Recommended by Ricochet Members Created with Sketch. The Theory of Enlightenment


There are people who believe in what I call the “theory of enlightenment.” According to this theory, terrible moral outrages were the norm until a few enlightened beings pointed out the immorality of the practices. After a few protests raised the consciousness of the rest of society, laws were enacted, and utopia reigned. The theory of enlightenment is routinely applied to such things as child labor, working hours, and the second-class status of women. 

What is ignored is that these practices were necessary before people had the luxury of pronouncing them immoral. Children had to work at a time in which sticks served as plows. In such an unproductive world, everyone either worked or starved. People labored long hours because they weren’t productive enough to work fewer hours and still eat. Women were less valuable than men in a violent world where brute strength was often a matter of life and death.

These realities were not changed by waving banners in street demonstrations. They were changed by the vast gains in productivity brought by free individuals, private property, freedom of contract, and a system of profit-and-loss all operating within a rule-of-law framework. 

Child labor laws weren’t enacted in the United States until they were largely unnecessary because relatively few children were working. When child labor laws were passed in countries like India, in which productivity had not yet risen sufficiently, children continued to work because the only other option was starvation. Unfortunately, with no recourse to the law, they were exploited even worse than before.

Work weeks weren’t shortened until high productivity had long made 60-hour weeks the exception. Women couldn’t compete on an equal footing with men until the Information Age made brains more important than brawn.

People who want to tear down the world that individual liberty and free markets have built might want to consider what they’d be giving up. Such thoughts could be enlightening.

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  1. Joshua Bissey Coolidge

    “Temporal chauvinism” is a similar concept to your theory of enlightenment.

    • #1
    • May 29, 2020, at 10:48 AM PDT
  2. JimGoneWild Coolidge


    • #2
    • May 29, 2020, at 10:51 AM PDT
  3. RightAngles Member

    Great post

    • #3
    • May 29, 2020, at 10:55 AM PDT
  4. Richard Fulmer Member
    Richard Fulmer

    Joshua Bissey (View Comment):
    Temporal chauvinism

    As in deciding that people living centuries ago were bad because they don’t act like people do today?

    • #4
    • May 29, 2020, at 11:49 AM PDT
  5. Ralphie Member

    Most people don’t know how good they have it. Social workers did not develop the west. Neither did schools. Settlers built churches and schools ad oversaw both. 

    • #5
    • May 29, 2020, at 11:57 AM PDT
  6. Joshua Bissey Coolidge

    Richard Fulmer (View Comment):

    Joshua Bissey (View Comment):
    Temporal chauvinism

    As in deciding that people living centuries ago were bad because they don’t act like people do today?

    The idea that those in earlier times were either less intelligent, or morally inferior, yes.

    • #6
    • May 29, 2020, at 12:34 PM PDT
  7. Jim Beck Member

    Afternoon Richard,

    I would add some foot notes to your definition of the value of women. In simple terms because they alone can produce children they are less expendable then men. It is true that warrior men are essential, and protein collecting male hunters are valuable, and warriors who can steal women from other tribes are valuable. There are counter examples, from the North American Cheyenne to the Nuer, a tribe in Africa, to marry a woman, male families must pay a bride price. For the Cheyenne, this price can be paid by one family, in the case of the Nuer the bride price is so high that many brothers and uncles must pool resources to pay the price. During most of human life, 40K years, the tribes who could turn resources into children were the most successful. Bigger tribes are the power houses, to get big, a tribe needs to produce children in such numbers and health that they survive until adulthood and internalize the culture. Given maternal mortality, and variations in fertility, child producing women become a scarce and very valuable part of the tribe. We do live in a world of luxury, and we forget how much work was done to provide this world where our material needs are secure and plentiful.

    • #7
    • May 29, 2020, at 12:53 PM PDT
    • This comment has been edited.
  8. Stina Member

    How is this different from the perfectibility of man?

    • #8
    • May 29, 2020, at 1:20 PM PDT
    • 1 like
  9. Richard Fulmer Member
    Richard Fulmer

    Jim Beck (View Comment):
    In simple terms because they alone can produce children they are less expendable then men.

    Is this transphobic?

    • #9
    • May 29, 2020, at 1:22 PM PDT
  10. Stina Member

    Richard Fulmer (View Comment):

    Jim Beck (View Comment):
    In simple terms because they alone can produce children they are less expendable then men.

    Is this transphobic?

    Transphobia is a virtue.

    • #10
    • May 29, 2020, at 4:09 PM PDT
  11. Front Seat Cat Member

    It seems that this enlightenment phase wasn’t worldwide and never made its way into the 21st century. Children are still exploited, and women are still looked at as inferior in many cultures even though life has improved in these countries. Abuse is handed down through generations to this day – otherwise there would be no need for shelters and social services. In fact, to this day, I don’t know why we still have racism. The pictures that flash across the world are beyond ugly – and we can’t seem to solve it. The black community is only one example – the Jews could attest to that. We don’t need this at this time when people are trying to get back to work. I suspect the frailties and defects in the human condition will still be there as we emerge from our cocoons. If anything, COVD-19 has been a mirror to our very souls.

    • #11
    • May 29, 2020, at 4:29 PM PDT