That Pesky Enlightenment Thing

And then there’s more Bunting (more Bunting? more Bunting?!) on the – well, on some ridiculous brainworm she has that she thinks is called ‘the Enlightenment’.

I need some help. I’ve been getting increasingly disturbed at the way in which the Enlightenment gets invoked by the self styled ‘hard liberals’ as if it amounts to their tablets of stone. Something didn’t seem to be adding up to me when they waxed lyrical about the Enlightenment legacy of rationality, secularism, belief in progress, the rule of law and the basis of all we know and love in western democracy and individual human rights.

Invoked? Self-styled? Hard liberals? Tablets? Of stone? Waxed lyrical? Belief in progress? All we know and love? Do you think she packed enough silly sarky jeer-words into that one paragraph? Can you tell that she thinks the Enlightenment is probably a load of old kack?

Then I began bumping into the subject with Muslim intellectuals who were acutely aware of how this legacy was being used (implicitly or explicitly) against Islam.

Ah – did you. Well that would explain it. So would the ‘implicitly or explicitly’ bit – that pretty much covers all the possibilities, doesn’t it: if the legacy isn’t used (by whom, exactly? who is the subject omitted by this passive construction? this passive-aggressive passive construction?) explicitly, well, you can be damn sure it is being used implicitly – there they go now, don’t let them escape, after them, run! And then of course there are the decisive final two words – ‘against Islam’. Well then – we know something very very very wrong and wicked is afoot. We don’t know what, exactly, but we know it’s bad. Somebody is using something (albeit perhaps implicitly) Against Islam. Nobody must ever use anything Against Islam, because Islam must be beyond reproach or criticism of any kind. Therefore no form of rhetoric is too silly or too manipulative.

These Muslims then argue that the Enlightenment was a process of European definition in the face of the Ottoman Empire; it was shaped in opposition to Islam and hence has an inbuilt anti-Islamic bias. Montesquieu’s ‘Persian Letters’ is a good example of this.

Uh – no it isn’t. Try reading it, Madders.

The bit which most intrigues me is whether a new understanding about rationality emerged in the eighteenth century and if so, how was it then positioned vis a vis religious belief? Since then, we’ve had Freud, Foucault and Nietzsche – all of whom have contributed to the understanding that we are profoundly irrational and that rationality is a social construction – a way of reasoning which we believe to be objective, but never can be. I’m no philosopher – hence the need for help – but I have a few questions: a) why do people think an understanding of rationality which is over 200 years old is useful now?

Oh, gosh, I don’t know! What a good question. Isn’t that odd? People can be so funny – thinking an understanding of anything at all which is over 200 years old (imagine it! in this day and age!) is any good at all, let alone useful now! Well – wait, wait – except religion of course. Except religion, and Catholicism, and Islam, and religion. I don’t mean them of course. But an Enlightenment understanding of rationality which is over 200 years old? Pee-ew! Might as well keep a 200-year-old fish around.

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