Coming Soon:

The following books by Robert Paul Wolff are available on Amazon.com as e-books: KANT'S THEORY OF MENTAL ACTIVITY, THE AUTONOMY OF REASON, UNDERSTANDING MARX, UNDERSTANDING RAWLS, THE POVERTY OF LIBERALISM, A LIFE IN THE ACADEMY, MONEYBAGS MUST BE SO LUCKY, AN INTRODUCTION TO THE USE OF FORMAL METHODS IN POLITICAL PHILOSOPHY.
Now Available: Volumes I, II, III, and IV of the Collected Published and Unpublished Papers.

NOW AVAILABLE ON YOUTUBE: LECTURES ON KANT'S CRITIQUE OF PURE REASON. To view the lectures, go to YouTube and search for "Robert Paul Wolff Kant." There they will be.

To contact me about organizing, email me at rpwolff750@gmail.com




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Tuesday, November 10, 2009

THE DEATH OF SECULARISM

My post earlier today on end times theology and the doctrine of the trinity was meant as a playful jeu d'esprit. [I know, I know. In a world inundated with twittering and Facebook hookups, theology hardly qualifies as playful, but keep in mind that I am a seventy-five year old philosopher. We have a pretty low standard of humor in that profession.] As the day wears
on, however, I find myself more and more oppressed by my awareness of the resurgence of superstition around the world.

It wasn't supposed to be like this. Ever since the eighteenth century, a broad spectrum of thinkers have attacked the accumulated superstition of past ages, arguing instead for the supremacy of reason, of science, of simple common sense. Marx celebrated capitalism as the most revolutionary force the world had ever seen, confidently predicting that its expansion would dissolve national, racial, ethnic, and religious parochialisms. This same fundamentally optimistic point of view was shared by so varied an assortment of thinkers as Max Weber, Karl Mannheim, and Sigmund Freud.

As I grew up, the rationalist vision of a secular world became so deeply embedded in my mind that I could no more imagine its demise than I could imagine a world in which the laws of physics ceased to operate. And for a long while, it seemed that Marx and company were right. Certainly in the rest of the capitalist world, church attendance declined, science was in the ascendant, and superstition was confined to fairy tales and benighted backwaters.

But here we are in a world gone mad with anti-rationalism. I am not speaking of armed conflict, or even of unspeakable holocausts -- both of which have been as much abetted as opposed by the forces of reason. It is the pervasive corrosion of simple rationality that I find especially depressing. I have in mind the prevalance of the denial of the manifest truths of evolutionary biology, the embrace of religiosity in every corner of the public world, the self-denial of the evidence of the senses. Militant Christianity, militant Islam, militant Judaism, militant Hinduism -- there is no end to the varieties of unreason that have taken hold of large portions of the world's population.

When I was young, I thought that I could rely upon the forces of modernization to sap the strength from every form of parochial irrationality. But in my dotage [as I am coming to think of it], I am forced to acknowledge that perhaps the triumph of reason was merely a passing phase in the historical unfolding of unreason. How the shade of Hegel must be weeping.

3 comments:

ajrosa said...

I mourn with you as someone dwelling deep behind the iron curtain of the Bible Belt.

Robert Paul Wolff said...

We will liberate you! There is hope! Jennifer, Rita, and I shall ride in on white horses and drag you away.

amit(sunny) said...
This comment has been removed by the author.