Written by Vladimir Moss


     The eighteenth century has been declared, not without reason, to be the water-shed of western civilization. Before it, the Christian faith was still strong, albeit in heretical versions; and traditional Christian attitudes to morality, politics and art still prevailed. But the eighteenth century changed all that; and at its end, with the French revolution, we enter the modern, revolutionary age. 

     Two movements of thought dominated the eighteenth century: the Enlightenment and the Counter-Enlightenment. The Enlightenment began in England and was taken up with enthusiasm in France; while the Counter-Enlightenment began in Switzerland and developed further in Germany. Let us look more closely at both of them.

England: the Conservative Enlightenment

      The War of the Spanish succession (1701-1713) was the last of what we might call the wars of religion. Henceforth wars would be fought, not for the sake of faith but for the sake of territorial or commercial aggrandizement. This war changed the balance of power in Europe from the “old regime” states, especially Spain, to the “new style” victors, especially Britain, which now, as Norman Davies writes, “emerged as the foremost maritime power, as the leading diplomatic broker, and as the principal opponent of French supremacy.” From now on, therefore, there were three kinds of state in Western Europe: old-style absolutism, represented by Spain, in which Church and feudalism still exerted their old power; new-style absolutism, represented by the France of Louis XIV (“l’état, c’est moi”), in which Church and feudalism, while still strong, were increasingly subject to the law of the king; and constitutional monarchy, as represented by Britain and Holland, in which the king, while still strong, was increasingly subject to the law of parliament and, behind parliament, of mammon. 

     The rise of laissez-faire capitalism was especially important. The reinvention of paper money (it had previously been invented in China) and the stock market produced the first massive financial speculations, such as the South Sea Bubble in England and the Mississippi Company in France. The most important men now, as Jonathan Swift noted in 1710, were “quite different from any that were ever known before the Revolution [of 1688]; consisting of those… whose whole fortunes lie in funds and stocks; so that power, which… used to follow land, is now gone over into money…”

     Since one cannot serve God and mammon, this trend inevitably meant that religion weakened. Already in 1668 in Samuel Butler’s Hudibras we can see the revulsion from the methods of the wars of religion:

Such as do build their faith upon

The holy text of pike and gun

Decide all controversies by

Infallible artillery…

As if religion were intended

For nothing else but to be mended.

And the rise of another, no less pernicious tendency:

What makes all doctrines plain and clear?

About two hundred poundes a year.

And that which was true before

Proved false again? Two hundred more.

     By the beginning of the next century, the trend was firmly entrenched. Thus H.M.V. Temperley writes: “The earlier half of the eighteenth century in England is an age of materialism, a period of dim ideals, of expiring hopes… We can recognise in English institutions, in English ideals, in the English philosophy of this age, the same practical materialism, the same hard rationalism, the same unreasonable self-complacency. Reason dominated alike the intellect, the will, and the passions; politics were self-interested, poetry didactic, philosophy critical and objective… Even the most abstract of thinkers and the most unworldly of clerics have a mundane and secular stamp upon them.”

     The “enthusiasm” of the lower classes was rejected by the self-satisfied upper classes. As the Duchess of Buckingham said of the Methodist George Whitefield: “His doctrines are most repulsive and strongly tinctured with impertinence and disrespect towards his superiors. It is monstrous to be told that you have a heart as sinful as the common wretches that crawl on the earth…” A depressing picture; and yet it was precisely in this dull, snobbish, self-satisfied England of the early 18th century that the foundations of the contemporary world were laid. Moreover, the leading intellects of the time looked on it as by no means dull. Anthony Ashley Cooper, the 3rd Earl of Shaftesbury, wrote to a comrade in the Netherlands: “There is a mighty Light which spreads its self over the world especially in those two free Nations of England and Holland; on whom the Affairs of Europe now turn; and if Heaven sends us soon a peace suitable to the great Socrates we have had, it is impossible but Letters and Knowledge must advance in greater Proportion than ever… I am far from thinking that the cause of Theisme will lose anything by fair Dispute. I can never… wish better for it when I wish the Establishment of an intire Philosophical Liberty.”

     This quotation combines many of the characteristic themes of the Enlightenment: first, the image of light itself; then the optimism, the belief that knowledge and education will sweep all before it; the belief in free speech, which, it was felt then, would not damage faith; above all, the belief in liberty. And indeed, with the English Enlightenment there came a tolerance that went far beyond the bounds of what had been considered tolerable in the past. Thus Catholicism was still banned, because that was considered a political threat; but the Earl of Shaftesbury was allowed “to print his scandalous view that religion should be optional and atheism considered a possible form of belief”... 

     “The Enlightenment was not a crusade,” writes Mark Goldie, “but a tone of voice, a sensibility.” Nevertheless, underlying the sensibility there was an Enlightenment world-view, which can be summarised as follows: “All men are by nature equal; all have the same natural rights to strive after happiness, to self-preservation, to the free control of their persons and property, to resist oppression, to hold and express whatever opinions they please. The people is sovereign; it cannot alienate its sovereignty; and every government not established by the free consent of the community is a usurpation. The title-deeds of man’s rights, as Sieyès said, are not lost. They are preserved in his reason. Reason is infallible and omnipotent. It can discover truth and compel conviction. Rightly consulted, it will reveal to us that code of nature which should be recognised and enforced by the civil law. No evil enactment which violates natural law is valid. Nature meant man to be virtuous and happy. He is vicious and miserable, because he transgresses her laws and despises her teaching.

    “The essence of these doctrines is that man should reject every institution and creed which cannot approve itself to pure reason, the reason of the individual. It is true that if reason is to be thus trusted it must be unclouded by prejudice and superstition. These are at once the cause and effect of the defective and mischievous social, political and religious institutions, which have perverted man’s nature, inflamed his passions, and distorted his judgement. Therefore to overthrow prejudice and superstition should be the first effort of those who would restore to man his natural rights.”

     The English Enlightenment rested especially on the achievements of Sir Isaac Newton, whose Principia astonished the world. His Opticks, by explicating the nature of light, provided the Enlightenment thinkers with the perfect image of their programme of intellectual enlightenment. As Alexander Pope put it,

Nature, and Nature’s Laws lay Hid from Sight;

God said, ‘Let Newton be!’, and all was Light.

Voltaire so admired of Newton that he called his mistress “Venus-Newton”. Newtonian physics promised the unlocking of all Nature’s secrets by the use of reason alone – although it must be remembered that Newton believed in revelation as well as reason and wrote many commentaries on the Scriptures.

     Roy Porter writes: “Newton was the god who put English science on the map, an intellectual colossus, flanked by Bacon and Locke.

Let Newton, Pure Intelligence, whom God

To mortals lent to trace His boundless works

From laws sublimely simple, speak thy fame

In all philosophy.

Sang James Thomson in his ‘Ode on the Death of Sir Isaac Newton’ (1727). Wordsworth was later more Romantic:

Newton with his prism and silent face,

… a mind for ever,

Voyaging through strange seas of thought alone.

‘Newton’ the icon proved crucial to the British Enlightenment, universally praised except by a few obdurate outsiders, notably William Blake, who detested him and all his works.

     “What was crucial about Newton – apart from the fact that, so far as his supporters were concerned, he was a Briton blessed with omniscience – was that he put forward a vision of Nature which, whilst revolutionary, reinforced latitudinarian Christianity. For all but a few diehards, Newtonianism was an invincible weapon against atheism, upholding no mere First Cause but an actively intervening personal Creator who continually sustained Nature and, once in a while, applied a rectifying touch. Like Locke, furthermore, the public Newton radiated intellectual humility. Repudiating the a priori speculations of Descartes and later rationalists, he preferred empiricism: he would ‘frame no hypotheses’ (hypotheses non fingo), and neither would he pry into God’s secrets. Thus, while he had elucidated the law of gravity, he did not pretend to divine its causes. Not least, in best enlightened fashion, Newtonian science set plain facts above mystifying metaphysics. In Newtonianism, British scientific culture found its enduring rhetoric: humble, empirical, co-operative, pious, useful. ‘I don’t know what I may seem to the world, but, as to myself,’ he recalled, in his supreme soundbite, ‘I seem to have been only like a boy playing on the sea shore, and diverting myself in now and then finding a smoother pebble or a prettier shell than ordinary, whilst the great ocean of truth lay all undiscovered before me’….

     “The affinities between the Newtonian cosmos and the post-1688 polity were played up. In the year after the master’s death, his disciple J.T. Desaguliers produced an explicit application of physics to politics in The Newtonian System of the World: The Best Model of Government, an Allegorical Poem (1728), where the British monarchy was celebrated as the guarantor of liberty and rights: ‘attracting is now as universal in the political, as the philosophical world’.

What made the Planets in such Order move,

He said, was Harmony and mutual Love.

God himself was commended as a kind of constitutional monarch:

His Pow’r, coerc’ed by Laws, still leaves them free,

Directs but not Destroys their Liberty.

The Principia thus provided an atomic exploratory model not just for Nature but for society too (freely moving individuals governed by law)…

     “This enthronement of the mechanical philosophy, the key paradigm switch of the ‘scientific revolution’, in turn sanctioned the new assertions of man’s rights over Nature so salient to enlightened thought… No longer alive or occult but rather composed of largely inert matter, Nature could be weighted, measured – and mastered. The mechanical philosophy fostered belief that man was permitted, indeed dutybound, to apply himself to Nature for (in Bacon’s words) the ‘glory of God and the relief of man’s estate’. Since Nature was not, after all, sacred or ‘ensouled’, there could be nothing impious about utilizing and dominating it. The progressiveness of science thus became pivotal to enlightened propaganda. The world was now well-lit, as bright as light itself.” 

     But, as we shall see in more detail later, the light in question was a light that cast much of reality into the shadows. For “with the Newtonian mechanistic synthesis,” writes Philip Sherrard, “… the world-picture, with man in it, is flattened and neutralized, stripped of all sacred or spiritual qualities, of all hierarchical differentiation, and spread out before the human observer like a blank chart on which nothing can be registered except what is capable of being measured.”

     Locke’s philosophy also began with a tabula rasa, the mind of man before empirical sensations have been imprinted upon it. The development of the mind then depends on the movement and association and ordering of sensations and the concepts that arise from them, rather like the atoms of Newton’s universe. And the laws of physical motion and attraction correspond to the laws of mental inference and deduction, the product of the true deus ex machina of the Newtonian-Lockean universe – Reason. Locke’s political and psychological treatises promised that all the problems of human existence could be amicably settled by reason rather than revelation, and reasonableness rather than passion. Traditional religion was not to be discarded, but purified of irrational elements, placed on a firmer, more rational foundation; for, as Benjamin Whichcote said, with Locke’s agreement, “there is nothing so intrinsically rational as religion”. 

     Hence the title of another of Locke’s works: The Reasonableness of Christianity (1695), in which only one key dogma was proclaimed as necessary: that Jesus was the Messiah, proclaiming the coming of the Kingdom. Reason, for Locke, was “the candle of the Lord”, “a natural revelation, whereby the eternal Father of light, and Fountain of all knowledge, communicates to mankind that portion of truth which he has laid within the reach of their natural faculties”. Armed with reason, and even without Christ, one can know what is the just life lived in accordance with natural law. 

    “Locke,” writes Roy Porter, “had no truck with the fideist line that reason and faith were at odds; for the latter was properly ‘nothing but a firm assent of the mind: which… cannot be accorded to anything but upon good reason’. Gullibility was not piety. To accept a book, for instance, as revelation without checking out the author was gross superstition – how could it honour God to suppose that faith overrode reason, for was not reason no less God-given?

     “In a typically enlightened move, Locke restricted the kinds of truths which God might reveal: revelation could not be admitted contrary to reason, and ‘faith can never convince us of anything that contradicts our knowledge’. Yet there remained matters on which hard facts were unobtainable, as, for instance, Heaven or the resurrection of the dead: ‘being beyond the discovery or reason’, such issues were ‘purely matters for faith’.

     “In short, Locke raised no objections to revealed truth as such, but whether something ‘be a divine revelation or no, reason must judge – it was the constant court of appeal. The credo, quia impossibile est of the early Church fathers might seem the acme of devotion, but it ‘would prove a very ill rule for men to choose their opinions or religion by’. Unless false prophets were strenuously avoided, the mind would fall prey to ‘enthusiasm’, that eruption of the ‘ungrounded fancies of a man’s own brain’. Doubtless, God might speak directly to holy men, but Locke feared the exploitation of popular credulity, and urged extreme caution.”

     Lockean rationalism led to the theology of Deism, which sought to confine God’s activity in the world to the original creation. The Deists’ understanding of God was closely modelled on the English monarchy: “’God is a monarch’, opined Viscount Bolingbroke, ‘yet not an arbitrary but a limited monarch’: His power was limited by His reason”. All history since the creation could be understood by reason alone without recourse to Divine Revelation or Divine intervention. Thus in 1730 Matthew Tyndal published his Christianity as Old as the Creation, or the Gospel a Republication of the Religion of Nature. In it he declared: “If nothing but Reasoning can improve Reason, and no Book can improve my Reason in any Point, but as it gives me convincing Proofs of its Reasonableness; a Revelation, that will not suffer us to judge of its Dictates by our Reason, is so far from improving Reason, that it forbids the Use of it… Understanding… can only be improv’d by studying the Nature and Reason of things: ‘I applied my Heart’ (says the wisest of Men) ‘to know, and to search, and to seek out Wisdom and the Reason of Things’ (Ecclesiastes 7.25)…”

     Of course, the word “Reason” has a long and honourable history in Christian theology; Christ Himself is the Logos, and “Logos” can be translated by “Reason”. But what the Deists were proposing was no God-enlightened use of human reason. Reason for them was something divorced from Revelation and therefore from Christ; it was something purely ratiocinative, rationalist, not the grace-filled, revelation-oriented reason of the Christian theologians. 

