Reasonable Words: Enlightened Anger

The Times Literary Supplement has an engrossing (and bracing) review of a new German book, Sapere aude! (from Horace, “Dare to Know!” or “Dare to be Wise!”) The reviewer, T.J. Reed, translates it as “Think for Yourself.” The subtitle is “Why we need a new enlightenment” and it’s by Heiner Geissler, a retired 82-year-old German politician, seemingly past labels like conservative or liberal it seems, judging by his dismissal of the pieties of capitalism or communism. His lens is Kant (on whom Reed is an expert, as a retired professor of German at Oxford.)

A few compelling excerpts:

“Nobody, Kant rather surprisingly held, is ever completely wrong, which means not that their view has to be accepted, but that it needs to be taken issue with. That embraces even the most conservative interests. In this sense we really are “all in it together”.

Better late than never: if only there had been more questioning of the hard-nosed economics the West visited on the ex-Communist bloc after 1989, several societies and their economies would be in better shape, some diplomatic relations would be easier, and there might have been fewer of the rightwing extremists in the East who have seen the anti-capitalist propaganda of their old communist governments borne out by events. Even now, if there were more effective questioning of bone-headed orthodoxy, further disasters might be averted or mitigated.

It’s refreshing to find a conservative exminister rejecting Friedrich Hayek and Milton Friedman, invoking Marx and Engels, and declaring capitalism no better than communism: “the one liquidated capital and the capitalists, the other liquidates workers and their jobs”

Not that there ever was an enlightened age, only at best, as Kant argued in his great defining essay of 1784, an age engaged in the process of enlightenment. He would hardly be surprised if he were to come back today. Enlightenment is only ever unfinished business, or business that has to be begun all over again.

Later, Reed quotes and a sardonic line of Brecht’s, a voice that would seem needful just now:

“Wouldn’t it be easier if the government dissolved the people and elected another one?”

Perhaps it’s already happened?

Unfortunately, the full review is behind the TLS paywall, but if it comes out in English, I’ll link to it. The original essay by Kant is on a server at Fordham, and is actually pretty readable, for the work of a major philosopher!

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