The lecture referred to herein is at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_pNPtmxMUC8 and it is certainly better to watch that than read my notes. And no doubt it is better to read his book which I have just ordered which can be found here: https://www.amazon.com/Creation-Modern-World-British-Enlightenment/dp/0393322688
To begin: what an exhilarating, insightful talk. Here are some brief notes if you want a “sort of” 5 minute version. This talk might reasonably have been called:
"England: an intellectual celebration"
When a German philosophy professor posed the question “What is the Enlightenment?” Immanuel Kant responded that “We are not in the Enlightenment but we are becoming enlightened”. This is Kant in the 1780s. But more tellingly Kant suggested that although people should “think for themselves” under the watchword “Dare to know” following the Roman poet Horace this was conjoined to the proviso “only in one’s capacity as a bureaucrat or civil servant, as a professor - as an employee of the state. He must nevertheless also obey the prince.” 🤬😱
Kant’s suggestion that we are becoming enlightened rather than already enlightened may have been true of his own city - but it is not true now. And it is sad it is simply taken as fact by historians and others - even now. Kant never left East Prussia for the entire 80 years of his life. Kant’s denial that he was living in an Enlightened age probably applied to all of Prussia at the time. 🤭
This is all to be contrasted with England not only at the time and much earlier. Much earlier in England there were far more astonishing moves towards a genuine Enlightenment. For example Ambrose Philip’s magazine. - before Kant was even born and called “The Free Thinker” adopted “Dare to know” as it’s masthead in 1718 - launching an assault on superstition. This was in a nation that had outlawed formal censorship in 1695. 🤛
Kant referred to as “the timid state functionary” 😂😂
Historians of earlier times, as now tend not to study the English Enlightenment…perhaps out of modesty as this is English culture. The idea “we have excelled the world” in philosophy, science, governance, politics and so on seems a vanity that more suits the mainland/continental Europeans. The ideas they - the English are doers rather than thinkers. Yet Americans traditionally in academia have tended to look more to the French than the English for enlightenment ideas. Perhaps they prefer sabbaticals in Paris? 😏
England: a country that curbs the power of the king without unleashing anarchy. 😎
England: an example of everything autocratic governments say we should fear; especially economic individualism leading to commercial success. Yet it proves them wrong each and every time for it excels, succeeds, prospers and flourishes. How else to explain this? 😇🤑🤑
England equated with Newton equated with Light. Newton broke light into its constituents - began our scientific understanding of light. An English scientist existing in fertile free thinking soil. England = Newton = Light = Enlightenment.😍
John Locke lay some foundations of restricted government and individual rights and moreover a vision of the mind that is infinitely improveable . 🧐
England gives birth to William Godwin who did not just want to eliminate government but marriage and even orchestras because they were tyrannical over the individual. 🤯
England had fertile soil for these individual rights because of institutions especially free media and the novel - a great variety. This happened more in England and earlier in England than anywhere else. 🥳🥳
England - the birthplace of a modern institutionalised culture of criticism where “nullius in verba” could be taken seriously. While Kant’s “enlightenment” could suggest little more than one, ultimately, defer to a prince, a philosopher king…an authority. Take their word for it. 🤩
These two visions are the exact opposite of how to think and how to organise civilisations.
Leave a Reply.
The most valuable thing you can offer to an idea