6. Transition and Modernity

The Crisis of 
The Enlightenment


Section 6.2.1

World History 
And The Eonic Effect

Civilization, Darwinism, And Theories of Evolution
4th Edition
The Book
By  John Landon





6. Transition and Modernity 
     6.1 A New Age Begins  
        6.1.1 From Reformation to Revolution  
     6.2 An Age of Enlightenment  
        6.2.1 The Crisis of The Enlightenment  
        6.2.2 Theory and Ideology: Das Adam Smith Problem
        6.2.3 Toward a New Enlightenment 
     6.3 The Great Divide 
        6.3.1 Revolutions Per Second: The Rebirth of Democracy 
        6.3.2 Econostream != Eonic Sequence          
    6.4 System Shutdown: Between System Action and Free Action  
       6.4.1 The Curse of Mideonic Empire?      
     6.5 1848: End of Eonic Sequence?  
          6.5.1 Last and First Men
          6.5.2 Theory and Ideology: Out of Revolution
     6.6 New Ages
          6.6.1 The (Eonic) Evolution of Religion  
          6.6.2 The 'Axial' New Age
          6.6.3 The Great Freedom Sutra 
          6.6.4 Schopenhauer and The Caveman Buddhas
          6.6.5 Coda: Amlothi's Mill

 7. Conclusion


    World History And The Eonic Effect: Fourth Edition

     6.2.1 The Crisis of The Enlightenment


One of confusions that beset defenders of modern secularism is the narrow definition of the Enlightenment’s scope and meaning really deriving from the later period of so-called Positivism. Our account here is about the modern transition, and the Enlightenment is clearly a climactic phase of that, but in the final analysis the modern transformation as a whole is really about the dynamics of world history, as evolution, in a play of geographical regions. Any ‘ism’, in the shotgun spectrum of ‘isms’ taken to define it is going to fail if it selects only a subset of the greater process for its definition. By 1800 the ‘eonic effect’ of the modern transition is a fait accompli, in a passage not likely to be undone by postmodern critiques of some ‘ism’ usually conceived of in terms of scientific rationality. The total effect includes not just its foundation in the new sciences, but the total spectrum of emergent entities, many of them contradictory.

Thus the German Enlightenment, and its Romantic successors, are part of the total effect, yet routinely cast aside in the triumph of technological scientism. Hegel spoke well in his attempts to think ‘dialectically’ about the contradictions forming a deeper unity in the play of opposites. But it is Kant who, with almost Frankensteinian simplicity, cast the issues in terms of the mediation of causality and freedom. His distinction of ‘theoretical’ and ‘practical’ reason is key. We see that the modern transition is about more than science. It shows the parallel synchronous emergence of liberalism (s) and the sciences.

As we examine the explosive rise of science in the modern transition we could easily have predicted that this massive change in the consciousness of civilization would suffer a crisis of its own methodology as the Newtonian world picture fails to achieve a unity of concepts applied to the totality of man and culture. This crisis is clearly the outcome we see the various postmodern attempts to expose the ‘dialectic of the Enlightenment’. What should be obvious from our comprehensive approach is that the Enlightenment is itself its own ‘Counter-Enlightenment’ and, just at the divide, starts to descant in the German Aufklärung. It is no accident that we have chosen an epistemological ground near the modern divide!

The limits to Enlightenment rationality are trumpeted now in the West also, in variants of the postmodern strategies of anti-modernists. And the already classic challenge and critique of the Enlightenment  such as the Dialectic of Enlightenment of Horkheimer and Adorno is simply par for the course, the critique of Reason. What objection could there be to a critique of Enlightenment rational discourse? It is the very dialectic invoked to prevent frozen thought. The inescapable best answer to all of this is that the ‘rise of the modern’ has nothing to do with this discussion, and is a relationship of geographical regions, and the ‘switched on’ character of modernism is really about putting the system of world history into motion out of its doldrums. By 1800, the world system has been outsmarted, whatever happens after that.

