Considering the Tea Party’s candidates and leader’s (deliberate?) misconceptions about our founding fathers and what they truly believed, I am writing this in the hopes that some of them may read this.
Today, we are presented such distortions about everything from religion to government and politics and the beliefs of our founding fathers, if a film were made concerning these aspects, it would have to be directed and written by Federico Fellini.

The key figures in the founding of our nation, Jefferson, Franklin, Adams (John, not John Quincy) were products of the Enlightenment, or Age Of Reason. Their ideas for founding a new and democratic government in “the new world,” came predominantly from this period. They saw firsthand the abuses on society resulting directly from aristocracies and monarchies.
The Enlightenment began with a group of intellectuals intent on using reason and logic to reform society and advance knowledge. These intellectuals came from several different countries including France, England, Scotland and Germany, Italy and Spain. It began around the mid-seventeenth century up until the beginning of the eighteenth century. Some of the greatest thinkers of the time dedicated their lives, intent on improving a society as a whole and the lives of individuals. It promoted intellectual interchange and opposed intolerance and abuses by the church and state.

The center of the enlightenment was in France where philosophical discussion took place in “salons,” or precursors of the modern day coffee houses and sidewalk cafes. These salons were used to elude the notice of the authorities. Much of these philosophies were counter to the existing order of the day. Much of Enlightenment ideology was considered heretical and subversive.

Some of the great contributors were some of the world’s greatest philosophers such as Spinoza, John Locke and Sir Isaac Newton, Voltaire and Montesquieu and Immanuel Kant. Their writings culminated in the great Encyclopédie (1751–72) edited by Denis Diderot. Some 25,000 copies of the 35 volume set were sold, half of them outside France. The political ideals influenced the American Declaration of Independence, the United States Bill of Rights, the French Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen, and the Polish–Lithuanian Constitution of May 3, 1791.


According to Kant,The Enlightenment was “Mankind’s final coming of age, the emancipation of the human consciousness from an immature state of ignorance and error.”  The thesis of the liberation of the human mind from the dogmatic state of ignorance that was prevalent at the time is the epitome of what the age of enlightenment was trying to capture. In his famous essay “What is Enlightenment?” (1784),  he described it simply as freedom to use one’s own intelligence. More broadly, the Enlightenment period is marked by increasing empiricism, scientific rigor, and reductionism, along with increasing questioning of religious orthodoxy.


For the last decade or so, Republicans have been using fear as the key ingredient for governing.  And with the advent of the Tea Party (a not so subtle and erroneous  reference to The Boston Tea Party) the fear has spread further and wider. Although the GOP/TP leaders are reportedly collage graduates, they behave as thought they never heard of The Enlightenment or read any of the philosophy of it’s main contributors such as Spinoza and especially John Locke, since he was probably the greatest influence on our founders.


So the question that hounds me is how to get the horse to drink after it’s been lead to the trough? How can we initiate a new Enlightenment, a new Age of Reason? Or maybe the Enlightenment never got old, but simply discarded as being inconvenient to today’s atmosphere of greed, the lust for power and moral domination?

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An excerpt of an essay by Henry A. Giroux…

The promise of democracy and economic justice and social rights necessitates a new language of public purpose, rationality and formative culture embedded in democratic public values, collective struggles and a social movement willing to fight for a new kind of politics, democracy and future.

We don’t need privatized utopias, but models of a democratic society and social state in which public values and democratic interests are expressed in a range of economic, political and cultural institutions.

The world needs a new army of critical and passionate messengers alert to the need for progressive social solidarities, social agency, collective action and a refusal to stare hopelessly at the rotting corpsȇs, gated communities and the walking dȇad that turn the promise of democracy into an advertisement for global destruction.

Hopefully, the myriad mistakes we Americans have made over the years can serve as a cautionary tale to those brave souls who, as we speak, are literally laying their lives on the line for what they believe in…. values that, alas, we seem to have forgotten.

As we move into the second Gilded Age with its reproduction of massive inequalities and a life of privilege for the few, we are confronted with a level of suffering that is unprecedented. While the statistics cannot portray the level of existential pain caused by the inequalities that produce so much unnecessary suffering, they do provide snapshots of those structural forces and institutions that increasingly make life difficult for millions of Americans under a ruthless form of economic Darwinism.

Such statistics also bring home the importance of going beyond just criticizing in the abstract the values and rationality that drive neoliberal / neoconservative market fundamentalism.

