Sunday, September 15, 2019

The Enlightenment Was A Wrong Turn

I find myself in agreement with thinkers like Leo Strauss, Hannah Arendt, Alasdair MacIntyre, and others (including Martin Heidegger), who have been suggesting in their works that the Enlightenment was a wrong turn that humanity took in the 18th century. The departure from premodern philosophy did not lead to better philosophy and politics—it brought modern philosophy to a dead end and gave rise to several totalitarian movements.

The Enlightenment philosophers proclaimed the supremacy of reason, but they didn’t acknowledge that reason can be effective only when it operates within the bounds of a tradition. From their writings, it is possible to draw the inference that they were not even interested in understanding the nature and scope of reason; for them, the idea of reason was merely a political tool for promoting the atheistic worldview that man’s material or biological nature is his entire essence. But the projection of reason as a method of knowing that operates independent of all traditional contexts is a recipe for political problems—it implies the supremacy of the man or group of men who are able to take control of the intellectual discourse and the political process.

It is true that a man's reason cannot operate in a vacuum. A man, alienated from the traditional way of living, will find it difficult to gather knowledge for making the right choices. Therefore the way out is reincorporation of premodern norms to supplement modernity—this is what the thinkers like Strauss, Arendt, and MacIntyre have said.


Anonymous said...

Agree. Reason is a tool, not the elixir mankind has been searching for. Years ago I read Jung's Man and his symbols. He made the observation there that reason and science have have created wondrous benefits for mankind but there was a price to pay in its exclusivity clause. The after effect was a dry, cold intellectual existence. Man, in his search for the keys to unlock the mysteries in a lab has in the process dehumanized himself to a computer with an urgent task to fulfill.

Anoop Verma said...

@Hermione: You are right. Perhaps the Enlightenment thinkers made the mistake of making a clean break with the past. Many of the philosophers who followed them did the same thing. Perhaps they should have created the new structure of philosophy by using some of the useful elements of the past. But they had this notion of creating a totally new kind of world that is better than anything that has existed in the past. I think tradition and modernity should always walk hand in hand.