A wide range of contemporary Christian scholarship claims that a history of Enlightenment ethical thought, social science and epistemology is the first step to exposing the inadequacies of modern accounts of the good life. Michael Kugler argues instead that their attempts at critical historical analysis and explanation are unconvincing. Their narrative arguments are built on highly selective readings from that age. The Enlightenment legacy suggests not so much a secular rationalist arrogance than the cultivation of intellectual humility. This might be a first step out of some of the apparent misunderstandings haunting many of our conversations about modernity, theology and ethics.
C. S. Lewis wrote that The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe was rooted in something he’d imagined since the age of 16. A faun stood in a snow-covered forest bearing an umbrella and packages. This wee character haunted him until he began to write about a world where the faun stood beneath a Victorian-era lamppost. Why perhaps this image?
That ancient mythic creature stood beneath an emblem of modern, urban Europe. He lived in the parallel worlds of Lewis’ imagination, joined by the Well and visited through the magic wardrobe. Lewis’ historical and philosophical convictions told him that medieval Christianity had discovered and preserved eternal truth from the pagan world.1 Yet the modern eventually squeezed out the fairie, the medieval, faith and romance. His first book following his conversion, The Pilgrim’s Regress, narrated an allegory of modern post-Christian philosophy and social science originating in the Enlightenment. Lewis’ intellectual path led toward the ambivalence, skepticism and even overt hostility apparent in later Christian scholarship on the character and lasting import of the Enlightenment.
In Christian scholarship few cultural eras are as maligned today as the Enlightenment.2 In light of such claims I will discuss the portrayal and significance of the Enlightenment for three dynamic, influential Christian scholars: Alasdair MacIntyre, John Milbank and James K. A. Smith. Each has worked on the overlapping fields of philosophy, ethics, theology and political theory. They have set a standard for other Christian scholars on the nature and lasting import of Enlightenment modernity.3 In chorus they suggest how the recovery of pre-modern theological convictions might be re-imagined as a compelling alternative narrative to “the Enlightenment Project,” a narrative far friendlier to orthodox theology and more traditional ethical accounts of the good life.
I argue that a wide range of contemporary Christian scholarship defines modern moral, religious and social malaise in direct descent from the philosophical speculations known historically as the Enlightenment. MacIntyre, Milbank and Smith suggest what a Christian historical critique of the Enlightenment might look like. Under most circumstances such claims seem like, for lack of better phrases, an anti-Enlightenment or counter-Enlightenment worldview. They claim that a history of Enlightenment ethical thought, social science and epistemology is the first step to exposing the inadequacies of modern accounts of the good life.
Those narratives seem based on credible historical evidence. Yet as attempts at critical historical analysis and explanation they are unconvincing. Their narrative arguments read far too much of their own contemporary theological and moral anxieties into Enlightenment philosophy, at best built on highly selective readings from that era. As MacIntyre famously concluded in After Virtue:
If my account of our moral condition is correct … what matters at this stage is the construction of local forms of community within which civility and the intellectual and moral life can be sustained through the new dark ages which are already upon us. … [We] are not entirely without grounds for hope. This time however the barbarians are not waiting beyond the frontiers; they have already been governing us for quite some time.4
Looking back on his major work Milbank recalled that he wrote Theology and Social Theory as a theologian’s response to the era of Thatcherite neo-liberalism. “Today, neo-liberalism has further extended its sway, but has now begun to mutate into a new mode of political tyranny.”5 Smith likewise warned us about our failure to interrogate the history of modernity:
Our Christian faith—and correlatively, our account of apologetics—is tainted by modernism when we fail to appreciate the effects of sin on reason. When this is ignored, we adopt an Enlightenment optimism about the role of a supposedly neutral reason in the recognition of truth. (We also end up committed to ‘Constantinian’ strategies, that, under the banner of natural law, seek to build a ‘Christian America.)6
These scholars have set a standard many others have been happy to follow because it serves their intellectual first-principles. But the accounts of MacIntyre, Milbank and Smith have little or nothing of the rich diversity and complexity of compelling historical explanation. I will conclude this essay by reflecting on an Enlightenment legacy less expressive of secular rationalist arrogance and much more about cultivating intellectual humility. Surely we desire to understand the Enlightenment from different disciplinary and theological narratives better, and to be as accurate as possible. My argument suggests some first steps toward emerging from the apparent impasse of misunderstanding and misrepresentation haunting many of our conversations about modernity, theology and ethics.
It is not a new story that scientific, rationalizing secularism robbed us of the ability to make firm and compelling moral judgments, as well as left us without the consolations and guidance of religious truth. In fact that story is as old as the Enlightenment itself. In the late 17th century, critics resisted perceived skepticism toward revealed religion and its institutional enforcement. Others reacted against tactics for ameliorating human affairs by specific reforms of Ancien Régime authorities, advocating religious tolerance and individual if not political liberty and equality. The history of challenges to the intellectual excesses of the so-called “Age of Reason” is too long and complicated for me to recount here.7 Post-World War II critiques owe a great deal to Theodore Adorno and Max Horkheimer 60 years ago.8 Claims about the modern intellectual conflict between the Christian worldview and other secular accounts, as well as diagnoses concentrating on the Enlightenment to explain what is wrong with contemporary Western society, run throughout self-declared Christian scholarship.9
The scholars I will briefly discuss tell grand stories intended to unmask and discredit what they assert is the Enlightenment’s own grand narrative of the origins of modernity. Their big narratives are risky and fascinating; they tell their stories with gusto. They affirm the ethical and theological principles without which lasting community and service is impossible. But these works betray far more of the author’s motivations than justifications. Alistair MacIntyre is a key figure in this recent Christian challenge to Enlightenment modernity. MacIntyre’s exposure of the Enlightenment’s pernicious consequences runs through his three best known books, After Virtue (1981), Whose Justice? Which Rationality? (1988), and Three Rival Versions of Moral Inquiry (1990). Throughout these works MacIntyre consistently argued that any compelling moral account of the world draws its vitality from the rich resources of its own tradition. A moral account is a portrait of lives lived and worth living in a community. Even though a moral account might evolve and change over time, it does so as members of the community living out that moral life adjust it to challenging circumstances. In a stunning break with their ethical inheritance, philosophers like David Hume, Adam Smith and Denis Diderot promoted an “Enlightenment Project” toward a timeless, innovative moral philosophy built on emotivism, breaking with centuries of Christian Aristotelian virtue ethics.10 A context-less moral account for MacIntyre seems oxymoronic; it would be unsuitable to guide anyone to the best life. Aristotle, the medieval scholastics, and the eighteenth-century Scots other than Hume and Smith built their moral accounts from inside their lived traditions. Philosophers, MacIntyre councils, would be foolish to pursue a universal timeless account of moral thriving, but that is exactly what Hume, Smith and later the “encyclopedic” program of the European (especially the French) Enlightenment did.