     The Deists, like all true rationalists, deified reason. “Reason is for the philosopher what Grace is for the Christian”, wrote Diderot. For them, as Berlin writes, “Reason is always right. To every question there is only one true answer which with sufficient assiduity can be infallibly discovered, and this applies no less to questions of ethics or politics, of personal and social life, than to the problems of physics or mathematics. Once found, the putting of a solution into practice is a matter of mere technical skill; but the traditional enemies of progress [priests and despots] must first be removed, and men taught the importance of acting in all questions on the advice of disinterested experts whose knowledge is founded on reason and experience. Once this has been achieved, the path is clear to the millenium.” 

     It followed from this Deistic concept of God and Divine Providence that all the complicated theological speculation and argument of earlier centuries was as superfluous as revelation itself. The calm, lucid religion of nature practised by philosopher-scientists would replace the arid, tortured religion of the theologians. And such a religion, as well as being simpler, would be much more joyful that the old. No more need to worry about sin, or the wrath of God, or hell. No more odium theologicum, just gaudium naturale

     As Porter writes, “rejecting the bogeyman of a vengeful Jehovah blasting wicked sinners, enlightened divines instated a more optimistic (pelagian) theology, proclaiming the benevolence of the Supreme Being and man’s capacity to fulfil his duties through his God-given faculties, the chief of these being reason, that candle of the Lord.”

     This Deist, man-centred view of the universe was sometimes seen as being summed up in Alexander Pope’s verse:

Know then thyself, presume not God to scan,

The proper study of mankind is man.

However, Pope, a Roman Catholic and therefore a member of a persecuted minority, actually went on to express a scepticism about the powers of human knowledge and the human mind which provided a necessary counter-balance to the prevailing optimism:

Placed on this isthmus of a middle state,

A being darkly wise, and rudely great:

With too much knowledge for the Sceptic side,

With too much weakness for the Stoic’s pride,

He hangs between; in doubt to act, or rest;

In doubt to deem himself a God, or Beast;

In doubt his Mind or Body to prefer,

Born but to die, and reas’ning but to err.

     But for the Deists this was too sceptical; they believed in this world with its delightfully harmonious laws, reflecting a wise, beneficent Creator and completely comprehensible to the human mind. Not for them the traditional awareness of the Fall, and caution with regard to man’s abilities, of the Orthodox and Catholics. They knew nothing of the pessimism of Rousseau: “How blind are we in the midst of so much enlightenment!” For them, religion had to be happy and reasonable. “’Religion is a cheerful thing,’ Lord Halifax explained to his daughter. And Lord Shaftesbury enlarged: ‘Good Humour is not only the best Security against Enthusiasm: Good Humour is also the best Foundation of Piety and True Religion.’ For the proof of that religion, you had only to look about you. It was perfectly evident to anyone standing in the grounds of any English stately home that a discriminating gentleman had created them: how much more overwhelming evidence of that even greater Gentleman above, who had so recently revealed to Sir Isaac Newton that his Estate too was run along rational lines…”

     Porter writes: “The Ancients taught: ‘be virtuous’, and Christianity: ‘have faith’; but the Moderns proclaimed: ‘be happy’. Replacing the holiness preached by the Church, the great ideal of the modern world has been happiness, and it was the thinkers of the 18th century who first insisted upon that value shift.

Oh Happiness! Our being’s end and aim!

Good, Pleasure, Ease, Content! Whate’er thy name…

sang poet Alexander Pope. ‘Happiness is the only thing of real value in existence’, proclaimed the essayist Soame Jenyns. ‘Pleasure is now the principal remaining part of your education,’ Lord Chesterfield instructed his son.

     “And if phrases like ‘pleasure-loving’ always hinted at the unacceptable face of hedonism, it would be hard to deny that the quest for happiness – indeed the right to happiness – became a commonplace of Enlightenment thinking, even before it was codified into Jeremy Bentham’s utilitarian ‘greatest happiness of the greatest number’ definition. That formula was itself a variant upon phrases earlier developed by the moral philosopher Francis Hutcheson, and by the Unitarian polymath, Joseph Priestley, who deemed that ‘the good and happiness of the members, that is, the majority of the members of any state, is the great standard by which everything related to that state must finally be determined.’

     “The quest for happiness became central to enlightened thinking throughout Europe, and it would be foolish to imply that British thinkers had any monopoly of the idea. Nevertheless, it was a notion which found many of its earliest champions in this country. ‘I will faithfully pursue that happiness I propose to myself,’… had insisted at the end of the 17th century. And English thinkers were to the fore in justifying happiness as a goal….

     “What changes of mind made hedonism acceptable to the Enlightenment? In part, a new turn in theology itself. By 1700 rational Anglicanism was picturing God as the benign Architect of a well-designed universe. The Earth was a law-governed habitat meant for mankind’s use; man could garner the fruits of the soil, tame the animals and quarry the crust. Paralleling this new Christian optimism ran lines of moral philosophy and aesthetics espoused by the Third Earl of Shaftesbury and his admirer, Francis Hutcheson. Scorning gravity and the grave, Shaftesbury’s rhapsodies to the pleasures of virtue pointed the way for those who would champion the virtues of pleasure.

     “Early Enlightenment philosophers like Locke gave ethics a new basis in psychology. It was emphasized that, contrary to Augustinian rigour, human nature was not hopelessly depraved; rather the passions were naturally benign – and in any case pleasure was to be derived from ‘sympathy’ with them. Virtue was, in short, part and parcel of a true psychology of pleasure and was its own reward. Good taste and good morals fused in an aesthetic of virtue.

     “Like Nature at large, man became viewed as a machine made up of parts, open to scientific study through the techniques of a ‘moral anatomy’ which would unveil psychological no less than physical laws of motion. Building on such natural scientific postulates, thinkers championed individualism and the right to self-improvement. It became common, as in Bernard Mandeville’s Fable of the Bees, to represent society as a hive made up of individuals, each pulsating with needs, desires and drives which hopefully would work for the best: private vices, public benefits. ‘The wants of the mind are infinite,’ asserted the property developer and physician Nicholas Barbon, expressing views which pointed towards Adam Smith’s celebration of ‘the uniform, constant and uninterrupted effort of every man to better his condition’. ‘Self love’, asserted Joseph Tucker, Dean of Gloucester Cathedral, ‘is the great Mover in human Nature’.”

     Self love was also the prime mover in capitalist economics, the “hidden hand” which, like Divine Providence, led everyone to better themselves and each other. According to Adam Smith, one of the bright lights of the Scottish Enlightenment, “it is not from the benevolence of the butcher, the brewer or the baker, that we expect our dinner, but from their regard to their own interest. We address ourselves, not to their humanity but to their self-love, and never talk to them of our own necessities but of their advantages.” 

     So the common interest is best served by everyone being made free to pursue his own self-interest with as little interference from the State or other bodies as possible. The “hidden hand” – the economists’ equivalent of Divine Providence – would see to it that greed and selfishness would be rewarded as unerringly in this life as unacquisitiveness and selflessness, according to the old dispensation, was held to be in the next. Here we see the doctrine of laissez-faire economics which has become one of the corner-stones of the modern world-view.

     Garnished with a touch of German moral earnestness, this English concept of Enlightenment was well summed up by the philosopher Immanuel Kant in the words: “Enlightenment is man’s emergence from his self-incurred immaturity. Immaturity is the inability to use one’s own understanding without the guidance of another. This immaturity is self-incurred if its cause is not lack of understanding, but lack of resolution and courage to use it without the guidance of another. The motto of enlightenment is therefore: Sapere aude! Have courage to use your own understanding!”

     The English Enlightenment, while theologically and philosophically radical, was politically conservative. For the revolution had already taken place in England, and by 1700 the essential freedoms, especially the freedom of the press, which the Enlightenment thinkers so valued, had already been won. “In these circumstances,” writes Porter, “enlightened ideologies were to assume a unique inflection in England: one less concerned to lambast the status quo than to vindicate it against adversaries left and right, high and low. Poachers were turning gamekeepers; implacable critics of princes now became something more like apologists for them; those who had held that power corrupted now found themselves, with the advent of political stabilisation, praising the Whig regime as the bulwark of Protestant liberties….

     “The English, in [Pocock’s] view, were uniquely able to enjoy an enlightenment without philosophes precisely because, at least after 1714, there was no longer any infâme to be crushed…

     “There was no further need to contemplate regicide because Great Britain was already a mixed monarchy, with inbuilt constitutional checks on the royal will; nor would radicals howl to string up the nobility, since they had abandoned feudalism for finance. What Pocock tentatively calls the ‘conservative enlightenment’ was thus a holding operation, rationalizing the post-1688 settlement, pathologizing its enemies and dangling seductive prospects of future security and prosperity. The Enlightenment became established and the established became enlightened.”

France: The Radical Enlightenment

     It was very different in France. The French had not yet beheaded their king; and their Protestants and intellectuals were not free. Therefore the ideas of the English Enlightenment, popularised for a French audience by Voltaire in his Letters on the English and Elements of Newton’s Physics, and by Montesquieu in his The Spirit of the Laws, acquired an altogether sharper, more revolutionary edge. The tolerant English empiricism became the French cult of reason, a fiercely intolerant revolt against all revealed religion. For, as Berlin writes, the French philosophes were perceived to be “the first organised adversaries of dogmatism, traditionalism, religion, superstition, ignorance, oppression.” 

     Reason for the French philosophes, as for the English thinkers, was something down-to-earth and utilitarian – “not man’s mind as such,” writes Gerald Cragg, “but the way in which his rational faculties could be used to achieve certain specific ends. Descartes had relied on deduction; Newton had used inductive analysis in penetrating to the great secret of nature’s marvellous laws, and the spirit and method of Newtonian physics ruled the eighteenth century. Nature was invested with unparalleled authority, and it was assumed that natural law ruled every area into which the mind of man could penetrate. Nature was the test of truth. Man’s ideas and his institutions were judged by their conformity with those laws which, said Voltaire, ‘nature reveals at all times, to all men’. The principles which Newton had found in the physical universe could surely be applied in every field of inquiry. The age was enchanted with the orderly and rational structure of nature; by an easy transition that the reasonable and the natural must be synonymous. Nature was everywhere supreme, and virtue, truth, and reason were her ‘adorable daughters’. The effect of this approach was apparent in every sphere. In France history, politics, and economics became a kind of ‘social physics’. The new outlook can be seen in Montesquieu’s The Spirit of the Laws; thenceforth the study of man’s institutions became a prolongation of natural science. The emphasis fell increasingly on the practical consequences of knowledge: man is endowed with reason, said Voltaire, ‘not that he may penetrate the divine essence but that he may live well in this world’.”

     As important as Montesquieu’s The Spirit of the Laws was Claude Helvétius’ On the Spirit (1758). “It is known”, writes Richard Pipes, “that Helvétius studied intensely the philosophical writings of Locke and was deeply affected by them. He accepted as proven Locke’s contention that all ideas were the product of sensations and all knowledge the result of man’s ability, through reflection on sensory data, to grasp the differences and similarities that are the basis of thought. He denied as categorically as did Locke man’s ability to direct thinking or the actions resulting from it: for Helvétius, his biographer [Keim] says, ‘a philosophical treatise on liberty [was] a treatise on effects without a cause.’ Moral notions derived exclusively from man’s experience with the sensations of pain and pleasure. People thus were neither ‘good’ nor ‘bad’: they merely acted, involuntarily and mechanically, in their self-interest, which dictated the avoidance of pain and the enhancement of pleasure.

     “Up to this point Helvétius said nothing that had not been said previously by Locke and his French followers. But then he made a startling leap from philosophy into politics. From the premise that all knowledge and all values were by-products of sensory experience he drew the inference that by controlling the data that the senses fed to the mind – that is, by appropriately shaping man’s environment – it was possible to determine what he thought and how he behaved. Since, according to Locke, the formulation of idea was wholly involuntary and entirely shaped by physical sensations, it followed that if man were subjected to impressions that made for virtue, he could be made virtuous through no act of his own will. 

     “This idea provides the key to the creation of perfectly virtuous human beings – required are only appropriate external influences. Helvétius called the process of educating man ‘education’, by which he meant much more than formal schooling. When he wrote ‘l’éducation peut tout’ – ‘education can do anything’ – he meant by education everything that surrounds man and affects his thinking, everything which furnishes his mind with sensations and generates ideas. First and foremost, it meant legislation: ‘It is… only by good laws that we can form virtuous men’. From which it followed that morality and legislation were ‘one and the same science’. In the concluding chapter of L’Esprit, Helvétius spoke of the desirability of reforming society through legislation for the purpose of making men ‘virtuous’.