As Slavoj Zizek has rightly pointed out, when it comes to this crisis, the social and economic problem that must be addressed forcefully is the growing gap and antagonism between the included and the excluded.

And this gap must not only be made visible, but it must be confronted with pedagogical care around the question of whether democracy is still an appropriate name for the United States’ political system given the gulf, if not chasm, between the rich and the poor, the privileged and the underprivileged.


The catastrophe that marks the current historical moment no longer wraps itself in the mantle of progress. On the contrary, the storm brewing in the United States and other parts of the globe represent a kind of anti-progress, a refusal to think about, invest in or address the shared responsibilities that come with some vision of the future and “the good society”.

The historical forces producing this storm and its accompanying catastrophes are incorrigibly blind to the emergence of a “pulverized, atomized society spattered with the debris of broken inter-human bonds and their eminently frail and breakable substitutes.”

This is best exemplified in the now infamous and cruel tenets of a harsh neoliberalism stated without apology by Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher in the 1980s in their mutual insistence that “government is the problem not the solution” and “there is no such thing as society.”

Composing meaningful visions of the good society that benefit citizens in general, rather than a select few, are now viewed as “a waste of time, since they are irrelevant to individual happiness and a successful life.”

Bounded by the narrow, private worlds that make up their everyday lives, the American public has surrendered to the atomizing consequences of a market-driven morality and society and has replaced the call for communal responsibility with the call to further one’s own interests at all costs.

The social and its most significant embodiment – the welfare state – is now viewed as an albatross around the neck of neoliberal notions of accumulation (as opposed to “progress”). Society has become hyper-individualized, trapped by the lure of material success and stripped of any obligation to the other.

Zygmunt Bauman argues that in such a society. Individual men and women are now expected, pushed and pulled to seek and find individual solutions to socially created problems and implement those solutions individually using individual skills and resources. This ideology proclaims the futility (indeed, counter productivity) of solidarity: of joining forces and subordinating individual actions to a “common cause”.

It derides the principle of communal responsibility for the well-being of its members, decrying it as a recipe for a debilitating “nanny state” and warning against care for the other leading to an abhorrent and detestable “dependency”.



KT, you ever read any Dorothy Parker? One of her lines has always stuck in my head, “That would be a good thing for them to cut on my tombstone: Wherever she went, including HERE, it was against her better judgement.”


“Mankind’s final coming of age, the emancipation of the human consciousness from an immature state of ignorance and error.”

Sorry, Kant. Anybody declaring something the final anything is almost always completely wrong.


The young wish to be older and the old wish to be younger. Man never comes of age at the right time it appears.


Caru, I think we’ve probably seen the final Harry Potter film.

Don’t hold me to that though 🙂


KT, I don’t know if you can get that horse to drink from the trough after it has drank too much koolaid. It is amazing to me how young some of those Founding Fathers were at the time. (and I am not referring to John Quincy Adams, the Founding Kid.) Good article, KT. Wouldn’t it be interesting to hear TJ, JA, BF and others thoughts on the issues we face today and how we handle or don’t handle them.

Orcas Island
Orcas Island

Excellent article Kilgore. Kilgore, once a wanderer too.
“Not all those who wander are lost”. J.R.R. Tolkien.


I’m not sure there can be an enlightenment while there is such “enBLINDenment” going on.
To paraphrase JL,

Keep you doped with your Ipods, and sports and TV
and you think you’re so sexy and classy and free
but you’re still fucking peasants as far as I can see


wts, Young people use movies, ipods, ipads and phones to occupy their minds. But are they avoiding thought? I’m not so sure. All my nieces and nephews are pretty much adults.. 😉
They don’t verbalize much about their big decisions, (perhaps we did/do to a fault?) but in quiet times, and in one on one conversation, I find they have thoughtfully laid out plans, and solid decisions.
I think the picture may not be as gloomy as we think.
Is this a case of using a different approach, but achieving the same results?


Indeed, and you had your color TV and records and Hi-Fi stereos and all those fangled things like Technicolor. Why can’t we go back to only black and white before those colors corrupted the youth? And heck, let’s go back to phonographic cylinders!

Fucking disasters y’all turned out to be. 😉


Khirad, your idea of a simpler and more enlightened existence is
living in a yert, with a greenhouse full of ‘plants’ and your computer!!!
..and remember- to make that music play on cylinders, you have to crank the machine!!!! Seems like more work than you would do, just for music. 😉
Oh wait.. I forgot Bollywood! You don’t need a music machine!!