In enlightened Scotland, MacIntyre found his best example of a scholarly community responding to changing historical circumstance with responses informed by its cultural traditions.11 The developing modern state and capitalism encouraged the liberation of previously restricted economic and consumer desires, eroding the moral foundations of long-standing civic duties. But the Scots had inherited a Christian and Aristotelian ethical tradition which secured a general consensus about the good life and justice. Unlike the emotivist, individualist and relativist ethical theories of French philosophers like Diderot and Helvetius, popularly disseminated in such works as the Encyclopédie, ou dictionnaire raisonné des sciences, des arts et des métiers (1751-72), the Scots delivered an alternative narrative about the good life and the proper civic community that was classical as well as Augustinian. Doing so, MacIntyre stresses, the Scots suggested how to constrain desire against its selfish and violent tendencies, while training it toward civic and benevolent duty. The Scots understood this tradition and moral philosophy in a historical manner. In MacIntyre’s account the Scots defended social competition with one another, necessary to living out their telos. Despite rebellion against God’s telos for humans, God offered humans His grace, in effect the common grace recognized in the wisdom of natural law and the virtue tradition.
MacIntyre offered the moral philosopher Francis Hutcheson (1694 – 1746) as a Scot who responded to a dynamic commercial transformation of modern, secular society. He mined his own cultural lifeworld to challenge a psychology of immediately gratified desire and civic dependency, within a consumer culture under a bureaucratic state. In MacIntyre’s story Hutcheson confronted the early flowering of modern individualism and its accompanying social and political orders. He emphasized duty, self-discipline and the benefits of struggle. Among Hutcheson’s near contemporaries, David Hume and Adam Smith broke with that tradition, because in MacIntyre’s reading they were the most committed to explaining and defending this psychology of the modern personality. In doing so, MacIntyre argues, they abandoned the Augustinian/Aristotelian tradition synthesized by Scottish Calvinism, and adopted—in contrast to Hutcheson—a solely-human narrative built on assertions of empirical facts true to all times and places. Their approach, though in the succeeding years modified and challenged on several points, appeared to MacIntyre to remain in general the standard modern portrait of what is possible and therefore necessary to contemporary ethics.12
MacIntyre concludes that this Enlightenment universalist scope and explanation will force us to abandon any real trust in the intellectual credibility of our inherited religious and moral tradition. For example, MacIntyre claimed Hume spent much of his adult life trying to scour away any traces of Scottishness or the thought patterns of Calvinist Christianity from his writing, to expand its popularity in an Anglophone world.13 In Three Rival Versions of Moral Inquiry, MacIntyre draws Hume’s abandonment of his Scottish moral tradition into a bigger frame. The Enlightenment is now firmly a movement across the 18th and 19th centuries, from the Encyclopedists Denis Diderot, Jean le Rond d’Alembert and Louis de Jaucourt, into the next century with Auguste Comte, J. S. Mill, and other prominent social scientists. As a moral ideal of innocence untainted by philosophical theory, this heuristic is built on biological and anthropological claims of the natural progress of humanity from primitive to civilized.14 MacIntyre warns his reader that such a timeless ethic and politics has no substantial wisdom to offer the modern rootless individual.15
Radicalizing MacIntyre’s argument, John Milbank attempts a historically- shaped explanation of the ruinous moral and political spirit of secular modernity.16 His book is a City of God for late-modernity, a Christian guidebook of a hostile past for perplexed theologians and Christian scholars. He highlights how his “historical point of view” contrasts the anti-narrative explanations modern science.17 Milbank can then distinguish Christian theology and ecclesiastics from modern social theory, made legitimate by modern liberalism, all begun in the Enlightenment.18 Fixed on the theological origins of secular thought, he concentrates on Enlightenment social sciences as the stripped-down versions of total narratives providing a normative explanation of human meaning and purpose. This “science of human nature,” characterized by such a totalizing narrative and the practice of instrumental reason, established the ideological underpinning for the modern state. In sharp contrast to its own claims, social science is not secular and objective but retains the intellectual structure of its older origin in theological system and speculation. It is a kind of liturgy for individualism under modern authoritarian bureaucracy. Deceptively costumed as a methodology it masquerades as legitimate response to prejudice or so-called irrational faith. In fact, Milbank argues that this secular religion warrants violence through the authority of the state, by its commitment to cold rationality, disciplinary rigor, and strict methods of categorization.19 Milbank alleges that Enlightenment fabricated its secular faith on the Reformation program of stripping away all inherited liturgical and theological tradition. The return to a historically-innocent Christianity provided a model for re-interpreting the basic Christian myth of the Creation, of Adam and the Fall.20 A change in theological approach created the terms and imaginative space in which secular knowledge was possible.21 Adam became “the natural man,” removed from a fallen world and destined for a city, no longer heavenly but one of human construction.22 Early Enlightenment philosophers also re-defined the creation as the “natural” realm, a sphere of order and influence sealed off from God and comprehensible by human intelligence and management. Milbank lays the blame for the Enlightenment’s attack on the sacred at the feet of European Christianity:
In a way, it was the increasing failure of the Church to be the Church, to preserve the ‘rule of the Gospel’ in the monasteries, and somehow to extend this to the laity (a failure of which the Christian humanist movement was often profoundly aware), which created a moral vacuum which the regnum could not easily fill because ideals of a purely political virtue had been half- obliterated by Christianity. In such a vacuum, it seems likely that formal instrumentalism must increasingly reign, and this becomes still more likely after the further ecclesiastical failure which led to a divided Christendom.23
