Enlightenment, Counter-Enlightenment: Modernism, Postmodernism

 Part 1 – Enlightenment, Counter-Enlightenment

In the late 20th century and early 21st century, historians such as Margaret C. Jacob and Jonathan Israel, following scholars such as Isaiah Berlin who uncovered a Counter-Enlightenment, dissected the Enlightenment into Radical Enlightenment and Moderate Enlightenment factions.

The Moderate Enlightenment was the Enlightenment that we were all familiarized with growing up, that was responsible for the American Revolution, and those that followed. This is the Enlightenment of Montesquieu, George Washington, Alexander Hamilton, and James Madison. This Enlightenment, which had produced the oligarchic republics that we are familiar with today, had actually followed in the wake of a much more Radical Enlightenment that had pursued not only republicanism, but popular democracy, freedom of speech, religious tolerance, and so on. It was this Radical Enlightenment (which had preceded and influenced the more aristocratic-styled Moderate Enlightenment) that is most associated with core Enlightenment ideals, with freethinking and heresy, and democratic republicanism, etc. by historians such as Jacob and Israel. This Radical Enlightenment is now being used, by thinkers such as Jonathan Israel, in the defense of the Enlightenment from more recent postmodern philosophy.

The Radical and Moderate Enlightenment had been met by a Counter-Enlightenment. This had been brought to attention by thinkers such as William Barrett, Lewis White Beck, and Isaiah Berlin, who described a conservative, aristocratic backlash to the Enlightenment that wanted to return to faith in providence. This also included antirationalist populism, which Jonathan Israel associates with Jean-Jacques Rousseau and especially Robespierre and those involved in the Reign of Terror of the French Revolution.

But this was not all that there was to the Counter-Enlightenment. While David Allen Harvey would disagree with my placing of the next faction of the Enlightenment era into the Counter-Enlightenment, on the grounds that they are radicals who took favorably to Enlightenment reason and modernism, I must nonetheless do so. Instead, Harvey is inclined to include this next group in a category of going Beyond Enlightenment, the title of his book. The existence of this “beyond Enlightenment” faction, according to my own reasoning, however, suggests that while the Enlightenment had a Moderate and a Radical faction, that the same is true of the Counter-Enlightenment, that it had a Moderate and Radical wing, and that the “beyond Enlightenment” crowd— self-styled “Traditionalists”— fits into the Radical wing of the Counter-Enlightenment, rather than truly going “beyond” Enlightenment. Rousseau may belong to this group.

The Scientific Revolution followed after the Renaissance and proto- or Radical Reformation, which, as well as Nicholas, had included pantheists such as Eriugena, Amalric of Bena, and David of Dinant, and Marsilio Ficino and Giovanni Pico della Mirandola, pantheists who adopted neo-Platonic and Hermetic beliefs and who brought the “perennial philosophy” to new light. The Cathars and the Hussites would come to represent significant military forces of the Radical Reformation.The Enlightenment had followed after the introduction of modern (but not modern era) philosophy and the arrival of the Scientific Revolution. Perhaps the first modern philosopher, leading up to the Enlightenment, is the pantheist Cardinal Nicholas of Cusa, whose geometric logic had suggested that the more knowledge we can attain about existence the closer our approximation to God will be. Being a pantheist of sorts, God was, to Cusa, all that is, and so, to know God, we must know the natural world. The subsequent pursuits of those influenced by Nicholas to come to know more about God— blending God with the natural world— would encourage a scientific reasoning that would culminate in the Scientific Revolution.

The Renaissance had followed after an Islamic interpretation of classical Greek philosophy as pantheism had spread throughout Europe following the Islamic Golden Age. This occurred especially along the Silk Road and by way of Islamic control of the Iberian peninsula, and perhaps after the Crusades and the discovery of Phoenician philosophers such as Sanchuniathon, who’d argued, like the Greeks to follow, that the gods had been metaphors or allegories for natural phenomena. Amalric of Bena, preceding Nicholas of Cusa, had already spread a pantheist message brought about by way of the Islamic Golden Age and perhaps also by Eriugena.

The pantheist Giordano Bruno would carry on the scientific pursuit of knowledge in his alchemical-magical practices, meanwhile proposing that the Universe was vast and infinitely filled with suns like our own, with planets like our own, having sentient beings on them like ours does. For his heresies he would burn at the stake.

Another early modern philosopher and pantheist, Lucilio Vanini, was among the first to understand the Universe as being governed by natural laws, and, despite being one of the more mechanistic of the bunch, proposed centuries before Darwin that humans have a biological, evolutionary relationship to apes. Vanini was convicted of atheism. His tongue was cut out, he was strangled, and then burned to ash.

But he was still not the last. Baruch Spinoza, Gerrard Winstanley and his Diggers, the Ranters, and John Toland would be among groups to carry on this radical pantheism that was often associated with propertied peasants, communal movements, and democratic republicanism, from the Scientific Revolution on into the Enlightenment.

This is where the Enlightenment and modernity ultimately come from, a long line of pantheistic reasoning informed by religion but grounded in natural philosophy. Jonathan Israel suggests, and to a limit I agree, that it was really Spinoza’s philosophy at the heart of the transition from the Scientific Revolution to the Enlightenment focus on politics. And this makes the Radical Enlightenment the first among all of the factions of the early modern time period to come to fruition. The repression of scientific advancement and the deeming heretical of new insights on religion had created much demand for a change in politics, a change that would allow for greater degrees of freedom of conscience, freedom of thought, freedom of speech, freedom of association, as well as positive freedoms such as the freedom to participate in deliberation and democratic process, and sometimes to claim common access to property, especially natural resources like land. The political views of Spinoza, backed by rigorous and rational metaphysics, encapsulated all of these concerns, and provided a logical argument for how to eradicate monarchy and aristocratic rule. This Radical Enlightenment would come to inspire the Moderate Enlightenment, the Counter-Enlightenment, and those who claim to go “beyond” Enlightenment. So the Enlightenment is really about the Radical Enlightenment, which was at its foundations. Moderates watered it down, and the Counter-Enlightenment countered it the best they could.

Baruch or “Blessed” Spinoza had been born into a Sephardic Jewish family that had been crypto-Jews amidst religious repression in their home of Portugal. While living in Amsterdam during the Dutch Republic and the relative tolerance that persisted there, Baruch Spinoza’s books would nonetheless be banned and burned by the Dutch authorities. He’d also be excommunicated by Jewish religious authority and his books were added to the Catholic Church’s list of forbidden books. The memory of Giordano Bruno was not so distant at this time, so Spinoza is perhaps lucky to have stayed alive!

