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Neil Davidson

Enlightenment and anti-capitalism

(Spring 2006)


From International Socialism 2 : 110, Spring 2006.
Copyright © International Socialism.
Copied with thanks from the International Socialism Website.
Marked up by Einde O’ Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).


The Enlightenment was an intellectual and social movement which, like the Renaissance and the Reformation before it, characterised a specific historical period, in this case beginning in the middle decades of the 17th century and ending over 200 years ago, at the end of the 18th century. Yet it remains at the heart of current concerns in a way that, for example, Reformation debates over predestination do not. The Enlightenment remains a contemporary issue and not merely a historical one.

This is because the movement produced a set of scientific methods, social theories and personal values which overturned many previous attitudes to the world. It had its impact on virtually every area of knowledge through the work of philosophers from Spinoza to the young Hegel; scientists like Priestley and Black; polemicists against mysticism and obscurantism like Voltaire and Diderot; social theorists like Rousseau and Ferguson; playwrights like Beaumarchais and Schiller; musicians like Mozart and Beethoven, painters like Goya and David; reformers like Condorcet, historians like Gibbon and Hume; founders of modern political economy like Quesnay and Smith. And it inspired many of the activists in the American and French revolutions, like Paine, Jefferson or Robespierre. Through the influence of these and many others it shapes many of the ways in which people see the world today. Hence the continuing debate over its legacy – a debate in which socialists must intervene.

For the Enlightenment heritage is now under attack on two fronts. On the one side it is confronted by a partial reversion to pre-Enlightenment ideas. Defying all predictions of imminent secularisation, religious belief is resurgent on a global scale, encompassing Christianity and Hinduism as much as Islam. On the other side, sections of the left have embraced ideas which claim to go beyond the Enlightenment, with a series of relativist and irrationalist positions which are usually lumped together under the name of ‘postmodernism’, an academic fashion which is rapidly ceasing to be fashionable, but has left a legacy of confusion for new generations of activists.

Who then defends the Enlightenment? Right on cue, members of the liberal left have reinvented themselves as partisans for capitalist globalisation, Western imperialism and institutional racism in the guise of upholders of Reason, Democracy and the Freedom of Speech. The obscene spectacle of highly-paid journalists attacking the beliefs of one of the most oppressed groups in British society, while draping themselves in the banner of Jefferson and Voltaire, can only help persuade radicals – Muslim and non-Muslim alike – that the Enlightenment is indeed a Eurocentric conspiracy to defend the existing global order.
 

The central ideas

At the heart of the Enlightenment approach were three central claims.

The first was that the natural and social worlds can be explained, and consequently acted upon, through the application of reason, without recourse to religion or other mystical beliefs. This represented a radical break with most 16th and early 17th century thought which gave a privileged place to religious interpretations of reality. Baruch Spinoza, in many ways the most radical figure of the early Enlightenment, attacked the ‘dogma’ of organised religion in 1670 for ‘degrading rational man to a beast, completely inhibiting man’s free judgement and his capacity to distinguish true from false ... Men who utterly despise reason, who reject and turn away from the intellect as naturally corrupt ... are believed to possess the divine light!’ [1] Spinoza and those who followed him in the next century were primarily attacking the dominant Christian church within their own societies rather than Islam, Buddhism or other religions mainly practised outside Europe; indeed, the Enlightenment had a far more complex view of Islam than most of the people who currently claim to stand in its tradition. [2] Free speech was invoked in order to attack not the weak and powerless, but the mighty combination of church and state, which could bring to bear the Holy Inquisition, censorship, jail, mutilation and even death. Spinoza wrote in the post-revolutionary United Netherlands, probably the most tolerant society in Europe, but still came under sustained attack for his views, while James Aikenhead was hanged for blasphemy in Calvinist Edinburgh in 1695 and Voltaire was twice imprisoned in the Bastille. Reason, however, was desirable for more than the strength it provided to opponents of organised religion. It was seen as providing a means for people to act to change the circumstances in which they found themselves. As Immanuel Kant wrote in 1783, in one of the first self-conscious attempts to define the meaning of the Enlightenment project, ‘Once ... man’s inclination and vocation to think freely has developed ... it generally reacts upon the mentality of the people, who thus become increasingly able to act freely.’ [3]

The second claim was that human history moves in a particular direction, characterised by progression rather than, as had previously been believed, by regression, stagnation or recurrence. The Enlightenment saw progress as occurring through successive stages of development, characterised by what French and especially Scottish thinkers called ‘modes of subsistence.’ As Adam Smith explained to his students in 1762, these were ‘first, the Age of Hunters; secondly, the Age of Shepherds; thirdly, the Age of Agriculture; and fourthly, the Age of Commerce.’ [4] And, as Smith’s colleague Lord Kames observed in 1758, ‘these progressive changes ... may be traced in all societies.’ [5] Therefore, although not all societies progressed at the same speed, all could potentially reach the same level of development.

The third claim was that human beings are possessed of universal rights, which are theirs simply by virtue of their being human, and not because they are members of a particular social estate or religious denomination. This at the very least implies that society is currently insufficiently rational and that progress may not take place automatically. If, as Smith and Kames suggest, all societies advance through certain stages of development, then the human beings who make up those societies must all share the same faculties, reason above all.
 

The contradictions

There were two great contradictions in much of the Enlightenment talk about ‘universality.’

Universality implied equal legal rights, but the rights were usually restricted along class lines. Antonio Negri and Michael Hardt have argued that we need to return to Enlightenment conceptions of democracy on the grounds that in this period the concept was still uncorrupted: ‘The 18th century revolutionaries did not call democracy either the rule of a vanguard party or the rule of elected officials who are occasionally and in limited ways accountable to the multitude.’ [6] True, but neither did 18th century revolutionaries or their predecessors believe that democracy ‘requires the rule of everyone by everyone.’ Take, for example, their hero Spinoza. He certainly wrote several passages extolling democracy as the most effective method of government. He did not, however, believe that everyone was capable of democracy. He wrote that ‘the masses can no more be freed from their superstition than from their fears ... they are not guided by reason.’ There was no point, therefore, in the common people reading his work, since they would not understand it. [7] Voltaire wrote in a letter of 1768, ‘We have never intended to enlighten shoemakers and servants – this is up to apostles.’ [8] As Paul Siegel astutely remarks, Voltaire’s attitude to the dissemination of Enlightenment ideas to the masses lies behind one of his best-known slogans: ‘If God did not exist, it would be necessary to invent him.’ [9] Religion was ‘necessary’ for the common people, who might otherwise seek to apply reason to areas quite as uncomfortable to denizens of the coffee shops of Paris as habitués of the Palace of Versailles. Voltaire was a brilliant and courageous man, but there is no need to deceive ourselves, as the righteous Islamophobes who invoke his name constantly do, that he saw the Enlightenment extending much beyond his own class – even if his attitude was partly motivated by fear of reactionary forces being able to mobilise popular feeling against religious or agrarian reforms. [10]

There were similar problems with applying universality to different human groups, or ‘races.’ Enlightenment thinkers were deeply divided on this issue. One trend, expressed by Hume, Montesquieu and Kant, doubted whether people with black skins could even be regarded as fully human. In 1748 Montesquieu declared, ‘It is impossible for us to suppose these creatures to be men.’ [11] In his Lectures on the Philosophy of History from the early 1830s Hegel noted that Africa was ‘the land of childhood’ and that this required the historian to ‘disregard the category of universality.’ [12] However, another tendency, represented by Diderot, John Millar and Johann Gottfried von Herder, challenged the racist ideology that was being developed to justify the conquest of Native Americans and enslavement of Africans. Herder was opposed to notions of European superiority and the ‘intolerable pride’ it produced: ‘What is a measure of all peoples by the measure of us Europeans supposed to be at all? Where is the means of comparison?’ [13] This trend in the Enlightenment inspired Les Amis des Noirs whose ideas led Robespierre to abolish slavery in 1793, at the height of the revolutions in France and Haiti. [14]

