Enlightenment Idols: Are we stuck in progress?

Ollie Cussen in The Point:

Politics on both sides of the Atlantic is being played out in the costumes of dead generations. Trump won the White House with a Reagan campaign slogan, pledging to bring back factory jobs and tariff wars. Democrats believe desperately in the existence of Russian conspiracies. British conservatives yearn for the nineteenth century, while academics at Oxford seek an “intelligent Christian ethic of empire.” Jeremy Corbyn has made postwar socialism popular again, with the help of a line from Shelley. Such retromania might not be so surprising—every age of crisis, as Marx famously argued, conjures up the spirits of the past for guidance and inspiration. But it is harder to account for a ghostly presence that provides neither: the public intellectual who wants to fight about the Enlightenment.

Steven Pinker has released a book, Enlightenment Now, which argues that the solutions to all our problems—global warming, inequality, terrorism—lie in the “timeless ideals” of the eighteenth century. Jordan Peterson, recently anointed “the most influential public intellectual in the world right now,” has labeled identity politics an assault on the Enlightenment principle of human rights. David Brooks thinks that a populist Trump, a “Nietzschean Putin” and a “Marxian China” each represent a waning of faith in the Enlightenment project: “a long line of thought,” as Brooks aptly put it, like one you might put on a graph, but from which we’ve deviated. To get back on track we don’t really need to think through our principles, ideals or projects; we just need a sensible reminder of how Old and True and Good they are. Dead writers can do our thinking for us.

More here.