The remarkable thing is that the Enlightenment, taken as a whole, is the actual source of its own ‘Counter-Enlightenment’. There is a deeper ‘dialectic of Enlightenment’ in the broad spectrum of our modern transition, which generates multiple perspectives, including its own self-critique. As we have seen already we tend to downshift in a selection from what we think is the ‘Enlightenment’ and then suffer dialectical reversal. Our general transition has created a level of high potential in its densely packed riches, and these include already the ‘postmodern reversal’. This is a point the philosopher Hegel was grappling with. We contract definitions while our eonic mainline uses a scattershot tactic that includes its own contradictions, a figure such as Rousseau being a classic example, one tremendously difficult to pin down in his synthesis of opposites.

Counter-Enlightenments The Enlightenment gives birth to a slew of Counter-Enlightenments in multiple varieties, and while much of this is purely reactionary, the subtle ‘dialectic of the Enlightenment’ must play itself out as the expression of creative exploration. We can hardly exclude the Romantic movement from the modern transition![i]

Thus, the contradictions of modern culture move with the crisis of its correct definition. The nature of the modern transformation is itself under attack as a Burkean gloom animates the revisionist or neo-traditionalist perceptions of the long transition  from the world of antiquity, to say nothing of the movement of ‘postmodernism’. Now a new philosophic scapegoat, the Enlightenment, taken through the debunking of the idea of Progress, is found to be a deviant interlude, like an episode of rational flu in a decline from the High Middle Ages. Men have short memories, unless indeed with de Maistrean or Nietzschean consistency they renounce the hard won freedoms gained in revolutionary struggle.[ii]

There is a plaintive conservative or postmodernist attempt to root out the Enlightenment ’s key concept or idea, its Achilles heel, as if to stay the flood, and fix the kingdom for stragglers, or restore Christendom from a Mt. Sinai of conservative think tanks. A contemporary conservative phasing wishes to exploit a false antithesis of rival or exhausted forms of modernism from which to move backwards, ambitious for the resurrection of ‘traditional’ values. In reality, no traditional values of the kind aspired to by conservative thought can be found, if they are not consistent with the Code of Hammurabi, which would be the most traditional, by default, the precedent by cuneiform tablet, if we could find grounds for stopping our search in the Babylonian period.

The presumption of greater insight into the values of morality by the men of antiquity is one of the most consistently misleading claims made by champions of the past, with the frequent and related charge of nihilism cast before the wearing away of churches. The great charm of the Judeo-Christian myth-nexus betrays also the first birth of mass-hypnosis as social ideology, and the first birth of Madison Avenue mendacity. The views of the ancients are forever a force to be reckoned with, but the difficulty arises as to whether the guardians of tradition should be taken to represent them. As Peter Gay  pointed out in his study of the Enlightenment, The Rise of Paganism, the philosophes began by attempting to recover the very sources of classical tradition, moving slowly to surpass them in The Battle of the Ancients and the Moderns. He calls it the ‘recovery of nerve’, and it is ironically, as will become clear, poised against the cyclical views of time still seen in Machiavelli and the men of the Renaissance.

The social morality of the Middle Ages  was a failure, by modern standards, in a world where reading the Bible was restricted to an elite. It is worth recalling the almost psychotic social theology of indulgences and exploitation that moved Luther to cry ‘Enough’. Now the philosophes are maligned, in a strange amnesia that their protests against religious fanaticism were directed against the torture and execution of heretics, still in their own century. One of the first great acts of the modern world was the martyrdom of Tyndale, a first translator of the English Bible. The simple act of reading the Bible in the vernacular is not a traditional, but a modern value. Another of these confusing effects is the invigoration of the Abolitionist  by the tide of rationalism, to spearhead in religion ’s name what religion had so long proved unable to accomplish. The interactive effects of tradition, Reformation, and the Enlightenment in relation to economic and political transformation are here near beyond analysis.

