The Enlightenment Has Run Out of Gas

The other month, before Putin invaded Ukraine if memory serves correctly, a wise friend of mine just said of our increasingly troubled times: “The Enlightenment has run out of gas.”

In short, there is a crisis of faith unhinging Western civilization and the world order it built after defeating Fascism and Soviet Communism.

The European Enlightenment privileged human reason as the giver of truth and certainty.

Nietzsche, however, as many of us can recall, pointed out the hubris of that position.  Reason, manipulated by our minds, can go haywire and fall in love with narrow extremes and intolerances.

One of the giants of the Enlightenment was Immanuel Kant.

He once asked, “What is the Enlightenment?,” answering that it was “man’s emergence from his self-imposed immaturity.”

So, to promote our personal and presumably also our collective maturity, Kant challenged us to “Dare to know!”

But … what if Kant took his ideas to extremes, in the process losing a sense of proportion, balance and equilibrium?

Then, what he called “immaturity” might actually be maturity of judgment and character and his “maturity” only a turn towards infantilism, with its myopic self-absorptions and will to power over others.