‘Fucking disasters y’all turned out to be. ‘
This from someone who wears a skirt and plays bagpipes!???



And what’s with women in trousers?

George Will really said it best though. It’s the fault of denim.

And I don’t play the pipes. Those are fancy new contraptions compared to the drum. Why not just play the flute? The double reed is just so decadent.


Women in trousers???? Was Kate Hepburn sexy??
..and Then there Are Men in skirts….

George Will makes dinosaurs look current.
And sure- all women make SO much money they can dress like Grace Kelly, who I might add has been dead for many years- so how can she be a role model from the grave???
HA! So you wear a skirt and play a drum??????
WOW! My admiration knows no bounds. 😉


jkk, I mentioned Ipods in order to update the John Lennon lyrics, but I don’t feel that young people are any more “blinded” by media than those who are older than them. Although I DO find it annoying that young people cut their videos before I have a chance to ogle female derrieres, beyond that I don’t feel that their addiction to mass entertainment is any different than anyone else’s. My main point is that Distraction is an insidious form of controlling populations, and that the current glut of content may make it harder, rather than easier, for a new age of enlightenment to occur.

As the Zen Buddhists say, you have to “empty the cup” in order for enlightenment to take place, but these days peoples’ cups are continually being poured to overflowing by the ubiquitousness of media.

Buddy McCue

KT – I think that the conservatives on the Far Right disagree with Enlightenment ideals in a very fundamental way. I think that the better they were made to understand them, the more they would despise the concepts.

I don’t claim to be any kind of scholar, but to me, the basic notion to take away was this: the real world is a thing that lies outside of ourselves, and it is discernible to anyone who can see and understand evidence, and has the capacity of reason.

And THAT notion is counter to conservative thought as I’ve always known it.

I was raised in the working class South. It’s very much a pre-Enlightenment world. When I first read about these ideas that led to the founding of this country, I was kind of shocked. When I first read “The Declaration of the Rights of Man” I was shocked.

In the social structure I’ve always known, truth comes from Authority. If you want to know what the truth is, you find the man in charge, and you ask him. You can hear this if you listen to the Rush Limbaugh show. It often seems as though callers call in to confirm that they’re seeing the world the “right” way. It’s important to all “be on the same page,” so to speak.

How true an idea is depends on the status of the person who speaks that idea. An idea itself has no intrinsic value, and cannot be judged on its own merits. That is a pre-Enlightenment idea that is larger than the South; it is pervasive in corporate culture. In any large company, the worth of an idea wholly depends on one’s place on the “totem pole” within that company. The boss’s nephew is always going to have more valuable ideas than the mailroom employee, for example.

How can Enlightenment ideals have any meaning in today’s world, when those ideals are so contrary to the worldview of so many people?


Buddy – that is what we in the progressive faith community struggle with daily. There is a split in this broad Christian (and Jewish and Muslim) world view that is going to become the historical equivalent of the Reformation and the Great Schism.

Those who have come from a social justice tradition, wherever that lay – Catholic, Jewish, Protestant, Muslim – are great believers in reason. We follow the teachings, put little primacy on Authority and much less on salvation especially as a “sheep v. goats” delineation of who’s in, who’s out. We think globally, universally, with fervent respect for ideas and science and the capacity to make the world a better place than we found it.

On the other side are the fundamentalists – also Catholic, Jewish, Protestant, Muslim – who are grounded in rules, in rejection of liberal thought, of teachings, of works – for them the capacity to be “saved” or one of the elect is essential. Then and ONLY then can you rise above others and rule the world with your “God inspired” views. INEQUALITY and lack of freedom are keystones – there is an elect or elite, everyone else is subordinate, so the Bill of Rights becomes relative. Rights are NOT for everyone. Science and social justice and philosophy are tools of the Devil sent to taunt us and pull us away from our serfdom. Faith is all that matters – works are irrelevant. Secular concerns – especially the Constitution – must be bent to the will of God as we see him.

So you have, broadly speaking, a powerful schism. Those who believe in faith and their own superiority to run things vs. those who see the teachings on equality and freedom the fundaments of liberation and universal goodness. The latter can and did and does co-exist with liberal political ideas. The former cannot.

