There was no Enlightenment. Steven Pinker’s new book, “Enlightenment Now,” is a classic re-statement of the myth of the Enlightenment which holds that in the 1600s and 1700s, Europeans threw off the tired dogmas of the Middle Ages and embraced a new philosophy of Reason, Progress, Science, and Humanism. In fact, the 1700s were a period of confusion, with no clear unifying ideas or trends: occultism, mysticism, and absolute monarchy flourished alongside experiments in democracy and chemistry. “The Enlightenment” forms one of the central pillars of Whig history, serving to re-affirm the notion that our present-day beliefs and values are rational and coherent.
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Suggested further reading: Peter Gay, “The Enlightenment: An Interpretation”; Charley Coleman, “The Virtues of Abandon”; Margaret Jacob, “The Radical Enlightenment”; Paul Monod, “Solomon’s Secret Arts”
Small correction: Immanuel Kant was professor at the University of Konigsberg, not the University of Jena.