     “This is one of the most revolutionary ideas in the history of political thought: by extrapolation from an esoteric theory of knowledge, a new political theory is born with the most momentous practical implications. Its central thesis holds that the task of politics is to make men ‘virtuous’, and that the means to that end is the manipulation of man’s social and political environment, to be accomplished mainly by means of legislation, that is, by the state. Helvétius elevates the legislator to the status of the supreme moralist. He must have been aware of the implications of his theory for he spoke of the ‘art of forming man’ as intimately connected with the ‘form of government’. Man no longer is God’s creation: he is his own product. Society, too, is a ‘product’ rather than a given or ‘datum’. Good government not only ensures ‘the greatest happiness of the greatest number’ (a formula which Helvétius seems to have devised), but it literally refashions man. The logic of Helvétius’s ideas inexorably leads to the conclusion that in the course of learning about human nature man ‘acquires an unlimited power of transforming and reshaping man’. This unprecedented proposition constitutes the premise of both liberal and radical ideologies of modern times. It provides the theoretical justification for using politics to create a ‘new order’…

     Helvétius’s theory can be applied in two ways. One may interpret it to mean that the change in man’s social and political environment ought to be accomplished peacefully and gradually, through the reform of institutions and enlightenment. But one can also conclude from it that this end is best attained by a violent destruction of the existing order.

     “Which approach,” continues Pipes “– the evolutionary or revolutionary – prevails seems to be in large measure determined by a country’s political system and the opportunities it provides for intellectuals to participate in public life.

     “In societies which make it possible through democratic institutions and freedom of speech to influence policy, intellectuals are likely to follow the more moderate alternative. In eighteenth- and nineteenth-century England and the United States, intellectuals were deeply involved in political life. The men who shaped the American republic and those who led Victorian England along the path of reform were men of affairs with deep intellectual interests: of some of them it would be difficult to say whether they were philosophers engaged in statesmanship or statesmen whose true vocation was philosophy. Even the pragmatists among them kept their minds open to the ideas of the age. This interplay of ideas and politics lent political life in Anglo-Saxon countries their well-known spirit of compromise. Here the intellectuals had no need to withdraw and form an isolated caste. They acted on public opinion, which, through democratic institutions, sooner or later affected legislation.

     “In England and, through England, in the United States, the ideas of Helvétius gained popularity mainly from the writings of Jeremy Bentham and the utilitarians. It was to Helvétius that Bentham owed the ideas that morality and legislation were ‘one and the same science’, that man could attain virtue only through ‘good laws’, and that, consequently, legislation had a ‘pedagogic’ function. On these foundations, Bentham constructed his theory of philosophical radicalism, which greatly affected the movement for parliamentary reform and liberal economics. The preoccupation of modern Anglo-Saxon countries with legislation as a device for human betterment is directly traceable to Bentham, and, through him, to Helvétius. In the speculations of Bentham and the English liberals, there was no place for violence: the transformation of man and society was to be accomplished entirely by laws and enlightenment. But even under this reform-minded theory lay the tacit premise that man could and ought to be remade. This premise links liberalism and radicalism and helps explain why, for all their rejection of the violent methods employed by revolutionaries, when forced to choose they throw their lot in with the revolutionaries. For what separates liberals from the extreme left is disagreement over the means employed, whereas they differ from the right in the fundamental perception of what man is and what society ought to be…” 

     Voltaire said, “I am not an atheist, nor a superstitious person; I stand for common sense and the golden mean”. “I believe in God, not the God of the mystics and the theologians, but the God of nature, the great geometrician, the architect of the universe, the prime mover, unalterable, transcendental, everlasting.” 

     So far, so English. But the anti-religious zeal of many of the philosophes, including Voltaire himself, was decidedly unEnglish. Moreover, no English thinker would have declared, with Diderot, that the aim of philosophy was “to enlarge and liberate God” (not only man, but even God was supposedly in chains!!). Moreover, they were quite explicit, as the English thinkers had never been, in attacking the very foundations of Christianity, denying original sin and mocking the Church. Thus Voltaire wrote to Frederick the Great: “Your majesty will do the human race an eternal service in extirpating this infamous superstition [Christianity], I do not say among the rabble, who are not worthy of being enlightened and who are apt for every yoke; I say among the well-bred, among those who wish to think.” Montesquieu, Diderot and others followed him in mocking the faith of believers.

     The reaction of the Catholic Church in France was firmer than that of the Anglican Church in England. Thus Archbishop Beaumont of Paris wrote in 1762: “In order to appeal to all classes and characters, Disbelief has in our time adopted a light, pleasant, frivolous style, with the aim of diverting the imagination, seducing the mind, and corrupting the heart. It puts on an air of profundity and sublimity and professes to rise to the first principles of knowledge so as to throw off a yoke it considers shameful to mankind and to the Deity itself. Now it declaims with fury against religious zeal yet preaches toleration for all; now it offers a brew of serious ideas with badinage, of pure moral advice with obscenities, of great truths with great errors, of faith with blasphemy. In a word, it undertakes to reconcile Jesus Christ with Belial.”

The Enlightenment and Politics

     The next target was the State. The Enlightenment’s political creed was summed up by Barzun as follows: “Divine right is a dogma without basis; government grew out of nature itself, from reasonable motives and for the good of the people; certain fundamental rights cannot be abolished, including property and the right of revolution”. However, the philosophers did not at first attack the State so fiercely, hoping that their own programme would be implemented by the “enlightened despots” of the time. Moreover, until Rousseau’s theory of the General Will appeared, the philosophers were wary of the destructive impact a direct attack on the State could have.

     What, then, was their constructive programme? With what did they plan to replace the Church and State? The truth is that the eighteenth-century philosophes, unlike the nineteenth-century revolutionaries, did not have a political plan. But they did have a goal. Their goal was to make men happy. So it may reasonably be asked: has it achieved its goal? Is mankind happier as a result of the Enlightenment?

     It does not look like it… For the immediate result of the Enlightenment was the French revolution and all the revolutions that took their inspiration from it, with all their attendant bloodshed and misery, destroying both the bodies and souls of men on a hitherto unprecedented scale. Science and education have indeed spread throughout the world. But poverty has not been abolished, nor war nor disease nor crime. If it were possible to measure “happiness” scientifically, then it is highly doubtful whether the majority of men are any happier at the beginning of the twenty-first century than they were before the bright beams of the Enlightenment began to dawn on the world. Condorcet wrote: “The time will come when the sun will shine only upon a world of free men who recognise no master except their reason, when tyrants and slaves, priests, and their stupid or hypocritical tools will no longer exist except in history or on the stage”. That time has not yet come. Most men do indeed “recognise no master except their reason”. But there are still tyrants and slaves (and priests) – and no discernible decrease in human misery. It is especially the savagery of the twentieth century that has convinced us of this. As Theodor Adorno and Max Horkheimer write: “In the most general sense of progressive thought the Enlightenment has always aimed at liberating men from fear and establishing their sovereignty. Yet the fully enlightened earth radiates disaster triumphant.” And as Nadezhda Mandelstam writes: “We have seen the triumph of evil after the values of humanism have been vilified and trampled on. The reason these values succumbed was probably that they were based on nothing except boundless confidence in the human intellect.” 

     And the reason why “boundless confidence in the human intellect” has brought us to this pass is that, as L.A. Tikhomirov writes, the cult of reason “very much wants to establish worldly prosperity, it very much wants to make people happy, but it will achieve nothing, because it approaches the problem from the wrong end.

     “It may appear strange that people who think only of earthly prosperity, and who put their whole soul into realising it, attain only disillusionment and exhaustion. People who, on the contrary, are immersed in cares about the invisible life beyond the grave, attain here, on earth, results constituting the highest examples yet known on earth of personal and social development! However, this strangeness is self-explanatory. The point is that man is by his nature precisely the kind of being that Christianity understands him to be by faith; the aims of life that are indicated to him by faith are precisely the kind of aims that he has in reality, and not the kind that reason divorced from faith delineates. Therefore in educating a man in accordance with the Orthodox world-view, we conduct his education correctly, and thence we get results that are good not only in that which is most important [salvation] (which unbelievers do not worry about), but also in that which is secondary (which is the only thing they set their heart on). In losing faith, and therefore ceasing to worry about the most important thing, people lost the possibility of developing man in accordance with his true nature, and so they get distorted results in earthly life, too.”

     The problem is, continues Tikhomirov, that “reason is a subordinate capacity. If it is not directed by the lofty single organ of religion perception – the feeling of faith, it will be directed by the lower strivings, which are infinitely numerous. Hence all the heresies, all the ‘fractions’, all contemporary reasonings, too. This is a path of seeking which we can beforehand predict will lead to endless disintegration, splintering and barrenness in all its manifestations, and so in the end it will only exhaust people and lead them to a false conviction that in essence religious truth does not exist.”

     And yet such a conclusion will be reached only if the concept of reason is limited in a completely arbitrary manner. For, as Fr. Frederick Copleston points out, the idea of reason of the Enlightenment philosophers “was limited and narrow. To exercise reason meant for them pretty well to think as les philosophes thought; whereas to anyone who believes that God has revealed Himself it is rational to accept this revelation and irrational to reject it…”

     The philosophes had no planned political utopia because they were supreme optimists. It was simply assumed that with the passing of prejudice, and the spread of enlightenment, a golden age would ensue automatically. So there was great emphasis on the future, but not in the form of blueprints of a future society, but rather in the form of rhapsodies on the theme of how posterity, seeing the world changed through education and reason and law – “Legislation will accomplish everything”, said Helvétius, - would praise the enlightened men of the present generation. “Posterity,” wrote Diderot, ‘is for the philosopher what the other world is for the religious man.”  

     “It was from the spread of reason and science among individual men”, writes J.H. Randall, Jr., “that the great apostles of the Enlightenment hoped to bring about the ideal society of mankind. And from there they hoped for a veritable millenium. From the beginning of the [eighteenth] century onward there arose one increasing paean of progress through education. Locke, Helvétius, and Bentham laid the foundations for this generous dream; all men, of whatever school, save only those who clung… to the Christian doctrine of original sin, believed with all their ardent natures in the perfectibility of the human race. At last mankind held in its own hands the key to its destiny: it could make the future almost what it would. By destroying the foolish errors of the past and returning to a rational cultivation of nature, there were scarcely any limits to human welfare that might not be transcended.

     “It is difficult for us to realize how recent a thing is this faith in human progress. The ancient world seems to have had no conception of it; Greeks and Romans looked back rather to the Golden Age from which man had degenerated. The Middle Ages, of course, could brook no such thought. The Renaissance, which actually accomplished so much, could not imagine that man could ever rise again to the level of glorious antiquity; its thoughts were all on the past. Only with the growth of science in the seventeenth century could men dare to cherish such an overweening ambition… All the scientists, from Descartes down, despised the ancients and carried the day for the faith in progress.”

     Thus the Age of Reason created its own mythology of the Golden Age. Only it was to be in the future, not in the past. And in this world, not the next. “The Golden Age, so fam’d by Men of Yore, shall soon be counted fabulous no more”, said Paine. And “the Golden Age of Humanity is not behind us”, said Saint Simon; “it lies ahead, in the perfection of the social order”. Thus “if the Enlightenment repudiated ‘supernatural, other-worldly, organized Christianity’,” writes Fr. Michael Azkoul, “it believed in its own brave new world. The ‘great book of Nature’ had recorded the means by which it was to be achieved. Professor Carl Becker shows in his Heavenly City of the Eighteenth Century Philosophers that nature was in fact not ‘the great book’ for them, but Augustine’s City of God torn down and rebuilt with ‘up-to-date’ materials.’ For example, Eden was replaced with ‘the golden age of Greek mythology,’ the love of God with the love of humanity, the saving work of Christ with the creative genius of great men, grace with the goodness of man, immortality by posterity or the veneration of future generations… The vision of the Enlightenment, as Becker affirms, was a secular copy, a distorted copy, of Christianity…”

     We see here a continuation of that chiliastic, Utopian trend of thought that is already evident in the pseudo-scientific utopias of Thomas More’s Utopia (1516), Tommaso Campanella’s City of the Sun (1601), and Francis Bacon’s The New Atlantis. The Renaissance utopias contain astonishingly modern visions of society – but secular, this-worldly visions. Thus Jacques Barzun writes: “To make existence better, which for these three Humanists means not more godly, but happier, each drives at a main goal. More wants justice through democratic equality; Bacon wants progress through scientific research; Campanello wants permanent peace, health, and plenty through rational thought, brotherly love, and eugenics. All agree on a principle that the West adopted late: everybody must work.”