The complexities of the doctrine of universality are best expressed in the American Declaration of Independence. Along with the French Declaration of Rights of Man and Citizen, this is one of the most famous political expressions of Enlightenment thought. In the immortal words of the second paragraph, ‘We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.’ [15] Anyone wanting to raise a laugh at the supposedly fraudulent claims of Enlightenment universalism need only quote the opening passage and then point out everyone it excludes: all women, Native Americans, slaves, and so on. From this, some people conclude that the oppression is endemic to the Enlightenment itself. Michael Berube points out,

‘Poststructuralism tends to argue that the emancipatory narratives of the Enlightenment are in fact predicated on – and compromised by – their historical and social origins in 18th century racism and sexism’, and ‘the social violence of the last two centuries of American society is not something to be corrected by a return to the Enlightenment rhetoric of rights but is, rather, a fulfilment of the symbolic violence constitutive of the Enlightenment itself .’ [16] Is it true that universality is ‘tainted’ in this way? In fact, as Terry Eagleton remarks, it is ‘one the greatest emancipatory ideas in world history ... not least because middle class society could now be challenged by those it suppressed, according to its own logic, caught out in a performative contradiction between what it said and what it did.’ [17]
 

The Enlightenment and capitalism

The source of these tensions within the Enlightenment lies in its relationship to capitalism as a historical system. Critics of the Enlightenment have no doubts that there is a connection, although they are less certain what it is. For Michel Foucault the regime of truth ‘was not merely ideological or superstructural; it was a condition of the formation and development of capitalism.’ [18] If Foucault credits the Enlightenment with giving rise to capitalism, the Indian ‘post-colonial’ intellectual Partha Chatterjee sees the Enlightenment as dependent upon it: ‘For ever since the Age of Enlightenment, reason, in its universalising mission, has been parasitic upon a much less lofty, much more mundane, palpably material and singularly invidious force, namely the universalist urge of capital.’ [19]

Faced with reductive arguments of this sort, it is tempting to deny that any connection exists. This is the strategy pursued by Ellen Meiksins Wood, who writes of such criticisms, ‘We are being invited to jettison all that is best in the Enlightenment project – especially its commitment to a universal human emancipation – and to blame these values for destructive effects we should be ascribing to capitalism.’ [20] In fact, the Enlightenment was both a product of capitalist development and a contributor to its further expansion. Mikulas Teich describes it as following the Renaissance and the Reformation as third in a series of ‘historically demarcated sequences’ encompassed by ‘the long drawn out transition from feudalism to capitalism.’ The transition displayed marked geographical and temporal unevenness between initiation and completion across or even within the nations, but each of these cultural and ideological sequences tended to manifest themselves simultaneously, or after only brief delays, on the international scene. As a result, their class content and social meaning differed depending on whether the nation in question was nearer to the beginning or the end of the process:

The promoters of the Enlightenment were socially a heterogeneous group, and from that point of view, the Enlightenment was a mixed ‘aristocratic-bourgeois’ movement. Insofar as it is possible to ascribe to it a common programme it was reformist. Insofar as it was undermining the reigning feudal order it was revolutionary. [21]

Albert Hirschman has demonstrated that many of the arguments used in favour of capitalism by Enlightenment thinkers in Scotland and France were based, not on any admiration of capitalism itself, but on the political and social benefits which economic development would supposedly bring:

Ever since the end of the Middle Ages, and particularly as a result of the increasing frequency of war and civil war in the 17th and 18th centuries, the search was on ... for new rules of conduct and devices that would impose much needed discipline and constraints on both rulers and ruled, and the expansion of commerce and industry was thought to hold much promise in this regard.

But the effects of capitalism were anything but peaceful and conducive to order, and the arguments raised at the time have been ‘not only forgotten but actively repressed.’ For Hirschman, this is necessary for the legitimacy of the capitalist order, since the ‘social order’ ‘was adopted with the firm expectation that it would solve certain problems and that it clearly and abysmally fails to do so.’ [22]
 

The double-edged heritage

The triumphant system had to suppress the radicalism of the Enlightenment, or at least transfer it from the social to the natural world. Daniel Gordon writes that there was already a tension within ‘much Enlightenment thought’ and it ‘was designed not merely to convince people to regard commercial society as the best regime, but also to dramatise the personal qualities of courage, patriotism, and refinement that one should cultivate in opposition to the very same regime.’ In this ‘doubleedged mentality ... we should see the dialectic as a process internal to the Enlightenment – a process in which a certain degree of historical optimism immediately produced doubts about the completeness of the society desired.’ [23] From these doubts came the radicalised Enlightenment at the heart of Marxism. [24]

In the Manifesto of the Communist Party (1848) Marx and Engels summarised the role of the Enlightenment in the bourgeois revolution: ‘When Christian ideas succumbed in the 18th century to rationalist ideas, feudal society fought its death battle with the then revolutionary bourgeoisie.’ Capitalism needed to free the power of rational thought, but reason is not the possession of single class, and once it became apparent that human beings had the power to transform their world along capitalist lines, the question inevitably arose of a further transformation: ‘The weapons with which the bourgeoisie felled feudalism to the ground are now turned against the bourgeoisie itself .’ [25]

By the time this was written the bourgeoisie were concerned to limit the application of Enlightenment doctrines, particularly by claiming that it was simply a mistake, a dangerous illusion, to imagine that there could be anything beyond capital. ‘It was henceforth no longer a question whether this or that theorem was true, but whether it was useful to capital or harmful, expedient or inexpedient, in accordance with police regulations or contrary to them.’ [26] The working class would therefore have to maintain the traditions which the bourgeoisie had abandoned. Engels wrote, ‘The German working class movement is the heir of German classical philosophy.’ [27] More generally, Lenin described Marxism as ‘the legitimate successor to the best that man produced in the 19th century, as represented by German philosophy, English [sic] political economy and French socialism.’ [28] Shortly after the Russian Revolution, Trotsky summarised the view of three generations of Marxists:

[Marxist] theory was formed entirely on the basis of bourgeois culture, both scientific and political, though it declared a fight to the finish upon that culture. Under the pressure of capitalist contradictions, the universalising thought of the bourgeois democracy, of its boldest, most honest, and farsighted representatives, rises to the heights of a marvellous renunciation, armed with all the critical weapons of bourgeois science. [29]

There are still attempts by liberals and social democrats to restore the sundered whole of the original Enlightenment. Gareth Stedman Jones, for example, has argued that ‘contemporary social democracy should ... revisit its original birthplace and resume the ambition of the late and democratic Enlightenment to combine the benefits of individual freedom and commercial society with the republican ideal of greater equality, inclusive citizenship and the public good.’ [30]

This is literally utopian: we cannot return to the world of 1776 or 1789. For Marx, political emancipation was progress: ‘It may not be the last form of general human emancipation, but it is the last form of general human emancipation within the prevailing scheme of things.’ [31] But it was not the same as human emancipation. ‘We know today that this idealised realm of reason was nothing more than the idealised realm of the bourgeoisie,’ wrote Engels in 1880. ‘The great thinkers of the 18th century could, no more than their predecessors, go beyond the limits imposed upon them by their epoch.’ [32] To be of their epoch was both their tragedy and the source of their greatness.
 

