Tuesday, February 19, 2008


JZ argues…

The Enlightenment was a sham that blinded people to their true human nature. The overall narrative and reason why we use the term Enlightenment tends to be this positive story of the European revolution against stagnant tradition and superstition. According to this story, Europeans suffered under the centralized authorities of the monarchy and the Catholic Church for centuries. These two authorities bolstered their power by creating an ethos of superstitious beliefs in which peasants were told that disciplined and orderly behavior would eventually benefit them in gaining the reward of the after life. Of course, this allowed the monarch and the Church to collect high taxes, maintain a strict hierarchy, and force the peasants into long and difficult work that benefited landowners. Then, along came the Enlightenment thinkers. Giants like Immanuel Kant, Descartes, John Locke, Jean-Jacques Rousseau, Baron de Montesqieu, and Voltaire all had their differences. But, they commonly argued that human reason could discover Truth through individual study of the world. This meant that the limitations and superstitions of the monarch and Catholic Church were no longer necessary. Rather, the individual should free himself of tradition and authority to discover truth through the rational study of the world. This would lead to individual and societal progress.

However, this new Rationality was just as imprisoning as the old superstitions of the Catholic Church. Humans are not just rational but are also emotional beings that are driven by deep passions and intuitions. The Enlightenment tried to control these deep desires to produce the rational being. In essence, the Enlightenment created the human robot who was cut in half and not allowed to access his emotions and intuitions as a source of truth. Romantics showed that humans are driven by deep desires of love, friendship, community, ethnic heritage, and mystery of existence. This last issue was the most important and was titled the Sublime by the Romantics. The Sublime is that sense of utter wonder in the face of what reason cannot explain about life.

The best example of the Romantic revolution was the radical phase of the French Revolution. In the first phase, the Enlightenment reigned with the desire to create a parliament and democratic voting. However, the second phase unleashed deep seated angers and passions that were directed at the abuses of the upper class. Also, the darker fears of the French citizen was released as the fear of the foreign invasions of the Austrians, Prussians, and Spanish came home to roost. Romantics saw emotions and institutions as the foundation to human decision making.

This also led to the greater unifying factor of people to rebel against oppressors to gain their independence. The revolutions of 1848 in France and Germany were based upon people’s unification around a central ethnic heritage or the emotional desire to end economic oppression. People would not act based upon idealistic principles of democracy. But they would respond to the emotional slogans of ethnic traditions and oppression. This also helped in the national movements to establish their own communities in Greece, Italy, and Mexico.

The Enlightenment was simply another way to try to control people. It appeared to be freer because it gave people the ability to make their own individual rational choices. But, it in essence, cut human nature into an object. And, then it influenced people to try to neglect their most important side-The Romantic Emotional Side-the one the ladies like.