miércoles, 20 de junio de 2012

Enlightenment and modern cultural totalitarianism

A fragment of  "From Enlightenment to Revolution" from Eric Voegelin that summarizes very well the radical spirit of the Enlightenment of the XVIII century in a way that is a premonition of contemporary totalitarian regimes, or, in the non overtly violent revolutionary phase, comparable to the current leftist cultural totalitarianism  that is established de facto in the West.

It is a critique of  L' eisquisse, an essay of Condorcert, that he wrote shortly before being guillotined. (The fate of the cultural revolutionaries is to be obliterated by the next wave of violent revolutionaries)

To carry the progressivist idea to the masses is Condorcet's great
desire. The gulf has to be bridged between the few who actively carry
the progress of mankind and the vast majority who participaie in it
only slightly. This bridging of the gulf has already begun. fn his
survey of the progress of mankind, Condorcet pays particular attention
to the decisive historical epoch when progress ceases to be the privilege
of an active elite and is brought within the reach of the common man.
"Hitherto we have shown the progress of philosophy only in the men
who have cultivated, deepened and perfected it; now we harret o observe
the effects on the opinion genérale.' Reason not only has purified our
methods of knowledge and guarded us against the errors into which
we were led to by respect for authority,' it also has destroyed in the
masse generale of men, the prejudices which for so long have corrupted
the human species. At last the right has been recognized to use one's
reason as the sole criterion of truth and no longer to rely on the word
of another man. The abasement of reason before the delirium of a
supernatural faith disappeared from society,as it has disappeared from
philosophy. The sociali nstrument for bringing about this huppy state
was a new class of men uwho were less interested in the discovery of
truth than in its propagation; who pursued the prejudirces into the
recesses where the clergy, the schools, the governments and the old
corporations had amassed and protected them; who set their pride
rather in destroying popular errors than in pushing farther back the
limits of human knowledge; who developed this indirecr; manner of
servingp rogress,w hich was not the least perilousn or the least useful"

With a few masterful strokes Condorcet has sketched the new type
of intellectual parasite whose zeal to teach others is stronger than his
willingness to submit to intellectual discipline, who thrives on the fallacy
that truth is to be found in the solutions of problems rather than in
their discovery, who believest hat truth can be dispensed as a body of
doctrine, who transfers the characteristics of revealed truth to the finite
human search for knowledge; who consequently, through vulgarizing
problematical knowledge into dogmatic results, can make the innocent
believe that they enter into the truth if they accept faithfully as dogma
a proposition which no conscientious thinker would accept without far reaching
qualifications, who create in their victims the belief that
instruction is education, who destroy intellectual honesty through their
separation of results from the critical processesw hich lead up to them,
who build up in the masses the unshakable brutality of ignorant conviction
and who, for their murderous work of destruction, want to be
applauded because it is "not the least perilous, nor the least usefultt
to society.

The techniques employed by these men are described by Condorcet
with the competence of first-hand knowledge. They employ "all the
arrns which erudition, philosophy, brilliance and literary talent can put
at the disposition of reason; they assume all the tones, use all the
forms, from pleasantry to the touchins, from a vast and scholarly
compilation to the novel or pamphlet; they cover truth with a veil in
order not to frighten the weak, and to leave the pleasure of surmise;
they are skillful in catering to prejudices in order to deal even more
effective blows; they neither attack them all at the same time, nor one
quite thoroughly; sometimes they give comfort to the enemies of reason
by pretending that in religion they do not want more than semitolerance,
or in politics more than semi-liberty; they are moderate towards
despotism when they fight the absurdities of religion, and towards
the cult when they rise against tyranny; they attack the two scourges on
principle when they seem to castigate only some revolting or ridiculous
abuses; and they strike the tree at the roots when they seem to trim
only somer ank branches" The passage sounds as if it came from an
instruction sheet, issued to his staff by * National Socialist Minister for
the Enlightenment of the People. We should note the tone of implacable
hatred; the radical will to strike at the root of institutions, even when
the overt criticism extends only to reformable abuses; the technique of
apparent compromise by which the propagandist whittles down iesistance
step by step until he can deal the final blow; the intentional dishonesty
of "veiling," that is of half-truth which may tempt the uncritical
mind; the playing of sentiments against each other until the
institutions are equally engulfed in a social catastrophe; in brief: the
catalogue of techniques, which we all know too well, employed by the
political intellectual in undermining the authority of institutions and in
transforming bewildered individuals into a disoriented mass.

16. Condorcet (L743-94) wrote the Esquisse while he was irr refuge with
Mme. Vernet. The manuscript was completed by October 1793. It was published
for the first time An III. For a brief life of Condorcet and the qurestion of MSS
and publication see the ttlntroduction" and ttAvertissementtt by C). H. Prior in
his edition of the Esquisse (Paris, 1933).
L7. Esquisse d'un Tableau Historique des Progres de l'Espfi Humain. Outsrage
posthume de Condorcet (n.p., L795), p. 242,
18. Ibid.r p. 243,

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