This secular narrative parodied theology and Christian liturgy, a credo accounting for the liberal state and its morality. Hobbes and Spinoza advocated a new biblical hermeneutic. In a Europe torn by creedal and liturgical disagreement they sought consensus by casting aside the supernatural in favor of rationalist natural law accommodating human management. Only an unlimited political power, Milbank asserts, has the sweep to protect each individual’s rights and security. Hobbes suggested how liberalism’s goal—peace—was possible without majority consent.24 Other philosophers responded to the post-Reformation divisions and religious wars by seeking a different source for order. Eighteenth-century scholars Christianized Machiavelli’s celebration of Roman virtù into a “civic humanism.” And this vision of the Christian polis provided a civic religion of solidarity, but at the loss of a heroic human life, thus rendering the gods unnecessary. In Milbank’s story, the Church’s one option to retain its relevance was compromise, joining its forces to either a Hobbesian/Spinozaist heresy or Machiavellian paganism.25
Milbank’s radicalization of MacIntyre leads him to a different explanation of Scotland’s Enlightenment. The Enlightenment Scots, Milbank claimed, responded to Hobbes by mining Machiavelli, anxiously observing a modern capitalist culture developing even more sharply in the relative backwardness of their corner of early-modern Europe. In such a setting, natural law notions of rights, property and the social bond acquired greater urgency. The Roman model of the dedicated republican citizen took on a different vitality in this Christian Stoic form. Building on MacIntyre, Milbank argues that Hume and Adam Smith’s revision of Hutcheson’s psychological system encouraged capitalist-and-status-desires to replace the older standards of the Christian vices and virtues, as well as the earlier models of republican citizenship. As a result, shifts in ethical and theological convictions preceded social change: the “capitalist take-off presupposed a shift in the very economy of desire.”26 Fashion and diversion, according to Milbank, and not the common good, became the new standard of behavior.
Milbank claims that he has unmasked the Enlightenment philosopher’s liberal self-deception. Surveying the promise of a modern political culture defined by the autonomous individual and the benign state to protect the common good, he touts his exposure of “the kinship at root of modern absolutism with modern liberalism.”27 Scottish political economy delivered explanations for liberal rational choice which in truth foreshadowed the coercive character of the market economy, affirming Michel Foucault’s unmasking of the carceral system of modern social discipline.28 Modern economic culture celebrates a neo-pagan political economy for encouraging what Christian theology had long before denounced, the libido dominandi or the “lust for domination.”29 While MacIntyre highlighted Scotland’s Enlightenment as wisely contiguous with its Christian roots, Milbank saw no attractive exception in the Scottish Enlightenment. Across Europe, according to Milbank, Enlightenment philosophers shared notions of instrumental reason, the ideas of providence and natural order secularized from older theistic accounts. Following his story, Milbank is confident, we should be able to recognize the origins of secular social science as state-guided order, management and violence.30
Milbank is not the only Christian scholar to adapt MacIntyre’s case against Enlightenment modernity with what appears to be a historically formidable indictment. J. Richard Middleton and Brian J. Walsh, Lesslie Newbigin, and Roger Lundin have made similarly bold repudiations. Newbigin’s introduction to mission theology suggests how evangelism is possible in the “post-Enlightenment culture” of contemporary anti-Christian paganism.31 Middleton and Walsh made a major contribution to evangelical Christian vocabulary with their work on worldviews.32 They supplement MacIntyre’s critique with a harsh denunciation of Sir Francis Bacon’s early Enlightenment project of science and technology, complementing Milbank’s attack on modern capitalism’s injustices.33 Lundin’s evaluation of the “therapeutic” nature of contemporary hermeneutics depended upon what he considered the triumph of Cartesian epistemology and Baconian science. Foundationalist epistemology and materialist metaphysics became the only standards of truth. Simultaneously, Protestantism’s ideal of the Scripture-reading Christian against corrupt church authority inadvertently established the solitary individual as the only judge of religious certainty. Protestant and Enlightened attacks on authority and the past cooperated, Lundin tells us, to form the culture of the modern “Gnostic” self who spurns nature in exchange for a self-generated grace.34 The Romantics advanced this movement with attacks on Enlightenment rationalism and outlines of a religion of the creative self. Lundin concludes that modern epistemological confidence in foundationalism caved in beneath the bloody events of the 20th century and the post-structuralist reduction of meaning to arbitrary signs in language. Postmodernist heirs of Nietzsche have given the final blow, he asserts, to Enlightenment epistemological arrogance.35
Newbigin, Middleton and Walsh, and Lundin all testify to their dependence upon MacIntyre’s account of tradition-dependent and yet rational ethical reflection. In different ways and in varying degrees of complexity they strongly proclaim that the Enlightenment intellectual model has deceived Christian scholars, theologians and biblical interpreters. They protest the philosopher’s scientific creed of objectivity, as well as attacks on tradition as misleading even orthodox Christians. Treating Scripture and creed as evidentiary claims rather than tradition-bound faith statements is, they suggest, utterly inappropriate to Christian theology and ethics. The consequence of accommodating the Christian message to modernity has been the privatization of the faith (Newbigin), and an obsession with the therapeutic care of the Christian self (Lundin), both of which contribute to the modernist myth of individualism (Middleton and Walsh), where, as Milbank put it, the “isolated, self-conserving individual” of modern liberalism permits only positivist accounts of society and religion.36 In a post-Enlightenment culture, these scholars reassure readers that no one should feel bound to accommodate Scriptural hermeneutics and Christian ethics to modernist demands for epistemological “foundations.” In different ways Newbigin, Middleton and Walsh, and Lundin follow MacIntyre’s historical narrative in order to call Christians back to their historic traditions. In those traditions, these thinkers can recast their theologies and ethics in terms of narratives of God’s work among His people toward the fulfillment of His Kingdom.
These works have several strengths. Each suggests how the Christian tradition and Scriptures provide a rich resource for responsible and intelligent Christian scholarship (Lundin), evangelism outside the West (Newbigin), and activism against the Principalities and Powers of modern mastery and alienation (Middleton and Walsh). Especially encouraging is the biblical exegesis each offers, arguing from the Cross and the Risen Christ to the believer’s responsibility to take up her cross as follower of Jesus. But I am concerned that since their diagnosis of modernity depends so heavily upon a thin historical account of the Enlightenment, they compromise the power of their theological recommendations.