Spinoza’s philosophy was a rich compilation of rational mysticism, humanistic theology, moral philosophy, social psychology, naturalism, and political thought, and that probably does not cover all of it. According to Spinoza, God is Nature, the Bible contains the self-fulfilling prophecies of rulers, might makes right, we can find solace in accepting necessity, and mutuality is the source of political power. Like Nicholas of Cusa, Spinoza stressed that we should come to know as much as we can about God, which he identified with Nature. Spinoza believed that by coming to know the reasons for the hardships we face, by knowing our hardships as a part of God’s perfect necessity, that we can come to a Stoic abolition of our “passions” (strong emotions), become virtuous, and to have peace of mind, called blessedness. As we can never fully be free of our passions, Spinoza suggests we put our efforts to resolving the problems in our life in rational, loving ways. He was a democrat, with a small “d,” and a proto-Georgist who believed monarchy, aristocracy, and feudalism to rest on the ignorance and superstition of “the multitude,” those who have not succumbed yet to the force of reason. Spinoza’s manner of fighting this was the promotion of a clandestine democratic revolution, wherein collective reason pursued in deliberation and majority-rule would produce greater truths than those of individual humans. Condorcet, living in the wake of Spinoza and a participant in the Radical Enlightenment, would later prove this mathematically, giving rise to the theory or field of “social choice.”

Spinoza has been noted for a favorable disposition in the memory of his peers, and for having turned down prestigious university teaching positions in order to continue in his trade as a glass grinder, or oculist. Ocular science had long been entangled with the occult, perhaps since the time of Ibn al-Haytham’s Book of Optics was passed around during the Islamic Golden Age, and ocular science was or would become an important avenue for clandestine Enlightenment of Spinoza’s time, so he probably had important and unspoken reasons to stay in the trade. Spinoza died at a relatively young age, however, said to be due to lung issues from breathing the glass particles in his profession.

Gerrard Winstanley, a contemporary of Spinoza’s, similarly held a pantheist worldview and republican political beliefs. Like the Stedinger— peasants who had homesteaded the swamps—, but perhaps more communally, Winstanley had led a group called the Diggers or the True Levelers to homestead—by means of squatting the enclosures— unused land for a commune of their own, an effort to restore the commons. His inspiration went as far back as the Peasant’s Revolt of Wat Tyler and John Ball. After the destruction of his commune by authorities, Winstanley retreated, but would continue to push for land reform, eventually joining the Friends (or Quaker) cause. Winstanley’s legacy would go on to influence other land reform radicals, likely including Thomas Spence and the famed Thomas Paine, though they would not join him in his communism.

Winstanley had connections to the very radical textile industry. This is important because it was in the textile industry that heresy, science, and radicalism had become especially connected, in part because of the influence of the Silk Road, but also because of the rapid changes that early industrial capitalism would bring about, with the textile industry especially affected. Surrounding the textile industry had been the Beguines and Beghards; many participants in Lollardy, the Waldensians, the Hussites, and Cathars; and then the Luddites, who’d taken to sabotaging the textile mills and factories. Abolitionism (of chattel slavery) would become especially strong among textile workers, who saw slave labor in America and elsewhere as competition that was driving their wages down while also being morally repugnant to their sentiments of freedom. Winstanley had been a tailor in a guild, and so had participated in this industry, likely becoming well-aware of the heresies saturating it. This same industry would also inspire utopian socialist, Robert Owen, to establish the modern cooperative movement.

John Toland was a Spinozan radical who was the first to receive the label of “freethinker.” He is, perhaps, the first professional revolutionary as well. Believing in an organic geology, his philosophy suggested a living Earth in the spirit of Gaia. A republican and classical liberal, he opposed political and religious hierarchy and upheld the values of freedom, perhaps the first to support equal rights for Jews and their full participation in the body politic. Margaret C. Jacob has implied that Toland may be responsible for the establishment of proto-Masonic organizations. Jacob suggests further a relationship between Freemasonry and the Levelers (remember, the Diggers claimed to have been the “True Levelers”), of which Toland was one, pointing to the plumbline as a symbol within Freemasonry of meeting “on the level.”

Freemasonry would become an increasingly influential and revolutionary association that would be perhaps, followed by the Republic of Letters and salon culture, the main emanation-point of modern philosophy during the Enlightenment. Freemasons practiced constitutional governance— and even democratic republicanism in many cases— within their lodge networks. This established the constitutional and republican sentiment within what later anarchists and socialists might describe as a “dual power” network—a network that runs parallel to and in competition with established systems— that would later become capable of displacing monarchies, aristocracy, and ecclesiastical authority. And that is what the lodges started to do, eventually leading to the American and French Revolutions. This was the Enlightenment, a period of displacing these more traditional forms of authority with something a little more rational. We’re living in the result of this unfinished vision.

Like the Moderate Enlightenment and the Counter-Enlightenments, Radical Enlightenment would have its softer variants as well, something of the “Right-wing” of the Left-wing, Radical Enlightenment. Figures from Unitarian, Universalist, and atheist or deist persuasions, among others, play a stronger role in this side of the Radical Enlightenment, leaning a bit more toward the Moderate side of the Enlightenment than their more consistently Radical counterparts, the pantheists. Richard Price, Joseph Priestly, Helvetius, the Baron d’Holbach, and even Diderot and Condorcet, for instance, represent members of this slightly more conservative side of the Radical Enlightenment. Jonathan Israel suggests these are Radical Enlightenment’s main proponents, but Jacob is more willing to use examples such as Winstanley. Even this more Moderate side of the Radical Enlightenment owed its existence to Spinoza, however, and is characterized by various degrees of organicism, necessitarianism, substance monism, democratic reform, egalitarianism, and etc. Many of its participants were mathematicians, actuaries, and professionals of other sorts, so their propensity for less radical ideas, such as representative government, may owe to their level of expertise.

The Enlightenment hadn’t stopped with the pantheists or Unitarians of the Radical Enlightenment, though, despite their having kicked it off. The American and French Revolutions did not have Radical, but instead Moderate, outcomes. For this reason, the Enlightenment can be separated, with one side put into the Radical Enlightenment (whose impetus really underlies the Moderate Enlightenment also, as well as the Radical Counter-Enlightenment), and the other into Moderate Enlightenment.

The Moderate Enlightenment failed to execute Enlightenment in full, but nonetheless had grown from the Scientific Revolution and from influence from the Radical Enlightenment that had preceded it, especially by way of Freemasonry, which found itself behind much of the American and French Revolutions. Instead of democratic republicanism like the Radical Enlightenment, the Moderate Enlightenment centered on oligarchic or artistocratic republicanism, and that is what it produced in the American, French, and subsequent republican revolutions. Under the Articles of Confederation, for instance, before the Constitution of the United States, it was only the landed gentry of Protestant, white, males that were given a vote, leaving out all slaves, servants, renters, smallholders, women, free blacks, and more, a large portion of the population. This demonstrates the oligarchic nature of the new republics, and their orientation in the Moderate Enlightenment. The Moderate Enlightenment got its way; the Radical Enlightenment did not.

Perhaps the central difference between the Radical and the Moderate Enlightenment comes from their influences during the Scientific Revolution, which can be divided into at least two philosophical tendencies of scientific interpretation, that of organic and of mechanical. Mechanistic philosophy asserts, following the influence of Descartes, Newton, and others, that organisms operate largely as machines, following laws of physical causation. Mechanistic philosophy was typically not quite a pure materialism or physicalism—Descartes held to a mind-body dualism, and Newton to occult forces underlying matter—, but would develop increasingly in that direction. Those who held to the mechanistic philosophy tended toward Protestantism or a theology of deism, that God had established laws by which the Universe operates but otherwise tended not to intervene. Their vision often maintained some degree of ontological or substance dualism as well. Those within the tendency of organism, on the contrary, described the world in terms of organic processes and added to mechanism a vital impulse as can be found within life. Rather than dualism, they adhered to ontological or substance monism, often uniting body and mind into a more primary substance. Whereas the moderate deists tended toward a kind of mechanistic determinism, accompanied by a belief in free will as a divine grace provided by immaterial or providential forces, the radical pantheists tended to more of an organic necessitarianism, believing life to be a driving force on par with mechanical forces.

