The Enlightenment hands itself to us

The progressive urge to purge is the gift that keeps on giving.  They don’t need those dead white men anymore.  They’ve found a 17th century Ethiopian living in a cave who wrote down the “all humans are equal” twaddle first.

Far away, grappling with similar questions, was Yacob’s French contemporary Descartes (1596-1650). A major philosophical difference is that the Catholic Descartes explicitly denounced ‘infidels’ and atheists, whom he called ‘more arrogant than learned’ in his Meditations on First Philosophy (1641). This perspective is echoed in Locke’s A Letter Concerning Toleration (1689), which concludes that atheists ‘are not at all to be tolerated’. Descartes’s Meditations was dedicated to ‘the dean and doctors of the sacred Faculty of Theology in Paris’, and his premise was ‘to accept by means of faith the fact that the human soul does not perish with the body, and that God exists’.

In contrast to Yacob’s views, Kant wrote a century later in Observations on the Feeling of the Beautiful and Sublime (1764): ‘A woman is embarrassed little that she does not possess certain high insights.’ And in Kant’s lectures on ethics (1760-94) we read that: ‘The desire of a man for a woman is not directed to her as a human being, on the contrary, the woman’s humanity is of no concern to him; and the only object of his desire is her sex.’

The words ‘all men are equal’ were written decades before Locke (1632-1704), the ‘Father of Liberalism’, put pen to paper (indeed, he was born the same year that Yacob returned from his cave). But Locke’s social-contract theory did not apply to all in practice: he was secretary during the drafting of The Fundamental Constitutions of Carolina (1669), which gave white men ‘absolute power’ over their African slaves. And he invested heavily in the English Trans-Atlantic slave trade through the Royal African Company. In the Second Treatise (1689), Locke argues that God gave the world ‘to the use of the industrious and rational’ – which the philosopher Julie K Ward at Loyola University in Chicago argues can be read as a colonial attack on the right to land of American Indians. Compared with his philosophical peers, then, Yacob’s philosophy often reads like the epitome of all the ideals we commonly think of as enlightened.

In his Essays and Treatises on Several Subjects (1753-4), Hume wrote: ‘I am apt to suspect the negroes, and in general all the other species of men (for there are four or five different kinds) to be naturally inferior to the whites.’ He added: ‘There never was a civilised nation of any other complexion than white, nor any individual eminent either in action or speculation.’ Kant (1724-1804) built on Hume (1711-76), and stressed that the fundamental difference between blacks and whites ‘appears to be as great in regard to mental capacities as in colour’, before concluding in Physical Geography: ‘Humanity is at its greatest perfection in the race of the whites.’

In France, the most famous Enlightenment thinker, Voltaire (1694-1778), not only described Jews in anti-Semitic terms, as when he wrote that ‘they are all of them born with raging fanaticism in their hearts’; in his Essay on Universal History (1756), he also wrote that if Africans’ ‘intelligence is not of another species than ours, then it is greatly inferior’ (fort inférieure). Like Locke, he invested his money in the slave trade.

I’ve been waiting for somebody to notice how conservative Hume was, even by my standards.  They can keep Voltaire; we don’t want him.  As for Locke, while we conservatives argue against his social contract theory often, there’s no doubt that he was a great philosopher whose work has lasting value.  Ditto Descartes and Kant, even more obviously.

So, welcome to the ranks of the deplorables Rene Descartes, John Locke, David Hume, and Immanuel Kant.

6 Responses

  1. Paper beats Rock but Scissors beats Paper.
    The move to make here (trumping them all) is to point out that Christianity was the common denominator and responsible for the noble ideas of these fine gentlemen. Indeed, the argument for equality that the African makes is premised on the existence of God. Progs won’t like that.
    For Hume, see:

  2. Good point. Where there are Jews, there will be anti-semites. Where there are Catholics, there will be anti-Catholicism (“Enlightenment”).

  3. Our point was that you can counter this by pointing out that Christianity underlies all of them. It was Christians, after all, who taught Africans philosophy in the first place.

  4. I believe Miss Anscombe gave a very just appraisal of Hume in her Modern Moral Philosophy: “The features of Hume’s philosophy which I have mentioned, like many other features of it, would incline me to think that Hume was a mere – brilliant – sophist; and his procedures are certainly sophistical. But I am forced, not to reverse, but to add to, this judgment by a peculiarity of Hume’s philosophizing: namely that although he reaches his conclusions – with which he is in love – by sophistical methods, his considerations constantly open up very deep and important problems. It is often the case that in the act of exhibiting the sophistry one finds oneself noticing matters which deserve a lot of exploring: the obvious stands in need of investigations as a result of the points that Hume pretends to have made. In this, he is unlike, say, Butler. It was already well known that conscience could dictate vile actions; for Butler to have written disregarding this does not open up any new topics for us. But with Hume it is otherwise: hence he is a very profound and great philosopher, in spite of his sophistry.”

  5. Hume was an interesting character. As a philosopher he was one of the men who laid the foundations of classical liberal thought and if you look at his religious views it is easy to see why. He was one of those skeptics who wavered between agnosticism and deism. Like Adam Smith and Immanuel Kant, he held many conservative moral concepts but in his rejection of the traditional authority behind them sought a new liberal foundation. This, of course, was the great “Enlightenment Project”, the failure of which, according to MacIntyre, created a fork in the road from which the only credible paths were a return to Aristotoleanism or Nietzschean post-modernism. Politically, one would have expected him to be a Whig. Ironically, however, he was not. He probably would not have wanted to be labelled politically, but it is quite clear from his writings, especially his histories, that he was a monarchist whose sympathies lay with the Royalist Cavaliers in the English Civil War and not with the Roundheads. Hence Dr. Johnson’s remark that he is a “Tory by chance”.

  6. […] what are we up to now?  Deplorables gave us the Enlightenment.  Given Frege and Heidegger, one could argue that both strands of modern philosophy, analytic and […]

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