The disorder of modern life, in the wake of the Enlightenment, is poorly diagnosed as a collapse of the conservative’s traditional values or the postmodernist’s crisis of rationality, notwithstanding the clear danger of ‘all around collapse’ into purely economic selections of the almost perfectly balanced achievements, not of the ‘enlightenment’, but of the modern transformation as a whole.

In The Moral Sense, James Q. Wilson, in a search for the elusive ‘moral sense’, examines the circumstantial evidence of our modernist relativism in the correlation of crime waves and this existentialist ‘nihilism’, and tracks down the guilty culprit, “We all live in a world shaped by the ambiguous legacy of the Enlightenment.” The fashion of cavil with the certainly ambiguous Enlightenment seems an odd symptom of the times, filled with a puzzling disillusion, roller coaster fright, genuine reckonings of the costs of progress, and hopeless efforts to seek refuge in tradition. But his basic question is apt, “There is no settled explanation for why the Enlightenment occurred in the West, and not elsewhere.” Why indeed? Why did the first scientists emerge among the Milesians? Or the Upanishadic ‘Enlightenment’ in the North India of -600? Or the first urbanization in -3000 in the city-states of Sumer? What do all these have to do with the Enlightenment? All of these periods were themselves, ‘enlightenments’, and it is ironic that the modern period should, as were these others, find itself the target of a new conservative resistance. For it joins this select list, leaving the upholders of tradition with a series of medievalist distortions. [iii]

Suddenly, we see the overall relationship of ‘enlightenments’ to the eonic sequence. We are in search of many ‘enlightenments’ inside our eonic pattern, with or without a common denominator.

 Ages of Enlightenment There would appear to have been many ‘Enlightenments’, as the correlation of the modern term with Buddhist or Upanishadic terminology might have suggested. Peter Gay, in his study of the Enlightenment begins with ‘the first enlightenment’, and prefaces his study of the eighteenth century phenomenon with one of the Greek. The modern world, and the early classical age of Greece, show a remarkable concordance in this respect, as a great period of social change generates an emergent rationalism. The rationalist complains against mysticism, but if we look closely we will see a similar complaint in the Buddha, in his ‘rational’ version of the Upanishadic. [iv]

This fact might tempt us sorely to generalize this ‘enlightenment’ to see a core philosophy in all of our great periods of change. It won’t work. But the general core is the interplay of ‘reason, consciousness, and will’ in a kind of kaleidoscope of infinite effects. This pattern of infinite effects must seek refuge in stable historical refuge, such as that of the modern Enlightenment against the great confusions of ‘will and consciousness’ created by the ancient religions.

Rousseau and The Sociobiologists One of the most persistent strains of current sociobiology is its animus toward the figure of Rousseau. Sometimes the figure of Hobbes is, on the contrary, held up as more scientific. We see the problem already. Our universal history must map out an entire transition, yet Darwinism is selecting a strain of that totality. It is nothing less than a scandal that one of the prime evolutionary agents of modern evolution in our sense, is dismissed as some kind of villainous monster.[v]

The pretense that sociobiology has transcended the problems he dealt with shows the naïvete of Darwinian scientism at its most glaring. Darwinian thinking, we see already, is selecting a narrow strain of ideas to explain evolution, even as they fall into a post-Enlightenment ‘potential well’. Our ‘eonic evolution of civilization’, unbeknownst to the Darwinist, has outsmarted this ‘downshifting’ of thought with its shotgun spectrum of multiple possibilities. And this both seeds and transcends the peculiar, and brilliant, strains of the Scottish Enlightenment in which Darwin seems to move.

Rousseau, gazing on the sorry record of civilization, noted its severe retardation, and its failure to produce equality, and the lack of any ‘class struggle’, proposed that a ‘now or never point’ had been reached. His gesture speaks for itself, and leaves him as one of the world historical figures of human civilization, beside the riffraff proposed by Hegel, such as Caesar and Napoleon.

