Despite recent attempts at recasting it as a plural phenomenon, “the Enlightenment” has been the subject of intense criticism from Rousseau to Adorno, Foucault, and current discussions ranging from post-colonialism to gender theory. Its critics hold that the reign of reason can easily verge towards tyranny. Approaching the reception of the Enlightenment from the perspective of the history of ideas, it appears that its central flaw may not be that it has become too absolute, but that it has never been taken to its conclusion. Anchoring their philosophy in an inherently religious concept of reason, thinkers such as Descartes, Voltaire, and Kant insisted on the value of rational analysis and opened up new spaces for discussion and discovery in their own time. Today, however, their conception of rationality, the individual, and society, restricts discussions about the contemporary world in the framework of post-Christian thought. A possible way out of these discursive constraints may lie in an intensified exploration of the plurality of Enlightenment legacies.
Philip Blom, born in 1970 in Hamburg, is a historian, novelist, journalist and translator. After obtaining a DPhil in Modern History from Oxford University he worked as an editor, translator, writer and freelance journalist, contributing to newspapers, magazines and radio programmes in Great Britain, the US, Germany, Switzerland, Austria, the Netherlands, and France.In 2007 he settled in Vienna, where he continues to write historical nonfiction as well as fiction, and journalism. His historical works include To Have and To Hold, Encyclopédie (US edition: Enlightening the World) as well as The Vertigo Years, a cultural history of the era 1900 to 1914 in Europe and the United States (further details on: www.philipp-blom.eu/).