The contemporary debate

I wrote earlier that the issue of predestination was no longer at the heart of our contemporary concerns, but there are certainly people in the Anglo-Saxon world – currently sponsoring City Academies in England and running School Boards in the US – who would like to see it restored to that position. How seriously should we take this threat? Let us take one recent assessment from an impeccably establishment source, Lord May of Oxford who has at various times been a professor of zoology at Imperial College, the Chief Scientific Adviser to the UK government, the head of the Office of Science and Technology, and is currently a member of the House of Lords. He is not, in other words, someone who can be easily suspected of secretly plotting the downfall of Western civilisation.

In an address to mark the end of his presidency of the Royal Society, May illustrated the danger of what he called ‘the darkness of fundamentalist unreason’ by highlighting three ‘global’ problems – ‘climate change, the loss of biological diversity, new and re-emerging diseases.’ Scientists were attempting to find solutions to these, May said, but in each case were facing impediments from ‘campaigns waged by those whose belief systems or commercial interests impel them to deny, or even misrepresent, the scientific facts.’ Attempts to stop the spread of HIV/AIDS in Africa, for example, were being undermined by opposition to strategies based on condom use coming from the Catholic church on the one hand and by the US government, under pressure from fundamentalist Protestantism, on the other. May concluded that ‘the Enlightenment’s core values ... free, open, unprejudiced, uninhibited questioning and enquiry; individual liberty; separation of church and state ... are under serious threat from resurgent fundamentalism, West and East.’ [33]

In the West, it is in the US that the threat has assumed the most menacing proportions. Given the attention paid to the supposed irrationality of Islam, it is worth emphasising the extent to which the US is also increasingly home to pre-Enlightenment views, with millions of Americans cleaving to precisely the type of religiosity that the Enlightenment sought to challenge. One survey found that 80 percent of Americans believe in an afterlife of some sort; 76 percent believe in Heaven (and 64 percent that they will go there); 71 percent believe in Hell and, while very few believe that they will go there, 32 percent believe that it is ‘an actual place of torment and suffering.’ Eighteen percent believe in reincarnation, including 10 percent of born-again Christians, which suggests an uncertain grasp of their own belief system. [34] President George W. Bush himself has declared, ‘The jury is still out on evolution.’ [35] As John Gray has pointed out, ‘Nowhere else are there movements to expel Darwinism from public schools. In truth, the US is a less secular regime than Turkey.’ [36]

The explanation for this may lie in the way in which the US has always had the most unrestrained form of capitalism and the American people have been the least protected by collective provision. The relatively brief period of welfare capitalism (roughly between the 1930s and the 1970s) was followed by a ferocious reversion to a situation where families and communities were ripped apart by exposure to naked market relations. The psychic wounds caused to individuals by such devastation invite the healing touch of faith. As Barbara Ehrenreich writes of the middle class job seekers she studied at first hand, certain kinds of religion not only cure alienated souls, they compliment the individualist philosophy which wounded them in the first place: ‘If you can achieve anything through your own mental efforts – just by praying or concentrating hard enough – there is no need to confront the social and economic forces shaping your life.’ [37] Theodore Adorno once put the point in more theoretical terms, referring specifically to beliefs in astrology: ‘People even of supposedly “normal” mind are prepared to accept systems of delusions for the simple reason that it is too difficult to distinguish such systems from the equally inexorable and equally opaque one under which they actually have to live their lives.’ [38]

The neo-liberal onslaught experienced by the Americans is now the form of capitalism which is being exported everywhere. A recent survey of the rise of religious fundamentalism noted that modernity, ‘the very force that was once expected to render religion obsolete, was in fact causing it to mutate and gather strength.’ The University of Helsinki estimates that 2 million Chinese every year are converting to evangelical Christianity and that the number of new converts may reach 300 million – a fifth of the current population. [39] However, it is not ‘modernity’ as such which has produced these effects, but the specific form taken by capitalist modernity in its current multinational incarnation. ‘The combination of ... two dimensions – socioeconomic anomie together with political and ideological anomie – has inevitably led people to fall back on other factors of social solidarity such as religion, family, and fatherland.’ [40]

There is, however, an important difference between resurgent religion in the US and in the developing world. The fundamentalism of, for example, the Iranian president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, contributes to the oppression of Iranians; the fundamentalism of the US president, George W. Bush, contributes to the oppression not only of Americans, but of peoples across the world. They may be equal in the irrationality of their views, but not in the extent of their powers.

The problem remains of how to deal with the irrational beliefs that a section of the ruling class tries to manipulate. One typical approach is that of Richard Dawkins in a recent television series in which he attacked all religions for, among other things, their irrationality, refusal of scientific evidence, encouragement of intolerance and for conducting what he termed ‘child abuse’, by deliberately subjecting young minds to beliefs which darken their world view at an impressionable age. [41] But Dawkins’s accusations show no understanding of or interest in why people might be predisposed to believe such things. Enlightenment thought on organised religion, which Dawkins essentially reproduces, assumes that it continues to exist because the majority of people are incapable of resisting indoctrination by their priests, presbyters, rabbis or imams.

But adherents of any religion are unlikely to respond positively to a critique which casts doubt on their intelligence and ridicules their beliefs. Post-Enlightenment thinkers, notably Marx and Freud, who saw themselves as building on what the Enlightenment had achieved, sought to explain the social and psychological needs that make people require religion, and therefore suggest alternative courses of action, rather than simply denouncing believers for their irrationality. Thus Marx famously wrote, ‘The criticism of religion is therefore in embryo the criticism of that vale of tears of which religion is the halo.’ [42] The implications were drawn out independently by Freud [43]:

It is certainly senseless to begin by trying to do away with religion by force and at a single blow. The believer will not let his belief be torn from him, either by arguments or prohibitions. And even if this did succeed with some it would be cruelty. A man who has been taking sleeping drafts for tens of years is naturally unable to sleep if his sleeping draft is taken away from him. [44]

Dawkins himself inadvertently provides an example of the very approach Freud is criticising:

Michael Shermer, editor of Sceptic magazine, tells a salutary story of an occasion when he publicly debunked a famous television spiritualist. The man was doing ordinary conjuring tricks and duping people into thinking he was communicating with dead spirits. But instead of being hostile to the now unmasked charlatan, the audience turned on the debunker and supported a woman who accused him of ‘inappropriate’ behaviour because he destroyed people’s illusions.

‘You’d think she’d have been grateful for having the wool pulled off her eyes,’ complains Dawkins, for whom the human race has always been something of a disappointment, ‘but apparently she preferred it firmly over them.’ [45] Dawkins’s approach is simply unable to convince anyone not already predisposed to believe what he is saying. [46] What might change the views of someone with religious or other ‘irrational’ views?

The Chilean writer Ariel Dorfman provides us with an example. As a young student in the late 1960s trying to help the poor and migrant workers, he was involved in a ‘crusade against the industrial products of fiction’ such as ‘comics, soap opera, westerns, radio and TV sitcoms, love songs, films of violence.’ One woman, a consumer of romantic fiction, approached him while he was digging a ditch in a local shanty town and asked him ‘if it was true that I thought people shouldn’t read photo novels.’ He answered, ‘I thought that photo novels were a hazard to her health and her future.’ ‘Don’t do that to us, companerito,’ she said in a familiar, almost tender way. ‘Don’t take my dreams away from me.’ Several years later Dorfman met the same woman again, at the time of the radicalisation associated with Salvador Allende’s government:

She came up to me, just like that, and announced that I was right, that she didn’t read ‘trash’ any more. Then she added a phrase which still haunts me. ‘Now, companero, we are dreaming reality’ ... She had outdistanced her old self, and was no longer entertained by those images which had been her own true love. [47]

That woman’s aspirations for liberation came to an end in the ‘First 9/11’ of the Chilean coup. But the lesson remains for those people who imagine that the way to convince others of the need to ‘dream reality’ is to insult, bully and hector them from a position of assumed superiority.
 

