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?