Seriously, do ideas really matter? I mean big ideas. History is replete with obscure thinkers who died as paupers, and yet their thoughts have changed the world. Big ideas. The kind of ideas debated in bull sessions in college dorms by tongues lubricated by fermented grains and heads ballooned by inhalable THC. We were young and easy then, animated by thoughts of God and justice, mortality, reality and war. Too soon they were covered over by calcified middle age, ridiculed as wasted youth. So how, then, do ideas take hold, for real?
Here I call on Roger Scruton, English philosopher and conservative gadfly. He will set the stage for the series of blogs about the importance of certain big ideas. Most crucial are the set of ideas emerging hundreds of years ago in Europe that we now label “The Enlightenment”. Specifically, how did Enlightenment ideas take power along with the foundation of the United States?
We should see the American Revolution, rather than the French, as the turning point in our history, the moment when Western Civilization becomes identical with the modern world–FOR THAT WAS THE MOMENT WHEN ENLIGHTENMENT TOOK POWER.Roger Scruton, Culture Counts, p. XII
I implore everybody reading this to weigh in with me on what is at stake here. What started in the 18th century has an exponent in the 21st, Dr. Steven Pinker:
The Enlightenment principle that we can apply reason and sympathy to enhance human flourishing may seem obvious, trite, old-fashioned…More than ever [however] the ideals of reason, science, humanism, and progress need a wholehearted defense.Steven Pinker, Enlightenment Now, p.4
Dr. Pinker writes that the Enlightenment principle needs a whole hearted defense. What is happening in the global culture that threatens these ideals? My thesis, as stated by Dr Scruton, is that the American Revolution was the moment the Enlightenment Principle took power. Is the American experiment about to crash and go up in flames? This is the concept I would like to explore along with you. Further, while we can trace how big ideas can frame a nation dedicated to these propositions, we need to use those tracings to find ways to dissolve the counter-enlightenment ideologies that have taken hold of the minds and souls of the people. How far have we fallen from the ideals intended by the Founding Fathers? Please join me.