To begin assessing the historical arguments of MacIntyre and Milbank, consider how philosopher James K. A. Smith has expanded them. His first books offered briefer versions of historical narratives than those of MacIntyre and Milbank.37 More recently he has argued that a historical narrative of modern philosophy is critical to the Radical Orthodoxy project defended by himself, Milbank and others.38 “Enlightenment” is not a historical term so much as a summary verbal gesture. For Smith, modernity is the label for what is wrong with the world.39 MacIntyre’s and Milbank’s assaults on Enlightenment rationalism encouraged Smith’s declaration that all knowledge is “situated” in historical circumstances. In a peroration on Martin Heidegger, Jean-Francois Lyotard and Hans Gadamer, Smith challenges what he considers an arrogant Enlightenment confidence in place-less knowledge.40 Claims to such objectivity began, Smith tells us, with the medieval nominalist philosopher Scotus, crystallized later by Descartes. Developed by Thomas Hobbes, John Locke and Emmanuel Kant, Enlightenment philosophers then had the weapons to attack religion as bigoted tradition, superstition and prejudice. In Smith’s reading they heralded a rationalist, scientific empiricism that they imperiously alleged was untainted by prejudice, unhindered by inherited life-world narratives. Smith’s goal, though, is not to rehash critiques of modernity’s ironic, skeptical attitude.41 He hopes to rehabilitate “prejudice” and tradition. After all, they are not barriers to knowledge but the sole means of knowing anything at all.42
Enlightenment philosophers and their modernist heirs must “own up” to—must “openly confess”—that what they assert as neutral facts and explanations of the world are in fact narratives. Actually, Smith claims they are more; he carries forward Milbank’s claim that Enlightenment arguments are disguised religious “credos” that include moral justification for a war by one community of proper-thinking righteous moderns against its enemies, the religious forces of bigotry and ignorance.43 This Enlightenment account of “knowledge from no- where” is, according to Smith, theologically misguided. For Smith, the so-called neutral knowledge of the Enlightenment accompanies an immanentist ontology descended from medieval nominalism. Which is why Smith warns that denying the spiritual essence of bodies only affirms a moral nihilism. Played out to its logical conclusion, Smith claims, a modernist outlook on people can encourage totalitarian brutalization.44 Our “postmodern condition,” though, exposes the hollow Enlightenment fable, Smith contends. We live amidst the plurality of narratives but with no final arbiter.45
Smith, then, encourages us to begin the liberation of Christian theology from its self-imposed accommodation to modern categories of legitimation. Christian theologians, scholars and church leaders can confidently assert themselves as people of revelation, creeds, liturgies and spiritual practice. With these traditional resources, the theological and liturgical world bequeathed to us by St. Augustine and St. Aquinas—as opposed to the resources of the Enlightenment—Christians can remain faithful to Christ and serve their neighbors as the Body of Christ, in communities adrift on moral and spiritual landscapes flattened by modern consumerism and tolerant indifference.46
MacIntyre, Milbank and Smith agree that the Enlightenment’s philosophical speculation encouraged destructive accounts of human moral psychology and nature. By their assessments, the Enlightenment effectively granted intellectual justifications for expanding human desire. And this in turn encouraged the evolution of the autonomous individual, and eventually, the systematic rationalist and brutal exploitation of nature and human labor, enforced by the expanding role of the state regulating human activity. Each of these authors emphasizes different aspects of what came next: emotivist ethics, desacralized and violently oppressive modernity, and the loss of community and shared traditions. They agree that the Enlightenment was the turning point permitting the development of a human-centered exploitative culture in the West, with diminished restrictions on the exercise of human desire. They further agree that the 20th century’s ethical tradition embodied in the Enlightenment’s rational principles has now become intellectually discredited. Milbank and Smith particularly ground such an assertion in Christian revelation of the Incarnation and Creation, dogmas that affirm God’s love of particular, physical creatures like ourselves in a densely detailed, created world.47
However far these creedal confirmations go to encourage readers, they fail as convincing historical explanations. Historical narratives are constructed backward; historians know in some strong sense the outcome of the story. We then tell them beginning to end.48 Still, historical research and writing is best understood as a kind of self-discipline committed to getting the truth about the past, but by a skeptical self-denial of the particular truth I might want. The results of such work are shared with and evaluated by other members of the community. The strongest kind of argument in defense of a moral or even theological position, then, is the one earned by offering your opponent’s argument in the fairest form—as if she had written it herself. But the narratives I have briefly discussed admit no earnest competitors. They press too hard to get to “us” and our contemporary struggles. A more inviting and ultimately compelling narrative, however, creates ways in which critics can step into the debate.49
MacIntyre’s arguments, for instance, rest on a narrow, very selective reading of Enlightenment European history, especially in Scotland. In Whose Justice? Which Rationality? he claims to explain the endurance of the Augustinian tradition in Scotland, and the struggle between Hutcheson and Hume to speak to the viability of that tradition in a modernized country recently absorbed politically into Great Britain. Robert Wokler has carefully read through this and other of MacIntyre’s works to suggest how his argument on the “Enlightenment Project” as a Europe-wide program falters.50 Hutcheson’s moral vision was not a response to the anxieties of our modern personality, nor was Hume’s its simple defense. Hutcheson was not the strict Christian Stoic ethicist of MacIntyre’s portrait. Rather than representing the Calvinist Augustinianism of orthodox Presbyterianism, Hutcheson conceived his moral philosophy as a gentler Christian alternative to assertions of human depravity and divine wrath, in particular the peculiar version of this neo-Augustinian claim offered by Bernard Mandeville on the social usefulness of selfish passions.51 Hume was an outlier in eighteenth-century ethical debates, and only becomes a key figure in retrospect.52 The Scottish skeptic’s work did bear the fruit of his recast Scottish character, but he did not simply defend a newly adopted English identity. Hume’s works were among other things often subtly crafted defenses of a united Great Britain sensitive to those elements of civic independence that characterized Scotland’s peculiar status in this new state. His History of Great Britain (1754-62) actually subverted English pride in its creation of the liberal constitution, thus quite a Scottish perspective. Even the college curriculum of English literature, largely a Scottish invention, was an ironic and self-serving one in which Hume played a role.53