The question of the social contract is indeterminate in our model, and the severe criticisms of this by biological theorists have to be taken seriously, of course. But we do notice that this idea shows eonic determination, by our reckoning, and so our red alert goes on, and we give it a careful second look, for we could reconstruct the idea in a more general fashion, given our eonic method. One obvious problem would seem the cogency of claims for a social contract placed in the past, as if Rousseau were presuming on the terrain ceded to the Darwinists. We should certainly grant that speculations about ‘natural man’ and some fiction of the primordial evolution of social contracts are beyond the range of our evidence, but then so is the entirely speculative philosophy of history given to us by the Darwinists, as the decision procedure to decide these questions for science. We have never observed the evolution of morality, à la the Darwin myth, although we have observed two full scale religions emerge in the Axial phase, thus at a higher evidentiary level. As we proceed toward our eonic periodization we will engage an irony, which is that we bring ‘evolution’ into our present, or recent past, and there we find, amusingly, that the period of ‘social contract creation’ is in our ‘eonic present’, i.e. in the period of the modern transition, in our to-be-defined eonic sequence! There is a general modern present, and this includes the various social contract theories, natural law theories, plus a great many much sounder themes that have persisted. But the point is simply to beware of jumping to conclusions. We base these ‘advances’ of scientism on assumptions of scientific reductionism, assumptions Newton never held. And we already can see they are starting to crumble. There is a new a different level of evolution that reaches our immediate past.

And this social contract formation shows us that political philosophy falls into the range of our ‘non-random’ pattern. And that emergent egalitarianism is by deductive correlation seen to be ‘evolutionary’. Evolution needs to balance its populations perhaps. In any case, any serious theory of evolution must do more than pick and choose among favorite political philosophers, it must account for the directionality visible in the evolution of philosophy itself. There Rousseau stands out as an evolutionary agent, in our sense. Thus, in a word, we see a distinct process of ‘social contract formation’ associated with our modern transition.[vi]

So there’s the long sought evidence for social contract formation: in fact we see intermittent ‘social contract formation’ proceeding down our eonic mainline in periods of peak intensity.

Philosophy and Periodization: Kant’s Eerie Timing One of the tales of Kant is his legendary clockwork timing. One of the eerie ‘coincidences’ of the eonic sequence is the precise appearance of philosophies of freedom just at the modern divide. An application of our method will show us that the philosophy of history itself shows non-random patterning, something we have already seen in the emergence of science. We can do something very basic, simply to see the place of the philosophy of history first in the pattern of eonic data. We stumble thus on a strange fact, the macroevolution or eonic determination, or modulation of philosophy in the sequence mainline. We see the self-referential co-emergentism of system and idea, in perfectly timed concert. This ultra subtle point will dawn on the reader slowly.

TP3: If we take a close look at the modern transition we notice a clear compressed clustering of world philosophy in a distinct modulation against the whole. Hegel came close to seeing this fact, did in fact see it. With intimations in the sixteenth century we see the take-off in the seventeenth with Descartes, Locke, Spinoza, Berkeley, the philosophes, then

TP3+: The divide The Enlightenment, French, Scottish, and German. The German Enlightenment especially shows a spectacular crescendo at the point of the divide hovering around it, with a rapid fall off by the time of Marx and Schopenhauer’s influence (he actually comes just after the divide). We have seen enough to know this can’t be due to chance, and we zoom in to see what help this period can give us in our search for an historical methodology since it is a key moment in our eonic mainline. Indeed we notice twice in a row teleological thinking compressed on a divide, the Exile in TP2, being another. Second round on the teleological merry-go-round? Maybe we will get it this time.

We have seen from the beginning that our eonic observer is embedded in the system he wishes to study, thus the ‘case of the missing centuries’ shows us that science itself is bound up in the eonic sequence. Thus the history of science is itself eonic data.

