Preconditions for the Enlightenment?

I was reading a story about how forces in Mali have beaten back their Al Qaeda enemies and then promptly set about committing war atrocities. It occurred to me that they could really use an Enlightenment.

The American Revolution is remarkable among 18th century wars for, among many other reasons, its general lack of war atrocities. This is understandable. Both sides were lead by people who were products of, and participants in, the Enlightenment. Or to be more precise: The European Enlig…

  1. genferei

    Not only is this a gross caricature of something that might be called an Enlightenment (“a turn to reason, science and skepticism over the traditional super naturalism and superstition”), it ignores the criticisms of ‘the Enlightenment’ (and/or ‘the Enlightenment project’) from left, right and center. (I also wonder whether war atrocities really trend downwards after the 18th century…)

    tl;dr Bait taken.

  2. Barkha Herman

    Prosperity.

    The American Revolution was unlike both Russian and French Revolutions, in that it was not an uprising of peasants against tyranny.

    No, it was more like Roman land owners deciding to come together to beat back the invading barbarian (not exactly, but you what I mean).

    It was wealthy land owners deciding that they had the right to their property and they were willing to fight for it.

    That, in my mind, is the difference.

  3. katievs

    To achieve the goods of the Enlightenment, you need, first of all, centuries of Christianity.

  4. katievs

    I’m thinking, for instance, of these basic ideas, inculcated through Christian dogma and experience:

    - The dignity of the human person

    - The goodness of creation

    - The possibility of transcendence

    - The idea of an Omnipotent Creator who has made man in his image and according to discernible design that includes such goods as reason and free will

    - The idea of private property

    - The idea of conscience

    - The idea of duty

    - The equality of the sexes and the institution of marriage as for one man and one woman

  5. Amy Schley
    genferei: Not only is this a gross caricature of something that might be called an Enlightenment (“a turn to reason, science and skepticism over the traditional super naturalism and superstition”), it ignores the criticisms of ‘the Enlightenment’ (and/or ‘the Enlightenment project’) from left, right and center. (I also wonder whether war atrocities really trend downwards after the 18th century…)

    tl;dr Bait taken. · 12 minutes ago

    Amen …

    How about there were relatively few war atrocities because the British Army was under orders to negotiate with the colonists where ever possible.  

    Yes, we won the American revolution the same way the North Vietnamese won Vietnam — fighting a force that was given contradictory missions from a political class that wasn’t sure how to fight.

  6. Amy Schley

    Oh, and do remember that the Enlightenment is where the notion of a philosopher-king benevolent dictatorship was praised … Look at how Christina of Sweden or Peter the Great or Catherine the Great of Russia [were lauded by Voltaire, Descartes, and the like even as those rules let their people starve and launched wars of territorial conquest.]

  7. Majestyk
    katievs: I’m thinking, for instance, of these basic ideas, inculcated through Christian dogma and experience:

    - The dignity of the human person

    - The goodness of creation

    - The possibility of transcendence

    - The idea of an Omnipotent Creator who has made man in his image and according to discernible design that includes such goods as reason and free will

    - The idea of private property

    - The idea of conscience

    - The idea of duty

    - The equality of the sexes and the institution of marriage as for one man and one woman · 29 minutes ago

    I really can’t imagine a place more like what you describe than Catholic France, where the Revolution saw no end of privation, massacre and diminution of the fundamental humanity of people far and wide.

    In a certain sense you could argue that France was one of the birthplaces of the Enlightenment but it still fell into barbarism – liberte, egalite, fraternite!

    I think that the secret sauce is that we save all of our deepest hatreds for those closest to us; hence why Civil Wars are typically especially bloody and marked by atrocity and slaughter.

  8. Foxman
    katievs: To achieve the goods of the Enlightenment, you need, first of all, centuries of Christianity. · 42 minutes ago

    I fairly sure that the Enlightenment was at least in part about throwing off the authority and abuses of the Church.  Galilio comes to mind.

