The World We Want: How and Why the Ideals of the Enlightenment Still Elude Us
Robert B. Louden
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The World We Want compares the future world that Enlightenment intellectuals had hoped for with our own world at present. In what respects do the two worlds differ, and why are they so different? To what extent is and isn't our world the world they wanted, and to what extent do we today still want their world? Unlike previous philosophical critiques and defenses of the Enlightenment, the present study focuses extensively on the relevant historical and empirical record first, by examining carefully what kind of future Enlightenment intellectuals actually hoped for; second, by tracking the different legacies of their central ideals over the past two centuries.
But in addition to documenting the significant gap that still exists between Enlightenment ideals and current realities, the author also attempts to show why the ideals of the Enlightenment still elude us. What does our own experience tell us about the appropriateness of these ideals? Which Enlightenment ideals do not fit with human nature? Why is meaningful support for these ideals, particularly within the US, so weak at present? Which of the means that Enlightenment intellectuals advocated for realizing their ideals are inefficacious? Which of their ideals have devolved into distorted versions of themselves when attempts have been made to realize them? How and why, after more than two centuries, have we still failed to realize the most significant Enlightenment ideals? In short, what is dead and what is living in these ideals?
famous example would again be Rousseau’s nonsectarian civil religion, which holds ‘‘that in every country and in every sect the sum of the law is to love God above everything and one’s neighbor as oneself; that no religion is exempt from the duties of morality; that nothing is truly essential other than these duties; that inner worship is the Wrst of these duties; and that without faith no true virtue exists.’’25 As many of these citations indicate, Enlightenment intellectuals often linked the
also the last mainstream eVort in which international law is identiWed with natural law. ‘‘From the late eighteenth century onwards, international law is usually understood to be positive, not natural, law. It is positive not in being enacted by a superior but in being jointly willed by states, who bind themselves explicitly through treaties or implicitly through customary international law.’’69 While natural law has by no means disappeared entirely from the intellectual horizon, it has ceased to
existence is persistently denied or ignored by numerous critics on both the left and the right. Clearly, there are diVerent ways of judging the success or failure of Enlightenment ideals, depending on, among other things, which ideals one selects. Nearly half a century ago, Alfred Cobban, in his lucid assessment, In Search of Humanity: The Role of the Enlightenment in Modern History (1960), while stressing that he was judging ‘‘the Enlightenment by something more modest than world-wide success,’’
Religion Intellectuals (particularly those who see themselves as heirs of the Enlightenment) have often asserted that religion and modernity are necessarily incompatible. But the evidence at present suggests that the case for the ‘‘secularization thesis’’—in either its hard version as the death of religion or in its soft version as religion’s marginalization—is no longer tenable. Important counterexamples to the thesis are prevalent, not only in the United States, where church attendance and
increase in the number of sovereign states is not forthcoming (due in part to irresolvable diVerences of opinion concerning the importance of national sovereignty and the right to self-determination vis-a`-vis economic growth), given the growing disparity in income between the richest and poorest nations, it is no secret that the economic eVects of the proliferation of sovereignty have been disastrous. From a purely economic perspective, dividing the world into two hundred distinct economies is