     The eighteenth-century Enlightenment did not add anything essentially new to this: paradise was to be achieved by reason, science, eugenics, education and work…

     The problem for all secular utopias is how to control the fallen nature of man. From the Christian point of view there is only one solution: the acceptance of the Grace and Truth that is in Christ, which alone can tame and transform the passions. But the Utopians thought differently: “The great argument used to sustain right conduct is: ‘Live according to Nature. Nature is never wrong and we err by forgetting it.’ Nature here replaces God’s commandments, but although Nature is His handiwork, His commandments are a good deal cleaner than Her dictates…”

     However, Nature needed some assistance – from an authoritarian, even communistic State. And so, as Robert Service writes, “More could not imagine that the common man, still less the common woman, might independently attain the perfection of society without orders from above. Campanella’s tract depicted a society which instituted universal fairness by means of gross intrusion into private life. More and Campanella advocated thorough indoctrination of their people…” 

     The kinship between the Enlightenment utopias and those of the Renaissance, on the one hand, and those of twentieth-century socialism, on the other, was pointed out by Fr. Sergius Bulgakov: “Parallel with the religious individualism of the Reformation a neo-pagan individualism became stronger. It magnified the natural, unregenerated man. According to this viewpoint, man is good and beautiful by nature, which beauty is distorted only by external conditions; it is enough to restore the nature condition of man, and everything will be attained. Here is the root of the various natural law theories, and also of the newest teachings on progress and the supreme power of external reforms alone to resolve the human tragedy, and consequently of the most recent humanism and socialism. The external, superficial closeness of religious and pagan individualism does not remove their deep inner difference, and for that reason we observe in recent history not only a parallel development, but also a struggle between these two tendencies. A strengthening of the themes of humanistic individualism in the history of thought characterizes the epoch of the so-called ‘Enlightenment’ (Aufklärung) in the 17th, 18th and partly the 19th centuries. The Enlightenment drew more radical negative conclusions from the postulates of humanism: in the sphere of religion, by means of Deism, it came to scepticism and atheism; in the sphere of philosophy, through rationalism and empiricism – to positivism and materialism; in the sphere of morality, through ‘natural’ morality – to utilitarianism and hedonism. Materialist socialism can also be seen as the latest and ripest fruit of the Enlightenment…”

Enlightened Despotism

     But let us turn now to the period of “enlightened despotism”, when the ideals of the Enlightenment appeared to work together with traditional forms of government. The combination of the words “enlightened” and “despotism” is paradoxical, for the whole thrust of the Enlightenment, as we have seen, was anti-authoritarian. And yet at precisely this time there came to power in continental Europe a series of rulers who were infected with the cult of reason and democratism, on the one hand, but who ruled as despots, on the other. 

     Enlightened despotism was made possible because the official Churches – still the main “check” on government - had grown weak. In earlier times, even the most despotic of rulers had made concessions to the power of the Church. For example, Louis XIV’s rejection of Gallicanism and revocation of the Edict of Nantes giving protection to the Huguenots (1685) was elicited by his need to retain the support of the still-powerful Papacy. In France, the Catholic Church, if not the Papacy as such, continued to be strong, which is one reason why the struggle between the old and the new ideas and régimes was so intense there, spilling over into the revolution of 1789. In other continental countries, however, despotic rulers did not have to take such account of ecclesiastical opposition to their ideas. 

     The success of the enlightened despots was aided by the demise of their main rivals, the Jesuits. Like the Jews, the Jesuits were a kind of state within the state. In Paraguay they had even created a hierocratic society under their control among the Indians. Rich, powerful and well-educated, they were a threat to despotic rulers even when their master, the Pope, had ceased to be so. 

     And so, under pressure from rulers, writes Davies, “Benedict XIV (1740-58), whose moderation won him the unusual accolade of praise from Voltaire, initiated an inquiry into their affairs. They were accused of running large-scale money-making operations, also of adopting native cults to win converts at any price. In 1759 they were banished from Portugal, in 1764 from France, and in 1767 from Spain and Naples. Clement XIII (1758-69) stood by the Society with the words Sint ut sunt, aut non sint (may they be as they are, or cease to be). But Clement XIV (1769-74), who was elected under the shadow of a formal demand by the Catholic powers for abolition, finally acquiesced. The brief Dominus ac Redemptor noster of 16 August 1773 abolished the Society of Jesus, on the grounds that it was no longer pursuing its founder’s objectives. It took effect in all European countries except for Russia.” 

     The downfall of the Jesuit order, that fierce persecutor of Orthodoxy, would appear to be something to be welcomed. And indeed it was for those who were being persecuted. But Jesuitism was about to be replaced by something still more destructive of Orthodoxy: the French revolution. And in relation to the revolution the Jesuits constituted a restraining power, whose abolition undoubtedly brought the revolution closer. This illustrates a principle that we find throughout modern history: that that which is the primary evil in one era may become a restraining power against the primary evil of the succeeding era. This explains what may otherwise seem inexplicable in the behaviour of some Orthodox rulers. Thus the toleration of, and even support given by Tsars Paul I and Nicholas I to Catholicism and Jesuitism, is explained by the fact that these institutions, inimical though they were to Orthodoxy, nevertheless opposed the greater evil of the revolution…

     Having removed the priests who would be kings, the kings could now rule without any priestly limitations on their power. Perhaps the first to begin this trend was the adolescent King Charles XII of Sweden, who demonstrated that he was king whatever the Church might do or not do about it. Thus at his coronation in 1697, writes Robert Massie, Charles “refused to be crowned as previous kings had been: by having someone else place the crown on his head. Instead, he declared that, as he had been born to the crown and not elected to it, the actual act of coronation was irrelevant. The statesmen of Sweden, both liberal and conservative, and even his own grandmother were aghast. Charles was put under intense pressure, but he did not give way on the essential point. He agreed only to allow himself to be consecrated by an archbishop, in order to accede to the Biblical injunction that a monarch be the Lord’s Anointed, but he insisted that the entire ceremony be called a consecration, not a coronation. Fifteen-year-old Charles rode to the church with his crown already on his head.

     “Those who looked for omens found many in the ceremony… The King slipped while mounting his horse with his crown on his head; the crown fell off and was caught by a chamberlain before it hit the ground. During the service, the archbishop dropped the horn of anointing oil. Charles refused to give the traditional royal oath and then, in the moment of climax, he placed the crown on his own head…”

     Charles was not an enlightened despot. But his successor, Gustavus Adolphus III, was. And so, in 1792, he was killed by nobles “outraged at a programme of democratic despotism… [which] made the popular gestures constantly being pressed upon Louis XVI by his secret advisers seem tame.” 

     In neighbouring Germany the princes, who were in effect also first ministers of their Churches, were more influenced by the French Enlightenment. Thus Frederick of Prussia dispensed with any religious sanction for his rule and took the Enlightenment philosophers for his guides. “I was born too soon,” he said, “but I have seen Voltaire…”  

     How could despotism co-exist with the caustic anti-authoritarianism of Voltaire and the other philosophes? It was a question of means and ends. If the aims of the philosophes were “democratic” in the sense that they wished the abolition of “superstition” and increased happiness for everybody through education, the best – indeed the only – means to that end at that time was the enlightened despot. 

     But there is no question that they preferred republicanism to despotism, enlightened or otherwise. Thus Voltaire said: “The most tolerable government of all is no doubt a republic, because it brings men closest to natural equality.” And yet “there has never been a perfect government because men have passions”.

     It was not only the philosophes who looked to the enlightened despots: as Eric Hobsbawn writes, “the middle and educated classes and those committed to progress often looked to the powerful central apparatus of an ‘enlightened’ monarchy to realize their hopes. A prince needed a middle class and its ideas to modernize his state; a weak middle class needed a prince to batter down the resistance of entrenched aristocratic and clerical interests to progress.”

     So the philosophes went to the kings – Voltaire to Frederick of Prussia, Diderot to Catherine of Russia – and tried to make them into philosopher-kings, as Plato had once tried with Dionysius of Syracuse. And the kings were flattered to think of themselves in this light. But neither the kings nor their philosopher advisers ever aimed to create democratic republics, as opposed to more efficient monarchies.

     “The Continental philosophes of the High Enlightenment never made their prime demand the maximisation of personal freedom and the reciprocal attenuation of the state, in the manner of later English laissez-faire liberalism. For one thing, a strong executive would be needed to maintain the freedom of subjects against the encroachments of the Church and the privileges of the nobles. Physiocrats such as Quesnay championed an economic policy of free trade, but recognised that only a determined, dirigiste administration would prove capable of upholding market freedoms against encroached vested interests. No continental thinkers were attracted to the ideal of the ‘nightwatchman’ state so beloved of the English radicals… 

     “It was the thinkers of Germanic and Central Europe above all who looked to powerful, ‘enlightened’ rulers to preside over a ‘well-policed’ state. By this was meant a regime in which an efficient, professional career bureaucracy comprehensively regulated civic life, trade, occupations, morals and health, often down to quite minute details.”

    Cragg writes: “Certain characteristics were common to all the enlightened despotisms, but each of the continental countries had its own particular pattern of development. By the middle of the century, Frederick the Great had achieved a pre-eminent position, and his brilliance as a military leader had fixed the eyes of Europe on his kingdom. Prussia appeared to be the supreme example of the benefits of absolute rule. But appearances were deceptive. Frederick had indeed brought the civil service to a high degree of efficiency and had organized the life of the country in a way congenial to a military martinet. Though he was anxious to improve the peasants’ lot, he could not translate his theories into facts. His reign resulted in an actual increase of serfdom. His rule rested on assumptions that were already obsolete long before the advent of the French Revolution. It is true that by illiberal means he achieved certain liberal ends. He abolished torture; he promoted education; in the fields of politics and economics he applied the principles of the Enlightenment. He had no sympathy with Christianity and little patience with its devotees. He regarded the service of the state as an adequate substitute for Christian faith and life. He advocated toleration on the ground that all religious beliefs were equally absurd…”

     Thus toleration for all faiths, so long as they accepted “the service of the state” as the supreme cult. Such a religion perfectly suited Frederick, who could only understand religion in terms of its usefulness to the State. But was this really an adequate substitute for Christianity? Why should the people serve the state? For material gain? But Frederick gave them only war and serfdom. In any case, man cannot live by bread alone, and states cannot survive through the provision of material benefits alone. The people need a faith that justifies the state and the dominion of some men over others. Christianity provided such a justification as long as the people believed in it, and as long as the ruler could make himself out to be “the defender of the faith”. But if neither the people nor the ruler believe in Christianity, what can take its place? 

     One alternative is the deification of the nation or state itself, and this was the path Frederick’s successors took. But between Frederick’s enlightened despotism and the Prussian nationalism of the nineteenth century there was a logical and chronological gap. That gap was filled by the teaching of Kant and Herder and Rousseau, the French revolution and Napoleon…

     We have said that the philosophes like Voltaire and Diderot were happy to work with the enlightened despots. However, this was a purely transitional phase, a tactical ploy which could not last long. For the principles of the philosophes, carried to their logical conclusion, led to the destruction of all monarchies. This was clearest in the case of Rousseau, as we shall see; but even in Diderot, the friend of Catherine the Great, we find the following: “The arbitrary government of a just and enlightened prince is always bad. His virtues are the most dangerous and the most surely seductive: they insensibly accustom a people to love, respect and serve his successor, however wicked or stupid he might be. He takes away from the people the right of deliberating, of willing or not willing, of opposing even its own will when it ordains the good. However, this right of opposition, mad though it is, is sacred… What is it that characterises the despot? Is it kindness or ill-will? Not at all: these two notions enter not at all into the definition. It is the extent of the authority he arrogates to himself, not its application. One of the greatest evils that could befall a nation would be two or three reigns by a just, gentle, enlightened, but arbitrary power: the peoples would be led by happiness to complete forgetfulness of their privileges, to the most perfect slavery…”

     “The right of opposition, mad though it is, is sacred”… Here we find the true voice of the revolution, which welcomes madness, horror, misery, bloodshed on an unprecedented scale, so long as it is the expression of the right of opposition, that is, of satanic rebelliousness. And that madness, that irrationality, that satanism, it must not be forgotten, was begotten in the heart of the Age of Reason…

Hume: the Irrationalism of Rationalism

     The Scot David Hume was unique among the rationalist philosophers of the eighteenth-century in claiming to prove, by the method of “experimental philosophy”, or reductionism, the irrationality of reason itself – that is, considered on its own and without any other support. His conclusion was that in real life reason is always buttressed and supplemented by faith. But then he went on to try and “demonstrate” that faith – faith not only in God, but in any enduring, objective reality – is itself a species of irrationalism…

     Hume’s A Treatise of Human Nature, was written in 1739-40, shortly after he had had a nervous breakdown. It was subtitled ‘An Attempt to Introduce the Experimental Method of Reasoning into Moral Subjects’. This indicated the final end of the Enlightenment Programme: to subdue absolutely everything, even religion and morality, to the “experimental method”.

     Hume first disposes of the idea of substance. Since our idea of the external world is derived entirely from impressions of sensation, and since we can never derive from sensation alone the idea of an object existing independently of our sensations, such an idea does not really exist at all. Instead, “the idea of a substance… is nothing but a collection of simple ideas that are united by the imagination and have a particular name assigned to them, by which we are able to recall, either to ourselves or others, that collection.”

     Following the same reasoning, Hume also disposes of the idea of the soul or self. There is no sense-impression which corresponds to the idea of a permanently existing self. For “self or person is not any one impression, but that to which our several impressions and ides are supposed to have a reference. If any impression gives rise to the idea of self, that impression must continue invariably the same, through the whole course of our lives; since self is supposed to exist after that manner. But there is no impression constant and invariable… and consequently there is no such idea.”