Enlightenment’s false friends

The task of holding aloft the banner of the Enlightenment has been appropriated by a rightward-moving section of the liberal left, typically based in the media rather than the academy. This campaign is not, of course, one waged only by a handful of newspaper columnists. The law to ban the wearing of the hijab in French schools and colleges was supported by many French teachers, much of the left and even the Trotskyist organisation Lutte Ouvrière. Nevertheless, it is among media commentators that arguments about the need to protect the secular heritage of the Enlightenment have gained the greatest currency.

The most striking thing about these arguments is their lop-sidedness. The main targets are not, for example, the campaign to introduce creationism into the science curriculum of American schools, or the refusal by the US government to take global warming seriously. Rather, it is the supposed threat to Western civilisation from Islamic fundamentalism. Especially since 9/11 the slogan of ‘defending the Enlightenment’ has been raised to justify support for what Robert Fisk calls ‘the great war for civilisation’ abroad and the repression of the Muslim population at home. [48]

Christopher Hitchens, one of the most vociferous media supporters of the ‘war on terror’, gave a series of interviews explaining why someone long associated with the left had now aligned himself so decisively with the neo-conservative agenda for the Middle East. Hitchens said that since 9/11 he had been possessed by a mission ‘to defend the Enlightenment, to defend and extend the benefits of rationalism, by all and any means necessary.’ [49] Hitchens argued in the immediate aftermath of the attacks on the US:

The bombers of Manhattan represent fascism with an Islamic face, and there’s no point in any euphemism about it. What they abominate about ‘the West’, to put it in a phrase, is not what Western liberals don’t like and can’t defend about their own system, but what they do like about it and must defend: its emancipated women, its scientific inquiry, its separation of religion from the state. [50]

Iraq was not, of course, involved in 9/11. Nor, the occasional opportunistic genuflection in the direction of Mecca aside, had the Ba’athist regime been anything other than a secular modernising dictatorship. No matter, it too was an abomination to Enlightenment values and could be included under the general heading of ‘fascism’, a term which has no scientific value in this context, but which is extremely useful for dragooning the liberal left behind the imperial war effort – for who could possibly argue against what Hitchens called ‘the forces of reaction’? [51]

For former left supporters of the war on terror, the threat to the Enlightenment is not only from Islamic or Arabic ‘fascism’, but from a left which has supposedly capitulated to it. According to Nick Cohen, one of the British-based B52 liberals, ‘For the first time since the Enlightenment, a section of the left is allied with religious fanaticism and, for the first time since the Hitler-Stalin pact, a section of the left has gone soft on fascism.’ [52] Why has the left behaved in this way? Because ‘when confronted with a movement of contemporary imperialism – Islamism wants an empire from the Philippines to Gibraltar – and which is tyrannical, homophobic, misogynist, racist and homicidal to boot, they feel it is valid because it is against Western culture.’ [53] An empire is certainly being constructed ‘from the Philippines to Gibraltar’, not by Muslims, but by the very American state whose military apparatus Cohen is constantly exhorting to invade still more countries. Against this reality, one is tempted to quote a great passage from one of the founders of modern conservatism, Edmund Burke: ‘You are terrifying yourself with ghosts and apparitions, while your house is the haunt of robbers.’ [54]

Some supporters of the New Enlightenment realise that that it is highly implausible to attack only Islamic fundamentalism without also attacking the Western variants. In one of the more readable and intelligent examples of the genre Francis Wheen begins by noting the coincidence of the return of Ayatollah Khomeini to Iran and the election of Margaret Thatcher as prime minister of Great Britain in the first half of 1979, both linked by their adherence to ‘two powerful messianic creeds’ – Islamic fundamentalism and neo-liberalism. However, despite this apparent even-handedness, Wheen comes down on the side of the US, as the Enlightenment’s ‘most flourishing offshoot, the country damned by Islamists as the great Satan but exalted by Tom Paine as “the cause of all mankind”.’ [55] He does not even consider whether America’s role in the world might have changed since the days of Lexington and Concord. And so it goes. Nick Cohen describes George W. Bush as ‘a Bible-bashing know-nothing whose strings were pulled by Big Pharma, Big Oil and the Big Guy in the Sky.’ [56] Might this have anything to do with his plans for US dominance of the Middle East? The issue simply vanishes from the diatribes against the left which follow. To Muslims, no mercy; to the established order, endless indulgence. The philosopher Onora O’Neill has written, ‘Contemporary liberal readings of the right to free speech often assume that we can safely accord the same freedoms of expression to the powerless and the powerful,’ and this is certainly the case for the writers quoted here. [57] Starting from an abstract, decontextualised idea of rationality, they claim to be attacking irrationality without fear or favour wherever they find it. It just so happens that the irrationality of the powerful tends to receive rather less attention than that of the powerless.

Why have so many one-time Marxists collapsed back into this highly selective version of the Enlightenment? Martin Kettle, for whom ‘the failure of socialism’ is apparently the great lesson of the 20th century, claims, ‘Too many haters of capitalism and the United States still cram everything into the frame of untruth and self-deception that says my enemy’s enemy is still my friend because, even if he blows up my family on the tube, murders my colleagues on the bus or threatens to behead me for publishing a drawing, he is still at war with Bush, Blair and Berlusconi.’ [58] This is crude innuendo. Does Kettle actually know anyone who takes this position? It is a classic example of Stalinist tactics retained by repentant Stalinists. Behind it lies the heavy stench of defeat, of thwarted hopes and the rescaling of political ambitions to more modest proportions, of a world not transformed, but at least made safe for Guardian columnists. To invoke the Enlightenment, with its great Promethean insistence that human beings can transform their world, in defence of this retreat is pitiable, and in some cases tragic. The talk is of rationality, but underneath lies the suggestion that human beings are prone to commit evil, and therefore have to be controlled.
 

The left and the heritage

However, there is one aspect of the New Enlightenment argument of the liberals which carries some plausibility, and this is the attack on the absurdities of postmodernism. Fred Halliday, one of the B52 liberals, is able to score points off the postmodernist left when he argues:

If you are languishing in the jails of the Islamic guards in Iran, forced to wear medieval clothes on the streets of Tehran, being shot for your commitment to secularism in Egypt or Algeria, being driven from your home and possibly killed in Bombay or having your land stolen by people who claim it was given them by god, then it is little comfort as you protest in the name of universal values to be told you are ethnocentric or not postmodernistically playful enough or that, sorry, after all, we cannot be sure that the rights you ask to be defended are properly founded. [59]

There can be few people on the left who do not oppose such things. But there is nevertheless sometimes a reluctance to come to the defence of the Enlightenment legacy.

