This – Gertrude Himmelfarb & the Enlightenment – is a recommended read. I was vaguely aware of Himmelfarb, but have never read her. Based on this article, I will be correcting that.
Some historians have been led … to claim that at different stages of his life there were two different Edmund Burkes, one liberal and the other conservative. Himmelfarb disagreed. She argued that his views were always consistent with the ideas about moral virtue that permeated the whole of the British Enlightenment. Indeed, Burke took this philosophy a step further by making the “sentiments, manners, and moral opinion” of the people the basis not only of social relations but also of politics.
I think this relates to the difficulty some people have in admitting that Donald Trump has been, so far, a successful President: He started, or at least accelerated, an erosion of “sentiments, manners, and moral opinion.”
This is a defensible proposition. I’ve written extensively on my discomfort with Trump’s bombast and crudity. I’ve come to see it as essential to his success, especially given the antics of his opposition. I’ve also learned to appreciate that many of the off-key things he says are jokes. Like any joke, they’re funny because they typically afflict the elite, and the punch line is unexpected. Especially from POTUS.
In that regard, he’s done us the favor of reducing reverence for the person of the President. The President should not be regarded with the awe the media was wont to promote for Obama. We hire the President, something Presidents often forget. Trump is narcissistic, but no more so than Obama. And probably less so: Trump can be self-deprecating. Something imaginable from Obama only as a humble brag.
Anyway, two things about “He started it!”
One, don’t be so sure. The post-modernists, neo-Marxists, race-baiters, grievance mongers, climate hysterics, agenda feminists, science denying transgenderists, et. al. – ideologues of a feather – were forthrightly blabbering their disdain for ‘deviates’ from their authoritarian agenda for decades before Trump was born.
Trump, with provocations mild in comparison (Who has he called Hitler?), has done us the favor of causing them to reveal the monumental level of disgust they harbor for Enlightenment values. The mask of compassion has slipped.
Two, “He started it,” isn’t an excuse you accept from your children; and no more extenuates Nancy Pelosi’s stationery abuse last night than it does Hillary’s “deplorables” gaffe, nor Maxine Water’s lifetime-achievement-award-worthy contributions to coarsening our quality of discourse while lowering our collective IQ. We need not belabor Adam Schiff’s perfidy.
Hillary directly helped enable Rashida Tlaib, AOC, and Ilhan Omar; and Pelosi is now taking her cues from that mess of pottage.
This officious disregard is nothing new…
Apart from the different philosophical status they assigned to reason and virtue, the one issue where the contrast between the British and French Enlightenments was sharpest was in their attitudes to the lower orders. This is a distinction that has reverberated through politics ever since. The radical heirs of the Jacobin tradition have always insisted that it is they who speak for the wretched of the earth. In eighteenth-century France, they claimed to speak for the people and the general will. In the nineteenth century, they said they represented the working classes against their capitalist exploiters. In our own time, they have claimed to be on the side of blacks, women, gays, indigenes, refugees, and anyone else they define as the victims of discrimination and oppression. Himmelfarb’s study demonstrates what a façade these claims actually are.
The French philosophes thought the social classes were divided by the chasm not only of poverty but, more crucially, of superstition and ignorance. They despised the lower orders because they were in thrall to Christianity. The editor of the Encyclopédie, Denis Diderot, declared that the common people had no role in the Age of Reason: “The general mass of men are not so made that they can either promote or understand this forward march of the human spirit.” Indeed, “the common people are incredibly stupid,” he said, and were little more than animals: “too idiotic—bestial—too miserable, and too busy” to enlighten themselves. Voltaire agreed. The lower orders lacked the intellect required to reason and so must be left to wallow in superstition. They could be controlled and pacified only by the sanctions and strictures of religion which, Voltaire proclaimed, “must be destroyed among respectable people and left to the canaille large and small, for whom it was made.”
See anything you recognize?