     The most famous example of Hume’s method of reductio ad absurdum is his analysis of causation. When we say that A causes B, the word “causes” does not correspond to any impression of sensation. All that we actually see is that events of the class A are constantly followed by events of the class B. This constant conjunction of A and B predisposes the mind, on seeing A, to think of B. Thus a cause in nature “is an object precedent and contiguous to another, and so united with it that the idea of the one determines the mind to form the idea of the other, and the impression of the one to form a more lively idea of the other.”

     Russell has analysed Hume’s teaching into two parts: “(1) When we say ‘A caused B’, all that we have a right to say is that, in part experience, A and B have frequently appeared together or in rapid succession, and no instance has been observed of A not followed or accompanied by B. (2) However many instances we may have observed of the conjunction of A and B, that give no reason for expecting them to be conjoined on a future occasion, though it is a cause of this expectation, i.e. it has been frequently observed to be conjoined with such an expectation. These two parts of the doctrine may be stated as follows: (1) in causation there is no indefinable relation except conjunction or succession; (2) induction by simple enumeration is not a valid argument…

     “If the first half of Hume’s doctrine is admitted, the rejection of induction makes all expectation as to the future irrational, even the expectation that we shall continue to feel expectations. I do not mean merely that our expectations may be mistaken; that, in any case, must be admitted. I mean that, taking even our firmest expectations, such as that the sun will rise to-morrow, there is not a shadow of a reason for supposing them more likely to be verified than not…”

     Thus empiricism is shown to be irrational. As Copleston writes, “the uniformity of nature is not demonstrable by reason. It is the object of belief rather than of intuition or demonstration.” We cannot help having such beliefs; for “whatever may be the reader’s opinion at this present moment,.. an hour hence he will be persuaded there is both an external and internal world.”. However, such belief cannot be justified by reason; for it “is more properly an act of the sensitive, than of the cogitative part of our natures.” 

     Hume’s attitude to belief in God was predictably agnostic, if not strictly atheistic. We cannot say that God is the cause of nature because we have never seen a constant conjunction of God, on the one hand, and nature, on the other. Also, “I much doubt,” he says, “that a cause can be known only by its effect.” At most, Hume concedes, “the cause or causes of order in the universe probably bear some remote analogy to human intelligence.”

     In Dialogues Concerning Natural Religion Hume wrote: “For aught we know a priori, matter may contain the source, or spring, of order originally, within itself, as well as the mind does.” As Edward Skidelsky points out, “This is the seed from which the various 19th-century theories of evolution – of which Darwin’s is only the most famous – spring… After Hume, it is only a matter of time before agnosticism reigns supreme. The perseverance of belief is attributed to mere ignorance or else to a wilful ‘sacrifice of the intellect’. Unbelievers, on the other hand, are congratulated for their disinterested pursuit of truth ‘wherever it may lead’.”

     Morality is disposed of as thoroughly as the idea of God. The essential point is that “reason alone can never be a motive to any action of the will”, and reason “can never oppose passion in the direction of the will”. For “‘Tis not contrary to reason to prefer the destruction of the whole world to the scratching of my finger.” And “the life of a man is of no greater important to the universe than that of an oyster.” Reason can oppose a passion only by directing the mind to other passions tending in the opposite direction. For “it is from the prospect of pain or pleasure that the aversion or propensity arises towards any object.” Hume’s conclusion is that “reason is, and ought to be the slave of the passions, and can never pretend to any other office than to serve and obey them.” 

     Nor is this necessarily a bad thing, according to Hume… “In delineating the workings of propensities integral to human existence, Hume noted that Christian theologians and Platonists alike had condemned the appetites, the former deploring them as sinful, the latter demanding their mastery by reason. For Hume, by contrast, feelings were the true springs of such vital social traits as the love of family, attachment to property and the desire for reputation. Pilloried passions like pride were the very cement of society. Dubbing its denigrators ‘monkish’, Hume defended pride when well regulated; indeed, magnanimity, that quality attributed to all the greatest heroes, was ‘either nothing but a steady and well-establish’d pride and self-esteem, or partakes largely of that passion’. Besides, ‘hearty pride’ was essential to society, whose hierarchy of ranks, fixed by ‘our birth, fortune, employments, talents or reputation’, had to be maintained if it were to function smoothly. A person needed pride to acquit himself well in his station – indiscriminate humility would reduce social life to chaos. Much that had traditionally been reproved as egoistically immoral he reinstated as beneficial.”

     Hume’s essential idea was that, in Edwin Burt’s words, “Reason is a subjective faculty which has no necessary relation with the ‘facts’ we seek to know. It is limited to tracing the relations of our ideas, which themselves are already twice removed from ‘reality’. And our senses are equally subjective, for they can never know the ‘thing in itself’, but only an image of it which has in it no element of necessity and certainty – ‘the contrary of every matter of fact is still possible’.

     Hume’s significance lies in his rational demonstration of the impotence of reason, of the fact that it can prove the existence of nothing – not only of God, Providence and the immortal soul, but even of material objects and causality, the bedrock of empirical explanation. But a dead-end for rationalism can only mean an opening for irrationalism. If reason can only serve passion rather than rule it, then the last moral barrier to the overturning of all traditional values is removed. And indeed, in Paris, where Hume was fêted much more than in his native Scotland, the revolution against eighteenth-century rationalism was only a few years away. 

     Hume’s hard-headed empiricism extended also to his political philosophy, which at least had the virtue of exposing the weak foundations on which the theory of the social contract was based. Thus for Hume there never was any such thing as a “state of nature” – “men are necessarily born in a family-society at least.” The initial bonds between men are not contractual, but sexual and parental: “Natural appetite draws members of the two sexes together and preserves their union until a new bond arises, their common concern for their offspring. 'In a little time, custom and habit operating on the tender minds of the children makes them sensible of the advantages which they reap from society, as well as fashions them by degrees for it, by rubbing off those rough corners and untoward affections which prevent their coalition.’ The family, therefore (or, more accurately, the natural appetite between the sexes), is ‘the first and original principle of human society’. The transition to a wider society is effected principally by the felt need for stabilizing the possession of external goods.”

     Men could continue living in primitive societies like those of the American Indians without the formal structure of government if it were not that quarrels over property led to the need for the administration of justice. “The state of society without government is one of the most natural states of men, and must subsist with the conjunction of many families, and long after the first generation. Nothing but an increase of riches and possessions could oblige men to quit it.” 

     Later, quarrels between tribes lead to the emergence of war leaders. Then, during the peace, the war leader continues to lead. And so an ad hoc arrangement dictated by necessity and the need to survive would generate a permanent government. This is a gradual, organic process propelled by “necessity, inclination and habit” rather than an explicit, rational agreement.

     Indeed, not only are governments not formed on the basis of consent: “’almost all the governments which exist at present, or of which there remains any record in story, have been founded originally, either on usurpation or conquest or both, without any pretence of a fair consent or voluntary subjection of the people… The face of the earth is continually changing, by the increase of small kingdoms into great empires, by the dissolution of great empires into smaller kingdoms, by the planting of colonies, by the migration of tribes. Is there anything discernible in all these events but force and violence? Where is the mutual agreement or voluntary association so much talked of?’ Even when elections take the place of force, what does it amount to? It may be election by a few powerful and influential men. Or it may take the form of popular sedition, the people following a ringleader who owes his advancement to his own impudence or to the momentary caprice of the crowd, most of whom have little of no knowledge of him and his capacities. In neither case is there a real rational agreement by the people.”

     English political liberalism, we may recall, arose from the need to justify the Glorious Revolution of 1688, when the Protestant William of Orange usurped the throne of the Catholic James II. William’s rule was tacitly consented to as being more in accord with natural law and reason than the despotism of James II, who was deemed to have broken some kind of contract with his citizens. But Hume undermines both the contractual and the rational elements in this justification, reducing the whole duty of allegiance to naked self-interest. In this way he is closer to Hobbes than to Locke – and to Marx than to J.S. Mills…. 

     “Granted that there is a duty of political allegiance, it is obviously idle to look for its foundation in popular consent and in promises if there is little or no evidence that popular consent was ever asked or given. As for Locke’s idea of tacit consent, ‘it may be answered that such an implied consent can only have place where a man imagines that the matter depends on his choice’. But anyone who is born under an established government thinks that he owes allegiance to the sovereign by the very fact that he is by birth a citizen of the political society in question. And to suggest with Locke that every man is free to leave the society to which he belongs by birth is unreal. ‘Can we seriously say that a poor peasant or artisan has a free choice to leave his country, when he knows no foreign language or manners and lives from day to day by the small wages which he acquires?’

     “The obligation of allegiance to civil government, therefore, ‘is not derived from any promise of the subjects’. Even if promises were made at some time in the remote past, the present duty of allegiance cannot rest on them. ‘It being certain that there is a moral obligation to submit to government, because everyone thinks so, it must be as certain that this obligation arises not from a promise, since no one whose judgement has not been led astray by too strict adherence to a system of philosophy has ever yet dreamt of ascribing it to that origin.’ The real foundation of the duty of allegiance is utility or interest. 

     ‘This interest I find to consist in the security and protection which we can enjoy in political society, and which we can never attain when perfectly free and independent.’ This holds good both of natural and of moral obligation. ‘It is evident that, if government were totally useless, it never could have a place, and that the sole foundation of the duty of allegiance is the advantage which it procures to society by preserving peace and order among mankind.’ Similarly, in the essay Of the Original Contract Hume observes: ‘If the reason be asked of that obedience which we are bound to pay to government, I readily answer, Because society could not otherwise subsist; and this answer is clear and intelligible to all mankind.’

     “The obvious conclusion to be drawn from this view is that when the advantage ceases, the obligation to allegiance ceases. ‘As interest, therefore, is the immediate sanction of government, the one can have no longer being than the other; and whenever the civil magistrate carries his oppression so far as to render his authority perfectly intolerable, we are no longer bound to submit to it. The cause ceases; the effect must also cease.’ It is obvious, however, that the evils and dangers attending rebellion are such that it can be legitimately attempted only in cases of real tyranny and oppression and when the advantages of acting in this way are judged to outweigh the disadvantages.

     “But to whom is allegiance due? In other words, whom are we to regard as legitimate rulers? Originally, Hume thought or inclined to think, government was established by voluntary convention. ‘The same promise, then, which binds them (the subjects) to obedience, ties them down to a particular person and makes him the object of their allegiance.’ But once government has been established and allegiance no longer rests upon a promise but upon advantage or utility, we cannot have recourse to the original promise to determine who is the legitimate ruler. The fact that some tribe in remote times voluntarily subjected itself to a leader is no guide to determining whether William of Orange or James II is the legitimate monarch.

     “One foundation of legitimate authority is long possession of the sovereign power: ‘I mean, long possession in any form of government, or succession of princes’. Generally speaking, there are no governments or royal houses which do not owe the origin of their power to usurpation or rebellion and whose original title to authority was not ‘worse than doubtful and uncertain’. In this case ‘time alone gives solidity to their right and, operating gradually on the minds of men, reconciles them to any authority and makes it seem just and reasonable’. The second source of public authority is present possession, which can legitimize the possession of power even when there is no question of its having been acquired a long time ago. ‘Right to authority is nothing but the constant possession of authority, maintained by the laws of society and the interests of mankind.’ A third source of legitimate political authority is the right of conquest. As fourth and fifth sources can be added the right of succession and positive laws, when the legislature establishes a certain form of government. When all these titles to authority are found together, we have the surest sign of legitimate sovereignty, unless the public good clearly demands a change. But if, says Hume, we consider the actual course of history, we shall soon learn to treat lightly all disputes about the rights of princes. We cannot decide all disputes in accordance with fixed, general rules. Speaking of this matter in the essay Of the Original Contract, Hume remarks that ‘though an appeal to general opinion may justly, in the speculative sciences of metaphysics, natural philosophy or astronomy, be deemed unfair and inconclusive, yet in all questions with regard to morals, as well as criticism, there is really no other standard by which any controversy can ever be decided. To say, for example, with Locke that absolute government is not really civil government at all is pointless if absolute government is in fact accepted as a recognized political institution. Again, it is useless to dispute whether the succession of the Prince of Orange to the throne was legitimate or not. It may not have been legitimate at the time. And Locke, who wished to justify the revolution of 1688, could not possibly do so on his theory of legitimate government being founded on the consent of the subjects. For the people of England were not asked for their opinion. But in point of fact William of Orange was accepted, and the doubts about the legitimacy of his accession are nullified by the fact that his successors have been accepted. It may perhaps seem to be an unreasonable way of thinking, but ‘princes often seem to acquire a right from their successors as well as from their ancestors.’”

