Losing the Enlightenment

Victor Davis Hanson has an op-ed in the Wall Street Journal on Losing the Enlightenment. The question is who is responsible for losing the values of the enlightenment:

But our newest foes of Reason are not the enraged Athenian democrats who tried and executed Socrates. And they are not the Christian zealots of the medieval church who persecuted philosophers of heliocentricity. Nor are they Nazis who burned books and turned Western science against its own to murder millions en masse.

No, the culprits are now more often us.

From there, an essay which started with promise goes bad. When he says the culprits are us, he ultimately turns it into the typical attack on Democrats seen at the Wall Street Journal, complete with their usual attacks based upon misquotations rather than addressing the real views of the other side.

Yes, we are in danger of losing the values of the enlightenment, and this is pertinent to fighting Islamic extremism as Hanson argues. The difference is that in singling out Islamic extremism as the enemy, Hanson ignores the lack of values coming from the Republicans supported by the Wall Street Journal. This includes the loss of journalistic integrity seen in his article as he uses the typical misquotations to attack Democrats. More importantly, this includes the opposition to separation of Church and State promoted by Republicans as they try to use the powers of the state to enforce the religious views of one segment of society upon all. The enemy of the enlightenment is both Islamic extremism and Christian extremism.

Other values which developed out of the enlightenment have also been threatened by the Republicans such as limitations on the power of government. The healthy skepticism of authority encouraged by the founding fathers is referred to as treason and hatred of America by fanatics of the right. The checks and balances on the different branches of government were seriously damaged during the past several years as Republicans worked to increase power in the executive branch.

The enlightenment brought an era of scientific discovery in place of finding information by religious revelation. Today it is the Republicans who wage a war on science which includes working to prevent the teaching of basic biology in the class room under the guise of intelligent design. Other fields such as geology, for contradicting the biblical age of the universe, and cosmology are also under attack. Research into life saving technology such as embryonic stem cell research is being restricted, and Republicans fight to deny women the basic right to control their own bodies. Even the dangers of global warming are ignored because this doesn’t fit into their economic priories.

Hanson notes that “By past definitions of relative power, al-Qaeda and its epigones were weak and could not defeat the West militarily” but he misunderstands how al Qaeda threatens to win. When we ignore the principles upon which this nation was founded, give up our civil liberties out of fear, attack those who question the government, and resort to torture we become more like al Qaeda and less like products of the enlightenment.

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1 Comment

  1. 1
    gandhi says:

    In the early 1990’s the Cold War was crumbling into history and the people of the USA had an historic opportunity – as the world’s sole superpower – to fulfill their’ country’s long-acclaimed promises of spreading peace, prosperity and equality around the world. Unfortunately, the people of the USA were more interested in Hollywood, baseball and MTV. Just prior to 9/11, the amount of foreign coverage in US newspapers was at historic lows (now, of course, just about everybody has become an expert on the Middle East, and US citizens eagerly debate what THEY should DO about Iraq).

    There was an opportunity for enlightenment, but greedy, self-obsessed and under-educated US citizens were too ignorant, dumb or lazy to grasp it. The war profiteers who run Washington have now invented a new “Long War” and a new enemy, and continue to pack away your hard-earned taxpayer dollars to finance it.

    Wake up!

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