Monday, July 02, 2007
[A]t the level of perception management, the Enlightenment served exactly the same purpose as the religion that is supposed to be its mortal, defining enemy. "Believe what you like, only do not resist", was the watchword of the White House and of Downing Street. You could take your pick from crusades, democratisation or weapons of mass destruction. If you liked your drama really straightforward, you could even believe it was all about a son's righteous thirst for vengeance. Would-be enlightened intellectuals might want to look more closely at an institutional system that was able to use the Enlightenment itself as just one more theme in its campaign to sell an illegal war. It is the virtuosity of the people who brought us the invasion of Iraq, not the vaudevillian villainy of the evangelical right, surely, that should engross the attention of our paladins for truth and justice.
Faith, it is said, is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things unseen. Can the enlightened advocates of war in Iraq now deny that they were lost in the fervour of their hopes, that they were deluded as to the nature and purposes of earthly power? This need not lead us to despair of enlightenment, to imagine, as some do, that the hope of material improvement must always decay into murderous utopianism. That is a cheap kind of worldliness, the philosophical equivalent of Damien Hirst's cows in formaldehyde; at once luminously transgressive and entirely safe.