     Thus just as Hume had argued that there was no rational reason for believing in the existence of objects, or causative forces, or the soul, or God, or morality, so he argued that there was no rational reason for believing that a given government was legitimate. Or rather, governments are legitimate for no other reason than that they survive, whether by force or the acquiescence of public opinion. Legitimacy, according to Hume, is a matter of what the people, whether individually or collectively, consider to be in their self-interest. But since there is no objective way of measuring self-interest, it comes down in the end to a matter of taste, of feeling. And since there is no arguing about tastes, there is also by implication no arguing with a revolutionary who wishes to destroy society to its foundations…

The Counter-Enlightenment

     Hume’s demonstration of the irrationalism of rationalism had one very important result: it aroused the greatest philosopher of the eighteenth century, Immanuel Kant, from what he called his “dogmatic slumbers”. Kant sought to re-establish some of the beliefs or prejudices that Hume’s thorough-going scepticism had undermined. He was the first of those Prussians who, while admiring the French Enlightenment, sought to correct its unbalanced understanding of man and society, countering what they saw as French superficiality and lightmindedness with German depth and seriousness...

     In order to rescue reason, Kant determined to subject “pure reason itself to critical investigation”, answering the question: “what and how much can understanding and reason know, apart from all experience?”He established that empirical reason can indeed know certain things, but that the use of reason itself presupposes the existence of other things which transcend reason. Thus “I think” must accompany all our experiences if they are to be qualified as ours, so that there must be what Kant calls a “transcendental unity of apperception” which unifies experience while being at the same time beyond it. “There is thus a being above the world, namely the spirit of man”, which is not a substance in the empirical sense, nor subject to the empirical causal nexus – although it is the seat of that which is greatest and truly rational in man, including the sense of duty or “categorical imperative”. And so, apart from the “phenomenal” realm of nature, which the mind can understand only by imposing upon it the categories of substance, causality and mutual interaction, there is also the “noumenal” realm of spirit and freedom, which transcends nature and causality. Man himself is noumenally free while being at the same time empirically (phenomenally) determined. 

     It is significant that Kant is concerned above all to provide grounds for believing in man’s freedom. We have seen how the whole development of western thought from the Renaissance onwards centres on the idea of freedom, of human autonomy and especially the autonomy of human reason. However, this development has led, by the second half of the eighteenth century, to a most paradoxical dead-end: to the conclusion that man, being a part of nature, is not free, but determined, and that the exercise of human reason is based on the most irrational leap of blind faith in substance and causality, without which we could not be assured of the existence of anything external to our own mind – which is in any case just a bundle of sensations. 

     Moreover, if even the exercise of man’s rational faculty is determined by the laws of nature, why should we believe any of its conclusions? Indeed, as Fr. Seraphim Rose writes, this naturalistic Enlightenment philosophy “is a suicidal philosophy in that the ‘materialism’ and ‘determinism’ it posits renders all philosophy invalid; since it must insist that philosophy, like everything else, is ‘determined’, its advocates can only claim that their philosophy, since it exists, is ‘inevitable’, but not at all that it is ‘true’. This philosophy, in fact, if consistent, would do away with the category of truth altogether…” 

     Kant was determined to show that reason was free, and therefore that its conclusions could be believed. But in order to do this he had to affirm that man was both part of nature and outside it, both determined and free. So he made of man a schizoid creature living on a razor blade, as it were, between the free or “noumenal” and determined or “phenomenal” realms. Yes, he said, man is a part of nature and determined, otherwise the science of man and the whole Enlightenment project would be impossible (and Kant remains an Enlightenment figure to the end). And yes, he says, man is free and uncaused, otherwise Christianity and morality would be impossible (and Kant remains a devout Lutheran to the end). But the balance and synthesis he achieves between the two is hard to express and difficult to maintain; and succeeding generations preferred to go in one direction or the other: some down the Enlightenment path of seeking a Utopia on earth through science and rational social organisation, and others down the Romantic path of irrational, unfettered self-expression in both the private and the public spheres.

     Thus for “Kant’s disciple, the dramatist and poet Schiller,” writes Berlin, “the notion of freedom begins to move beyond the bounds of reason. Freedom is the central concept of Schiller’s early works. He speaks of ‘the legislator himself, the God within us’, of ‘high, demonic freedom’, ‘the pure demon within the man’. Man is most sublime when he resists the pressure of nature, when he exhibits ‘moral independence of natural laws in a condition of emotional stress’. It is will, not reason – certainly not feeling, which he shares with animals – that raises him above nature, and the very disharmony which may arise between nature and the tragic hero is not entirely to be deplored, for it awakens man’s of his independence.” 

     Another German who attacked the whole Enlightenment enterprise was Hamann, who, as Berlin writes, “began as a disciple of the Enlightenment, but, after a profound spiritual crisis, turned against it, and published a series of polemical attacks written in a highly idiosyncratic, perversely allusive, contorted, deliberately obscure style, as remote as he could make it from the, to him, detestable elegance, clarity and smooth superficiality of the bland and arrogant French dictators of taste and thought. Hamann’s theses rested on the conviction that all truth is particular, never general: that reason is impotent to demonstrate the existence of anything and is an instrument only for conveniently classifying and arranging data in patterns to which nothing in reality corresponds; that to understand is to be communicated with, by men or by God. The universe for him, as for the older German mystical tradition, is itself a kind of language. Things and plants and animals are themselves symbols with which God communicates with his creatures. Everything rests on faith; faith is as basic an organ of acquaintance with reality as the senses. To read the Bible is to hear the voice of God, who speaks in a language which he has given man the grace to understand. Some men are endowed with the gift of understanding his ways, of looking at the universe, which is his book no less than the revelations of the Bible and the fathers and saints of the Church. Only love – for a person or an object – can reveal the true nature of anything. It is not possible to love formulae, general propositions, laws, the abstractions of science, the vast system of concepts and categories – symbols too general to be close to reality – with which the French lumières have blinded themselves to the real experiences which only direct acquaintance, especially by the senses, provides.

     “Hamann glories in the fact that Hume had successfully destroyed the rationalist claim that there is an a priori route to reality, insisting that all knowledge and belief ultimately rest on acquaintance with the date of direct perception. Hume rightly supposes that he could not eat an egg or drink a glass of water if he did not believe in their existence; the date of belief – what Hamann prefers to call faith – rest on grounds and require evidence as little as taste or any other sensation. True knowledge is direct perception of individual entities, and concepts are never, no matter how specific they may be, wholly adequate to the fullness of the individual experience. ‘Individuum est ineffabile’, wrote Goethe to Lavater in the spirit of Hamann, whom Goethe profoundly admired. The sciences may be of use in practical matters; but no concatenation of concepts will give an understanding of a man, of a work of art, of what is conveyed by gestures, symbols, verbal and non-verbal, of the style, the spiritual essence, of a human being, a movement, a culture; nor for that matter of the Deity, which speaks to one everywhere if only one has ears to hear and eyes to see.“

     Following up on these insights, yet another Prussian, Herder, “believed that to understand anything was to understand it in its individuality and development, and that this required the capacity of Einfühling (‘feeling into’) the outlook, the individual character of an artistic tradition, a literature, a social organisation, a people, a culture, a period of history. To understand the actions of individuals, we must understand the ‘organic’ structure of the society in terms of which alone the minds and activities and habits of its members can be understood. Like Vico, he believed that to understand a religion, or a work of art, or a national character, one must ‘enter into’ the unique conditions of its life… To grade the merits of cultural wholes, of the legacy of entire traditions, by applying a collection of dogmatic rules claiming universal validity, enunciated by the Parisian arbiters of taste, is vanity and blindness. Every culture has its own unique Schwerpunkt (‘centre of gravity’), and unless we grasp it we cannot understand its character or value…”

     As he wrote in Auch eine Philosophie: “How unspeakably difficult it is to convey the particular quality of an individual human being and how impossible it is to say precisely what distinguishes an individual, his way of feeling and living; how different and how individual [anders und eigen] everything becomes once his eyes see it, once his soul grasps it, his heart feels it. How much depth there is in the character of a single people, which, no matter how often observed, and gazed at with curiosity and wonder, nevertheless escapes the word which attempts to capture it, and, even with the word to catch it, is seldom so recognizable as to be universally understood and felt. If this is so, what happens when one tries to master an entire ocean of peoples, times, cultures, countries with one glance, one sentiment, by means of one single word!”

     This admirable sensitivity to the unique and unrepeatable was undoubtedly a needed corrective to the over-generalising and over-rationalising approach of the French philosophes. And in general Herder’s emphasis on warm, subjective feeling and the intuition of quality - “Heart! Warmth! Blood! Humanity! Life!” “I feel! I am!” – was a needed corrective to the whole rationalist emphasis on cold clarity, objectivity and the measurement of quantity that had come to dominate western thought since Descartes’ “I think, therefore I am”. From now on, thanks in part to Herder, western thought would become more sensitive to the aesthetically intuited, as opposed to the scientifically analysed aspects of reality, to organic, living, historical wholes as well as to inorganic, dead, ahistorical parts.

     Nevertheless, Herder was as unbalanced in his way as the philosophes were in theirs, writing: “Not one man, country, people, national history, or State, is like another. Hence the True, the Beautiful, the Good in them are not similar either.” But if every individual, nation and culture is not only unique, but also incommensurable, then there can be no universal standards of truth and falsehood, right and wrong – and we are plunged into a relativist irrationalism as destructive as the universalist rationalism of the philosophes...

     Reaction against the Enlightenment was expressed not only in philosophy, but also in religion. For we must remember that religious people were far more numerous than Deists and freethinkers in the eighteenth century - and they could not be satisfied with the dry rationalism of the philosophers. As Roger Scruton writes, “Voltaire and the Encyclopaedists, Hume, Smith, and the Scottish Enlightenment, the Kant of Religion within the Limits of Reason Alone – such thinkers and movements had collectively remade the God of Christianity as a creature of the head rather than the heart. God retreated from the world to the far reaches of infinite space, where only vertiginous thoughts could capture him. Daily life is of little concern to such a God, who demands no form of obedience except to the universal precepts of morality. To worship him is to bow in private towards the unknowable. Worship conceived in such a way offers no threat to the Enlightenment conception of a purely legal citizenship, established by a social contract and maintained by a secular power.

     “As God retreated from the world, people reached out for a rival source of membership, and national identity seemed to answer to the need...”

     The cult of the nation did not really get underway until the nineteenth century. But already in the first half of the eighteenth century the religious cravings suppressed by Enlightenment rationalism were seeking outlets in more emotional forms of religion, the very opposite of enlightened calm. Such were Methodism in England and Pietism in Germany, Revivalism and the Great Awakening in America and “Convulsionarism” in France. In some ways, however, these very emotional, passionate forms of religion worked in the same direction as the cult of reason. They, too, tended to minimise the importance of theology and dogma, and to maximise the importance of man and human activity and human passion. Thus in American Revivalism, writes Cragg, “conversion was described in terms of how a man felt, the new life was defined in terms of how he acted. This was more than an emphasis on the moral consequences of obedience to God; it was a preoccupation with man, and it became absorbed in what he did and in the degree to which he promoted righteousness. In a curious way man’s activity was obscuring the cardinal fact of God’s rule.”

     So the cult of reason of the French Enlightenment, the cult of passion of the German Counter-Enlightenment and the emotional adogmatism of the Anglo-Saxon revivalists all tended to work in the same direction – the direction of the revolution. 

Rousseau and the General Will

     In politics the Counter-Enlightenment was expressed first and most powerfully by Jean-Jacques Rousseau. On the one hand, he was a social contract theorist, a man of reason and science. On the other hand, he was a prophet of the Romantic Will in its collective, national form – what he called the General Will. 

     We have seen that while the French Enlightenment philosophers were admirers of English liberalism, they still believed in relatively unfettered state power concentrated in the person of the monarch. That way, they believed, the light of reason would spread most effectively downward to the rest of the population. Thus their outlook was still essentially aristocratic; for all their love of freedom, they still believed in restraint and good manners, hierarchy and privilege. Perhaps their Jesuit education had something to do with it. Certainly, however much they railed against the despotism of the Catholic Church, they were still deeply imbued with the Catholic ideals of order and hierarchy. However, Rousseau believed in power coming from below rather than above. Perhaps his Swiss Calvinist upbringing had something to do with that; for, as he wrote, “I was born a citizen of a free State, and a member of the Sovereign [i.e. the Conseil Général] of Geneva, which was considered sovereign by some”. Certainly, the mutual hatred between Voltaire and Rousseau reflected to some degree the differences between the (lapsed) Catholic and the (lapsed) Calvinist, between the city fop and the peasant countryman, between the civilized reformer and the uncouth revolutionary.

     Rousseau set out to inquire “if, in the civil order, there can be any sure and legitimate rule of administration”. He quickly rejected Filmer’s patriarchal justification of monarchy based on the institution of the family: “The most ancient of all societies, and the only one that is natural, is the family: and even so the children remain attached to the father only so long as they need him for their preservation. As soon as this need ceases, the natural bond is dissolved. The children, released from the obedience they owed, and the father released from the care he owed his children, return equally to independence. If they remain united, they continue so no longer naturally, but voluntarily; and the family itself is then maintained only by convention… The family then may be called the first model of political societies: the ruler corresponds to the father, and the people to the children; and all, being born free and equal, alienate their liberty only to their own advantage.”

     This argument is not convincing. First, a child is neither free at birth, nor equal to his father. Secondly, the bond between the father and the son continues to be natural and indissoluble even after the child has grown up.