Further and just as importantly, Scotland’s tradition of “Augustinianism” was significantly more interesting than what MacIntyre described. The late-Calvinist legacy in some cases remained in line with claims about God’s subtle, sovereign and wise governance of the whole world, of human depravity, predestination and limited atonement in the Westminster Confession. For other Scots that legacy inspired a moral psychology of balancing passions and interests. Among still others it was the outgrowth of the ironic outlook on a humbled human reason through which providence achieved its purposes despite human intentions.54
This Augustinian—or better “neo-Augustinian”—sensibility saw human passions and designs managed in the exacting subtleties of divine opportunity. For the Scots inheriting and revising this neo-Augustinian account, God remained sovereign in His ability to bend human actions subtly, surely toward His good and just outcomes. Such a claim was in line with St. Augustine’s Confessions and yet raised human nature above the nadir of total depravity. Therefore this tradition in Scotland included convictions and arguments beyond the Fall, predestination and limited atonement. Hutcheson could abandon or minimize such theological dogmas while retaining part of a revised Augustinian inheritance, albeit one different and more interesting than MacIntyre suggests.55
Another thing that is not as straightforward as MacIntyre suggests is the precise nature of Hutcheson’s theological loyalties. Though they are a bit murky, scholars do agree that in his teaching and publishing he hoped to revive the Presbyterian faith through a renewed emphasis on God’s primary character of love and, among humans, benevolence. Despite a disagreement with Hume in 1752 that helped cost the latter the moral philosophy professorship at Edinburgh, the two philosophers likely shared a hope in the improved training of the next generation of young Scots, including future clergymen, as more refined, sophisticated and tolerant.56 If the historical circumstances of Enlightenment debates on ethics, as MacIntyre has argued, are necessary to our contemporary discussions of virtue and vice, MacIntyre’s too-selective reading of the age’s historiography compromises that argument.
Milbank’s attempts at historical argument achieve even less. He promotes the story of the Enlightenment’s thinly providential conviction of God’s distant regulation of human affairs in the modern social sciences. The ideology of possessive individualism affirmed capitalism’s liberation of the individual but in fact assisted the imposition of modern discipline, a la Foucault. In pressing these claims, Milbank has even less interest than MacIntyre in depicting the historical circumstances behind these figures and their debates.57 History for Milbank is a genealogical arrangement of era-categories for a proper organization of philosophers who are little more than names and dates. He intends his argument as a Christian metanarrative to serve as a counter-mythos against that of modernity, for one scholar effectively a neo-Hegelian morality tale.58 Milbank’s most provocative claim is about the Enlightenment’s ironic pay-off as the intellectual foundation of modern totalitarian bureaucracy and extermination.59 James K. A. Smith also claims that “contemporary scholarship in a plurality of fields has demonstrated” this hideous genealogy. Smith names none of it, though a short list would have to include Adorno and Horkheimer, Gadamer, Zygmunt Bauman, and John Gray. Of Milbank’s and Smith’s attempts at historical accusation this is the most outrageous.60
MacIntyre, Milbank and Smith, in different ways, take on what they proclaim as Enlightenment universalism by asserting that there are no such things as context-less texts, whose historical circumstances are in fact quite tangled and requiring elaborate narrative. They champion accounts of the past in general that are big and messy. Yet in the works I have discussed few moments of such complexity actually appear. These histories are not messy enough. The very detail and particularity these authors celebrate get little attention in the stories themselves. Was the “Enlightenment” really a school of thinkers, a single movement? If there were other, national or philosophical (“radical,” “moderate,” Scottish, American, French Swiss, and so on) Enlightenment movements, how would they fit into these grand anti-Enlightenment narratives? What of clerical Enlightenments, where pastors and priests led in scientific and social scientific research and writing, let alone social, political and religious reform?61
Like any historical subject, the Enlightenment’s “Republic of Letters” should be treated as a complex historical problem. It is certainly hard to condense into a modernist creed.62 Looking back to a very limited range of Enlightenment writers may yield an anti-religious pseudo-creed or modern pagan cult, but that would have to be a narrowly selective range of writers indeed. For instance, did eighteenth-century scholars attempt to argue without hyperbole or prejudice? No: Enlightenment writers were prejudiced.63 But in the spirit of an objectivity unhindered by claims of neutrality, they could assert that their prejudices were sounder than those of their opponents. Science for many of these philosophers was not a means to eliminate prejudice but to manage it. Hume, Edward Gibbon, Adam Ferguson and Voltaire took science as a model for how to analyze human nature and the past while minimizing the narrowed goals of bigotry.64 Their success at this effort is certainly a matter of debate.65 Yet the convictions of Enlightenment writers cannot simply be defined as forms of religious belief, nor easily reduced to worldviews.66 Confronted by such a range of historical debate, MacIntyre, Milbank and Smith defend assertions far more than make historical arguments.
