Just what are the consequences of the Enlightenment?
You know, that period of history (roughly 1685 – 1815) following the “Dark” Middle Ages, called also the “Age of Reason, where objective truth was denied. In its place, subjective, experiential, self-determinate “truths” took its place.
Popular philosophers such at Hobbes, Locke, Voltaire, Rousseau, and Montesquieu became thought leaders in this long quest to free the human conscience from the “shackles” of tradition and the Natural Law. The human mind was freed to think for itself and to determine for each person his own destiny. Or so the thinking went.
Has the Enlightenment ended? Not in the least. Have its ideas died, getting swept into the dust bin of history? If only.
I will share with you excerpts from Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, now Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI on this topic. In April 1991 he gave a long address about modern day threats to human life. He rightfully finds our modern culture of death as one of the consequences of the Enlightenment. He shows how attacks on life such as contraception, abortifacients, abortion, euthanasia, and IVF can trace their demonic philosophical justifications back to principles of the Enlightenment.
CARDINAL RATZINGER KNOCKS IT OUT OF THE PARK
“If we look briefly at the modern age, we face a dialectic which continues even today. On the one hand, the modem age boasts of having discovered the idea of human rights inherent in every human being and antecedent to any positive law, and of having proclaimed these rights in solemn declarations. On the other hand, these rights, thus acknowledged in theory, have never been so profoundly and radically denied on the practical level.
“The roots of this contradiction are to be sought at the height of the modern age: in the theories of the Enlightenment concerning human knowledge and the vision of human freedom connected with them, and in the theories of the social contract and their idea of society.
“The fundamental dogma of the Enlightenment is that man must overcome the prejudices inherited from tradition; he must have the boldness to free himself from every authority in order to think on his own, using nothing but his own reason.
“From this point on, the search for truth is no longer conceived of as a community effort, in which human beings joined in space and time help each other to discover better what is difficult to discover on one’s own. Reason, free from any bond, from any relation with what is other, is turned back on itself. It ends by being thought of as a closed, independent tribunal.
“…the State also allows the law of force to prevail over the force of law.”
“Truth is no longer an objective datum, apparent to each and everyone, even through others. It gradually becomes something merely external, which each one grasps from one’s own point of view, without ever knowing to what extent one’s viewpoint corresponds to the object in itself or with what others perceive.
“The very truth about the good becomes unattainable. The idea of the good in itself is put outside of man’s grasp. The only reference point for each person is what he can conceive on his own as good.
“Consequently, freedom is no longer seen positively as a striving for the good which reason discovers with help from the community and tradition, but is rather defined as an emancipation from all conditions preventing the individual from following his own reason. It can be called a ‘freedom of indifference.’”
Might that go by another name today? Like, “freedom to choose,” being “pro-choice,” etc.
The German cardinal continues later, pointing out how lacking objective truth, society becomes a power struggle of “might makes right.” He explains, “Here, too, when the common reference to values and ultimately to God is lost, society will then appear merely as an ensemble of individuals placed side by side, and the contract which ties them together will necessarily be perceived as an accord among those who have the power to impose their will on others.”
Ratzinger doubles down on this, explaining later, “By allowing the rights of the weakest to be violated, the State also allows the law of force to prevail over the force of law. One sees, then, that the idea of an absolute tolerance of freedom of choice for some destroys the very foundation of a just mode of social life.
“The separation of politics from any natural content of law, which is the inalienable patrimony of everyone’s moral conscience, deprives social life of its ethical substance and leaves it defenseless before the will of the strongest.”
The entire address is worth your read. It is hard hitting and applies just as strongly, if not more so, today. You can read it here.
What do you make of Cardinal Ratzinger’s assessment that one of the consequences of the Enlightenment is our modern culture of death?
Please leave your thoughts in a comment below.