss only the individuals without ever deploying the dreaded fictive totalizing concept?

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brendan 03.30.06 at 7:06 am

I’m not arguing that the Enlightenment didn’t EXIST. That’s like arguing that Wittgenstein didn’t think that families EXISTED. I’m saying that there was no Enlightenment Project (with shared aims and goals). Ipso facto there also was no Romanticism Project, because then you run into exactly the same problems (was Byron a member of this ‘project’ and so on).

To repeat, like Wittgenstein, I’m not trying to take a ‘position’ in the ‘debate’ on whether or not the Enlightenment really ‘existed': I’m trying to show that the whole ‘debate’ is completely pointless (indeed, meaningless) and leads nowhere.

Incidentally this thread is actually about Bunting, and her article, and it is not a coincidence that ALL the blogs who have attacked her are also fans of the US invasion of Iraq. They aren’t attacking her because they have all suddenly woken up and decided that they really agreed with Hume on causation. They are attacking her because using the rhetoric of ‘enlightenment’ is a key part of justifying the invasion, and they see that what Bunting is really getting at is the war in Iraq. And they are right.

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abb1 03.30.06 at 7:34 am

No, Soru, it’s not the other side of the same coin. Note that Tom also offers Wikipedia as another ‘project’. Well, this one is a more recent and clear example; think about it: does the Wikipedia exist because some people made it their lifetime-pursuit to educate the masses, or is it a natural, inevitable result of technological and socio-economic develpment? I think the answer is clear.

As far as Rushdie goes, you seem to be generalizing too much and being excessively harsh on “Arabic/islamic culture” (why Arabic?). Islamic culture produced plenty of intelligentsia, from Avicenna to, well, to Rushdie, I guess. Voltaire too spent some years in exile, you know.

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soru 03.30.06 at 9:06 am

Well, this one is a more recent and clear example; think about it: does the Wikipedia exist because some people made it their lifetime-pursuit to educate the masses, or is it a natural, inevitable result of technological and socio-economic develpment?

That would seem to be an absolutely perfect illustration of my point. Had a wikipedia-like project been tried in 1955, it would have failed -the costs (in terms of man hours, postage, printing, …) would have exceeded the available funds by several orders of magnitude.

The fact that it became possible did not mean that it became inevitable, just that it became possible.

being excessively harsh on “Arabic/islamic culture”

Check the way I phrased it – any judgement is yours, not mine. You can easily find examples of the kind of person I was talking about, to a greater or lesser degree, in Iran, Lebanon, Palestine, Iraq, Malaysia, and so on. I’m not sure of why you are not aware of them.

Voltaire too spent some years in exile, you know.

Again, my point made. Voltaire lived during, not after, the enlightenment.

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Jason Kuznicki 03.30.06 at 9:28 am

“I’m not even going to the next stages of the standard HP argument, that because the so-called ‘Muslim’ (or ‘Arab’) world has not yet had an ‘enlightenment’ therefore blah blah blah.

“Finally: please for God’s sake: if you want to bomb Iraq (or Iran) hey, be my guest. But don’t pretend that it’s what Voltaire would have wanted.”

It is fully possible to believe that the Arab world would benefit from the ideals of the Enlightenment. And one may also believe that those ideals are not best propagated through bombing. Indeed, it seems to me the only sensible position around (and it is, of course, my own).

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abb1 03.30.06 at 9:51 am

No, I think under current socio-economic conditions it did become inevitable, statistically speaking. Just like the search engines and internet commerce.

It’s not as if Tim Berners-Lee died young it wouldn’t have happened. It would’ve happend pretty much the same way and pretty much around the same time.

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soru 03.30.06 at 11:09 am

No, I think under current socio-economic conditions it did become inevitable, statistically speaking. Just like the search engines and internet commerce.

Whereas I think that not everything that is possible is inevitable. In particular, I am pretty sure there are things right now that are economically feasible, but don’t yet exist.

Of course, it is hard to point to an example of something that doesn’t exist yet. Ask again in 5 years.

As I said before, the relationship is that of chemistry and biology – no chemically impossible creature exists, but not every chemically possible one does. In particular, there are no wheeled animals.

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Doctor Slack 03.30.06 at 11:16 am

Incidentally, to take a complete detour: I don’t want to seem like I’m picking on Hektor here, but I noticed this in passing earlier.

Yes, but the post on “On Beauty” was largely content-free except to express your astonishment at people who disliked it. And predictably, people piled on to make fun of people who were put off by the book.

Not that I have a long, sophisticated response or anything, except to say: WTF? I never saw anything like this in that thread.

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brendan 03.30.06 at 1:22 pm

‘there are no wheeled animals’ (Soru)

‘It is not true to say that nature hasn’t invented the wheel: bacteria have been using it to get around for millions of years. It is the basis of the bacterial flagellum, which looks a bit like a corkscrew and which rotates continuously to drive the organism along. About half of all known bacteria have at least one flagellum.

Each is attached to a “wheel” embedded in the cell membrane that rotates hundreds of times per second, driven by a tiny electric motor. Electricity is generated by rapidly changing charges in a ring of proteins that is attached to the surrounding membrane. Positively charged hydrogen ions are pumped out from the cell surface using chemical energy. These then flow back in, completing the circuit and providing the power for the wheel to rotate.

The only nutrients that the flagellum needs are protein building blocks to allow it to grow longer. These are forced up through the hollow centre of the flagellum and are assembled into new flagellar material when they reach the end.

