Trumping Enlightenment Values

David Brooks is one of the few conservative pundits that I can read without nausea. He actually knows something and respects those Enlightenment ideals of free and open inquiry. Here is what he has to say about Enlightenment Values:

As I see it, the lasting ideals of the Enlightenment are these:


  • Meliorism: Humans are not individually or collectively perfectible, but, through the conscientious and intelligent pursuit of human well-being we can make things better. The enemies of human happiness are what they have always been—ignorance, poverty, oppression, and injustice. We have already succeeded in eliminating some of the worst instances of these, at least in some places. The arc of history may not automatically bend towards justice, but we can make it bend that way.
  • Objectivity: Important questions are to be addressed using the most reliable and objective means of inquiry at our disposal. In other words, we practice and endorse the rigorous application of scientific and scholarly methods to arrive at truth. This means that we mistrust ideology and dogmas that dictate truth from a straitened or a priori perspective on reality. We are deeply skeptical of those who presume to speak for God or to possess esoteric knowledge.
  • Democracy: Government exists for the sake of and by the consent of the governed (Locke). All forms of autocracy, oligarchy, or absolutism are rejected as illicit and are to be opposed by any means necessary (Locke). There must be rule of law, not of human beings, and so there must be effective checks and balances to prevent hegemony by any individual, sect, or party. The rights of individuals should be explicitly stated and always vigorously defended.


Trump especially offends against the second and third of these. He is a pathological liar with no respect for science or expertise. He makes no practical distinction between objective reality and the self-serving fantasies dictated by his monstrous ego. Further, he is a would-be autocrat. Whether he actively connived with Putin to subvert the election is not established. What is clear is that he regards Putin as a kindred spirit, as someone who enjoys the autocratic privileges to which he aspires. Louis the Fourteenth said “I am France.” Donald the First says “I alone can fix things.” Scary.


About Keith Parsons