The end of the Enlightenment

From Truth and Tolerance by Pope Benedict XVI, quoting the Polish philosopher Andrej Szczypiorski at length:

No doubt can remain that capitalism was a great step forward. And equally, no doubt can remain that it failed to fulfill expectations. In capitalism, the cry of the great masses is always to be heard, the masses whose cravings are unfulfilled…. The decline of the Soviet conception of the world meant the liberation of millions of human lives out of serfdom. But in terms of the heritage of European thought, in the light of the tradition of the last two hundred years, the anti-Communist revolution also means the end of the illusions of the Enlightenment, that is, the destruction of the intellectual concept that formed the basis of the development of early Europe…. A remarkable age of growing uniformity in development, hitherto unknown anywhere, has begun. And suddenly it as appeared–probably for the first time in history–as if there were only a single recipe, a single way forward, one single model, and just one way of shaping the future. And people lost their belief in the sense of the transformations that were taking place. They lost hope in the possibility of changing the world at all and in its being worth the effort to change the world…. Yet the current lack of any alternative induces people to ask entirely new questions. The first question is: Perhaps the West was not right, after all? The second question: If the West was not right, then who was right? Because no doubt remains, for everyone in Europe, that Communism was not right, then the third question arises: Perhaps there is no such thing as being right? But if that is the case, then the entire intellectual heritage of the Enlightenment is worthless…. Perhaps the veteran Enlightenment steam engine, after two hundred years of useful and undisturbed work, has stopped before our eyes and with our cooperation. And the steam is just going up in the air. If that is in fact so, then the outlook is indeed dark.

(from the Salzburg Further Education sessions, 1995)

I’m stunned by the despair in this quote, and the Holy Father goes to great length to propose a solution to Szczypiorski’s dilemma. It has hit me a bit differently, and I’m working on a lengthy piece expounding upon my thoughts about the postmodern world. Check back later, but in the meantime, any thoughts about that quote?

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4 Responses to “The end of the Enlightenment”


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