  9. katievs
    Foxman

    katievs: To achieve the goods of the Enlightenment, you need, first of all, centuries of Christianity. · 42 minutes ago

    I fairly sure that the Enlightenment was at least in part about throwing off the authority and abuses of the Church.  Galilio comes to mind. · 0 minutes ago

    I agree.  It was partly a response to abuses of power.

  10. katievs
    Majestyk

    I really can’t imagine a place more like what you describe than Catholic France, where the Revolution saw no end of privation, massacre and diminution of the fundamental humanity of people far and wide.

    The Jacobins were anti-Catholic.  They were generally militantly atheistic.

    That’s one key difference between the French and the American revolutions.  The American revolutionaries were not anti-Christian.  They understood that they were calling for a new political order, not for a new interpretation of the universe—one that tried to abolish religion and morality.

  11. Amy Schley
    Foxman

    katievs: To achieve the goods of the Enlightenment, you need, first of all, centuries of Christianity. · 42 minutes ago

    I fairly sure that the Enlightenment was at least in part about throwing off the authority and abuses of the Church.  Galilio comes to mind. · 1 minute ago

    1) Galileo was put on trial in the 1630s … not during the Enlightenment 100 years later.

    2) Galileo was tried and put under house arrest mostly for running afoul of Vatican politics, including insulting scientists who were right about astronomy where Galileo was wrong.

  12. Fred Cole
    katievs

    Majestyk

    I really can’t imagine a place more like what you describe than Catholic France, where the Revolution saw no end of privation, massacre and diminution of the fundamental humanity of people far and wide.

    The Jacobins were anti-Catholic.  They were generally militantly atheistic.

    That’s one key difference between the French and the American revolutions.  The American revolutionaries were not anti-Christian.  They understood that they were calling for a new political order, not for a new interpretation of the universe—one that tried to abolish religion and morality. · 2 minutes ago

    The American Revolution, and I paused when I typed those words in the OP, wasn’t a revolution.  It was a war of independence.  It didn’t overturn the existing social order, it merely extended it under an independent government.

  13. Foxman
    Amy Schley

    Foxman

    katievs: To achieve the goods of the Enlightenment, you need, first of all, centuries of Christianity. · 42 minutes ago

    I fairly sure that the Enlightenment was at least in part about throwing off the authority and abuses of the Church.  Galilio comes to mind. · 1 minute ago

    1) Galileo was put on trial in the 1630s … not during the Enlightenment 100 years later.

    2) Galileo was tried and put under house arrest mostly for running afoul of Vatican politics, including insulting scientists who were right about astronomy where Galileo was wrong. · 1 minute ago

     

    I can see where I was unclear.  I did not mean to say that Galilio was persecuted  during the enlightenment, I meant to say that the Enlightenment was in part a reaction to the past abuses of the Church.

    According to Wikipedia, OK not the most authoritative source, the Enlightenment started in the  late seventeenth century.

    I always heard that the dispute was geocentrism vs heliocentrism.  What were the other issues where Galilio was wrong?

  14. Fred Cole
    katievs: To achieve the goods of the Enlightenment, you need, first of all, centuries of Christianity. · 1 hour ago

    Then in your next post your list several things you see as features of that Christianity.

    - The dignity of the human person

    - The goodness of creation

    - The possibility of transcendence

    - The idea of an Omnipotent Creator who has made man in his image and according to discernible design that includes such goods as reason and free will

    - The idea of private property

    - The idea of conscience

    - The idea of duty

    - The equality of the sexes and the institution of marriage as for one man and one woman

    Of those, dignity of the person and private property, while they existed before the Enlightenment, are better seen as a product of it.  Equality of the sexes didn’t come until centuries later.  And several of these are not features specific to Christianity.  

    So I’m wondering if we can pare your list down.  And if Christianity is actually a precondition, because you’re obviously not going to get that in the Islamic world.

  15. katievs
    Foxman

    I meant to say that the Enlightenment was in part a reaction to the past abuses of the Church.