This was not an issue for more than a hundred years after the Enlightenment. If the working class and the oppressed inherited a material interest in transforming the world that the bourgeoisie no longer had, they also inherited from the Enlightenment the power of reason as a means of affecting that transformation. In Robert Burns’s A Man’s a Man for a’ That (1795), it is ‘the man o’ independent mind’ who ‘looks and laughs’ at the pretensions of the aristocracy. [60] In his poem For Toussaint L’Ouverture (1802) William Wordsworth wrote of the leader of the slave revolution in San Domingo, that among his ‘great allies’ was ‘man’s unconquerable mind’. [61] And these views were carried over into the working class movement proper. The words of L’Internationale (1870) by the French socialist Eugene Pottier invoke ‘reason in revolt’ and enjoin the ‘servile masses’ to dispense ‘with all your superstitions.’ These traditions are still alive. American journalist Barbara Ehrenreich has recently recalled her parents in these terms:

My family was originally blue collar poor, but intensely committed to rationality, in a very positivistic and what I see now as limited way. But they were militant about these things. And I came to respect this rationality as part of what gave them some dignity as against the bosses ... I always thought about rationality not that it was something the oppressor had and my people didn’t have but that it was something you were more likely to encounter among the oppressed than among those who were busily trying to justify their position in society, regardless of truth. [62]

There had always been those on the left, from William Blake through to George Sorel, who had opposed reason, or certain kinds of reason, as a snare of bourgeois society. But given the enemies which the Enlightenment legacy gathered in first half of the 20th century, this was always a minority position. ‘The year 1789 is hereby erased from history,’ remarked Joseph Goebbels, the newly appointed Nazi minister for popular enlightenment and propaganda, in a radio broadcast of 1 April 1933. [63] By ‘1789’, he meant not only the French Revolution but the entire tradition of Enlightenment thought that had contributed to it. In the face of this, Trotsky affirmed the Enlightenment tradition in the same way as Marx and Engels themselves, in The History of the Russian Revolution (written in 1930): ‘The historical assent of humanity, taken as a whole, may be summarised as a succession of victories of consciousness over blind forces – in nature, in society, in man himself.’ [64] The optimism expressed here – in conditions of extraordinary difficulty – flows from the belief that that Marxism inherited from the Enlightenment, that human beings have the capacity to remake the world.

The subsequent history of the 20th century undermined such optimism. The Holocaust produced the first serious intellectual critique of the Enlightenment from the left. Theodor Adorno and Max Horkheimer wrote, ‘For the Enlightenment, whatever does not conform to the rule of computation and utility is suspect.’ Or, more simply, ‘Enlightenment is totalitarian.’ [65] Then in the 1950s with the Cold War, the H-bomb and the persistence of alienation even amid the ‘affluent’ capitalism of the United States, there developed the subculture of the Beats which counterposed imagination to reason – a mood which found a much wider audience in the 1960s, as reflected in some of Bob Dylan’s lyrics (‘she knows too much to argue or to judge’ [66]) and the mysticism of the hippy ‘flower power’ boom of 1967.

The defeat of the movements for human liberation that we associate with the year 1968 brought to the surface the incipient irrationalism which the counter culture incubated. ‘What could be more reassuring,’ writes Alex Callinicos, ‘for a generation, drawn first towards and then away from Marxism by political ups and downs of the past two decades, than to be told – in style decked out with the apparent profundity and genuine obscurity of the sub-Modernist rhetoric cultivated by “68 thought” – that there is nothing they can do to change the world?’ [67] Alan Sokal and Jean Bricmont also identify ‘political discouragement’ with the rise of the new social movements and point out that where the real sources of power and wealth are apparently unreachable, ‘science’ can be attacked as a convenient substitute. [68]

In the postmodern melange, and the broader currents of irrationality which circle round it, the problem with Enlightenment goals is apparently not that they remain incomplete but, on the contrary, that they have been all too perfectly realised. ‘The “Enlightenment”, which discovered the liberties’, wrote Michel Foucault in 1975, ‘also invented the disciplines.’ [69] Reason was now the source of oppression. Goya, artistic conscience of the tragedy of the Spanish Enlightenment, called one of his etchings, The Sleep of Reason Produces Monsters. Not so, claimed Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guattari in 1977. ‘It is not the slumber of reason that engenders monsters, but vigilant and insomniac rationality.’ [70] The American philosopher Richard Rorty writes, ‘We have reached a time when we can finally get rid of the conviction that there just must be large theoretical ways of finding out how to end injustice.’ Above all, Rorty argues, we must avoid attempting to find a ‘successor to Marxism’. [71] Sandra Harding expresses her scepticism that ‘there is one world, one “truth” about it, and one and only one science that can, in principle, accurately represent that “truth”.’ It is time, Harding believes that we faced up to the truth about science: ‘Maldevelopment and dedevelopment for the majority of the world’s peoples have tended to be the now-obvious effects of the introduction of scientifically rational agriculture, manufacturing, health care, and so forth into the already economically and politically disadvantaged societies of the Third World.’ [72] Health care?

The arguments for local particularity and traditional belief against universalism and rationality, advanced for example by Edmund Burke in Reflections on the Revolution in France and Joseph de Maistre in Study on Sovereignty, are repeated today by some on the left in apparent ignorance of their origin in these founding texts of modern conservative political theory. Others are perfectly aware of where their ideas originate. Chantal Mouffe, for example, acknowledges, ‘One of the chief emphases of conservative thought does indeed lie in its critique of the Enlightenment’s rationalism and universalism, a critique it shares with postmodern thought.’ Both are ‘predicated upon human finitude, imperfection and limits.’ She then goes on to praise the British Conservative philosopher Michael Oakeshott. [73]

The collapse of Stalinism in 1989 supposedly confirmed this wisdom. ‘Marxism, the last shoot stemming from both the Enlightenment and Christianity, seems to have lost all of its critical power,’ wrote Lyotard. [74] For Vaclav Havel, ‘The fall of Communism can be regarded as a sign that modern thought – based on the premise that the world is objectively knowable, and that the knowledge so obtained can be absolutely generalised – has come to a final crisis.’ [75] As John Sambonmatsu recounts:

Like a virus travelling through the body of critical thought, postmodernism has succeeded by commanding the disciplinary apparatus nearest to account ... Postmodernism calved a new generation of postcolonial theorists on the Indian subcontinent, provided solace to dispirited activists in Latin America, attracted academic activists disenchanted with Marxism, and struck the fancy of Islamic fundamentalists in Iran ... No theory of recent vintage has travelled as fast, or as far, as postmodernism has. [76]

Several generations of radicals or would-be radicals have now been educated in the conventional pieties of post-structuralism and postmodernism. Many of them view the Enlightenment with intense suspicion, as an instrument for the domination of the oppressed and the subjugation of nature, and as little else. Consequently, they are either unwilling or unable to defend it. Roger Burbach, an active supporter of the anti-globalisation movement, criticises ‘virtually all political parties, including those on the left’, as ‘heirs of the Enlightenment project’. [77] Similar themes are present in the introduction to a widely-read anthology of the movement:

For the time of single ideologies and grand narratives was over. People were sick of sacrificing themselves for the sake of gigantic game plans which didn’t take account of their individual needs, their humanity, their culture, their creativity. [78]

But, as Larry Laudan points out, ‘to the extent – and it is considerable – that the new left subscribe to strong forms of relativism, it has lost all theoretical rationale for such activity.’ [79] And, as Elizabeth Wilson writes, since ‘we are given no reasons why we should believe in one thing rather than another, we might as well go in for Erhardt Seminar training as radical politics; Buddhism is as good as Bolshevism (or better); therapy replaces collective action; astrology is the name of the game.’ [80]
 

Conclusion

What attitude then should socialists take to the heritage of the Enlightenment, in the face of these genuine enemies and false friends? Let us return to the three areas with which I defined earlier as the central ideas of the Enlightenment: universalism, progress and reason.

Take universalism first. As the postmodernists discourse endlessly on the wonders of difference and particularity, fascist and other extreme right wing politicians are perfectly aware of how useful anti-universalism is for their ends. As Richard Wolin reports of developments in France during the 1990s:

... representatives of the European New Right such as Alain de Benoist began employing the claims of ‘differential racism’ to justify cultural separatism – as epitomised by Le Pen’s cynical claim, ‘I love North Africans but their place is in the Maghreb’ – and discriminatory legislation. At this point the vacuity of ‘difference’ as an ethical paradigm became painfully apparent. [81]

Sometimes, however, the racism takes very traditional forms. Take, for example, a recent message from peace campaigner Cindy Sheehan to her supporters, which has been reproduced on several websites. In it, Sheehan recollects the following episode:

I got a hate email from a ‘patriotic American’ once who told me that when we see the mothers and fathers of Iraq screaming because their babies have been killed, that they ‘are just acting for the cameras. They are animals who don’t care about their children because they know they can produce another.’

As Sheehan points out, ‘This wicked rhetoric ... dehumanises us all.’ [82] And that seems to me to be the right response, the enlightened response, so to speak. One reason (among many others) for trying to stop our governments killing Iraqi children and subjecting their parents to the pain of loss is precisely because ‘they’ are the same as ‘us’, with the same relationships and the same emotions. In the face of the racism displayed by Sheehan’s correspondent, invoking the ‘irreducibility of difference’ or the other shibboleths of cultural relativism is actually worse than useless, because it goes halfway towards accepting the racist argument. If the Iraqis, the Chinese, the !Kung San, or whoever are all fundamentally different in some way, then the logic of this position, should one wish to follow it, is that it is permissible to treat them differently.

If socialists need to reassert the claims of universalism, they need to subject the second key idea, that of progress, to question. Let us define progress simply in terms of society’s increasing ability of keep the world’s population alive and capable of living a fully human life. Capitalism gave us, over a hundred years ago, the technology, skills, techniques and productive levels with which socialism could have been established. Since it has not, these have continued to grow, notwithstanding the terrible crises with which the system is regularly afflicted. In the absence of socialism millions have suffered and died needlessly; but at the same time, if and when we do achieve it we will do so on the basis of developments which earlier generations of Marxists could only have imagined. Supporters of the system like Julian Simon claim that we can overcome scarcity on the basis of the existing economic order:

We now possess knowledge about resource locations and materials processing that allows us to satisfy our physical needs and desires for food, drink, heat, light, clothing, longevity, transportation, and the recording and transmission of information and entertainment. We can perform these tasks sufficiently well that the additional knowledge on these subjects will not revolutionise humanity. It still remains to us to reorganise our institutions, economies, and societies in such fashion that the benefits of this knowledge are available to the vast majority rather than a minority of all people.

But there are threats to this imminent nirvana. And, Reader, we are responsible: ‘On the other hand, with greater progress comes greater freedom from pressing survival needs, which in turn enables people to indulge themselves in foolish, irrational and counter-productive thinking, and can lead to mass movements that impede progress.’ [83] Capitalism made possible improvements to living conditions, provided people were prepared to struggle for them; but what capitalism gives, or least allows, it can also take away. As Thomas Pogge notes:

The consequences of such extreme poverty are foreseeable and extensively documented: 14 percent of the world’s population (826 million) are undernourished, 16 percent (968 million) lack access to safe drinking water, 40 percent (2,4000 million) lack access to basic sanitation, and 854 million adults are illiterate. Of all human beings 15 percent (more than 880 million) lack access to health services, 17 percent (approximately 1,000 million) have no adequate shelter, and 33 percent (2,000 million) no electricity.

And as Pogge carefully explains, even these grim figures may give an over-positive impression: ‘By focusing on human beings alive at any given time, all these statistics give less weight to those whose lives are short.’ These things are avoidable:

One third of all human deaths are due to poverty-related causes, such as starvation, diarrhoea, pneumonia, tuberculosis, malaria, measles and prenatal conditions, all of which could be prevented or cured cheaply through food, safe drinking water, vaccinations, rehydration packs, or medicines ... Not mentioned in the retrospectives and not shown on the evening news are the ordinary deaths from starvation and preventable diseases – some 250 million people, mostly children, in the 14 years since the end of the Cold War. The names of these people, if listed in the style of the Vietnam War Memorial, would cover a wall 350 miles long. [84]

Pogge could be living on a different planet from Simons, although it is one inhabited by rather more people. How can progress and regress occur at the same time? As Esther Leslie points out in her outstanding study of Walter Benjamin, ‘As the bourgeois class secures economic and political power, progress, a cardinal strand in Enlightenment political rhetoric and social theory, unfolds in actuality its class inflections as economic and social progress for one class, presented ideologically as the universally significant progression of humanity itself.’ Technological improvements themselves are not necessarily progressive: ‘The easy identification of technological development with progress overrides questions of social form or production relations.’ The problem, however, is not the technological aspect of the forces of production as such, but, as Leslie suggests, the relations of production within which they occur. Although both develop, the tendency is always for the latter to retard the former: ‘Every inch of progress on a technological level under these relations of production, the oppressed suffer regression on a social level: like Marx’s understanding of machinery as potential liberator that in this moment under this organisation of relations of production only intensifies our exploitation and, often, our discomfort.’ [85] Every discussion of progress must therefore start with the question, ‘Progress for whom?’

This brings me to the final idea, that of reason itself. Of this we must ask, as we did of progress, ‘Rational for whom?’ The central difficulty was once identified by Max Horkheimer: ‘The difficulties of rationalist philosophy originate from the fact that the universality of reason cannot be anything else than the accord among the interests of all groups alike, whereas in reality society has been split up into groups with competing interests.’ [86]

Capitalists have to pursue courses of action which, however rational they may be for individual members of their class, can be terrifyingly irrational for everybody else. The tobacco companies which are currently opening up huge new markets in South East Asia for their drugs will, in due course, be responsible for a cancer epidemic in South East Asia which will in turn put intolerable pressures on the fragile health services of those countries, the costs of which will be born by the working class and peasantry, leading to further internal instability and thus the threat of war – but none of this enters the calculations of the legal drug barons.

A similar logic applies to the nuclear fuel and oil companies supporting George W. Bush in resisting even the most limited attempts to reduce gas emissions; the waters rise in Bangladesh and Mozambique, condemning thousands to death, but not until shores of the US are covered by the Pacific Ocean will this be factored into their calculations – and, if the recent experience of New Orleans is anything to go by, perhaps not even then. Once accumulation is engaged upon it is not a choice, rational or otherwise, because there are no alternatives: they are subject to a compulsion terrible, severe and inescapable.

We therefore cannot simply reject the Enlightenment without depriving ourselves of some of the most important intellectual tools necessary for human liberation. But neither can we pretend that it had no limitations, or that there have been no positive intellectual developments since the early 19th century. The task for socialists is to identify elements of the Enlightenment particular to the capitalist economic and social conditions from which it initially emerged, and which are genuinely universal and consequently capable of being turned to different purposes. Since the Enlightenment those who claim to be its heirs have held opposing positions in relation to its social goals. One is that, to the extent that it is possible for them to be accomplished at all, this has been done in the heartlands of capitalism and now needs to be extended to those parts of the world still languishing in ‘pre-modernity.’ Time has passed judgement on these claims: war, environmental catastrophe, increased impoverishment – these are the fruits of capitalist reason, capitalist progress and the rejection of universality. The other is simply this: Enlightenment social goals will only ever be partially attained under capitalist society and even these limited gains are constantly under threat. In these circumstances, only socialism is capable of ‘defending the Enlightenment’, but, more importantly, of completing it.


Notes

1. B. Spinoza, Tractatus Theologico-Politicus, translated by S. Shirley with an introduction by B.S. Gregory (Leiden 1989), p. 53.

2. See N. Davidson, Islam and Enlightenment, Socialist Review, March 2006.

3. I. Kant, Answering the Question: What is Enlightenment?, in Political Works, edited with an introduction and notes by H. Reiss, translated by N.B. Nisbet, second, enlarged edition (Cambridge 1991), p. 54.

4. A. Smith, Lectures on Jurisprudence, edited by R. L. Meek, D.D. Raphael and P.G. Stein (Oxford 1978), pp. 14, 16.

5. Lord Kames, Historical Law Tracts (Glasgow 1758), p. 56.

6. M. Hardt and A. Negri, Multitude: War and Democracy in the Age of Empire (New York 2004), pp. 307, 311 and pp. 306–312 more generally.

7. B. Spinoza, as above, pp. 297, 56.

8. Voltaire to D’Alembert, 2 September 1768, in Oeuvres Completes (Paris 1880), vol. 46, p. 112.

9. P.N. Siegel, The Meek and the Militant: Religion and Power across the World (London 1986), p. 22.

10. D. Outram, The Enlightenment (Cambridge 1995), pp. 122–123; D. Beales, Social Forces and Enlightened Policies, in Enlightenment and Reform in 18th-Century Europe (London and New York 2005), pp. 9–10.

11. C.-L. de S. Montesquieu, The Spirit of Laws, edited by D.W. Carrithers (Berkeley, Los Angeles and London 1977), p. 262.

12. G.W.F. Hegel, Lectures on the Philosophy of History, translated from the third German edition by J. Sibree (London 1857), p. 95.

13. J.G. von Herder, Letters for the Advancement of Humanity (1793–1797) – Tenth Collection: Letter 115, in Philosophical Writings, translated and edited by M.N. Forster (Cambridge 2002), p. 386.

14. C.L.R. James, The Black Jacobins: Toussaint L’Ouverture and the San Domingo Revolution, revised edition (London 1980), pp. 69–75; R. Blackburn, The Overthrow of Colonial Slavery, 1776–1848 (London and New York 1988), pp. 145, 169–176.

15. T. Jefferson, The Unanimous Declaration of the Thirteen United States of America, 4 July 1776, in M. Williams (ed.), Revolutions, 1775–1830 (Harmondsworth 1971), p. 45. Jefferson later served as president of the United States between 1801 and 1809. There could be no starker illustration of the decline of bourgeois civilisation than a comparison between the magnificently resonant yet theoretically-informed prose of the Declaration and the utterances of the present incumbent of the post once occupied by Jefferson.

16. M. Berube, New Historicism, American Studies, and American Identity, in Public Access: Literary Theory and American Cultural Politics (London and New York 1994), p. 205.

17. T. Eagleton, The Illusions of Postmodernism (Oxford and Cambridge, Massachusetts 1994), p. 113.

18. M. Foucault, Truth and Power, in Power/Knowledge: Selected Interviews and Other Writings, 1972–1977, edited by C. Gordon, translated by C. Gordon, L. Marshall, J. Mepham and K. Soper (Brighton 1980), p. 133.

19. P. Chatterjee, Nationalist Thought and the Colonial World, in The Partha Chatterjee Omnibus (New Delhi 1999), p. 168.

20. E. M. Wood, The Origin of Capitalism: a Longer View (London and New York 2002), p. 190.

21. M. Teich, Afterword, in R. Porter and M. Teich (eds.), The Enlightenment in National Context (Cambridge 1981), pp. 216-217. See also F. Venturi, Utopia and Reform in the Enlightenment (Cambridge 1971), p. 11.

22. A.O. Hirschman, The Passions and the Interests, Twentieth Anniversary Edition (Princeton, 1997), pp. 66, 128–135.

23. D. Gordon, On the Supposed Obsolescence of the French Enlightenment’, in D. Gordon (ed.), Postmodernism and the Enlightenment (New York and London 2001), p. 204.

24. A. Callinicos, Social Theory: a Historical Introduction (Cambridge 1999), p. 56.

25. K. Marx and F. Engels, Manifesto of the Communist Party, in Political Writings, edited and introduced by D. Fernbach (Harmondsworth 1973), vol. 1, The Revolutions of 1848, pp. 85, 73.

26. K. Marx, Postface to the Second Edition, in Capital: a Critique of Political Economy, translated by B. Fowkes with an introduction by E. Mandel (Harmondsworth 1976), vol. 1, p. 97.

27. F. Engels, Ludwig Feuerbach and the End of Classical German Philosophy, in Collected Works, as above, vol. 26, p. 398.

28. V.I. Lenin, The Three Sources and Three Component Parts of Marxism, in Collected Works (Moscow 1960–70), vol. 15, p. 29.

29. L.D. Trotsky, Literature and Revolution, introduced by L. German (London 1991), p. 225.

30. G. Stedman Jones, An End to Poverty? A Historical Debate (London 2004), p. 235.

31. K. Marx, On the Jewish Question, in Early Writings, introduced by L. Colletti, translated by R. Livingston and G. Benton (Harmondsworth 1975), pp. 218, 221.

32. F. Engels, Socialism: Utopian and Scientific, in Collected Works, as above, vol 24, p. 286.

33. R. May, Threats to Tomorrow’s World, anniversary address delivered by the President of the Royal Society, 30 November 2005 (London 2005) pp. 4, 16-17, 23.

34. The Barna Update, Americans Describe Their Views About Life After Death, 23 October 2003, www.barna.org/FlexPage.aspx?Page=BarnaUpdate&BarnaUpdateID=150.

35. P. Harris, Would You Adam ’n’ Eve it ... Dinosaurs in Eden, Observer, 22 May 2005.

36. J. Gray, Al Qaeda and What It Means to be Modern (London 2003), p. 23.

37. B. Ehrenreich, Bait and Switch: the Futile Pursuit of the Corporate Dream (London 2006), p. 221. See also ch. 5, Networking with the Lord.

38. T. Adorno, The Stars Down to Earth: the Los Angeles Times Astrology Column, in The Stars Dwn to Earth and Other Essays in the Irrational in Culture, edited with and introduction by S. Crook (London 1994), p. 115.

39. D. McKenzie, End of the Enlightenment, New Scientist, 8 October 2005, pp. 41, 43.

40. G. Achcar, The Clash of Barbarisms: September 11 and the Making of the New World Disorder, translated by P. Drucker (New York 2002), p. 89 and pp. 85–89 more generally.

41. The Root of All Evil?, broadcast on 9 and 16 January 2006, on Channel 4.

42. K. Marx, A Contribution to the Critique of Hegel’s Philosophy of Right. Introduction, in Early Writings, as above, p. 244. Several non-Marxist radicals have been quicker to realise what Marx was actually saying than those who simply assimilate him to the Enlightenment. See, for example, G. Orwell, Notes on the Way, in The Collected Essays, Journalism and Letters of George Orwell, edited by S. Orwell and I. Angus (Harmondsworth 1970), vol. 2, p. 33, and M. Foucault, Iran: the Spirit of a World without Spirit, in Politics, Philosophy, Culture: Interviews and Other Writings, 1977–1984, translated by A. Sheridan and others, edited with an introduction by L.D. Kritzman (New York and London 1988), p. 218.

43. For a brief discussion of parallels between the views of Engels and Freud on religion, see P.N. Siegel, The Meek and the Militant, as above, pp. 37–38.

44. S. Freud, The Future of an Illusion, in The Freud Reader, edited by P. Gay (New York and London 1995), p. 716.

45. R. Dawkins, Preface, in Unweaving the Rainbow: Science, Delusion and the Appetite for Wonder (London 1988), p. xi.

46. Rationalism in art can of course avoid the problem expressed here in science, as has been recently demonstrated by Phillip Pullman’s great trilogy, His Dark Materials (1994–2001).

47. A. Dorfman, Childhood as Underdevelopment, in The Empire’s Old Clothes: What the Lone Ranger, Babar and Other Innocent Heroes Do to Our Minds (London 1983), pp. 3–5.

48. Fisk encountered the phrase on the reverse of a campaign medal struck during the First World War and awarded to his grandfather. See R. Fisk, The Great War for Civilization: the Conquest of the Middle East (London 2005), p. ix.

49. A. Massie, The Trial of Christopher Hitchens, Scotland on Sunday, 18 July 2003.

50. C. Hitchens, Against Rationalization, in Love, Poverty and War: Journeys and Essays (London 2005), p. 413.

51. C. Hitchens, Regime Change (Harmondsworth 2003), p. 56. The conjunction of Islam and fascism had first been made by Fred Halliday in his reports from revolutionary Iran in 1979, although far more tentatively than Halliday was later to claim. Compare the parallels which Halliday actually draws in passing in The Revolution Turns to Reaction, New Statesman, 17 August 1979, p. 264, and his subsequent claims to have identified ‘Islam with a Fascist Face’ in The Iranian Revolution and its Implications, New Left Review I/166 (November/December 1987), p. 36–37.

52. N. Cohen, By the Left ... about Turn, Observer, 14 December 2003.

53. N. Cohen, I Still Fight Oppression, Observer, 7 August 2005.

54. E. Burke, Reflections on the Revolution in France and on the Proceedings of Certain Societies in London Relative to that Event, edited with an introduction by C.C. O’Brien (Harmondsworth 1968), pp. 248–249. Elsewhere Cohen describes ‘the restoration of the Islamic Caliphate’ as ‘a dream as impossible as communism.’ See The Second Battle of Stalingrad, in Pretty Straight Guys (London 2003), p. 124.

55. F. Wheen, How Mumbo Jumbo Conquered the World, as above, pp. vii–xiv, ch. 1, pp. 309–310.

56. N. Cohen, The Second Battle of Stalingrad, as above, p. 104.

57. O. O’Neill, A Right to Offend?, Guardian (MediaGuardian), 13 February 2006.

58. M. Kettle, When It Was No Longer Sweet and Noble to Kill for the Cause, Guardian, 11 February 2006.

59. F. Halliday, Fundamentalism and Political Power, in Two Hours that Shook the World: September 11, 2001. Causes and Consequences (London 2002), p. 67.

60. R. Burns, A Man’s a Man for a’ Tha’, in The Canongate Burns, introduced by A. Noble, edited by A. Noble and P.S. Hogg (Edinburgh 2001), p. 512.

61. W. Wordsworth, To Toussaint L’Ouverture, in T. Paulin (ed.), The Faber Book of Political Verse (London 1986), p. 229.

62. B. Ehrenreich, For the Rationality Debate, http://www.zmag.org/zmag/articles/ehrenrationpiece.html.

63. Quoted in K.D. Bracher, The German Dictatorship (Harmondsworth 1970), p. 10.

64. L.D. Trotsky, The History of the Russian Revolution (London 1977), p. 1191.

65. T.W. Adorno and M. Horkheimer, Dialectic of Enlightenment (London 1986), pp. 6, 24, 83.

66. B. Dylan, Love minus Zero/No Limit, in Lyrics: 1962–1985 (London 1985), p. 260.

67. A. Callinicos, Against Postmodernism: A Marxist Critique (Houndmills 1989), pp. 168, 170.

68. A. Sokal and J. Bricmont, Intellectual Impostures: Postmodern Philosopher’s Abuse of Science (London 1998), pp. 187–194.

69. M. Foucault, Discipline and Punish: the Birth of the Prison, translated from the French by A. Sheridan (Harmondsworth 1979), p. 222. For parallels between Adorno and Foucault, see A. Honneth, Foucault’s Theory of Society: a Systems-Theoretic Dissolution of the Dialectic of Enlightenment, in M. Kelly (ed.), Critique and Power: Recasting the Foucault/Habermas Debate (Cambridge, Massachusetts 1994), pp. 177–181.

70. G. Deleuze and F. Guattari, Anti-Oedipus: Capitalism and Schizophrenia, translated by R. Hurley, M. Sean and H.R. Lane (New York 1977), p. 112.

71. Quoted in P. Berman, A Tale of Two Utopias: the Political Journey of the Generation of 1968 (New York 1996), p. 296.

72. S. Harding, A World of Sciences, in R. Figuera and S. Harding (eds.), Science and Other Cultures: Issues in Philosophies of Science and Technology (London and New York 2003), pp. 52, 57, 61.

73. C. Mouffe, Radical Democracy, in A. Ross (ed.), Universal Abandon: the Politics of Postmodernism (Minneapolis 1988), p. 38. ‘Oakeshott was a scoundrel’, according to E.P. Thompson as reported by P. Anderson, In Memoriam: Edward Thompson, in Spectrum (London and New York 2005), p. 187.

74. J.-F. Lyotard, The Wall, the Gulf and the Sun: a Fable, in Political Writings, translated by B. Readings with K.P. Geitman, foreword and notes by B. Readings (London 1993), p. 114.

75. V. Havel, The End of the Modern Era, New York Times, 1 March 1992.

76. J. Sanbonmatsu, Postmodernism and the Corruption of the Academic Intelligentsia, The Socialist Register (2005), p. 198.

77. R. Burbach, Globalisation and Postmodern Politics: from Zapatistas to High-Tech Robber Barons (London and Kingston, Jamaica 2001), pp. 10, 11.

78. Notes from Nowhere, Emergence, in Notes from Nowhere (eds.), We are Everywhere: the Irresistible Rise of Global Anticapitalism (London and New York 2003), p. 23.

79. L. Laudan, Science and Relativism: Some Key Controversies in the Philosophy of Science (Chicago, 1990), p. 163.

80. E. Wilson, Rewinding the Video, in Hallucinations: Life in the Post-Modern City (London 1988), pp. 208–9.

81. R. Wolin, The Seductions of Unreason: the Intellectual Romance with Fascism from Nietzsche to Postmodernism (Princeton and Oxford 2004), p. 160.

82. C. Sheehan, A New World is Possible, http://www.worldsocialforumlive.org/?p=27#more-27 posted on 26 January 2006.

83. J.L. Simon, What Does the Future Hold? The Forecast In a Nutshell, in J.L. Simon (ed.), The State Of Humanity (Oxford and Cambridge, Massachusetts 1995), pp. 648, 659.

84. T. Pogge, World Poverty and Human Rights (Cambridge 2002), pp. 97, 98.

85. E. Leslie, Walter Benjamin: Overpowering Conformism (London and Sterling, Virginia 2000), pp. 178, 231.

86. M. Horkheimer, The End of Reason, in The Essential Frankfurt School Reader, edited with introductions by A. Arato and E. Gebhardt (New York 1978), p. 30.


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Last updated: 10 December 2016