Thursday, February 03, 2005

Nationalism Contra The Enlightenment

The latest issue of the New York Review of Books is now online and Brian Urquhart has a review of "America Right or Wrong: An Anatomy of American Nationalism" by Anatol Lieven. But instead of traditional linear analysis of nationalist tendencies, Lieven expands his focus to include discussions about U.S. policy in the Middle East, and especially the role of anti-Enlightenment ideology in current political battles:

In his recent book on the Scottish Enlightenment James Buchan writes of Edinburgh in the early eighteenth century, "Men and women were coming to suspect that knowledge acquired through skepticism might be more useful in this world below than knowledge 'revealed' by scripture." It is a painful thought that in the United States in the twenty-first century we might be turning away from the world of the Enlightenment which inspired the Founding Fathers. Of all the thoughts provoked by Lieven's book this is the most disturbing, both for America and for the world. Since religious freedom and popular elections are both sacrosanct rights of the American people, it is a particularly delicate one. Is it possible that America could eventually vote to go back on the Enlightenment?

Evangelical Protestants are a large and growing group whose influence is greatly enhanced by their voting discipline in comparison to other groups. Their influence is evident both in the rhetoric and in some actions of the current administration, as well as in Congress. This is clear in many domestic issues. The absolutes of Good and Evil, the references to God's will in relation to adventures like the Iraq war, the idea that those who are not with us are against us, impose a rigidity that dismisses criticism and makes it impossible to admit reverses publicly or to correct mistaken policies. Such trends are a serious hazard for such a powerful and important country. And at home, the demonization of elites, anti-intellectualism, hostility to rational discourse, and an aversion to scientific method can only stultify and downgrade the educational system at a time when American leadership and technological supremacy are being challenged as never before.

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