Physiology was subject to the debates between mechanism and organism, and by extension influenced politics. Montesquieu, for instance, a judge, a historian, and a philosopher, and a political Moderate of the Moderate Enlightenment, was something of a hamarchist, who believed the body politic to function best according to physiological principles. In a manner similar to the organs’ operations in the body, Montesquieu gives us the concept of the separation of political powers, stressing the need for each of the various compartments of government to rule purely over their own division of power, thereby limiting overreaches by way of a system of checks and balances. For Montesquieu, it is better to have a flexible machine than one that rattles apart in attempts at rigidity, as one might expect from a thinker like Hobbes, to whom Montesquieu may have been responding. As it were, this may be Montesquieu treating Thomas Hobbes with some Paracelsian organicism (Paracelsus, himself, was something of a pantheist coming from the radical tradition within the Radical Scientific Revolution and Renaissance). Montesquieu’s use of Paracelsian organicism to temper the rigidity of Hobbesian authority is quite typical of the Moderate Enlightenment’s influence by, and use of, the Radical Enlightenment that had already saturated society. While making use of organism in his physiological position, and so maintaining a semi-organicism, however, Montesquieu nonetheless stresses the mechanistic component of physiology, and treats the organism as mechanistic. His view did not apply the Radical lessons to the fundamentals of society, as the radicals would, but it did find in radicalism some support for increased liberality, when compared to the traditional arrangement. Alexander Hamilton and James Madison, two of the American founding fathers, would both make use of Montesquieu’s physio-mechanical conceptions of governance, such as the “separation of powers,” in their Federalist efforts against the Anti-Federalists (“True Federalists”), such as Patrick Henry and Thomas Jefferson.

Alexander Hamilton had been a banker, statesman, lawyer, military commander, a sometime slave-trader, and all around influential individual in America’s destiny, founding the Federalist cause and establishing the first central bank. The main author of George Washington’s economic policies, he supported a strong central government, protectionism, neo-mercantilism, and militarism. He’d eventually come to oppose slavery, as most northern bankers would tend to do in favor of industrial capitalism (slavery is an agrarian phenomenon), eventually leading to the War of Northern Aggression. Like Lincoln’s later on, his support for strong executive powers on behalf of the federal government have been linked to the origins of the administrative state. His economics contributed to what is called the American System, centering on protective tariffs in incubative support of “infant” industries.

James Madison had been born into a wealthy planter family. Like Hamilton he had been a nationalist of the Federalist persuasion, and he was a supporter of central banking, but would break with Hamilton on some economic matters, even joining with the slightly more radical Thomas Jefferson in doing so, establishing the Democratic-Republican Party. Born into a planter family, he tended to see slavery as a necessary component of the Southern economy, though he showed a dislike for Southern aristocracy and apparently wished slavery to disappear. He would become best known as the author of the Constitution that replaced the more democratic, yet still basically aristocratic, Articles of Confederation.

Jonathan Israel describes efforts such as those of the Federalists as approximating an aristocratic or oligopolistic form of republicanism that differs greatly from the democratic republicanism he associates with the Radical Enlightenment. Whereas the Articles of Confederation had outlined a delegative democracy that was, nonetheless, still very classist— as by disallowing smallholders, servants, slaves, women, workers, and others to participate in the governance-process—, the new Constitution was increasingly so, with its opponents being concerned that it would lead back to hereditary positions of privilege (like it eventually did). Among those concerned were Patrick Henry and Thomas Jefferson.

Whereas Hamilton and Madison walk the line between the Moderate Enlightenment and the Counter-Enlightenment, Patrick Henry and Thomas Jefferson find themselves in the Moderate leaning toward the Radical Enlightenment. Thomas Jefferson had envisioned a middle class society dominated by yeomen, or self-sufficient, smallholding farmers, with states having significant powers in relation to the federal body, a vision in accord with Radical Enlightenment ideas. Patrick Henry, as with others among the Anti-Federalists (or “True Federalists”), had feared that the transition to the new Constitution would establish an American aristocracy. Anti-Federalists often feared federalism in the sense of the federal government being empowered with executive authority, but called themselves the “True Federalists” (in the fashion the Diggers were the “True Levelers”) because they supported a confederation, or federation, of states and believed themselves to do so in a more traditional fashion.

Together, Hamilton, Madison, Jefferson, and Henry represent something of a Right- and a Left-wing within the Moderate Enlightenment (scholars like Jonathan Israel are quicker to put thinkers like Jefferson into the radical camp). Other thinkers associable with the Moderate Enlightenment include the majority if not all of the United States founding fathers such as George Washington, as well as Beccaria, Locke, Hume, Kant, Leibniz, and Voltaire, among many more.

While the Moderate Enlightenment certainly fell short of the demands of the Radical Enlightenment, it nonetheless does represent an increase in overall Enlightenment when compared with the medieval political order. This is especially true of the then-middle, now-upper class of merchants, burghers, and gentry that characterized the ranks of the Moderate Enlightenment. These classes saw a genuine increase in political and economic freedom and equality amongst themselves upon the establishment of the oligarchic republics of the Moderate Enlightenment. That the lower classes did not share in this new freedom and equality except in surface sentiments does not take away from the gains of the Moderate Enlightenment, which must be considered to be historically progressive despite its shortcomings.

This historically progressive movement of Enlightenment would not find complete support, however. In fact, it would be met by a religious and politically conservative Counter-Enlightenment. Whereas the Enlightenment had fought against hereditary titles of nobility, ecclesiastical authority, feudalism and mercantilism, aristocratic privileges, and for values such as the freedom of conscience and thought, of free speech, constitutional republicanism, liberal economies, and sometimes socialism, etc., the Counter-Enlightenment generally opposed efforts in this direction, in support of more traditional ways. The Counter-Enlightenment largely presented philological, mythological, historical, or religious arguments for the importance of hierarchical authority, arguing that the Enlightenment was forsaking traditional values or principles that had led to the stability of society. Whereas the Moderate Enlightenment had been largely informed by Protestantism and a mechanistic deism, and the Radical Enlightenment had been about heretical organicist pantheism, the Counter-Enlightenment was built on a kind of theistic providentialism, or a Catholic vitalism. Like the Enlightenment, I argue that it had both a Moderate, or conservative, and a Radical element to it. The Radical Counter-Enlightenment would embrace a good part of the the science of the Radical Enlightenment, suggests David Allen Harvey, but would add to it providentialism and idiosyncratic tradition.

