Sunday, October 11, 2009

The Shadows of Totalization, Part XLII

Polemical deadlocks are not uncommon at any time or level of society—-hostile, antagonistic, and not budging.

Prior to the historical Enlightenment, Europe had been gripped by war, civil war, ceaseless dispute, never-ending strife, and rivalry. The Enlightenment was, I believe, in response—scientifically, politically, and culturally—to this, a way of moving past it.

"The alternate domination of one faction over another, sharpened by the spirit of revenge, natural to party dissension, which in different ages and countries has perpetrated the most horrid enormities, is itself a frightful despotism. But this leads at length to a more formal and permanent despotism. The disorders and miseries which result gradually incline the minds of men to seek security and repose in the absolute power of an individual; and sooner or later the chief of some prevailing faction, more able or more fortunate than his competitors, turns this disposition to the purposes of his own elevation, on the ruins of public liberty.

Without looking forward to an extremity of this kind (which nevertheless ought not to be entirely out of sight), the common and continual mischiefs of the spirit of party are sufficient to make it the interest and duty of a wise people to discourage and restrain it.

It serves always to distract the public councils and enfeeble the public administration. It agitates the community with ill-founded jealousies and false alarms, kindles the animosity of one part against another, foments occasionally riot and insurrection. It opens the door to foreign influence and corruption, which finds a facilitated access to the government itself through the channels of party passions. Thus the policy and the will of one country are subjected to the policy and will of another.

There is an opinion that parties in free countries are useful checks upon the administration of the government and serve to keep alive the spirit of liberty. This within certain limits is probably true; and in governments of a monarchical cast, patriotism may look with indulgence, if not with favor, upon the spirit of party. But in those of the popular character, in governments purely elective, it is a spirit not to be encouraged. From their natural tendency, it is certain there will always be enough of that spirit for every salutary purpose. And there being constant danger of excess, the effort ought to be by force of public opinion, to mitigate and assuage it. A fire not to be quenched, it demands a uniform vigilance to prevent its bursting into a flame, lest, instead of warming, it should consume."-- George Washington, Farewell Address.

A long time ago on this blog, Carlos said,

“Why do I date the Enlightenment, as a historical phenomenon, as beginning in 1648 and ending in 1789? 1648 marked the end of the Thirty Year's War and the Peace of Westphalia. This was the beginning of the secularization of the political; from this point onwards, religious claims were progressively withdrawn from the political and public spheres of society. This made possible the freethinking attitude of Thomas Jefferson, who said, ‘It does me no harm for my neighbor to say that there are many gods or that there are none.’”--Carlos, The Importance of History.

I find this remarkably compatible with my own view—Carlos marks the beginning of the Enlightenment with the end of a protracted war, a new and productive peace, and a change of attitude about what’s worth disputing with one’s neighbor (rightfully called freethinking.)


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