The end of deception in modern politics : Spinoza and Rousseau
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“Enlightenment,” declared Kant, “is man’s emergence from his self-incurred immaturity,” an immaturity maintained by all those “dogmas and formulas, those mechanical instruments for rational use (or rather misuse) of his natural endowments.” As a result, more and more self styled philosophic critics of the Enlightenment have accused Kant and his less impressive ilk of perpetuating a grand, even unconscious, farce: their naïve vision of liberation was but a magnificent ruse for compelling obedience to a new host of dogmas and gods. The power and influence of this sort of critique has provoked a wide ranging and lively reappraisal of the degree to which the philosophers of the Enlightenment were founders of a regime rooted ultimately in deception or emancipation. In order to enter and evaluate that debate, I take up the views of Spinoza, a founder of the Enlightenment, and one of its greatest critics, Rousseau. According to both Spinoza and Rousseau, all societies, no matter how Enlightened, have to perpetuate deceptions in order to make political rule both legitimate and acceptable to the ruled: humans are not naturally meant for political rule or political life. They both agree that the liberation of talents is at the core of the Enlightenment’s approach to achieving this kind of legitimacy. But while the liberation of talents is considered an unequivocal good by Spinoza even if that liberation must have as its basis several fundamental deceptions, I argue on behalf of Rousseau that the Enlightenment perpetuates a deep moral corruption of man by stimulating within him the desire for an impossible celebrity that could never truly or authentically satisfy his deepest needs.