Hegel, Philosophy of History, and the Dialectic Looking at the eonic effect, the meaning of Hegel suddenly stands out. We have not given any indication of his system of philosophy, but his philosophy of history was the first great answer to Kant’s challenge, the result being a curious theology of Spinoza, and a defense of modernity by one almost Burkean in his traditionalist sympathies. He couldn’t see the eonic effect, and proceeded to a theory of the dialectic that we have not used. In any case, stand back and savor the spectacle of this sudden flowering of philosophy near the so-called Great Divide.

Hegelian Dialectic The dialectic in Hegel is an artificial construct of ancient mysticism, one that cannot perform the job it is assigned. It is the perfect symbol of the history of philosophy, and as we see this shows clear correlation with our eonic series. But we have stayed away from dialectics because it can lead to wrong results, and we have implicitly discovered the real McCoy in the elements of our data, as it reconciles the action of causality and freedom in a higher unity. We need to take the long view and savor the moment that Hegel represents in the cascade of philosophic explosion that begins with Kant. This spectacular eruption just near our divide is mysterious and almost eerie.

Hegel’s system is a siren call of post-Kantian metaphysics resurrected, and we should steer clear of his thinking in our own so-named ‘science of freedom’ seen in the eonic sequence. We have produced an almost perfect example of a real dialectical ‘synthesis’ and should stay well away from such language lest we muddle it all over again. We should declare Hegel ‘eonic data’ and proceed. We can automatically sublate Hegel thus in our greater eonic ‘dialectic’, with breathing room to assess his classic work (which Schopenhauer spent a half-century attacking). Hegel, for us, is the first to sense the significance of the discrete freedom sequence, whatever his lapse into design arguments. The perception deserved, deserves to be backdated to a Kantian version, before the Romantic vilification of Newton begins. This forces us into a dialectical sword fight (what of perpetual peace?) with nineteenth century stragglers suffering ‘Hegelian brain damage’. His legacy is still unclarified. In the nonce we are quite safe, having gotten on our feet, from any direct attack on our rediscovery of basic Kantian dualism. Non-dualists proceed as they may. Hegel’s historical slaughterbench overseen by an ambiguous Frankenstein indicating ‘geist’ is superfluous in our account, and we see that the eonic sequence is at all points benign expressing a potential ideal, the savagery of the field of micro-action devoid of, stripped of, teleological significance.

The point for us, despite our reservations about ‘dialectic ’, is that Hegel was altogether sensible about the complexity of development, and never, at least in principle, let himself fly off on a dialectical tangent into some philosophic dead end. The reductionist positivism that overtakes modern science is at severe risk of just this danger. Although the dialectical reaction of Marx shows this unity was incomplete, yet he even may be said to generate Marx’s dialectical reaction. He saw that the philosophy of history is the history of philosophy, and tried to ‘sublate’ the history of thought into a higher unity. If the results were often opaque, the gesture itself is significant. If at each step of our outline we opinionate this or that, and select what we wish to agree with, we come to the end with a subset of our pattern. But our pattern will keep us honest, because it is larger than our opinionation, just as Hegel demands.

We can’t avoid ‘dialectic’ because it is the history of philosophy itself, with one clear eonic signature in the Pre-Socratics (to say nothing of the Indic philosophers of the age of Buddha). It must be part of our history. Thus we are always inside the complexities of philosophy, and must master it or it will master us. How to proceed? Hegel saw that to proceed he needed to sublate his antecedent stream into a comprehensive system. In that context ‘dialectic’ does make sense. We won’t follow Hegel’s approach, save to ‘sublate’ Hegel into our eonic model, but must be mindful that some watered-down secular scientism will not past muster as a universal language to describe the history of philosophy, let alone the emergence of civilization in its multidimensional eonic ‘dialectical’ spectrum. Since our own frequency hypothesis is a direct instance of such scientism, we might take our cue from Hegel to develop a ‘science of freedom’. The point is that we can’t escape into ‘historical objectivity’ by rejecting philosophy: we must transcend it, whatever that means.