    I agree with this.  But it doesn’t affect my claim above.  That some Christian political regimes were abusive doesn’t alter the fact that the Enlightenment, both historically and philosophically, is a development of the Christian worldview.

    It’s not a coincidence that it arose in Christian societies.  It’s not a surprise that its valid achievements have been assimilated by the Church.  It’s no wonder that many of its major pre-cursors and proponents were also ardent believers.  

  16. Amy Schley
    Foxman

    The Assayer:

    The Assayer (Il Saggiatore in Italian) was a book published in Rome by Galileo Galilei in October 1623. .. The book was a polemic against the treatise on the comets of 1618 by Orazio Grassi, a Jesuit mathematician at the Collegio Romano. …

    This time, the target of Galileo’s wit and sarcasm was the cometary theory of a Jesuit, Orazio Grassi, who argued from parallax that comets move above the Moon. Galileo mistakenly countered that comets are an optical illusion.

    He also dismissed Kepler’s ideas of elliptical orbits and tides caused by the moon in favor of “God must have made orbits perfect circles because God likes simple geometry” and “tides were caused by the sloshing back and forth of water in the seas as a point on the Earth’s surface sped up and slowed down because of the Earth’s rotation on its axis and revolution around the Sun.”

    And let’s not get into the intelligence of calling your political leader “Simpatico” [fool] in a world that doesn’t have First Amendment protections.

  17. katievs
    Fred Cole

    katievs: 

    Of those, dignity of the person and private property, while they existed before the Enlightenment, are better seen as a product of it.  Equality of the sexes didn’t come until centuries later.  And several of these are not features specific to Christianity.  

    So I’m wondering if we can pare your list down.  And if Christianity is actually a precondition, because you’re obviously not going to get that in the Islamic world. 

    Equality of the sexes, while not fully realized in custom, law and culture for centuries, is still, I would argue, a development of Christianity.  It can be traced to Jesus’s very unusual treatment of women and then NT verses like “In Christ there is neither man nor woman…”  Most important, it established  marriage between one man and one woman as a Sacrament.  And it enjoined men not to “lord it over” their wives, but to “lay down their lives” for them.

    I would argue, further, that the Enlightenment relies fundamentally on ideas that are explicitly rejected in Islam, such as that there is such a thing as natural law.

  18. Mollie Hemingway
    C
    Amy Schley

    Foxman

    katievs: To achieve the goods of the Enlightenment, you need, first of all, centuries of Christianity. · 42 minutes ago

    I fairly sure that the Enlightenment was at least in part about throwing off the authority and abuses of the Church.  Galilio comes to mind. · 1 minute ago

    1) Galileo was put on trial in the 1630s … not during the Enlightenment 100 years later.

    2) Galileo was tried and put under house arrest mostly for running afoul of Vatican politics, including insulting scientists who were right about astronomy where Galileo was wrong. · 49 minutes ago

    Of all of our “just so” stories, the one we’ve invented about Galileo is my favorite.

  19. Amy Schley
    katievs

    Fred Cole

    katievs: 

    Of those, dignity of the person and private property, while they existed before the Enlightenment, are better seen as a product of it.  Equality of the sexes didn’t come until centuries later.  And several of these are not features specific to Christianity.  

    Equality of the sexes, while not fully realized in custom, law and culture for centuries, is still, I would argue, a development of Christianity.  

    I would argue, further, that the Enlightenment relies fundamentally on ideas that are explicitly rejected in Islam, such as that there is such a thing as natural law. · 10 minutes ago

    Equality of the sexes may be a Christian idea, but it is certainly not an Enlightenment one!  Enlightenment ideas on “scientifically” examining the world were actually used to justify the stripping of rights from women and minorities.  (E.g. in 1500, 10% of the barber-surgeons in England were women.  The last woman barber-surgeon was apprenticed in 1740, and women had no recognized place in the medical profession beyond generally unskilled nursing until the 1850s.)  

  20. Fred Cole

    Where is Paul Rahe?

    We need him to chime in on this.

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