Therefore there is little or no indication from the Christian scholars I have discussed that “the Enlightenment” is a heavily tramped or fought-over field. Just calling this period instead “the Republic of Letters” opens another far more challenging and interesting horizon, a range of fascinating and diverse writers, places and ideas beyond the top five to ten typical figures of Descartes, Hobbes, Locke, Hume, Kant and occasionally a few others.67 Is there nothing interesting to add about the role of courts, patrons, student reading groups, coffee houses, salons, underground printing houses, and informal learned societies found not only in the European capitals but many provincial?68 Enlightenment studies are now marked by a groundswell of interest in religion as an intimate part of the so-called “Age of Reason”—John Locke as a devout Christian, Jonathan Edwards and John Wesley as enlightened clerics, and social and political reform led by clergy and laity.69 Reading MacIntyre, Milbank or Smith alone would suggest that historians argue little if at all about this subject. These three are much more interested in getting their favored authors situated correctly (such as St. Augustine or St. Aquinas), excoriating their opponents (such as Descartes, Hume and Kant), than in ranging across the rough ground of a diverse body of seventeenth- and eighteenth-century writing, let alone the social worlds of those writers.70
I do not know that there is an appropriately Christian account of the Enlightenment, or for that matter of any historical era. Still a richer, more diverse history of the Republic of Letters, while certainly harder to narrate toward explaining and subverting “modernity,” recommends one benefit. It gets us closer to satisfying the theological demands of the Incarnation. God in Christ loves the particularity and detail of a created world, and becoming human shows His desire to share that deep particularity, submitting Himself to the limitations of physical life as well as accommodating Himself even to subsequent human reason and research. Representing the past in its particularity, and expressing humbly what we do not know about it, is a means of honoring this God in the flesh.71 The Incarnation does not demand fairness so much as compassion. Before I claim to speak for someone else it seems most compassionate to represent them as fully as possible. This has been my aim in my accounts of MacIntyre, Milbank and Smith. The disciplined affections, the reasonable sympathies for the dead, strike me as some of the key virtues to inculcate in historians, in anyone rummaging through the debris of the past. Jesus Christ promised in the culmination of the ages to bring all Creation into reconciliation with Him, so we anticipate that reconciliation by the most accurate representation of the past possible.72
Finally, I would add two cheers for those critics of religion in the Republic of Letters. Reading Hume, Voltaire, Diderot, Wollstonecraft, even clerics much friendlier to religion like Adam Ferguson, can work as a “Lenten exercise” to borrow a phrase from Merold Westphal.73 Those men and woman and many more like them lived in Christian communities; they attended Christian schools; they were almost to a person catechized and confessionalized. Their public squares were anything but naked of religion. But most of those I listed above, in one way or another opted out of the church. They often did so after seeing ignorance, brutality and manipulation occur in the name of Jesus Christ.74 Perhaps I live in a particular setting that makes me too sensitive to this; perhaps I have not been in a sufficiently “secular” environment recently enough to realize that we might need more Augustines than Humes. I do not know. But I recall Dietrich Bonhoeffer sitting in his jail cell. A victim of a murderous and moralistic modern civic cult, he clung in that horrible darkness to an Incarnated God whose honor and majesty meant only enough to Him to evacuate them. With that flesh and its weakness and suffering He could bear our weakness and suffering. Bonhoeffer’s advice? Do not resent a mature secular society that no longer needs a powerful, ontologically thick account of God and nature to hold up the pillars of the heavens, or reknit the sinews of tradition, normative ethics and justice. He did not believe this world any longer needed a contented Christian elite to rule it, but followers of Jesus to bear its crosses of suffering.75
Though hardly unanimous, many Christians retain a deep resistance to modern secularism rooted, they claim, in the Enlightenment.76 Literary Fairie for Lewis and Tolkien was a powerful imaginative entry to the numinous world of the divine Creator. Christian scholars, especially evangelicals, have largely adopted the conviction that the modernist Enlightenment worldview promoted the aggressive dismissal of Fairie under its harsh modern light. Fauns fade to nothing beneath that lamppost. MacIntyre, Milbank and Smith have described the origins of the ontological and ethical handicaps that followed: a desacralized, paper-thin account of human life we have inherited from the Enlightenment. These bankrupt resources, they argue, have permitted a modern culture of vicious injustice, typically in the hands of the modern omni-competent state, but including other professionalized secular institutions. They attack the story of heroic humanity asserting its intellectual and technical authority over the natural world and one another. They share, to lesser or greater degree, with other Christian scholars some attempt to roll back an intellectual legacy of Enlightenment modernism that runs back through Abraham Kuyper and before, including evangelical and Catholic scholars. After the modernist controversies of the 1920s some American evangelical intellectuals rejected separatism to embrace a closer cultural confrontation with modernity. Contemporary evangelical historians have directly and indirectly encouraged Christian scholars that for the sake of God’s Kingdom they too can confidently pursue their own efforts at serious scholarly conversation in the modern academy.77 But if a good deal of post-World War II Christian scholarship reflects a range of anti-Enlightenment conviction, it is still a live issue to ask how successfully evangelical scholarship engages modernity. Molly Worthen’s history of the American evangelical academy and middlebrow culture suggests that the modern Christian college and evangelical scholarship, the triumph of Christian worldviewism, has retained lingering, significant resistance to much of the legacy of the Enlightenment.78
Despite claims about those roots of modern arrogance and secular idolatry, I would encourage turning to the Enlightenment’s critique of religion as a source of contemporary intellectual humility. In their historical settings Descartes, Locke, Hume, Diderot and Wollstonecraft argued for the limits of human knowledge against a state-church partnership controlling the presses, the universities and civic patronage. As Bonhoeffer suggested, our goal is not to live as homo religiosus, but as humans; the homo religiosus he associated with “the shallow and banal this-worldliness of the enlightened, the bustling, the comfortable or the lascivious.” To live a faithful worldliness, to live fully in the modern world; in fact just as MacIntyre, Milbank and Smith advise. Evaluating the secular liberal elite who emerged out of the Enlightenment requires a different story.79 If that story matters, I think we should first try to do it justice.80
Cite this article
- “It All Began With a Picture,” in On Stories: And Other Essays on Literature (Orlando, FL: Mariner Books, 2002), 53. J. R. R. Tolkien agreed that the modern world of technique, science and religious indifference if not atheism were antithetical to elements of the Christian me- dieval world he spend so much time studying and imagining in his fiction. See for instance The Letters of J.R.R. Tolkien, ed. Humphrey Carpenter (Orlando, FL: Mariner Books, 2000), letters 75, 96, 131, and 290. For Tolkien’s early and enduring suspicion of the modern world and culture, see John Garth, Tolkien and the Great War: the Threshold of Middle Earth (Orlando, FL: Mariner Books, 2005).
- “Enlightenment” has been a description of the eighteenth-century philosophical or cultural movement since the mid-to-late 19th century; “Scottish Enlightenment” was coined around 1900. A survey of recent definitions can be found in Simon Grote, “Review-Essay: Religion and Enlightenment,” Journal of the History of Ideas 75.1 (2014): 139-146.