So far we’ve avoided Holy War. So far we’ve avoided witchburnings (unless you think, as do I, that the murders of GLBT and pro-choice people, etc. are manifestations of that.) So far we’ve avoided pogroms or ethnic cleansing (unless you look at Northern Ireland, Serbia, and sectoral blow ups in the Mide-East)…

But for how long?

I do not care if people in Estill Springs, TN handle snakes to “prove” their holiness. I don’t care if they homeschool their kids (until the kids object). I don’t care if they follow their precepts and teach the world is flat and only 6000 years old.

I DO care that they want US to stop teaching our kids what is commonly believed, to stop running our institutions for the benefit of everyone, and I want them to stop taking OVER the mechanisms of state and society to impose their views on the rest of us.

I want to halt the young woman Dominionist Christian who once told me that she could not WAIT for the separation of church and state to end and that, “our founding fathers got it a little bit wrong. We are going to make it right”.

Some of the smartest and wisest people created this Great Experiment called the United States, and it is critical that their work and approach NOT be jettisoned to individual particularistic views, especially not religious ones. What IS “American Exceptionalism” is NOT the raping and pillaging of the land for building wealth and empire. It is NOT the imposition of a single religious view. It is NOT white supremacy. It is NOT autocratic leadership.

It IS the capacity for everyone, anyone, to live and breathe free without coercion, to follow one’s own lights, to build a strong and self sufficient way of life to the best of his or her capacity trusting that one’s government is there in times of need. It is our diversity of belief and race and ethnicity. That was the promise of the Declaration and the Constitution, and we need to take that back!

Buddy McCue

choicelady – Thank you for talking about the progressive faith community. Many conservatives can’t even imagine that there is such a thing.

Sometimes on the Huffington Post, a conservative would express surprise whenever any progressive mentioned faith… sometimes it was feigned surprise, but often it seemed to be real. To many on the Right, we liberals are all a bunch of “Godless heathens.” Of course, that isn’t true.

Most of the religious people around where I grew up were Baptists, which has a lot in common with Calvinism. One of the tenets of the Calvinist faith is that personal wealth is a sign of the blessing of God.

THAT idea translates directly into modern conservative thought. If you see a person who is rich and successful, they must have been blessed. They “must have been living right,” as they say around here. Bottom line: they DESERVE it.

The same is thought to be true of the poor. If they are suffering, then they must also deserve their fate. Everything is earned. Everyone gets what they deserve.

I can see the comfort in such a belief. The opposite idea: that we live in a chaotic world, an unfair world where evil often flourishes and the good often die young… that’s a nightmarish world. That’s the worst thing anybody can think of. No WONDER so many people refuse to believe in that! Even people who are not religious, but instead consider themselves “spiritual,” will say “What goes around comes around,” or they will speak of karma.

The way I see it, the world is a big and complicated place. Sometimes people get what they deserve, and sometimes they don’t. The truth is rarely pure and never simple. I forget who said that, but it rings true to me.


KT, another thing that I’d wish the Tea Partiers could comprehend is what AD and I were discussing on a previous article, that their claim that The Founders believed in Americans rising up in violent revolution if unhappy with their government…is just plain false and taken completely out of context. Here’s a section from our recent discussion:

[Jefferson’s quotes including, “The tree of liberty must be refreshed from time to time with the blood of patriots and tyrants.”] are about Shay’s Rebellion and were made while he was Ambassador to France, arguably done so to reassure the French and Americans that American Democracy was not currently collapsing.

Meanwhile, George Washington had the opposite reaction to Shay’s Rebellion and responded by urging greater strength of the federal government.

None of the other Founders concurred with Jefferson so out of the seven key Founders, only one expressed such a thing. Just on the numbers, if 6 out of 7 Founders do not support a sentiment, it is absolutely false to say that “The Founders” supported that.

The Tea Partiers are taking these quotes completely out of context. As Wikipedia quotes, “Shays’ Rebellion produced fears that the Revolution’s democratic impulse had gotten out of hand.”

Shay’s Rebellion was NOT a matter involving the federal government of the US, in fact, it was the lack of response by the federal government that dismayed and worried Washington and many Americans.

This may upset the Tea Partiers on their States Rights BS but it was the Governor of MA, John Hancock, who supported the wealthy people of the state, who were oppressing the citizens of the state by confiscating their property and money to repay foreign lenders to the Revolution (sound familiar?) and they formed a militia to fight back.