Joseph de Maistre had been an aristocratic lawyer, diplomat, and Moderate Counter-Enlightenment thinker who was vehemently opposed to the Enlightenment and for everything that it stood for. A traditionalist Catholic reactionary, hostile to secularism, and holding religious faith to be superior to Enlightenment reason, he opposed liberalism and egalitarian democracy, and upheld support for hierarchy, authority, and dominance. A relativist in many respects, and holding pessimistic views with much esteem, he believed that violence and bloodshed were religious sacrifices upon the altar of Earth, and that suffering enriched the human experience. He held that the Reign of Terror of the French Revolution, wherein countless people lost their lives to the guillotine, was such a sacrifice, and that it was the natural consequence and divine punishment for the Enlightenment.

Edmund Burke was a philosopher and economist who is considered by many to be the father of modern conservatism. In some respects bleeding into the Moderate Enlightenment for his support of representative government and for sympathy toward the grievances of the American Revolution, his arguments for resolution of the Revolution were not complete separation but concessions granted due to the fact that the British could not win a war against the Americans. He did not show the same kind of sympathy for the French Revolution, instead condemning it as too radical and too reason-dependent. And, like those of the Moderate Enlightenment, he was critical of popular democracy and believed that an upper class was necessary to supply well-reasoned administration. While clearly opposed to Radical Enlightenment as well as to elements of the Moderate Enlightenment, Burke was nonetheless not as extreme in his countering of Enlightenment as someone such as de Maistre. He belongs in the Moderate Counter-Enlightenment approaching the Moderate Enlightenment, as a conservative.

Augustin Barruel, a Jesuit priest, is partly responsible for the proliferation of conspiracy theories involving the Order of the Illuminati, wherein he posed that Freemasonry was responsible for the Enlightenment, and that the Illuminati had been responsible for the French Revolution by way of the Jacobins. He criticized Rousseau and Montesquieu as participants in the plot to overthrow the traditional order and for participating in the march toward anarchy. He saw anything short of monarchy as anarchy, a true participant in the Moderate Counter-Enlightenment. Condorcet was targeted particularly strongly in Barruel’s work. Edmond Burke was persuaded by and was an admirer of Barruel’s efforts.

De Maistre, however, was much less impressed with Barruel’s accusations. A Freemason himself, he did not believe that the fraternity had the revolutionary potential ascribed to it by Barruel or that the Illuminati had been powerful enough to arrange such an occasion as revolution. John Robison, nonetheless, a physicist and mathematician, at about the same time, had published his own work that alleged much the same as Barruel, whom he’d later cite in future editions. This was either itself part of a conspiracy or was an occasion of what Herbert Spencer called “multiple discovery.”

The Radical Counter-Enlightenment, unlike the Moderate Enlightenment, is characterized in part by Radical Enlightenment defection, such as by philosophers who learn that religion and language can be used as a form of control or manipulation, and then use that form of control against their less-Enlightened peers; but while they may apply traditional methods of establishing and maintaining class stratification, participants in the Radical Counter-Enlightenment’s views might drastically differ from the exoteric religion that they sought to control the masses with. The Moderate Counter-Enlightenment, on the other hand, tended to be more conservative in its aims, never embracing Enlightenment and so remaining unable to go “beyond”  Enlightenment in the way that the Radical Counter-Enlighteners (basically early postmodernists) thought of themselves doing (while, at the same time, consciously partaking in the age-old tradition of using providential religion and language for control). Unlike the Moderate Counter-Enlightenment, however, the Radical Counter-Enlightenment mingled with and ultimately infiltrated Radical Enlightenment institutions such as Freemasonry (allegedly only having a single degree of membership at its point of origin).

Radical Counter-Enlightenment was not unique in its providentialist persuasion (as the Moderate Counter-Enlightenment and even participants in the Moderate Enlightenment were also of the same persuasion), but in its ability to adapt to the change of political climate brought about by the Enlightenment, in part by embracing Enlightenment science, suggests the work of Harvey. While the Moderate Counter-Enlightenment was rigidly stuck in the past in many respects, attaching itself to exoteric forms of religion, established tradition, and classicism, the Radical Counter-Enlightenment inquired into the esoteric or occult nature of establishing new or revived approaches to religious interpretation. However, as across the whole spectrum of the Enlightenment, but especially within the Radical Enlightenment, there were also atheists to be counted among the Radical Counter-Enlighteners, such as, for instance, the Marquis de Sade, the decadent libertine eroticist and pornographer, after whom sadism is named. The Counter-Enlightenment, not to be confused for a unitary bunch, would be composed of all who believed that something was more fundamentally important to human society than reason, such as philology, religion, aesthetics, or, in the case of those such as de Sade, even decadent sex.

Jean-Jacques Rousseau was an early Romantic, populist philosopher and participant in the emerging sensibilism of the “Age of Sensibility,” which focused on sentimentalism and emotional “sensibility.” While considered to be a part of the Enlightenment by many, for his written support of direct-democracy and opposition to representative government, for instance—something he has in common with the Left-wing of the Radical Enlightenment even more than the Moderate Enlightenment—, his conception of democracy was of an unrestrained “will of the people” that ultimately added up to ochlocracy. He opposed equal rights for women in the political sphere, was highly religious, and believed that sentimentality and especially religion preceded Enlightenment-style Reason. His pantheistic deism, as some have identified it, places him near the Radical Enlightenment in a sense, and shows much Radical influence, but his Spartanism, a militaristic, feudal-communalism that opposed civilization places him instead into the Counter-Enlightenment as its populist representative. Rousseau understood Reason to be at the source of civilization, much as did the philosophes— of which he had been one—, but he generally opposed civilization, believing that cultural advances cause moral degradation, or loss of sensibilities. The Fall from the Garden of Eden was from the original sin of eating the forbidden fruit of knowledge, and civilization, he suggests, is the decay that has occurred since. Reason, he suggests further, causes inequality, class differences, and social suffering, blaming philosophy for decay of moral sensibilities. Isaiah Berlin, along with many others, has categorized Rousseau as a philosophe and participant in the Enlightenment, but scholars since then, such as Graeme Garrard and Jonathan Israel have clarified that this is not the case, at least not entirely. A complex character, it seems that Rousseau had gone from a hybridized Radical Enlightenment position and shifted over to a religiously conservative, paternalistic, ochlocratic populism, placing him in the Radical Counter-Enlightenment, though he overlaps much also with Moderate Enlightenment.

Giambattista Vico was an early proto-Romantic philosopher, historian, and rhetorician who had criticized the Enlightenment from the perspective of philology and providential theology, but who nonetheless contributed to it in his own way, by inspiring the new “social science.” This new social science attributed to him had begun with his look into the civil role of religion through the lens of his providential “poetic theology.”  Reminiscent perhaps of the Roman historian Polybius, Vico held that all of history is about the rise and fall of civilizations according to cyclical forces of growth and decay, and that language, knowledge, and society have a dialectical relationship by which context is given much importance. Civil life, as he saw it, is wholly constructed, and as such it was in need of religion to give it providential guidance. The later socialists would address the issues that Vico would raise with class struggle, and Karl Marx would come to see the democratic stage of Vico’s cycle as the most desirable, in contrast to Vico, who saw it as a stage of decay. He incorporated the Spinozan concept of conatus in his philosophy, but Vico had criticized the Enlightenment for its Cartesian rationalism, reductionism, and democratic impulses (though he would also see these as part of the cycle). He believed that his Poetic Age would follow the Age of Enlightenment. Dreaming of an era “beyond” Enlightenment, rather than a return to what was, he was a participant in Radical Counter-Enlightenment and not a simple reactionary.

