Saturday, June 20, 2015
In Prospect, Jonathan Rée reviews Vincenzo Ferrone's The Enlightenment: History of an Idea.
According to Ferrone, however, the title of “father of the Enlightenment” does not belong to Kant but to GWF Hegel a generation later. Kant’s “age of Enlightenment” was the expression of a bland hope for perpetual peace, but Hegel was more circumspect and pessimistic. When he took up the idea of Enlightenment in his Phenomenology in 1807, he treated it as part of a tragedy in which a shallow and conceited form of rationality led to disaster. He also rooted it in France rather than America or Germany, and treated it as a prelude to the storming of the Bastille, followed by revolution, suspicion and the Terror. Hegel’s farrago soon degenerated into “the philosophers’ Enlightenment,” as Ferrone calls it: a set of commonplaces about how Voltaire and the other French philosophes inspired the French revolution—a tall tale which became “a fundamental universal category in the intellectual life of the western world.”
Ferrone observes Hegel’s centaur rampaging through Karl Marx, Friedrich Nietzsche and Martin Heidegger, until it stirs up a storm of “relativism” and “nihilism” in Max Horkheimer, Theodor Adorno, Michel Foucault and Richard Rorty. This “vociferous army of theoreticians of the postmodern,” he says, seems to have “missed no opportunity to pronounce the death of the Enlightenment,” and eventually the “postmodern virus” penetrated even the Church of Rome, as Benedict XVI spearheaded a revival of anti-Enlightenment obscurantism.
That's some meme, that postmodern virus. The pathogen that ended a papacy.

How unreasonable was Benedict about the age of reason? Spe Salvi:
Yes indeed, reason is God's great gift to man, and the victory of reason over unreason is also a goal of the Christian life.
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