I’ve been reading an historical novel—World Without End by Ken Follett—and it’s got me thinking about how Western civilization evolved from the middle ages to the age of enlightenment. Though the action takes place well before the 18th century, there are hints of the movement from the thinking and institutions of the middle ages—dogmatic, mystical, less democratic–to those of the age of reason.
And that got me thinking about today’s intellectual climate. Obviously, I’m being a bit hyperbolic (not to mention reductionist), but there are ways in which today’s debates remind of those from the 14th century, where, in debates on practical matters, fact-based reason was easily defeated by fact-less assertion.
So it would be interesting to learn how the transformation to the age of reason occurred. What were the historical precedents? Was it bottom up, top down, some combination? What caused this intellectual, cultural, and political shift?
I wonder if anyone out there can recommend a good book that answers these questions.
This is not just idle curiosity. Think of supply-side economics as espoused by the editorial page of the Wall St. Journal, or the rational markets theology of the high-priests of conservative economics. If eight years of GW Bush supply-side policies, followed by the worst market failure since the Great Depression have not dislodged these ideas—and they haven’t—then those of us who seek a better society need to do more than advocate for better policies. We need to learn what will move Western thinking from its currently constrained, fact-starved paradigm to a new age of reason.
Sounds like a heavy lift, I know…but whaddya gonna do??