Look at  the Axial Age. What more dialectical entity could we imagine? A complete set of dialects. So let us ‘revinvent dialectic’, but this empirically, as an historical map of contradictions and diversity in action, a descriptive anthropology of philosophic deviations, call it dialogical zigzag. We will apply dumb Aristotelian logic to that map, mindful however that Hegelian thought echoes the non-dual philosophies of great depth that we see in India . And we might search, in the end, some strategy to interpret that. We hardly have another option than some rendering of dialectic if we are to take on, simultaneously, the Pre-Socratics and early Sophists, and materialists, the Hebrew Prophets, and the yogis of India, or Lao Tse, in one sweep. But in the end our model steps beyond philosophy into the existential dimension of self-consciousness.

To sublate Hegel into the eonic model would seem presumptuous but is achieved, if you reflect on the strategy of depicting transitions, at a stroke by the eonic pattern itself, and in some sense by the passage of time, we come later, and the observation that German Classical Philosophy is itself an eonic emergent, and that therefore we declare Hegel’s system to be itself ‘eonic data’. The point is clear as we examine the modern divide, so called. This is the reason philosophy is hard-pressed to advance beyond this point. Thus our eonic observer stands near this divide, clipboard, jungle-hat, and scientific white smock, noting the eonic emergence of a ‘philosophy of spirit’ near the divide. ‘Aha!’ he thinks, beautiful. So the solution to our Hegel problem is that he is ‘eonic data’, and the Hegelian archaeological site is something to be reckoned with. And so it goes with the whole history of (modern) philosophy (which includes natural philosophy, i.e. science). It is fitting that Schopenhauer should see fit to tear Hegel to pieces, but his work we can see will stand as a monument, or Sphinx, to future times.



   Web:  chap6_2_1.htm


[i] Graeme Garrard, Counter-Enlightenments (New York, Routledge, 2006).

[ii]Jean Lyotard, The Postmodern Condition (Minneapolis: Minnesota, 1974), Alex Callinicos, Against Postmodernism (New York: St. Martin’s, 1989), Daniel Gordon (ed.), Postmodernism and the Enlightenment (New York: Routledge, 2000).

[iii] James Q. Wilson, The Moral Sense (New York: The Free Press, 1993).

[iv] Immanuel Kant, “An Answer to the Question: ‘What is Enlightenment’”, Kant’s Political Writings (New York: Cambridge University Press, 1971), Hans Reiss. F. Beiser, “The Enlightenment and Idealism”, in The Cambridge Companion to German Idealism, K. Ameriks (ed.) (NY: Cambridge University Press, 2000). James Schmidt (ed.), What is Enlightenment? (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1996), Peter Gay, in The Enlightenment: The Rise of Modern Paganism (New York: Norton, 1966), Vol I, Chapter 2, “The First Enlightenment”. Norman Hampson, A Cultural History of the Enlightenment (New York: Pantheon, 1968), Ernst Cassirer, The Philosophy of the Enlightenment (Boston: Beacon Press, 1955), Paul Hazard, The European Mind (New York: World Pub. Co., 1963), Frank Manuel, The Eighteenth Century Confronts the Gods (New York: Atheneum, 1967). Isaiah Berlin, The Roots of Romanticism (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1999).

[v] Edward Wilson, Consilience (New York: Knopf, 1999), p. 38.

[vi] Judith Sklar, Men and Citizens (New York: Cambridge University Press, 1969), Ernst Cassirer, The Question of Jean-Jacques Rousseau (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1989), Lester Crocker, Rousseau’s Social Contract (Cleveland: The Press of Case Western Reserve University Press, 1968), Jason Neidlman, The General Will Is Citizenship (New York: Rowman and Littlefield, 2001). James Miller notes, in Rousseau, Dreamer of Democracy (New Haven: Yale University Press University Press), p. 202, “Before Rousseau, democracy was, at best, an admirable but obsolete pure form of government, generally of interest only to students of jurisprudence. After him, it became a name for popular sovereignty, extending to all the promise of a personally fulfilling freedom, exercised in cooperation with others.”





Last modified: 09/28/2010