- By “Christian scholar” I mean anyone whose confession as a Christian and accompany- ing theological propositions are foundational to their academic identity or scholarly work.
- Alasdair MacIntyre, After Virtue: a Study in Moral Theory, 2nd ed. (South Bend, IN: Notre Dame Press, 1984), 261.
- John Milbank, Theology and Social Theory: Beyond Secular Reason, preface to the second edition (London: Wiley-Blackwell, 2006), xii.
- James K. A. Smith, Who’s Afraid of Postmodernism? Taking Derrida, Lyotard and Foucault to Church (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2006), 28.
- Isaiah Berlin, “The Counter Enlightenment,” in Against the Current: Essays in the History of Ideas (New York: Viking, 1980); Joseph Mali and Robert Wokler, eds., Isaiah Berlin’s Counter Enlightenment (Philadelphia, PA: American Philosophical Society, 2003); Norman Geras and Robert Wokler, eds., The Enlightenment and Modernity (New York: Macmillan and St. Martin’s, 2000); Darrin McMahon, Enemies of the Enlightenment: The French Counter-Enlightenment and the Making of Modernity (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2001). For historians evaluating this legacy, see Keith Michael Baker and Peter Hanns Reill, eds., What’s Left of Enlightenment?: a Postmodern Question (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2001). Other historians are not so kind; see Daniel Gordon, ed., Postmodernism and the Enlightenment: New Perspectives in Eighteenth-Century French Intellectual History (New York: Routledge, 2001).
- Gunzelin Schmid Noerr, ed., Dialectic of Enlightenment (Cultural Memory in the Present), trans. Edmund Jephcott (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2007). James Schmidt has helped explain the genesis and complex nature of their project; “Language, Mythology and Enlightenment: Historical Notes on Horkheimer and Adorno’s Dialectic of Enlightenment,” Social Research 65.4 (Winter, 1998): 807-838.
- This includes biblical scholars and historians: N. T. Wright, The Millennium Myth: Hope for a Postmodern World (Westminster: John Knox, 1999), 47-70; and The Challenge of Jesus: Rediscovering Who Jesus Was and Is (Downers Grove, IL: IVP, 1999), 100-101, 193-194; George Marsden, The Outrageous Idea of Christian Scholarship (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1998), 89, 109-11; Luke Timothy Johnson, “The Humanity of Jesus,” in Perspectives in Conflict (Harrisburg, PA: Trinity Press International, 1999); and in Paul Copan, ed., Will the Real Jesus Please Stand Up? (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 1998); philosophers: David K. Naugle, Worldview: The History of a Concept (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2002), 254, 299-300, 305-306, 312-313, 316, 333; C. Stephen Evans, The Historical Christ and the Jesus of Faith: the Incarnational Narrative as History (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1996); educational and pedagogical scholars: Steven Garber, The Fabric of Faithfulness: Weaving Together Belief and Behavior During the University Years (Downers Grove, IL: IVP, 1996), 50-59, 80, 93; Robert Benne, Quality With Soul: How Six Premier Colleges and Universities Keep Faith with Their Religious Traditions (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2001), chapter 2; and theologians: Stanley J. Grenz, A Primer on Postmodernism (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1996), chapters 3, 4. Novelist Marilynne Robinson’s attack on modernity is especially uncompromising, at times as caustic as it is ill-informed; Absence of Mind: the Dispelling of Inwardness From the Modern Myth of the Self (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2010). Among modern Protestants the Dutch theologian and statesman Abraham Kuyper was one of the most prominent critics of the Enlightenment and its political child, the French Revolution; Lectures on Calvinism: the Stone Foundation lectures (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2002). Peter S. Heslam explains Kuyper’s long-standing antipathy to the French Revolution and as he understood, its Enlightenment roots in his Creating a Christian Worldview: Abraham Kuyper’s Lectures on Calvinism (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1998), chs. 4, 7. The orthodox Calvinist doctrine of the noetic effects of sin may have encouraged the neo-Reformed search for a Christian intellectual alternative to a secular, Enlightenment worldview. In such an account an authentic intellectual system must begin with acknowledging a corrupted human reason as well as the desire to honor God as Creator and sustainer of nature. See Peter Harrison, The Fall of Man and the Founda- tions of Science (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2007), 246, note 4.
- MacIntyre, After Virtue, chs. 4, 5.
- MacIntyre, Whose Justice? Which Rationality?, chs. 12, 13, 14.
- Ibid., but see in particular 253-259, 260-261, 280, 295, 305, 309, 313, 320-3222, 329, 338-339.
- MacIntyre suggests that later in life Hume abandoned this task as foolish and unnecessary; Whose Justice? Which Rationality?, 281, 284.
- Milbank, Three Rival Versions of Moral Inquiry, 174-176.
- A good deal of MacIntyre’s efforts go towards solving the problem of reaching judgments on the “good life” in debate with the different narratives of other, “incommensurable” traditions. Which tradition does the best job of solving its community’s problems? Which has the most internal consistency?
- Milbank claims that his approach is archeological and genealogical, a la Foucault; Theology and Social Theory (Oxford: Wiley-Blackwell, 1993), 3.
- Ibid., 263, 268-269.
- Ibid., 1. See also James K. A. Smith, Introducing Radical Orthodoxy: Mapping a Post-Secular Theology (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2004), 141.
- Milbank, Theology and Social Theory throughout, but especially 28-29, 45.
- This was in a significant sense inherited from Scotist theology and late-medieval nominalism; Theology and Social Theory, 9. The most recent account of this inheritance, though without Milbank’s theological or ethical reflections, is Amos Funkenstein, Theology and the Scientific Imagination from the Middle Ages to the Seventeenth Century (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1986), ch. 2. Brad S. Gregory’s The Unintended Reformation: How a Religious Revolution Secularized Society (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2012), chs. 1, 2, makes this a centerpiece of his argument. For responses to his book and this claim specifically, see Dale Van Kley, “Where the Rot Started?,” http://www.booksandculture.com/articles/2012/ marapr/rotstarted.html?paging=off; The Immanent Frame roundtable and Gregory’s replies: http://blogs.ssrc.org/tif/the-unintended-reformation/; and Carl Trueman, “Metaphysics, the Middle Ages and the Birth of Protestantism, at: http://mortificationofspin.org/mos/ postcards-from-palookaville/metaphysics-the-middle-ages-and-the-birth-of-protestantism#. VY8cFvlViko.