Johann Georg Hamann, the “Wizard of the North,” was a post-Kantian, proto-Romantic philosopher who also joined in the attack on Enlightenment by way of language studies. By way of a mystical psychological experience, Hamann would stop believing in the Enlightenment, however, succumbing instead to superstitions such as miracles. Rather than putting together his own positive arguments, Hamann focused on responses to the arguments of others, primarily by way of criticism. Hamann, a friend of Kant, was a clear precursor of postmodernism.

Adam Weishaupt had been the founder of the Bavarian Order of the Illuminati, a secret society with the explicit aim of instating stateless communism, but with an implicit understanding that only the superiors in the society have a clue about what is really going on so as to accomplish this goal. While Jonathan Israel is quick to put the Illuminati into the Radical Enlightenment camp, and Erica Legalisse is quick to follow him up on that, I have to differ with them. Weishaupt and the Illuminati certainly spoke about abolishing religion, private property, and the state, but their hierarchical, secretive, and ultimately trust-based, control mode of operation was characteristic of the Counter-Enlightenment. They also arose from the same Rite of Strict Observance from which Martinism and synarchy—themselves without a doubt elements of the Radical Counter-Enlightenment associated with Martinez de Pasqually, Saint-Martin, Jean-Baptiste Willermoz, and Saint-Yves—would emerge. The Illuminati represented an aristocratic, vanguardist form of authoritarian socialism, perhaps similar to Francis Noel Babeuf, famous for his Conspiracy of Equals, or to Sylvain Marechal, Buonnorati, or even Blanqui. With the execution of Robespierre, the Reign of Terror came to a close, and the White Terror would begin, with Babeuf being executed for his involvement in the Reign, putting Babeuf and aristocratic socialists such as Weishaupt and the Illuminati in the camp of Radical Counter-Enlightenment, along with Rousseau.

When we look at the points of contention between the Enlightenment and Counter-Enlightenment it becomes apparent that there are strange connections and peculiar overlaps between them. This may be especially true of the Radical Enlightenment and the Radical Counter-Enlightenment, which apparently shared in radical thought together. That the Radical Counter-Enlightenment and the Radical Enlightenment shared in radicalism together suggests a circular theme to our political map. Radicalism is a word referring to people who get to the root of the problem, or who focus on fundamentals (the etymology of radical), and had grown from heretics, (etymologically) referring to people who consider for themselves what to believe. The heretics included anyone from the Free Spirit that were part of the Radical Reformation to the Knights Templar who had taken part in the Radical Counter-Reformation, as I have so labeled it here. Together, the heretical radicals of the Middle Ages burnt at the stake for their shared gnosticisms, and bled on the battlefield one against the other, as with the Crusades against the Taborites and other radicals of the time by orders such as the Templars. Bound together in their gnosticism, they were nonetheless divided by class interests.

While the Bavarian Order of the Illuminati would represent part of the Radical Counter-Enlightenment, the original illuminati—those to whom the label originally belonged—was the Heresy of the Free Spirit, popular among commoners rather than aristocrats (although some aristocrats drawn to a monastic life, as in a Beguinage, or otherwise to become a Beguine or Beghard may have taken to the Heresy, with Marguerite Porete perhaps being an example). Illuminati arguably continues in popular culture in the form of alumni, which disputably means the same thing, as in the alumbrados (or “illuminated”), participants in the Heresy of the Free Spirit. So, when conservatives go on about wild conspiracy theories involving the Illuminati and socialism and academia, they are not entirely wrong. The Heresy of the Free Spirit, the illumination emanating from Amalric of Bena from University of Paris, was certainly an influence on what would become socialism, and was even popular within the textile industry from which socialism would arise. And Adam Weishaupt was likely familiar with the history of this heresy and took their name for his project. But is this an example of Radical Counter-Enlightenment tactics, such as infiltration? Was Adam Weishaupt dawning the corpse of his enemy? Or was there something else going on? Whatever may be the case, the connection between working class and aristocratic socialism, emanating from the Radical Reformation and the Radical Counter-Reformation, is plain to see. There is some common circumstance and perhaps even some cultural affinity between them,

But participants from all of the factions had been active within Freemasonry, from Denis Diderot to Joseph de Maistre and from George Washington to Adam Weishaupt. So they all intermingled to a greater extent than would be expected, although less than could be idealized. It appears that it was largely discussions arising from within Freemasonry, owing to the constitutional nature of the fraternity, that would start to develop factionalization along lines of political ideology in the first place, and that this is where science begins to blend with social life into political philosophies, giving rise to the Enlightenment and Counter-Enlightenment. Whereas politics had formerly been about allegiances and honor and land or religion or such things, the ritual practices within Freemasonry accompanied by a climate of discussion fomented by the Scientific Revolution had turned politics to matters of rational organization, discussing matters involving the principles and methods that provide for the best kind of governance. But it must be remembered that Freemasonry was radical in its origins, and that this sort of revolutionary potential was likely part of the plan that thinkers like Toland, a republican pantheist, had in mind from its point of conception. From Freemasonry would develop more explicit attempts at fomenting revolution, such as those of the Sons of Liberty of the Moderate Enlightenment, the Jacobins of the Counter-Enlightenment, the mutualist societies of the Radical Enlightenment, and the Illuminati and Martinists of the Radical Counter-Enlightenment.

Part 2 – Modernism, Postmodernism

Overall, it was the Radical Enlightenment that would kick things off, the Moderate Enlightenment that would win out, the Moderate Counter-Enlightenment that would lose, and the Radical Counter-Enlightenment that would remain occulted in the shadows. The end of privilege and practice of democratic republicanism would have to wait for another day, oligarchic republicanism would have to defend itself in its new victories, and the Counter-Enlightenments would continue to conspire to take the power back for their class.

These factions, after the success of the Moderate Enlightenment and its bringing about of modernity, would later be found in the modern (not to be confused for modernist) art world. The first form that art in modernity would take was Romanticism, associated, along with neoclassicism, largely with the Counter-Enlightenment. The Radical Enlightenment, on the other hand, would express itself largely through the medium of realism, the first modernist approach to art, in that it continued the values of the Enlightenment, or of modernity—the power of reason to change society for the better—, onward, advocating them along the way. Although Moderate Enlightenment ideas were also expressed through Romanticism, they would not really come to the fore in art until the rise of modernist art variants such as impressionism and neo-impressionism. The Radical Counter-Enlightenment developed movements within and away from Romanticism, often associated with early postmodernist (some say modernist) art, such as the Aesthetic, Symbolist, Decadent, and Spiritualist movements.


