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Sunday, January 06, 2008

The Enlightenment and its Enemies

Former Dutch MP and continued infidel Ayaan Hirsi Ali writes a review of Lee Harris' The Suicide of Reason. Harris' book is an extremely important clarion call to members of the western enlightenment, spelling out the dangers of the current conflict with the pre-modern. It is an excellent read, and, as you can see - tops the list at The Idiom Library over there to the right. We suggest you pick it up.

Ali has an interesting criticism though that Kid Various noted in the margins when he was reading the book. The crux of Harris' argument is that we are so enmeshed in a society that embodies the Enlightenment value of reason that we are incapable of believing that other societies may behave fanatically. He kind of blurs the difference between the modern and the post-modern. Both of which are on exhibit in the West. The West has become bifurcated into modern (Enlightenment) and post-modern (Romantic, Multicuturalism) camps. And that distinction is important.

Both the Romantic movement and organized religion have contributed a great deal to the arts and to the spirituality of the Western mind, but they share a hostility to modernity. Moral and cultural relativism (and their popular manifestation, multiculturalism) are the hallmarks of the Romantics. To argue that reason is the mother of the current mess the West is in is to miss the major impact this movement has had, first in the West and perhaps even more profoundly outside the West, particularly in Muslim lands.

Thus, it is not reason that accommodates and encourages the persistent segregation and tribalism of immigrant Muslim populations in the West. It is Romanticism. Multiculturalism and moral relativism promote an idealization of tribal life and have shown themselves to be impervious to empirical criticism. My reasons for reproaching today’s Western leaders are different from Harris’s. I see them squandering a great and vital opportunity to compete with the agents of radical Islam for the minds of Muslims, especially those within their borders. But to do so, they must allow reason to prevail over sentiment.

Kid Various does not see Harris as placing the fault of the weakness of the West purely on reason - like he said - Harris more kind of blurs the line. It certainly does not detract from the importance of his work. Highly recommended.


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