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Enlightenment
Enlightenment's Wake
Politics and Culture at the Close of the Modern Age

Enlightenment's Wakeargues that all schools of contemporary political thought are variations on the Enlightenment Project -- the Westernizing project of a universal civilization -- and that this Enlightenment project has proved self-undermining, and is now exhausted. This was due to the project's extension of rational self-criticism and demystification to its own foundational commitments which ultimately dissolved them. Fresh thought is needed on the dilemmas of the late modern age. John Gray examines and criticizes the varieties of Enlightenment thinking that shape contemporary thought -- the fundamental liberalism of recent American political philosophy, the neo-liberal dogmas that have shaped Western policy towards postcommunist countries, and the cultural fundamentalism of the New Right. He concludes that all of these currents within recent thought founder along with the Enlightenment project that animates them. A new mode of political thinking is needed that does not seek to return to tradition nor to reaffirm the modernist outlook of the Left. Gray offers a perspective on the close of the modern age which affirms the dissolution of the modern world view without adopting the Enlightenment stance which continues to underpin postmodernism in political and cultural theory. Arguing that the roots of the disorders of modernity are in the oldest and most primordial Western traditions, Gray proposes that we abandon some of the central elements of the Enlightenment project --its assault on cultural difference, its embodiment of Western cultural imperialism in the conception of a universal civilization, and its humanist perspective on our species' relation with the natural world -- in which those traditions are expressed. Until we relinquish these traditions we will trail in Enlightenment's Wake, enlightenment cultures not by conviction but by default.


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Seeing Like a State references Enlightenment's Wake on 9/19/2019, 2:37:50 AM