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The End of the American Century. Jean-Jacques Rousseau's Emile In Rousseau's essay on raising children, he applies his philosophical principles to domestic matters, and explains where his ideas differ from those of John Locke. Reading a newspaper on the way, Rousseau noticed an advertisement for an essay competition.
Rousseau is unlikely to have received his epiphany so histrionically; he may have already started formulating his heresies. Most of his peers saw science and culture as liberating humankind from Christianity, Judaism, and other vestiges of what they saw as barbarous superstition.
They commended the emerging bourgeois class, and placed much stock in its instincts for self-preservation and self-interest, and in its scientific, meritocratic spirit. Adam Smith envisaged an open global system of trade powered by envy and admiration of the rich along with mimetic desires for their power and privileges.
Smith argued that the human instinct for emulation of others could be turned into a positive moral and social force. Voltaire was typical of the self-interested commoner who promoted commerce and liberty as an antidote to arbitrary authority and hierarchy.
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Exhorting the pursuit of luxury together with the freedom of speech, Voltaire and the others had articulated and embodied a mode of life in which individual freedom was achieved through increased wealth and intellectual sophistication. Against this moral and intellectual revolution, which came after centuries of submission before throne and altar, Rousseau launched a counterrevolution. It greatly deceives itself; it is free only during the election of members of Parliament. As soon as they are elected, the people are enslaved and count for nothing.
In the course of nearly twenty books, Rousseau amplified his objections to intellectuals and their rich patrons, who presumed to tell other people how to live. Rousseau did share a crucial assumption with his adversaries: that the age of clerical tyranny and divinely sanctioned monarchy was being replaced by an era of escalating egalitarianism.
But he warned that the bourgeois values of wealth, vanity, and ostentation would impede rather than advance the growth of equality, morality, dignity, freedom, and compassion.
He believed that a society based on envy and the power of money, though it might promise progress, would actually impose psychologically debilitating change on its citizens. Rousseau refused to believe that the interplay of individual interests, meant to advance the new civilization, could produce any natural harmony. Even the lucky few at the top of the new hierarchy would remain insecure, exposed to the envy and malice of those below, albeit hidden behind a show of deference and civility.
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Jealousy, suspicion, fear, coldness, reserve, hate, and fraud lie constantly concealed. True freedom in these circumstances could be reached only by overcoming the hypocritical, painfully divided bourgeois within us.
The Enlightenment period (article) | Khan Academy
Whether considered from an intellectual, political, or social standpoint, the advancements of the Enlightenment transformed the Western world into an intelligent and self-aware civilization. The new freedoms and ideas sometimes led to abuses—in particular, the descent of the French Revolution from a positive, productive coup into tyranny and bedlam.
Authentic culture directly resists commodification and punishes audiences for expecting to be entertained. Leading on from the theory of negative dialectics , Dialectic of Enlightenment argues that enlightenment values themselves are not automatically progressive and that the potentially liberating process of the unfolding of human freedom, as Hegel and indeed Marx posited it, is undermined by our enslavement within the totality of capitalist social relations.
Read PDF The American Class System: Enlightenment for the Rest of Us
Their view is that fascism, Stalinism and consumer capitalism all produced the widespread socialisation of the means of production and the corporatisation of the economy, with a central role for the state. This convergence had done away with the worst excesses of class exploitation and replaced it with a sort of social complicity between the classes undergirded by recourse to mythologies and ideological control.
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This control is exercised not only through direct repression but through the apparently non-ideological aspects of our everyday lives, in particular the ways in which modernity encourages us to fulfil and pursue our desires rather than have them crushed and controlled. Here, de Sade is brought in along with Nietzsche to demonstrate how modernity and the Enlightenment have brought about the transvaluation of all values and undermined all traditions.
Marx also noted that in capitalism "all that is solid melts into air". What is often misunderstood on this point is that the Frankfurt School were not the cause of the apparent breakdown of social values but were drawing attention to the way in which capitalism was ineluctably smashing up the old certainties. At the same time as making us enjoy the experience as an extension of our libido we also feel guilty about and transfer the blame for it onto anyone but ourselves.
In an ironic twist, the Frankfurt School, which identified this mechanism of blaming, now functions as the guilty men for those who seek someone to blame.
How Did the American Revolution Influence the French Revolution?
In the section on antisemitism they explain the ways in which myths about Jews are used by both fascism and liberal democracies to create an outsider group which can be blamed for all problems. This culminates in the Nazi theory that the world is being dominated by a Jewish conspiracy in which rich Jewish bankers finance the communists in order to bring about the dominance of finance capital over good old traditional national productivist values. Freud is brought in here to say that hatred of the other in this case Jews, but it can be any other group is actually a way to mask jealousy of what they have, not in terms of wealth, but in their identifiable collective traditions and apparent social cohesion, which they maintain while the "host" nation rots away around them.