Utopia Made Possible Through Better Education?
The Enlightenment didn't just impact the world of ideas. Its influence was also profoundly felt in the arena of politics. Here in America, for example, founding fathers like Benjamin Franklin, Thomas Paine and Thomas Jefferson were all deeply influenced by Enlightenment ideals. Some have even suggested that the American Revolution was made possible by a strange coalition of people committed to Enlightenment principles and people committed to the authority of the Bible (between deists and Christians). From this alliance came the idea that "nature and nature's God" served as the transcendent source of the rights of people. France, on the other hand, had no such alliance. They had no real Christian influence -- only people committed to the Enlightenment armed with Dr. Guillotine's invention. Nature alone (with no help from nature's God) would dictate what was permissible. The resulting French Revolution was a reign of terror -- instead of freedom, the Enlightenment brought greater tryanny than the nation experienced under Louis XVI.
The Enlightenment really believed that it was possible to create a utopian society here on earth. But, if there is no transcendent source of morality, pragmatism will always lead us further away from the way things are supposed to be.
Many of the ideals of the Enlightenment are still with us. The other night Jill and I were watching an old episode of The West Wing, and President Bartlet said, "We know that education can be the silver bullet...for crime, poverty, unemployment, drugs, hatred."
What do you think of that statement? Can we really solve all of our problems with better education?