From Robert Wokler’s ‘Isaiah Berlin’s Englightenment And Counter-Enlightenment‘
‘Berlin’s coinage of 1973 is not even the first minting of the expression in English, since the term ‘Counter-Enlightenment’ appears fifteen years earlier in William Barrett’s Irrantional Man, where he states, not without some justice, that ‘Existentialism is the counter-Enlightenment come at last to philosophical expression’.
Such antipodal movement between reason enthroned and some of anti-reason’s shrines is likely going to keep influencing all of our lives for some time.
Here’s a quote from Kelley Ross, highlighting some of the clear dead-ends and unworkable ideologies that have come out of the Enlightenment, and which have crushed individuals underfoot but still generate loyal sympathies and continue living on in various forms, finding some traction in the modern/postmodern malaise:
‘In addition to these legal and institutional usurpations of liberty, the attacks on individualism itself by socialism and communism have continued under the guise of “communitarianism,” and trendy thinkers now like to say that only as much freedom as “possible” should be allowed given the fundamental priority of the state, of “society as a collective unit” (they know that they will sound like Nazis if they start talking about “the state,” so they say “society” instead). It is not, indeed, that freedom must never be abridged, but it is a very different matter to see this as a choice by necessity in a moral dilemma rather than as an unproblematic pursuit of a fundamental “collective” good. If the abstract entity (the “state,” “society,” or the “collective”) has the moral priority, then the even permanent abridgment of any amount of freedom is no moral wrong. What the state giveth, the state taketh away.’
Something I like to keep in mind: Many people, in fact, most people, haven’t really thought through the consequences of what changing a particular rule and/or law will have beyond their own narrower interests. It’s rare that a particular injustice, the facts on the ground, and some moral and presumed universal claim align, thus requiring very important change.
In the public square and the marketplace, too, simple ignorance is often the rule, not the exception. Genuine truths usually come bundled with self-interest, financial interest, and groups of people often reinforcing their own pre-held beliefs, opinions, convictions and let’s not forget: A required common enemy to define themselves against. There’s a lot of preening and in-group/out-group issues constantly going on.