Friday, January 23, 2015

The Clash of Enlightenments

Today I'm reading Dan Hind's The Threat to Reason.  (I finished Betty Smith's 1943 autobiographical novel A Tree Grows in Brooklyn yesterday.  I think I'll try to get hold of her other books, and the biography of the author that was published a few years ago.)  Hind is very good.  Here, for example:
The global justice movement has sought precisely to destroy the legitimacy of at least some of the transnational organizations.  It has done so through a distinctive combination of spectacular protest and reasoned argument.  It argues that its opponents have betrayed the principles of the Enlightenment for the sake of corporate and state power.  At the same time, the transnational institutions themselves have criticized the protestors' methods and have sought to depict them as simplistic, naive or vicious.  They have been keen to denounce the protestors as fear-filled enemies of progress and unenlightened xenophobes.  Each side claims to be presenting arguments based on fact, and both seek to persuade through appeals to universal principles of justice.  The World Bank / IMF inside the convention centres and the clowns and the anarchists outside are calling for the creation of a humane social order, for a global system that fulfils the promise of the Enlightenment.  Both sides might be wrong, but they are definitely not both right, and a revived Enlightenment must decide between them or reject them both.  A structure of Enlightenment that admits both because they both claim to be enlightened cannot be of central importance to our current politics.  Their struggle marks a, perhaps the, 'great divide' in contemporary politics.  Understood narrowly in terms of a clash between the rational and the irrational, the Enlightenment can say little about one of the most important political contests of our time.
I'll have more to say about these issues soon.  I hope.