- Milbank, Theology and Social Theory, 10-15.
- The spirit of Milbank’s argument strikingly parallels the earlier provocation of Carl Becker’s The Heavenly City of the Eighteenth Century Philosophers (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1965; orig. 1932).
- Milbank, Theology and Social Theory, 16-17. In later writing Milbank has developed this admission that the Enlightenment critique began as a response to a decadent early-modern Christendom. Even though we can learn from the former, as it worked out its internal logic the Enlightenment response “massively repeated the decadence.” What the Enlighten- ment tried to celebrate—self-expression, individual liberty, sexuality, an embodied life—it ended up ruining. John Milbank, Graham Ward and Catherine Pickstock, “Suspending the Material: The Turn of Radical Orthodoxy,” in Radical Orthodoxy: A New Theology (London: Routledge, 1999), 2-3.
- Milbank, Theology and Social Theory, 13.
- Ibid., 18-23. Throughout this section Milbank recounts his debt to MacIntyre, later devoting two chapters to him. To “radicalize” the latter means in effect a MacIntyre on steroids; see Ibid, 327.
- Ibid., 33.
- Ibid., 13.
- Michael Foucault, Discipline and Punish: the Birth of the Prison, trans. Alan Sheridan (New York: Vintage, 1995); Milbank discusses this in Theology and Social Theory, 36.
- Milbank, Theology and Social Theory, 37. This “lust for domination” of others is from St. Augustine, City of God, bk 1.
- He does not make the Good Enlightenment/Bad Enlightenment move; see for instance Gertrude Himmelfarb, The Roads to Modernity: the British, French and American Enlighten- ments (New York: Vintage, 2004), and William M. Shea and Peter A. Huff, eds., Knowledge and Belief in America: Enlightenment Traditions and Modern Religious Thought (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1995).
- Lesslie Newbigin, Foolishness to the Greeks: The Gospel and Western Culture (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1996).
- J. Richard Middleton and Brian J. Walsh, The Transforming Vision: Shaping a Christian World- view (Westmont, IL: IVP, 1984); see also Brian Walsh, “Worldview, Modernity, and the Task of the Christian College Education,” Faculty Dialogue 18 (Fall, 1992): 13-35.
- For a Christian economist’s critique of the Enlightenment, see Bob Goudzwaard, Capitalism and Progress: a Diagnosis of Western Society (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1979). In “Christian Social Thought in the Dutch Neo-Calvinist Tradition,” Goudzwaard echoes Kuyper that neo-Calvinists could support revolutions defending human rights. Still, they would remain suspicious that all modern revolutions are rooted in the French Revolution, humanistic and committed to progress, therefore anti-Christian; in Walter Block and Irving Hexham, eds., Religion, Economics and Social Thought: Proceedings of an International Conference (Vancouver, B.C.: Fraser Institute, 1986), 251-279.
- Roger Lundin, The Culture of Interpretation: Christian Faith and the Postmodern World (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1993), 93.
- Ibid., ch.2. Lundin developed this line of argument in successive books such as Believing Again: Doubt and Faith in a Secular Age (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2009) and in Beginning with the Word: Modern Literature and the Question of Belief (Cultural Exegesis) (Grand Rap- ids: Baker Academic, 2014). In Believing Again C. S. Lewis especially was his guide; there remains a lot of work to do on the precise nature of Lewis’ suspicions of twentieth-century science and modernity.
- Milbank, Theology and Social Theory, 51.
- In James K. A. Smith, Speech and Theology: the Language and Logic of Incarnation (London and New York: Routledge, 2002), Smith concentrated on “modernity” in the philosophical sense of epistemological debates after Descartes and culminating perhaps with Kant; see especially 28, and throughout. In later books he took up the Enlightenment as a cultural motif associated with modernity; Desiring the Kingdom (Cultural Liturgies): Worship, World- view and Cultural Formation (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2009), 66, 195; Who’s Afraid of Postmodernism?, 127-135.
- See Smith’s introduction to Introducing Radical Orthodoxy: Mapping a Post-Secular Theology (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2005). In this same volume Milbank chides Barth for failing to offer a more nuanced history to support his theological work: “Alternative Protestantism: Radical Orthodoxy and the Reformation Tradition,” 47.
- Milbank, Introducing Radical Orthodoxy, 95.
- James K. A. Smith, The Fall of Interpretation: Philosophical Foundations for a Creational Hermeneutic (Downers Grove, IL: IVP, 2000), 77-78. To a large degree, Smith’s Enlightenment is from Hans-Georg Gadamer; see Introducing Radical Orthodoxy, 32. Gadamer’s account is found in Truth and Method, 2nd rev. ed., trans. Joel Weinsheimer and Donald G. Marshall (London and New York: Continuum, 2004), 232, 272-291.
- See his response to Wendy C. Hamblet, “Continuing the Conversation,” in The Logic of Incarnation, 215-216.
- Smith, Fall, 40, 77-78; Who’s Afraid of Postmodernism? Taking Derrida, Lyotard and Foucault to Church (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2006), 66-67. Hume and Rousseau are exceptions to Smith’s characterization of the Enlightenment, the former for his skeptical account of metaphysics and the latter as an inspiration for Derrida’s understanding of language asser- tions as a kind of linguistic violence; see Fall, 118-127, 153. For historians debating the nature of prejudice and its rehabilitation, see Thomas Haskell, “Objectivity Is Not Neutrality,” in Objectivity is Not Neutrality: Explanatory Schemes in History (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins Uni- versity Press, 2000), 145-174; Keith Jenkins, Rethinking History (London: Routledge, 1991), and Why History? Ethics and Postmodernity (London: Routledge, 1999); David Harlan, The Degradation of American History (Chicago: University of Chicago, 1997).
- Smith, Who’s Afraid, 71-73, 86-87. Since they are dead, only their interpreter, their “confessor” it seems, can get this result.
- Smith, Introducing Radical Orthodoxy, 104.
- Smith, Fall, 165.
- