Five Things You Need to Read Today
1. A Little More Enlightenment
I recently re-posted my series of articles from last year on the legacy of the Enlightenment, including my review of Steven Pinker’s Enlightenment Now.
One year after the publication of that book, Steven Pinker looks back, in an article in Quillette, and responds to some of his critics. I was very pleased to see that he referred positively to two of my articles, citing them in support of his arguments against both the left and the right.
Once again, the best response to this family of criticism has been made more effectively by others. Together with the essays by Kelaidis and Koyama, there’s Jonah Goldberg’s “Was the Enlightenment Racist?” (spoiler alert: Betteridge’s Law applies), Ben Domenech’s :”Why It’s Absurd To Pretend The Enlightenment Is Responsible For Racism,” and Robert Tracinski’s “For The Left, The Enlightenment Is Just Another Excuse To Cry ‘Racism.'”
Lest this last title suggest that the Enlightenment is vilified by the left and admired by the right, note that Tracinski wrote an equally trenchant essay called “Dear Conservatives: The Enlightenment Is Not The Enemy.” It is a response to the theoconservative and reactionary currents of the Right who pine for the moral certainties of throne and altar and blame the Enlightenment for the “hyper-rational scientism embedded in the liberal order” and for “scientistic communist thinking.” Tracinski addresses his comrades: “Well, thanks, guys. You just took the entire moral and intellectual authority of the Enlightenment and handed it over to the commies, a feat they could never have managed on their own.”
Totalitarian communism, Tracinski notes, had its roots in Rousseau—the Enlightenment’s cuckoo who inspired Robespierre, the Jacobins, and the Romantics. While Rousseau may have been “a man of the Enlightenment in the chronological sense,” he insisted that science and reason lead not to progress but to decrepitude, and elevated the “general will” over individual freedom and rights. Tracinski adds, “Anyone who thinks Communism is ‘scientific’ should reflect that no scientific movement would conduct two centuries of ‘experiments,’ see all of them fail, and still stubbornly refuse to accept the results.”
He chose his quotes from me well. I was vaguely hoping that he would also answer my criticisms of his book (or at least acknowledge that he was wrong about Ayn Rand and Nietzsche), but I’ll take what I can get.
This, by the way, is exactly what I’m trying to accomplish: having my spirited defense of Enlightenment values like reason and individualism be amplified by such a prominent cultural voice. This is what your support makes possible.
2. The Free Market Is People
I’ve already replied to Tucker Carlson’s anti-capitalist rant from a few weeks ago, but there’s a point some other people have brought out that I think is worth separate mention because it has deeper philosophical significance.
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