     Next, Rousseau disposes of the argument that might is right. “To yield to force is an act of necessity, not of will – at the most, an act of prudence. In what sense can it be a duty?… What kind of right is that which perishes when force fails? If we must obey perforce, there is no need to obey because we ought; and if we are not forced to obey, we are under no obligation to do so… Obey the powers that be. If this means yield to force, it is a good precept, but superfluous: I can answer for its never being violated. All power comes from God, I admit; but so does all sickness: does that mean that we are forbidden to call in the doctor?… Let us then admit that force does not create right, and that we are obliged to obey only legitimate powers.

     “Since no man has a natural authority over his fellow, and force creates no right, we must conclude that conventions form the basis of all legitimate authority among men.”

     Here we approach the social contract. But Rousseau quickly disposes of the form of contract proposed by Hobbes, namely, that men originally contracted to alienate their liberty to a king. This is an invalid argument, says Rousseau, because: (a) it is madness for a whole people to place itself in slavery to a king, “and madness creates no right”; (b) the only possible advantage would be a certain tranquillity, “but tranquillity is found also in dungeons; but is that enough to make them desirable”; and (c) “if each man could alienate himself, he could not alienate his children: they are born men and free.” 

     In any case, “to renounce liberty is to renounce being a man, to surrender the rights of humanity and even its duties… Such a renunciation is incompatible with man’s nature; to remove all liberty from his will is to remove all morality from his acts… so, from whatever aspect we regard the question, the right of slavery is null and void, not only as being illegitimate, but also because it is absurd and meaningless. The words slave and right contradict each other, and are mutually exclusive. It will always be equally foolish for a man to say to a man or to a people: ‘I make with you a convention wholly at your expense and wholly to my advantage; I shall keep it as long as I like, and you will keep it as long as I like.’”

     We may interrupt Rousseau at this point to note that his concept of freedom, being “positive” rather than “negative”, led to very different consequences from that of the English empiricists or French philosophes. Freedom was for Rousseau, as for Kant, the categorical imperative, and the foundation of all morality. “Both Rousseau and Kant, writes Norman Hampson, “aspired to regenerate humanity by the free action of the self-disciplined individual conscience”. Rousseau’s concept of freedom “rested, not on any logical demonstration, but on each man’s immediate recognition of the moral imperative of his own conscience. ‘I hear much argument against man’s freedom and I despise such sophistry. One of these arguers [Helvétius?] can prove to me as much as he likes that I am not free; inner feeling, more powerful than all his arguments, refutes them all the time.’”

     Rousseau’s conscience was to him both Pope and Church: “Whatever I feel to be right is right, what I feel to be wrong is wrong; the best of all casuists is the conscience… Reason deceives us only too often and we have earned all too well the right to reject it, but conscience never deceives… Conscience, conscience, divine instinct, immortal and heavenly voice, sure guide to men who, ignorant and blinkered, are still intelligent and free; infallible judge of good and ill who shapes men in the image of God, it is you who form the excellence of man’s nature and the morality of his actions; without you, I feel nothing within that raises me above the beasts, nothing but the melancholy privilege of straying from error to error, relying on an understanding without rule and a reason without principle.”

     Now conscience, according to Rousseau, was likely to be stifled by too much education and sophistication. So he went back to the idea of the state of nature as expounded in Hobbes and Locke, but invested it with the optimistic, revolutionary spirit of the Levellers and Diggers. Whereas Hobbes and Locke considered the state of nature as an anarchic condition which civilization as founded on the social contract transcended and immeasurably improved on, for Rousseau the state of nature was “the noble savage”, who, as the term implied, had many good qualities. Indeed, man in the original state of nature was in many ways better and happier than man as civilized through the social contract. In particular, he was freer and more equal. It was the institutions of civilization that destroyed man’s original innocence and freedom. As Rousseau famously thundered: “Man is born free, and everywhere he is in chains!” 

      This concept did not stand the test of experience. “Among those who believed in Rousseau’s ideas,” writes Fr. Alexey Young, “was the French painter Gaughin (1848-1903). So intent was his commitment that he abandoned his family and went to Tahiti to find Rousseau’s ‘noble savage’. But, to his great dismay, he discovered that Rousseau’s conception was an illusion. ‘Primitive’ man could be just as cruel, immoral and heartless as men under the influence of the civilized world. Seeing this, Gaughin was driven to despair…” 

     Since man is born free, according to Rousseau, and his conscience is infallible, the common man is fully equal as a moral agent to his educated social superiors and should be entrusted with full political power. Thus the social contract should be rewritten to keep sovereignty with the ruled rather than the rulers. For Hobbes, the people had transferred sovereignty irrevocably to their rulers; for Locke, the transfer was more conditional, but revocable only in exceptional circumstances. For Rousseau, sovereignty was never really transferred from the people.

     Rousseau rejected the idea that the people could have “representatives” who exerted sovereignty in their name. “Sovereignty cannot be represented, for the same reason that it cannot be alienated… the people’s deputies are not, and could not be, its representatives; they are merely its agents; and they cannot decide anything finally. Any law which the people has not ratified in person is void; it is not law at all. The English people believes itself to be free; it is gravely mistaken; it is free only during the election of Members of Parliament; as soon as the Members are elected, the people is enslaved; it is nothing.” Thus representative government is “elective autocracy”.

     Essentially Rousseau wanted to abolish the distinction between rulers and ruled, to give everyone power through direct democracy. The citizen can exercise this power only if he himself makes every decision affecting himself. But the participation of all the citizens in every decision is possible only in a small city-state like Classical Athens, not in modern states. Thus Rousseau represents a modern, more mystical version of the direct democratism of the Greek philosophers. He echoes Aristotle’s Politics: “If liberty and equality, as is thought by some, are chiefly to be found in democracy, they will be best attained when all persons alike share in the government to the utmost.”

     And yet there was a modern state that seemed to promise the kind of mystical, direct democracy that Rousseau pined for – Corsica, which in 1755 threw off the centuries-old yoke of Genoa and created its own constitution. In Corsica,” writes Adam Zamoyski, “Rousseau believed he had found a society untainted by the original sin of civilization. In his Project de constitution pour la Corse, written in 1765, he suggested ways of keeping it so. ‘I do not want to give you artificial and systematic laws, invented by man; only to bring you back under the unique laws of nature and order, which command to the heart and do not tyrannize the free will,’ he cajoled them. But the enterprise demanded an act of will, summed up in the oath to be taken simultaneously by the whole nation: ‘In the name of Almighty God and on the Holy Gospels, by this irrevocable and sacred oath I unite myself in body, in goods, in will and in my whole potential to the Corsican Nation, in such a way that I myself and everything that belongs to me shall belong to it without redemption. I swear to live and to die for it, to observe all its laws and to obey its legitimate rulers and magistrates in everything that is in conformity with the law.’”

     Now one of the problems of democratic theory lies in the transition from the multitudinous wills of the individual citizens to the single will of the state: how was this transition to be effected without violating the will of the individual? Rousseau recognised this problem: “The problem is to find a form of association which will defend and protect with the whole common force the person and goods of each associate, and in which each, while uniting himself with all, may still obey himself alone, and remain as free as before. This is the fundamental problem of which the social contract provides the solution.”

     This is a major, indeed insuperable problem for most liberal theorists insofar as they recognise that individuals have different interests and therefore different wills, so that any single decision expressing what we may call the collective will of the state will inevitably be in the interests of some and not in the interests of others. For Rousseau, however, it is less of a problem insofar as he holds a much more optimistic (and, his critics would say, wholly unrealistic) view of human nature. For since each individual citizen has an infallible conscience, if each individual finds and expresses that infallible conscience, his will will be found to coincide with the will of every other individual citizen. 

     This general will will then express the will of every citizen individually while being common to all of them collectively. “Each of us comes together to place his person and all his power under the supreme direction of the general will, and we in a body admit each member as an indivisible part of the whole. This act of association produces a moral and collective entity… As for the associates, they all take on the name of the people when they participate in the sovereign authority, and call themselves specifically citizens and subjects when they are placed under the laws of the State.”

     On which Voltaire commented: “All that is wrong. I am certainly not prepared to hand myself over to my fellow-citizens unreservedly. I am not going to give them the power to kill me and rob me by majority vote…”

     This general will is not the will of the majority; for that will is by definition not the will of the minority, and the general will must embrace all. Nor, more surprisingly, is it the will of all when all agree; for the will of all is sometimes wrong, whereas the general will is always right. “The general will is always upright and always tends to the public advantage; but it does not follow that the deliberations of the people always have the same rectitude. Our will is always for our own good, but we do not always see what that is; the people is never corrupted, but it is often deceived, and on such occasions only does it seem to will what is bad. There is often a great deal of difference between the will of all and the general will; the latter considers only the common interest, while the former takes private interest into account, and is no more than a sum of particular wills: but take away from these same wills the pluses and minuses that cancel one another, and the general will remains as the sum of the differences.” 

     The general will is a mysterious entity which reveals itself in certain special conditions: “If, when the people, being furnished with adequate information, held its deliberations, the citizens had no communication one with another, the grand total of the small differences would always give the general will, and the decision would always be good.” In other words, when the self-interest of each citizen is allowed to express itself in an unforced manner, without the interference of external threats and pressures, a certain highest common denominator of self-interest, what Bertrand Russell calls “the largest collective satisfaction of self-interest possible to the community”, reveals itself. 

     Thus the general will is the wholly infallible revealed truth and morality of the secular religion of the revolution. 

     What are the conditions for the appearance of the general will? The fundamental condition is true equality among the citizenry, especially economic equality. For where there is no equality, the self-interest of some carries greater weight than the self-interest of others. This is another major difference between Rousseau and the English and French liberals. They did not seek to destroy property and privilege, but only to prevent despotism; whereas he is a much more thorough-going egalitarian.

     This first condition is linked to a second condition, which is the absence of “partial associations” or parties. For the wills of partial associations, which come together as expressing some common economic or class interest, conflict with the will of the community as a whole. For “when intrigues arise, and partial associations are formed at the expense of the great association, the will of each of these associations becomes general in relation to its members, while it remains particular in relation to the State: it may then be said that there are no longer as many votes as there are men, but only as many as there are associations. The differences become less numerous and give a less general result. Lastly, when one of these associations is so great as to prevail over all the rest, the result is no longer a sum of small differences, but a single difference; in this case there is no longer a general will, and the opinion which prevails is purely particular. It is therefore essential, if the general will is to be able to make itself known, that there should be no partial society in the state and that each citizen should express only his own opinion.” A third condition (here Rousseau harks back again to Athens) is that the citizen body should consist only of men. For women, according to Rousseau, are swayed by “immoderate passions” and require men to protect and guide them.

     Such a system appears at first sight remarkably libertarian and egalitarian (except in regard to women). Unfortunately, however, the other side of its coin is that when the general will has been revealed – and in practice this means when the will of the majority has been determined, for “the votes of the greatest number always bind the rest”, – there is no room for dissent. For in joining the social contract, each associate alienates himself, “together with all his rights, to the whole community; for, in the first place, as each gives himself absolutely, the conditions are the same for all; and, this being so, no one has any interest in making them burdensome to others. Moreover, the alienation being without reserve, the unions is as perfect as it can be, and no associate has anything more to demand: for, if the individuals retained certain rights, as there would be no common superior to decided between them and the public, each, being on one point his own judge, would ask to be so on all; the state of nature would thus continue, and the association would necessarily become inoperative or tyrannical. Finally, each man, in giving himself to all, gives himself to nobody; and as there is no associate over which he does not acquire the same right as he yields over himself, he gains an equivalent for everything he loses, and an increase of force for the preservation of what he has…” 

     “In order then that the social compact may not be an empty formula, it tacitly includes the undertaking, which alone can give force to the rest, that whoever refuses to obey the general will shall be compelled to do so by the whole body. This means nothing less than that he will be forced to be free…”

     Forced to be free – here the totalitarian potentialities of Rousseau’s concept of positive freedom become painfully clear. Thus of all the eighteenth-century philosophers, Rousseau is the real prophet of the revolution. The others, especially Voltaire, paved the way for it, but it was Rousseau who gave it its justification, its metaphysical, quasi-mystical first principle.

     But the most striking characteristic of this principle, considering it was proclaimed in “the Age of Reason”, was its irrationality. For the general will was not to be deduced or induced by any logical or empirical reasoning, nor identified with any specific empirical phenomenon or phenomena. It was not the concrete will of any particular man, or collection of men, but a quasi-mystical entity that welled up within a particular society and propelled it towards truth and righteousness. 

     This accorded with the anti-rational, passionate nature of the whole of Rousseau’s life and work. As Hume said of him: “He has only felt during the whole course of his life.” Thus while the other philosophers of the Age of Reason believed, or did not believe, in God or the soul or the Divine Right of kings, because they had reasons for their belief or unbelief, for Rousseau, on the other hand, religion was just a feeling; and as befitted the prophet of the coming Age of Unreason, he believed or disbelieved for no reason whatsoever. So religious belief, or the lack of it, was not something that could be objectively established or argued about. 