Among the earliest thinkers considered to be postmodern or proto-postmodern include those mentioned prior as well as German idealists such as Kant and Hegel, and ungrounded egoist thinkers (Spinoza had been a grounded egoist) such as Max Stirner and Friedrich Nietzsche, both philologists (as we discussed, a common occupation among Counter-Enlightenment thinkers). Postmodernism has also been traced to esoteric thinkers such as Saint-Yves, Rene Guenon, and Julius Evola, and to the fin de siècle milieu in the arts that accompanied the Symbolist and Decadent, among other art, movements.Postmodernism and postmodernity, growing out of Counter-Enlightenment Romanticism, are associated with various historical moments and people in time. Usually said to have begun as an art movement and with efforts against modernization within the Catholic Church, postmodernism is also associated with certain approaches to philosophy. Postmodern philosophy has attempted to separate itself from anything having to do with modernism and Western society, including even Christianity (sometimes excepting Catholicism), the Enlightenment, and modernity itself. Philosophically, this has translated to rejection of ideology, “grand” or “meta-narratives,” claims of universal objectivity, and more. Postmodernists suggest that the Enlightenment brought about all kinds of problems by wielding these things, such as ideological battles and two worldwide conflicts. Postmodernity, the period following modernity, is said to have begun variously with the postmodernist movements, but especially with the eras of World Wars and the rise and takeover by the counter-cultures beginning in the 60s.

Early or proto-postmodernists, such as the Symbolists, Decadents, and Aesthetes, are often considered to be modernists themselves, and naturally so, as the Radical Counter-Enlightenment is suggested by thinkers like Harvey to embrace radicalism and modernism, merely wishing to transcend modernity. In so doing, it is clear that they are extending the Radical Counter-Enlightenment, basing their arguments in relativity, language, aesthetics, sexual impulse, and sensibilism.

The first use of the term postmodern, suggests Wikipedia, was by a painter named Chapman, who wanted to distinguish his criticism of impressionism from reactionary criticisms, suggesting he wished not to react against, but to progress past. J.M. Thompson had used it in a Catholic context, describing a change in social outlooks on religion. Postmodernism would be described as a new variety of literature by H.R. Hays. But it would be Bernard Iddings Bell, President of now Bard College (then St. Stephen’s College), who would first point to a postmodern era following after modernity, attacking the Enlightenment in the process and encouraging orthodox Catholicism. Bell would be followed in his historical analysis by the historian of international affairs and a supporter of Hitler, Arnold J. Toynbee. Jorge Luis Borges is among the most prominent influences in postmodern literature, but it would be Jean-Francois Lyotard who would be the first to put postmodernism to philosophical use.

Lyotard, a literary theorist, had defined postmodernism as a rejection of “metanarratives,” or the underlying stories and ideologies of modernity that assume the stability of concepts like “truth.” Lyotard wanted to promote a sort of skepticism toward universal conceptions, suggesting Wittgenstein’s notion of “language games” take the place of the notion of “truth.” He believed that language, particularly what he called the “differend,” was made impossibly difficult to communicate ideas in a thorough manner with. His work would be “deconstructed” by another postmodernist, Jacques Derrida.

Derrida, like many postmodernists, had a strong interest in language, particularly semiotics, but considered himself to be a historian. His approach, called deconstruction, was an attempt to challenge what he saw as unfounded assumptions of Western culture. He opposed the Western search for transcendental meaning, which he considered to be “logocentric.”

Michel Foucault was a literary critic who established a postmodern theory of power, wherein the personal or cultural endowments of individuals is made political. Others in the postmodern “philosophical” milieu include Richard Rorty, Jean Baudrillard, Frederic Jameson, and Douglas Kellner.

Isaiah Berlin characterizes postmodernism as having relation to the Counter-Enlightenment, but as not having been resistant to change in the same way, aiming instead toward an alternate modernity. This is also so, I believe, of the “beyond” Enlightenment radicals of the Radical Counter-Enlightenment, from which postmodernism seems to have developed.

Richard Wolin suggests that postmodernism leads to the Left side of fascism. However, authors such as Gary Lachman suggest that postmodernism also leads to the Right side of fascism (see Trump, for instance), and has relation to participants in the Radical Counter-Enlightenment such as the Martinists. Martinists like the synarchists have been known to use both sides of the political spectrum, and explicitly so, likely giving rise to fascism. Altogether, it is fairly clear that postmodernism is a force of Counter-Enlightenment and fascism.

Jonathan Israel is quick to denounce postmodernism as having grown from out of authoritarian populist factions during Enlightenment that he suggests do not properly belong to the Enlightenment, but to the Counter-Enlightenment. He points especially to Robespierre and the Reign of Terror, in which many Radical Enlightenment participants and great philosophes died in prison or were executed for their beliefs, as an example of the anti-Enlightenment impulses of the Jacobins and sans-culottes under Robespierre.

Israel’s assessment of postmodernism seems sound enough. Indeed, even the mutualist and anarchist-federalist, Proudhon, whose philosophy served as the foundation for many of the Communards of Paris, had criticized Rousseau and the violence of the French Revolution. But Israel does something strange. He puts socialists— in the general sense, but he especially includes Marxists— into the same basket as the postmodernists, and also speaks of the Bavarian Order of the Illuminati as if it were a shining example of Enlightenment rationality. The Bavarian Order of the Illuminati, itself being something of an aristocratic order of revolutionary socialists, seems an odd exception for Israel’s anti-socialist Enlightenment.

The Order of Illuminati, created by Adam Weishaupt, had all of the hallmarks of early revolutionary socialism, including the abolition of money, the abolition of property, the end of the nuclear family, community-rearing of children, and etc. This is not unlike the communist tradition of people such as Babeuf and his Conspiracy of Equals or of Sylvain Marechal and those associated with his sort of early communism. If Marxism fits, with Blanquism, into the revolutionary socialist tradition inherited from these other communists, then it belongs wherever the Order of Illuminati might belong, as it relates to Enlightenment. Israel divides the two, and places Marxism with proto-postmodernism, and the Illuminati into modernism. Socialists who know their history already see the problem with this, as well as with orienting socialists such as Proudhon or Thomas Hodgskin outside of the Radical Enlightenment tradition. I put the Illuminati with Radical Counter-Enlightenment.

Socialists do not necessarily fall outside of the Radical Enlightenment tradition. At the very least, this is so of libertarian socialists. Perhaps it is not so of all socialists, such as revolutionary socialists who pursue the ends of Platonic “philosopher kings,” and other dictatorial-types such as Blanquists, Stalinists, National Bolsheviks, and other Right-Marxists and national socialists, but libertarian socialism comes straight out of the Radical Enlightenment.

The degree to which Left-Marxism— such as autonomism, council communism, and De Leonism— might also be considered to be libertarian socialist, and thereby in the radical camp, might be determined by the amount of agency the Marxist gives to discussion and deliberation, their regard for freedom of speech, individual autonomy, and so on. According to Israel, and not unlike the anarcho-syndicalist Rudolf Rocker, the Marxist belief in dialectical or historical materialism downplays the agency of people to change their conditions by rationally working out new ones.