It is a very sophisticated piece of nanotechnology and even has a reverse gear that helps the organism find food. So, far from nature not having invented the wheel, given the very large number of bacteria in existence, there are probably more wheels in the world than any other form of locomotion.’

http://www.newscientist.com/backpage.ns?id=mg18524852.700

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tom bach 03.30.06 at 1:31 pm

Brendan,

The Wittgensteinian position does not preclude relationships, in fact it asserts a whole series of them, which, as I said earlier, translated from words and meaning to people, ideas and projects does nothing to preclude, exclude or denude the Enlightenment of project or projects.

“On the other hand if you really want to include ALL ‘enlightenment’ thinkers, then you end up with a definition that is so broad as to be meaningless.”

Granted this does not explicitly say that you reject the notion of the Enlightenment, but it certainly implies that as used it is, as you wrote, meaningless.

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abb1 03.30.06 at 1:35 pm

Soru, of course there are things possible that don’t exist; I’m not talking about mobile phones with pizza cutters built in, I’m talking about big things.

All I am saying is that the Enlightenment didn’t happen because Volaire with Kant had a project, industrial revolution didn’t happen because Henry Ford got an idea and the informational revolution didn’t happen because Al Gore took the initiative.

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tom bach 03.30.06 at 1:51 pm

Jason,
Averroes, some might argue, represented an Islamic Enlightenment, so it would or in any event might be a case of going backwards to go forward.

I have been meaning to ask this for a while, being largely ignorant of the rhetorical flourishes of four flushers, decently left, right, or center, but who was it that claimed the Enlightenment, or if you prefer the “Enlightenemtn,” authorized bombing anyone?

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Doctor Slack 03.30.06 at 2:26 pm

Tom: who was it that claimed the Enlightenment, or if you prefer the “Enlightenemtn,” authorized bombing anyone?

The moral rightness of imposing “Enlightenment” values on this or that part of the world is a very popular theme of the “decent” left in the blogosphere — a sort modern-day adaptation of “white man’s burden” thinking that’s hit on the innovation of claiming that the real racists are liberals and leftists who don’t see such a project as viable. Via the Harry’s Place blog which is part of the subject of this thread, for instance, we have David Thompson, who rather dances around the question of Iraq (though it seems fair to suppose it’s on his mind more than a little) but otherwise strikes all the usual (dis)chords. This sort of commentary tends to be part of a broader enthusiasm for “Clash of Civilizations”-style polemic (if you’re really interested in finding more of it, a quick search for articles related to the so-called “Cartoon Intifida” should turn up plenty more).

More directly, we actually had a case of someone directly invoking an Enlightenment philosopher on behalf of the Iraq War on a recent CT thread. See posts 147 and 168 here. Zdenek isn’t atypical.

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tom bach 03.30.06 at 2:45 pm

Doctor Slack,

Thanks.

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soru 03.30.06 at 3:46 pm

One thing, when talking about Harry’s Place, it is important to remember it is primarily a UK blog, and so covers UK political parties and movements like the SWP, Respect, Hizb ut-Tahrir, MaB, etc. None of which, as I understand it, have any direct equivalent in the US, certainly not at the level of contesting elections and winning seats.

Similarly, there is no meaningful religious Christian right in the UK, and anyone who claims otherwise is probably a paranoid loon. But it would be a big mistake to apply that rule of thumb to the US, where they are obviously a significant electoral force. Different countries, different cultures, different politics.

If you don’t like HP, another blog that covers much of the same ground (but without the Iraq war support) is http://www.pickledpolitics.com/.

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novakant 03.30.06 at 6:17 pm

idea of reason’s over-reaching ending in tears in the Terror is also, recognizably, the story Hegel tells in the Phenomenology

I think you’re alluding to Hegel’s “terror of virtue” (“Terror der Tugend”) here, but nobody of importance posited that virtue or morality was grounded solely in reason (certainly not Kant), so I don’t see your point there and Hegel clearly champions a form of reason, albeit not a simple one (“der zu sich selbst gekommene Geist”), as the highest form of human development

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zdenek 03.31.06 at 7:48 am

The main component of Chris B’s inconsistancy criticism of ‘decent left’ is his claim that it embraces suspect type of nationalism ( involves ethnic criteria of membership etc ) together with enlightnment cosmopolitanism ala Kant. Obviously this is powerful criticism ( to show inconsistancy in someones position is seriously criplling ) so is it the case that decent left has this problem ?

Well I doubt that Norman Geras or Hitchens would want to defend nationalism of this sort last time I checked , so Chris B must be talking about HP posters and commenters. But here I have a problem : when David T who is the most outspoken commenter at HP on the subject of national identity queried Chris’s claim @# 27 above , Chris B would not respond.
Its seems that he needs to say something especially since he offered no backing up in his main post but I will not hold my breath.

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zdenek 03.31.06 at 8:12 am

brendan — In terms of output and shear persistance you are difficult to beat but what you say about Hume and Kant is wrong headed and suggests that you dont understand their work at all. For instance your take on Hume’s famous thesis that reason is and should be slave of the passions is taken out of context totally : Hume is talking about morality only and not reason generally.
This is important because the conclusions you want to draw from it will not stand up precisely because they are based on shallow misunderstandings of the philosophers whose work you mention. Hint : read some Hume / Kant .

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