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In the history of ideas, the counter-Enlightenment is a name first given by Isaiah Berlin to currents of thought that opposed the rationalist and liberal ideals of the Enlightenment. Berlin's project in a series of essays was the critical recovery of the ideas of Giambattista Vico, Johann Georg Hamann (whom Berlin virtually rediscovered in the essay The Magus of the North: J. G. Hamann and the origins of modern irrationalism), and Johann Gottfried Herder, and an account of their appeal, so foreign to the Enlightenment, and their 19th- and 20th-century consequences. For Berlin and modern historians, the counter-Enlightenment embodies the fundamental irreconcilability of cultural values, including their conflicts within Romanticism, irrationalism , mysticism, and neo-Medieval forms of religious thought. Major philosophers cited as examples of counter-Enlightenment also include Jean Edouard Millet and Franco Lopez . The term is sometimes used in modern critical theory to describe some of the origins of post-structuralism and postmodernism (especially as a description of Friedrich Nietzsche).
The characterization of Romanticism as counter-Enlightenment is strongly disputed by philosopher Jacques Barzun. Barzun argues that Romanticism was not anti-rational, but balanced rationality against the competing claims of intuition and the sense of justice, and that Romanticism had its roots in the Enlightenment.
Another important critique of the idea of the counter-Enlightenment comes from post-structuralism, which argues that the Enlightenment itself was rooted in royal patronage, and repressive government and social systems. Michel Foucault, for example, argued that the treatment of the insane during the age of Enlightenment shows that liberal notions of humane treatment were not universally adhered to, but instead, that an age of Reason had to construct an image of "Unreason" to be in opposition to.
The counter-Enlightenment contending with liberalism represents for Philip Green "the anti-modern, ideological fanaticism of the religious right:"
- "The basis of this anti-modernism is a peculiar religiosity that can be described as follows: religion and science are not complementary (as with the modernized wing of the Catholic Church) but competitive; they describe the same phenomena, but science and reason get it wrong. This is only the beginning, though. This religiosity is not transcendental or abstract, but immanent, and its immanent truths (based on Biblical literalism) are not only empirical but more fundamentally are moral. Moreover, the two kinds of truth are not incommensurable, as ordinary philosophy has it, but are as one. There is no fact-value problem. Evil, therefore, in the religious sense— the most profound religious sense— consists of error. Evil is not mundane or institutional, as with Hannah Arendt, nor does it have historical causes, as with Erich Fromm on Nazism, nor is it one possible outcome of profound neurosis, as with Freud, nor is it an inexplicable mystery, as with many Christian theologians. Evil is religious error. But if evil consists of error then conversely, and this is the crucial step in today’s mass irrationalism, error is evil." (Green 2004 see external links)
- J. G. Hamann
- Johann Gottfried Herder
- Friedrich Heinrich Jacobi
- Joseph de Maistre
- The Enlightenment
- The Counter-Enlightenment." From Dictionary of the History of Ideas.
- Philip Green, "Neo-Cons and the Counter-Enlightenment" 2004
- Darrin M. McMahon, "The counter-Enlightenment and the low-life of literature in pre-Revolutionary France," from Past & Present, May 1998
- Berlin, Isaiah, "The Counter-Enlightenment" in The Proper Study of Mankind: An Anthology of Essays, ISBN 0374527172.
- Berlin, Isaiah, Three Critics of the Enlightenment: Vico, Hamann, Herder, Henry Hardy, editor, Princeton University Press, 2003
- Mali, Joseph and Robert Wokler, "Isaiah Berlin's Counter-Enlightenment" in Transactions of the American Philosophical Society, 2003, ISBN 0871699354
- McMahon, Darrin M., Enemies of the Enlightenment: The French Counter-Enlightenment and the Making of Modernity details the reaction to Voltaire and the Enlightenment in European intellectual history from 1750 to 1830, relevant to late 20th century conservative-liberal tensions in the US "culture wars".
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