Either way, it is certain that William Godwin, Ricardian socialists, the cooperativist tradition, Proudhon and the mutualists, Warren and the American individualist anarchists, John Stuart Mill, Herbert Spencer, anarcho-syndicalists, and many other socialists fit very easily into the radical tradition inherited from the Radical Enlightenment thinkers (with radical liberals such as Sismondi, as well, one of the early formulators of surplus theory). It was a socialist freethinker in the cooperative movement, George Holyoake, for instance, who coined the term secularism, so dear to students of Radical Enlightenment like Jonathan Israel. Many of these thinkers believed that working class self-education was fundamental to changes being made in society, anarchists like Warren and Proudhon not being exempt from wishing to universalize a sort of radical, moral puritanism, gained by way of self-education.

And whether Marxists consider themselves to be Enlighteners or not, classical Marxism—the Old Left— is decidedly modern, with Marx having spoken of his philosophy in terms of “scientific” socialism. This claim to be scientific subjects Marxism, Radical Enlightened or not, to the critiques of the postmodernists, along with the libertarian socialists. Some classical Marxists, however, have already identified themselves as part of Radical Enlightenment and in opposition to postmodernism.

Classical Marxism aside, and getting back to our main point of discussion, many postmodernists, but especially those following the neo-Marxists of the Frankfurt School, relate concerns connecting their identity-politics with modernity, citing the oppression of people of color, women, and sexual minorities in modern societies. Postmodernism, an extension of the Radical Counter-Enlightenment, would set about critiquing modernism in efforts to go “beyond” the Enlightenment, and even “beyond” modernism.

But defenders of Radical Enlightenment, like Israel, suggest that postmodernist criticisms do not apply as easily to Radical Enlightenment participants, as to those of the more aristocratic-minded Moderate Enlightenment, which had had a decided role in giving direction to our modern societies. In other words, defenders of the Radical Enlightenment argue that modernity, as inherited from the Moderate Enlightenment, is not the entire picture of Enlightenment. There is an Enlightenment that is egalitarian, abolitionist, feminist, sexually-tolerant, and democratic, too. That was the Radical Enlightenment, which Israel also calls the “Democratic Enlightenment.” This Radical Enlightenment is not the one that gave rise to oligarchy, allowed for slavery, and produced corporatism, but something different. It gave rise to modernism.

What is the “modernism” that postmodernism wants to move beyond? Well, it includes the thought of thinkers such as Nicholas of Cusa, Spinoza, and those of the Enlightenment, but perhaps especially those to come after and to affirm the Enlightenment from within, such as Pierre Proudhon or his friend, the first modernist artist, a realist painter, Gustave Courbet. Within the Catholic Church, modernism is understood to take the form of distributism, closely related to the mutualism of Pierre Proudhon, as established by Pope Leo XIII’s social teachings. The American individualist anarchist, Josiah Warren, had established a community that he had decided to call “Modern Times,” and Franciso Ferrer, a Spanish anarchist without adjectives, had founded egalitarian, anarchist schools that would be called “Modern Schools.” Altogether, modernism was about affirming Enlightenment values centered upon reason, but including sentiments of freedom and equality as outcomes of rational consideration. Perhaps the most pertinent examples of modernism are pantheism and mutualism.

While not an ideology, per se, postmodernism has thrust onto the world a certain attitude toward moderns and modernists that might be considered contemptful. Modernists are considered by postmodernists to be outright racist and sexist Otherers and objectifying colonizers. And anyone who defends Enlightenment values, such as the freedom of speech for someone whom one otherwise openly disagrees with, is liable to be identified as part of the “privileged” “class” of “hate speakers” and their defenders; that is, as a white, male assault on the postmodern notion of “intersectionality,” established upon “standpoint epistemology” that privileges people deemed “officially oppressed” (as some sociologists have called it). In some respects, Radical Enlightenment is the defense of radical values such as freedom of speech from absolutist subjectivism like that which is today coming out of postmodern sensibilities (which had already existed in the Middle Ages, as noblesse oblige). If the Moderate Enlightenment brought us the problem of objectification, as postmodernists are quick to point out, postmodernism ushered subjectification in its place. But Radical Enlighteners had already attempted to reckon in, and so balance out, both the objective and the subjective.

Postmodern philosophy, in stressing subjectivity, has tended to focus on particular identity-experiences— arising from attempted universal social structures—, culminating in neo-Marxism and the New Left’s embrace of Left-wing identarianism, or Left-wing fascism. From postmodernism and neo-Marxism, and even by neo-anarchists such as Murray Bookchin (who had claimed to be opposed to postmodernism, and for the “Left that Was” and even Radical Enlightenment), concepts such as “workerism” were devised to critique anarcho-syndicalism and other class-oriented remnants of the Radical Enlightenment, modernist, Old Left. Neo-Marxists promoted identity-politics and Bookchin, like a neo-Marxist autonomist, promoted slacking off at work instead of organizing unions. Rather than organizing along class lines, planning and plotting strikes and boycotts in the most effective manner, workers were taught by postmodernists, and postmoderns like Bookchin, to treat their experiences subjectively, according to their own situation. Situationists, autonomists, and municipalists had all shifted their efforts toward something other than organized labor, toward a strange sort of spontaneous autonomism. At the same time, Bookchin criticized individualism and lifestyle politics, preferring, like a medievalist, to orient his vision in a communalism of city-life.

Changes in society during and since the World Wars, such as McCarthyism, had already dealt blows to labor, which had also faced loss of membership for other reasons, such as the Taft-Hartley Act. Mutual aid associations, the cornerstone of working class access to medical care and insurance, were shut out by the American Medical Association and its lobbying for power. Belonging to such working class staples as the Elks Lodge or the Order of the Moose became associated with white suburbia, rather than as means for the working class to arrange their own insurance and senior assistance, a form of bottom-up socialism. Cooperatives, after seeing some loss of interest, did see some revived growth, but, unless infrastructural and subsidized like rural electric cooperatives, tended to decline soon after being established. Mutual insurance and credit unions were further demutualized in the neo-liberalizing 80s. The New Left-wing counterculture would be increasingly oriented around single-issue causes, parochial identarianism, and lifestylism instead, and on building a New Class of white Bobos to inherit the power centers of society. And this is what happened. This New Class currently operates as the techno-managerial, professional class, supported by financial elites.

It must be understood that, before this big shift toward a New Left, the Old Right had actually started to find figureheads such as Frank Chodorov. Chodorov was a Georgist, just like Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.; Henry George had been a friend to organized labor, and King himself seems to have had some class consciousness about him. So, if the Old Right was starting to take on views that would later be friendly to community and labor organizers like Dr. King, one can see why class consciousness might be something that financial and industrial elites would want to steer the population away from, and why they would start to bestow subsidiary powers to a new, postmodern intelligentsia.

Postmodernism was not the only, but was a major cohort— along with the communalism of postmoderns like Bookchin— in the shift away from class consciousness and organized labor. This worked by changing the attitude of the rank-and-file toward the unionizer and organization more generally, as by considering these efforts of white colonization, or as wasting their time. The New Left would have such a focus on identity politics that libertarian capitalist—economically Right— feminists became welcomed participants. The famed creator of so-called “anarcho”-capitalism, Murray Rothbard, would himself participate in the New Left… What ever happened to class consciousness?

