To be fair to the real Western Enlightenment contra the faux rationalism of today, their form of Enlightenment and submission to Reason is the direct opposite of Romanticism which arose in reaction and *opposition* to Reason’s harshness, who attempted to exalt sympathy, sentiment, and experience against the severity of Reason’s supreme judgement.
The Enlightenment ideal is a relentless ideal, submission to reason’s dictates requires that we do not flinch from its Word no matter how much terrible and offensive it is, it is the wilfulness to stick to the utterly amoral empirical and rational facts, no matter where it leads us.
David Hume, the archsceptic of the Scottish Enlightenment, did not bat a single eyelid to proclaim the Negroes “to be naturally inferior to the whites. There scarcely ever was a civilized nation of that complexion, nor even any individual eminent either in action or speculation. No ingenious manufactures amongst them, no arts, no sciences. On the other hand, the most rude and barbarous of the whites, such as the ancient GERMANS, the present TARTARS, have still something eminent about them, in their valour, form of government, or some other particular.” This is the judgement of the harshest and most rigorous empiricist in probably all of British philosophy, who stuck simply to the empirical facts without colour or sentiment. Compare this to the recent outcry against a Harvard Ph.D awarded based on a thesis comparing the intelligence of immigrants with the whites, in what sense of the word do we still uphold to the Enlightenment’s rigors without retreating into Romanticism’s all too human projection unto humanity of some unverified and unempirical equality?
Consider also Immanuel Kant, another archrigorist of the Enlightenment, who exalted ethic’s intrinsic rationality and its dictates over and above the “desires of the flesh”, experience, happiness, pleasure, etc. More important than to be happy, declares Kant, is to be *worthy* of happiness, and as such, there is no right to happiness, only the dictates of cold and harsh duty which is supreme over experience and its desires, to which to be accounted amongst the elect of rational man, we must bow before in obedience, that we might be judged worthy. Worthiness of life comes from fulfilling one’s duty as dictated by reason, not by fulfilling our desires or in “being happy”, worthiness from duty is anterior to happiness.
Whatever we have now is not the Enlightenment, in all its strictness and discipline, which exalted Reason over sentiment, which judged the Objective Truth and Duty to be anterior to subjective experience and happiness, instead what we have is simply an extremely vulgar form of Romanticism, which exalts happiness, pleasure and experience over all, and which refuses the strictures of the Enlightenment for truth and their opposition to projecting our subjectivity unto the world, who rather deals with the world in accordance with their fantasies and ideals rather than to itself which has utterly no regard for human subjectivity nor intrinsic relation to human ideals.
It is interesting to observe that towards the end of James Beattie’s response to Hume’s racism, Beattie argues that his claims cannot be reconciled with the Judeo-Christian understanding of human nature. Be that as it may, that there is a universal human nature which transcends empirical observation must be a datum of faith and not of sight, and the Enlightenment philosophers, at least the atheistic ones, should rightly scorn such an argument and superstitious retreat into spiritual claptrap. But today, what we have is simply a form of Romantic paganism, whereby the empirical universe must possess spiritual and subjective qualities which miraculously converges with our human ideals and desires.
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[…] realistic, not romantic, empirical not platonic, in the objective scientific sense in the true tradition of the Enlightenment. I still believe in Hobbesian empirical observation of a nature red tooth and claw and that civic […]