     True, in his ideal political structure, Rousseau insisted that his subjects should believe in a “civil religion” that combined belief in “the existence of an omnipotent, benevolent divinity that foresees and provides; the life to come; the happiness of the just; the punishment of sinners; the sanctity of the social contract and the law”. If any citizen accepted these beliefs, but then “behaved as if he did not believe in them”, the punishment was death. However, the only article of this faith he argued for in a rational manner was the social contract…

     Superficially, this irrationalist attitude seems like that of Pascal, who said: “The heart has its reasons, of which reason is ignorant”. But Pascal, while pointing to the limits of reason, did not abandon reason; he sought the truth with every fibre of his being. Rousseau, on the other hand, in both his life and his work, appeared quite deliberately to abandon reason and surrender himself to irrational forces. In these forces he saw freedom and nobility, while the believer saw in them only slavery to the basest instincts. Thus to the thesis of the godless worship of reason (the French Enlightenment) was opposed the antithesis of the demonic worship of will and feeling (the Rousseauist Counter-Enlightenment); for, as Francisco Goya said, “the sleep of Reason engenders monsters”…


     The cult of dry rationalism in the Enlightenment was bound to elicit a reaction. It came in the form of the cult of unbridled passion in the Counter-Enlightenment. But just as the Protestant reaction against the excesses of Catholicism only led to still greater theological excesses, so the Counter-Enlightenment reaction against the excesses of the Enlightenment only led to still greater political, artistic and cultural excesses – more specifically, the French revolution and the whole revolutionary movement that so scarred the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. The balance of Western European civilization was lost, and like a top that begins to slow down and then lurches more and more violently from side to side, the West now entered a period of increasingly violent “mood swings”, from the most extreme rationalism to the most extreme irrationalism. And all because it had lost communion with the suprarational Reason of the Word made flesh, His “passionless Passion” and radiant Resurrection, Whose image of a restored and transfigured human nature existing in supreme balance, harmony and intensity now became increasingly distant and faint…

December 3/16, 2010.


[1] Davies, Europe, London: Pimlico, 1996, p. 625.

[2] Quoted in Jacques Barzun, From Dawn to Decadence, 1500 to the Present, New York: Perennial, 2000, p. 322.

[3] Temperley, “The Age of Walpole and the Pelhams”, The Cambridge Modern History, Cambridge University Press, 1934, vol. VI: The Eighteenth Century, pp. 76, 77.

[4] Quoted in Bamber Gascoigne, A Brief History of Christianity, London: Robinson, 2003, p. 168.

[5] Roy Porter, Enlightenment, London: Penguin books, 2000, p. 3.

[6] Barzun, op. cit., p. 361.

[7] Goldie, “Priesthood and the Birth of Whiggism”, quoted in Porter, op. cit., p. xxi.

[8] F.F. Willert, “Philosophy and the Revolution”, The Cambridge Modern History, Cambridge University Press, vol. VIII: The French Revolution, 1934, pp. 2-3.

[9] Porter, op. cit., pp. 135-136, 137, 138, 142.

[10] Sherrard, The Rape of Man and Nature, Ipswich: Golgonooza Press, 1987, p. 69.

[11] Whichcote, quoted in Porter, op. cit., p. 99.

[12] Locke, An Essay concerning Human Understanding, book IV, chapter 19.

[13] Porter, op. cit., p. 62.

[14] Porter, op. cit., p. 100.

[15] Cited in Henry Bettenson & Chris Maunder, Documents of the Christian Church, Oxford University Press, third edition, 1999, p. 345.

[16] Quoted in Stephen J. Lee, Aspects of European History, 1494-1789, London & New York: Routledge, 1994, p. 252.

[17] Berlin, Karl Marx, London: Fontana, 1995, p. 30.

[18] Porter, op. cit., p. 100.

[19] Pope, An Essay on Man, ii, 1-2 (1733).

[20] Pope, An Essay on Man, ii, 3-10.

[21] Rousseau, Letter to D’Alembert (1758).

[22] Gascoigne, op. cit., p. 164.

[23] Porter, “Architects of Happiness”, BBC History Magazine, vol. 1, 8, December, 2000, pp. 15-16.

[24] Smith, The Wealth of Nations, Book 1, chapter 2.

[25] Kant, “An Answer to the Question: What is Enlightenment?” (1784, in Hans Reiss (ed.), Kant’s Political Writings, 1970, p. 54).

[26] Porter, The Enlightenment, pp. 31, 32.

[27] Isaiah Berlin, “My Intellectual Path”, in The Power of Ideas, London: Chatto & Windus, 2000, p. 4.

[28] Cragg, The Church and the Age of Reason, Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1970, pp. 235-236.

[29] Pipes, The Russian Revolution, 1899-1919, London: Collins Harvill, 1990. pp. 125-126, 128.

[30] Cragg, op. cit., pp. 239, 237.

[31] Voltaire, in Cragg, op. cit., p. 241.

[32] Quoted in Barzun, op. cit., p. 368.

[33] Barzun, op. cit., pp. 364-365.

[34] Adorno and Hokheimer, Dialectic of Enlightenment, 1972, p. 3.

[35] Nadezhda Mandelstam, Hope against Hope.

[36] Tikhomirov, “Dukhovenstvo i obshchestvo v sovremennom religioznom dvizhenii” (“The Clergy and Society in the Contemporary Religious Movement”), in Khristianstvo i Politika (Christianity and Politics), Moscow, 1999, pp. 30-31 (in Russian).

[37] Tikhomirov, “Dukhovenstvo i obshchestvo…”, op. cit., p. 32.

[38] Copleston, A History of Philosophy, New York: Image Books, 1964, volume 5, part II, p. 209.

[39] Diderot, in Cragg, op. cit., p. 245.

[40] Randall, The Making of the Modern Mind, pp. 381-382; quoted in Fr. Seraphim Rose, Genesis, Creation and Early Man, Platina, Ca.: St. Herman of Alaska Press, 2000, p. 318.

[41] Azkoul, Anti-Christianity and the New Atheism, Montreal: Monastery Press, 1984, p. 26.

[42] Barzun, op. cit., pp. 119-120.

[43] Barzun, op. cit., p. 125.

[44] Service, Comrades, London: Pan Books, 2007, p. 15.

[45] Bulgakov, “Geroizm i Podvizhnichestvo” (Heroism and Asceticism), in Vekhi (Signposts), Moscow, 1909, p. 34 (in Russian).

[46] See I.R. Shafarevich, Sotsializm kak yavlenie mirovoj istorii (Socialism as a Phenomenon of World History), Paris: YMCA Press, 1977, pp. 194-204 (in Russian).

[47] This refers to their toleration of the cult of ancestors during their missionary work in China. The Pope eventually banned this toleration, which led to the collapse of the mission. (V.M.)

[48] Davies, op. cit., pp. 593-594.

[49] Massie, Peter the Great, London: Phoenix, 2001, p. 314.

[50] William Doyle, The Oxford History of the French Revolution, Oxford University Press, 1990, p. 314.

[51] As in Portugal, where “John V (r. 1706-50), known as ‘The Faithful’, was a priest-king, one of whose sons by an abbess became Inquisitor-General” (Davies, op. cit., p. 638).

[52] Quoted in Davies, op. cit., p. 648. He also gave refuge to Rousseau.

[53] Hobsbawn, The Age of Revolution: 1789-1848, London: Abacus, 1977, p. 36.

[54] Porter, op. cit., p. 29.

[55] Cragg, op. cit., p. 218.

[56] Diderot, Refutation of Helvétius, ed. Garnier, p. 610 (in French).

[57] Quoted in Copleston, op. cit., p. 74.

[58] Copleston, op. cit., p. 106.

[59] Copleston, op. cit., p. 88.

[60] Russell, op. cit., p. 693.

[61] Copleston, op. cit., p. 92.

[62] Russell, op. cit.., p. 697.

[63] Russell, op. cit.., p. 697.

[64] Copleston, op. cit., p. 112.

[65] Copleston, op. cit., p. 113.

[66] Skidelsky, “England’s doubt”, Prospect, July, 1999, p. 34.

[67] Hume, A Treatise of Human Nature, book II, section 3.

[68] Hume, Of Suicide.

[69] Copleston, op. cit., p. 130.

[70] Copleston, op. cit., p. 123.

[71] Porter, op. cit., p. 178.

[72] Burt, The English Philosophers from Bacon to Mill, pp. 593-594; in Fr. Seraphim Rose, Platina, Ca.: St. Herman of Alaska Brotherhood, 2001, p. 319.

[73] Copleston, op. cit., p. 148.

[74] Copleston, op. cit., p. 147.

[75] Copleston, op. cit., p. 149.

[76] Copleston, op. cit., pp. 150-151.

[77] Copleston, op. cit., pp. 151-153.

[78] Kant, Critique of Pure Reason, first edition, XVII.

[79] Kant, Opus Postumum, XXI.

[80] Rose, Nihilism, p. 15. Similar arguments have been made by C.S. Lewis (“’Bulverism’ or the Foundation of 20th Century Thought”, in God in the Dock, Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1997, pp. 271-275, 276) and (in the context of Darwinism) by Alvin Plantinga (in Jim Holt, “Divine Evolution”, Prospect, May, 2002, p. 13).

[81] Berlin, “The Apotheosis of the Romantic Will”, in The Proper Study of Mankind, London: Pimlico, 1998, p. 564.

[82] Berlin, “The Counter-Enlightenment”, in The Proper Study of Mankind, London: Pimlico, 1998, p. 248-

[83] Berlin, “The Counter-Enlightenment”, op. cit., pp. 253-254.

[84] Herder, in Berlin, “Herder and the Enlightenment”, in The Proper Study of Mankind, London: Pimlico, 1998, p. 405.

[85] Herder, in Berlin, “Herder and the Enlightenment”, op. cit., p. 388.

[86] Herder, in Berlin, “Herder and the Enlightenment”, op. cit., p. 429.

[87] Scruton, The West and the Rest, London: ISI Books, 2002, p. 43.

[88] Cragg, op. cit., p. 181.

[89] Rousseau, J.J. The Social Contract, book I, introduction; in The Social Contract and Discourses, Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1993, p. 181.

[90] Barzun, op. cit., p. 384.

[91] Rousseau, op. cit., I, introduction; p. 181.

[92] Rousseau, op. cit., I, 2, p. 182.

[93] Rousseau has another, more facetious argument against Filmer: “I have said nothing of King Adam, or Emperor Noah, father of the three great monarchs who shared out the universe, like the children of Saturn, whom some scholars have recognized in them. I trust to getting thanks for my moderation; for, being a direct descendant of one of these princes, perhaps of the eldest branch, how do I know that a verification of titles might not leave me the legitimate king of the human race? In any case, there can be no doubt that Adam was sovereign of the world, as Robinson Crusoe was of his island, as long as he was its only inhabitant; and this empire had the advantage that the monarch, safe on his throne, had no rebellions, wars, or conspirators to fear” (op. cit., I, 2, pp. 183-184).

[94] Rousseau, op. cit., I, 3, 4; pp. 184, 185.

[95] By contrast, the French Prime Minister after the Restoration, François Guizot, placed “the great tranquillity” at the core of his vision of the good society. See George L. Mosse, The Culture of Western Europe, Boulder, Colorado: Westview Press, 1988, p. 144.

[96] Rousseau, op. cit., I, 4; pp. 186, 189.

[97] Hampson, The First European Revolution, 1776-1815, London: Thames & Hudson, 1969, pp. 181, 32.

[98] Quoted in Hampson, op. cit., pp. 32, 34.

[99] The term “noble savage” first appears in John Dryden’s The Conquest of Granada (Act 1, scene 1) in 1672:

I am as free as Nature first made man

‘Ere the base Laws of servitude began

When wild in woods the noble Savage ran.

[100] Rousseau, op. cit., I, 1; p. 181.

[101] Young, The Great Divide, Richfield Springs, N.Y.: Nikodemos, 1989, p. 21.

[102] Rousseau, op. cit., III, 15; p. 266.

[103] Zamoyski, Holy Madness: Romantics, Patriots and Revolutionaries, 1776-1871, London: Weidenfeld & Nicolson, 1999, pp. 22-23.

[104] Rousseau, op. cit., I, 6, p. 191.

[105] Rousseau, op. cit., I, 6.

[106] Rousseau, op. cit., II, 3, p. 203.

[107] Rousseau, op. cit., II, 3, p. 203.

[108] Russell, A History of Western Philosophy, London: George Allen and Unwin, 1946, p. 725.

[109] Rousseau, op. cit., II, 3, pp. 203-204.

[110] Helm, op. cit., p. 78.

[111] Rousseau, op. cit., I, 6; pp. 191-192.

[112] Rousseau, op. cit., I, 7; p. 195. More gently put, the people must be trained “to bear with docility the yoke of public happiness”.

[113] Russell, op. cit., p. 717.

[114] As Barzun writes: “Rousseau reminds the reader that two-thirds of mankind are neither Christians nor Jews, nor Mohammedans, from which it follows that God cannot be the exclusive possession of any sect or people; all their ideas as to His demands and His judgements are imaginings. He asks only that we love Him and pursue the good. All else we know nothing about. That there should be quarrels and bloodshed about what we can never know is the greatest impiety.” (op. cit., p. 387).

[115] Rousseau, op. cit., p. 286; quoted in Gascoigne, op. cit., p. 214.

[116] Gascoigne, op. cit., p. 214.

‹‹ Back to All Articles
Site Created by The Marvellous Media Company