Universities are now filled with lessons in postmodern philosophy. It is to the point that it has become state-sanctioned education. In response to postmodern indoctrination by the American managerial classes, Americans from all across the political spectrum are starting to push back against postmodernism, from anarcho-syndicalists, to paleo-conservatives (the Old Right), to Old Left Marxists, to alt-Right populists. It is unfortunate, but also true, that neo-reactionary postmodernism gave rise to Trump, a reaction to New Left postmodern hegemony. Trump appealed to paleo-conservative business interests and alt-Right populism in his push against New Left political correctness, capturing the interest of much of the now marginalized white working class, enabling white supremacy while it hadn’t gotten such a strong spotlight in decades.

The American populace is divided, and because that populace is divided so too is its working class. Black and brown workers, yellow workers, and white workers are caught up in various divisive schemes. But instead of just racism dividing the workers, it is also anti-racist and anti-sexist efforts, which have assumed the worst of all white men, a good portion of the working class. White men, effectively told to shut up by the Newest Left sponsored by neo-liberalism, have lost interest in Leftism, but they haven’t stopped being exploited by capitalism, and they are well-aware of that. But many of them have turned to culturally Right-wing socialism as an alternative to New Leftist intersectionality, representing a standpoint epistemology that favors the achievements of their own ancestors.

When Ben Fletcher, the famous black IWW organizer, had found that racism was used to divide him from his fellow white dock workers, he started actively working to break down those divisions. In a time when racial bigotry was still widely accepted, he became a labor organizer and the leader to his fellow workers, black and white men alike. As such, the longshoreman’s union he organized became a powerful force against the divide and conquer strategy of the bosses. Interracial unity was a powerful tool to fight capitalism. Anarchist organizers in Africa echo the sentiments of Ben Fletcher, when they point out how race is also being used to divide white and black Africans of the working class.

If modern socialism was a force of interracial unity that got the bosses off of our back, while postmodernism is a Counter-Enlightenment effort to destabilize the working class and create welfare dependencies in place of mutual cooperation and socialism from below, then it’s clear that there is a remodern Left, a remnant of the Radical Enlightenment perhaps, as well as an old, anti-neo-liberal, paleoconservative Right, that might find some strange synergy in pushing back against postmodernism and neoliberalism. Common areas of interest might include Georgism, elimination of welfare traps, return of local manufacturing, full employment, rights of small farms and businesses, the rights of labor unions, fraternalism, and more. Much of these common areas of interest concur with working class and small business interests of self-determination that come into conflict with the nanny-welfare state or with neo-liberalism and globalization.

If we look back far enough into history, we find that there was a time in which the libertarian capitalist, Friedrich Bastiat, sat on the Left with all of the other republicans, popular socialists like Proudhon included. Perhaps there are estranged friends to sit with once again, in our struggle against the New Left totalitarianism. What would separate such an effort from the New Left affinity with Murray Rothbard, is that the New Left was focused on identity, while the remodern Left would be focused on class, perhaps together able to be categorized as “producerists.” Anyone participating from the “Right” (individualists, classical liberals, classical republicans) would need to justify their participation by showing some effort toward the improvement of the conditions of the American working class. The main hurdle will be labeling by the New Left as “racists,” “neo-reactionaries,” and “brownshirts.” The efforts of organizing against Left-wing identarianism will be parochially considered the reinforcement of cultural hegemony, white male normativity, and structural racism by the postmodern New Left.

The postmodern New Left has been on the rise since after the World Wars, substituting identarianism for class consciousness. Anyone who disagrees with the New Left hegemony is labeled a bigot and is cancelled, deplatformed, and never heard from again. Yet, if the Left is again to be a powerful force of class collaboration, a remodern Left must be willing to endure these semantics, and work with estranged friends to re-establish class consciousness, and to re-organize labor. Socialists and classical liberals can find common ground in the values of the Radical Enlightenment, the likes of which postmodern critiques have fallen short of addressing. Even those class conscious socialists who do not subscribe to Enlightenment rationality fall into the category of moderns, and so have a stake in dismantling postmodernity. Advocates of organized labor, which has been diminishing in the time of postmodernity, must reject the primacy of the forces that have been responsible for its decline, and rework the insights and display the courage of Ben Fletcher for a new era.

Selected Bibliography

A People’s History of Science: Miners, Midwives, and “Low Mechanicks,” Clifford D. Conner

A Revolution of the Mind: Radical Enlightenment and the Intellectual Origins of Modern Democracy, Jonathan Israel

African Anarchism: The History of a Movement, Sam Mbah and I.E. Igariwey

AP Art History: Realism, Fleet

Art Legends Minute: Salon de Refuses, Don T.

Berlin on Joseph de Maistre and Fascism, Dr. Laurie Johnson

Beyond Enlightenment: Occultism and Politics in Modern France, David Allen Harvey

Bobos in Paradise, David Brooks

Can We Learn from the Counter-Enlightenment? Isaiah Berlin did, Dr. Laurie Johnson

“Commentary of the Isms of Modern Art,” Richard Bledsoe

Dark Star Rising: Magick and Power in the Age of Trump, Gary Lachman

From Mutual Aid to the Welfare State: Fraternal Societies and Social Services, David T. Beito

Gustave Courbet: Understanding Modern Art Part 3, The Arts Hole

Heretics, Radicals, & MUTUALISM, William Schnack

Introducing Derrida, Jeff Collins and Bill Mayblin

Introducing Foucault, Chris Horrocks and Zoran Jevtic

Introducing Postmodernism, Richard Appignanesi and Chris Garratt

Introducing Romanticism, Duncan Heath and Judy Boreham

“Modernism,” Christopher L.C.E. Witcomb

Nicholas of Cusa, Prof. David Albertson

Occult Features of Anarchism, with Attention to the Conspiracy of Kings and the Conspiracy of Peoples, Erica Legalisse

Politics and the Occult: The Left, the Right, and the Radically Unseen, Gary Lachman

Postmodernism for Beginners, Jim Powell

Post-Scarcity Anarchism, Murray Bookchin

Post-Scarcity Anarchism, Murray Bookchin

Radical Enlightenment: Philosophy and the Making of Modernity, Jonathan Israel

Republican Learning: John Toland and the Crisis of Christian Culture, Justin Champion

Richard Wolin, What is Counter-Enlightenment, Soc Pol

Rousseau and the Counter-Enlightenment, Brian Underwood

The Essential Federalist and Anti-Federalist Papers, David Wootton

“The Left that Was: A Personal Reflection,” Murray Bookchin

The Origins of Freemasonry: Facts & Fictions, Margaret C. Jacob

The Pursuit of the Millenium: Revolutionary Millenarians and Mystical Anarchists of the Middle Ages, Norman Cohn

The Radical Enlightenment: Freemasons, Pantheists and Republicans, Margaret C. Jacob

The Revolt of the Elites and the Betrayal of Democracy, David Brooks

The Scientific Revolution: A Brief History with Documents, Margaret C. Jacob

Wikipedia articles on the Enlightenment, Counter-Enlightenment, Modernism, Modernity, Postmodernism, Postmodernity, Romanticism, Symbolism, Decadence, etc.

Wobblies: A Graphic History of the Industrial Workers of the World, Paul Buhle and Nichole Schulman


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