So again, these quotes from Jefferson are not related to our federal government, were likely offered as a way to assuage public fears and prevent panic at the time that American democracy was frail and unraveling and was not the sentiment of the Founders about Shay’s Rebellion, just Jefferson’s so 6 out of 7 of the key Founders did not even agree with it applied to a state.

So, the Founders NEVER advocated that people should revolt against their federal government. Put that in your teapots and brew it!


What a coincidence. I’m partially dealing with aspects of the Enlightenment in a post I’m working on as well. An interesting and exciting historical period.

It really was mankind’s “coming of age” after the Renaissance. Never before had scientific thought strayed so far from familiar religious doctrine. It’s where many of the scientific theories we know today really began to take shape.

And I too feel it’s influence is lost in time. Maybe we look around at our modern, automated world and think we are still in the midst of some enlightenment period. Perhaps many think we know what we need to know already.

It’s also about how we inform our citizens. How many think U.S. textbooks are adequate? I sometimes think history is regional. Every place has a different version. You eve read a book on the Founders printed outside this country? You totally get a different story. I believe in the old saying, “The winners write the history books”.

Rome referred to the conquered as “savages” and “barbarians”. That was the belief for centuries. Today we know they were just as culturally advanced as Rome. They just didn’t have the money to build decadent monuments to their awesomeness.

The European world pats itself on the back for it’s “great discoveries” during the Renaissance and Enlightenment, but they were treading familiar ground already laid out by Arab and Chinese thinkers. It was the Arab world that brought the West out of the Dark Ages. Shared their profound scientific advancements with them.

And that’s America to me. Born on third base thinking we hit a triple. A country dominated by half truths masquerading as fact. If we’re3 doing it right, then the Enlightenment Era never ended. We will still question and still demand proof.

The irony of all of it is that most of our great thinkers from the past were wealthy men. Or at the very least lived quite comfortably. They were the only ones with the money and free time to pursue these things. That was another great thing about the Enlightenment. it began to elevate a middle class. To prioritize education for all. To create the circumstances that would allow a future patent clerk from Zurich to become the most famous scientist in history.

There will be a new age of Enlightenment. Don’t know exactly when, but it’s coming. Information has never been more available and more and more households are getting access to it everyday. We have to learn to fail before we can learn to succeed though. The people won’t fail though. They never have. Or we wouldn’t be here.


“born on third base thinking we hit a triple” – that is so accurate, AD. That’s the attitude of the Limbaughs, Coulters, Palins and Bachmanns of this world.



I think partially the Tea Party(some version not the TPPatriots) received a shock to their system back in 2008. Like all of us, they expected to have a long healthy body/financial retirement. For so many those dreams crashed in 2008. How many have had to go back to work, put off their retirement etc? How many lost their jobs? Lost their savings?

Perhaps it is just a luck of the draw that Obama became President at this time. Not necessarily good luck either. The one thing that is missing from these TP rants is their responsibility for what happened and their party’s responsibility. That is what makes them so not credible to a lot of us. Had they shouldered some of the responsibility and worked with the president, their credibility would be intact.

As far as enlightenment goes, any group that uses the tenents of the John Birch Society(and even the halfway decent TPs do) is not going to be enlightened even if you spoon feed it to them.


I think of the Tea Party as more Lynchian. It’s surreal in a creepy way and I’m always thinking: WTF?

Of course with the baggers, it’s not in a good way. And at least I can shut off a movie, whereas they’ve constructed their own elaborate parallel reality here – and can’t distinguish fact from fiction.

Oh, and thank the Scottish Enlightenment for secular liberalism. 🙂


‘So the question that hounds me is how to get the horse to drink after it’s been lead to the trough? How can we initiate a new Enlightenment, a new Age of Reason? Or maybe the Enlightenment never got old, but simply discarded as being inconvenient to today’s atmosphere of greed, the lust for power and moral domination?’
KT, is this not a generational question? Every decade, do we not have a new group of people who look back and pose the same question?
Personally, I would like to see Caru comment on this post, because I’m prone to thinking that young people think they can improve the system; do try- and occasionally succeed.
My frustration has always, and continues to be, the power structure. There should be NO appointments for life, no unlimited terms, no electoral college; because at that point we are locked into a certain way of thinking for far too long. Removing that complacency might translate into movement, action and fresh ideas.