The Anti-Enlightenment Tradition

The Anti-Enlightenment Tradition

Translated by David Maisel
Copyright Date: 2010
Published by: Yale University Press
Pages: 512
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  • Book Info
    The Anti-Enlightenment Tradition
    Book Description:

    In this masterful work of historical scholarship, Zeev Sternhell, an internationally renowned Israeli political scientist and historian, presents a controversial new view of the fall of democracy and the rise of radical nationalism in the twentieth century. Sternhell locates their origins in the eighteenth century with the advent of the Anti-Enlightenment, far earlier than most historians.

    The thinkers belonging to the Anti-Enlightenment (a movement originally identified by Friederich Nietzsche) represent a perspective that is antirational and that rejects the principles of natural law and the rights of man. Sternhell asserts that the Anti-Enlightenment was a development separate from the Enlightenment and sees the two traditions as evolving parallel to one another over time. He contends that J. G. Herder and Edmund Burke are among the real founders of the Anti-Enlightenment and shows how that school undermined the very foundations of modern liberalism, finally contributing to the development of fascism that culminated in the European catastrophes of the twentieth century.

    eISBN: 978-0-300-15633-1
    Subjects: Philosophy

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Preface
    (pp. ix-xii)
  4. Introduction
    (pp. 1-39)

    While the eighteenth century is commonly perceived as the quintessential age of rationalist modernity, it was also the cradle of a second and strikingly different modernity. In fact, at the very moment when rationalist thought seemed to have reached its peak, a comprehensive revolt against the Enlightenment’s fundamental views erupted in European intellectual life. This revolt, which lasted for roughly two centuries, was directed above all against the French, or more precisely the Franco-Kantian, Enlightenment but also took aim at the British Enlightenment from John Locke to David Hume. From the second half of the eighteenth century to the age...

  5. 1 The Clash of Traditions
    (pp. 40-92)

    In order to embrace in all its fullness and complexity the significance of the campaign against the English and French Enlightenments for the world of our time, one has to begin by going back to the late seventeenth century. The triumph of the moderns in the famous Quarrel of the Ancients and the Moderns, which began in 1687, just when England was preparing the Glorious Revolution, was the first success of the Enlightenment. The second victory of the new values was the establishment of the new English regime.

    Both intellectually and politically, the whole significance of the Glorious Revolution was...

  6. 2 The Foundations of a Different Modernity
    (pp. 93-140)

    Reflection on the Enlightenment has always at the same time been reflection on the contemporary world. Vico, Herder, and Burke, of course, lived in the eighteenth century, but where their successors are concerned, the age of Enlightenment and the French Revolution fixed the pattern of the political and cultural life of the two following centuries. That “unique century,” as Michelet called it, was also unique, though for diametrically opposite reasons, for the successors of its first major enemies. Indeed, no less and perhaps even more than in the nineteenth century, a reading of the first great critics of the Enlightenment...

  7. 3 The Revolt against Reason and Natural Rights
    (pp. 141-186)

    At the turn of the nineteenth century, a broad consensus based on the critique of rationalism by Herder and Burke came into being and impregnated both German and French thought. The essence of this critique was that it contested the capacity of reason to grasp the specific character of a period, situation, or people. Herder made it at the beginning of his career when he scoffed at the “cold philosophy of the age,” incapable of understanding the greatness, the wisdom, the virtuousness of the human spirit in the time of the patriarchs, the cradle of humanity.¹ Herder’s campaign against the...

  8. 4 The Political Culture of Prejudice
    (pp. 187-222)

    Man as conceived by the Enlightenment was a giant; as conceived by its enemies, he was a dwarf. Herder was the first to introduce this view of humanity, and a few years later de Maistre simply followed in his footsteps. The Lutheran pastor set out to demonstrate the insignificance of man, and he built his whole system on that foundation. The Herderian revolt was aimed at the very heart of Enlightenment thought: as he said inAnother Philosophy, “First of all, as regards the excessive homage paid to human reason, I should like to say, if I may, that it...

  9. 5 The Law of Inequality and the War on Democracy
    (pp. 223-273)

    The war on democracy that began at the end of the eighteenth century was waged unceasingly from then on. The revolt against reason, against natural rights, against the autonomy of the individual showed up in Burke’s long campaign and fixed the broad lines of this course of action for at least a century and a half. Anything was allowed, anything was legitimate, after the British defeat in America, that could block the tendencies to democratization in the European world, including the preservation of a political and ultimately social order that was unjust, based on patronage, and corrupt in the extreme....

  10. 6 The Intellectual Foundations of Nationalism
    (pp. 274-314)

    The antirationalist form of modernity, as we have seen throughout this book, stressed all that divides and isolates people, all that is specific to them and unique about them, and opposed all that could unite them. This second modernity also marked the birth of nationalist ideology, and the true founding father of this ideology was Herder. His direct influence continued to be felt even in the mid-twentieth century. A reading of Herder also raises the great question posed by the two centuries since the French Revolution, which still in our own day remains one of extreme actuality: Is a liberal...

  11. 7 The Crisis of Civilization, Relativism, and the Death of Universal Values at the Beginning of the Twentieth Century
    (pp. 315-371)

    The relativity of values, cultural self-sufficiency, and the Herderian concept of the nation were the three main ideas on which the rejection of the Enlightenment was based at the turn of the twentieth century. The campaign against them became a real mass phenomenon at that time, and it increasingly took the form of a multidimensional popular revolt against liberal democracy. This is where the true originality of that period lay: the generation of the beginning of the twentieth century continued the campaign launched at the end of the eighteenth century, but adapted it to the conditions of a world that...

  12. 8 The Anti-Enlightenment of the Cold War
    (pp. 372-421)

    In the period of the cold war, the battle against the Enlightenment continued to be fought in accordance with the great principles formulated in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. Thus, the polemic between Herder and Kant, Herder’s criticism of Voltaire and Montesquieu, Burke’s rebellion against Locke’s ascendancy throughout the century following the Glorious Revolution, and Herder and Burke’s critique of Rousseau formed the basis of Anti-Enlightenment thought in the century that has just ended. Although the intellectual structures of this campaign, modernized and adapted to the political and social realities of the beginning of the twentieth century, underwent an evolution...

  13. Epilogue
    (pp. 422-444)

    On the last page ofDemocracy in America, Tocqueville condemned “the false and despicable doctrines” that claim that “peoples here on earth are never their own masters and necessarily submit to heaven knows what insurmountable and unintelligent forces resulting from former events, race, soil or climate.” Such doctrines, he said, “can never produce anything except weak men and irresolute nations.” Twenty years after his memorable voyage to America, in a letter to Gobineau written twelve months before the publication, in 1853, of the first two volumes of theThe Inequality of the Human Races, Tocqueville took up the same theme...

  14. Notes
    (pp. 445-515)
  15. Index
    (pp. 516-532)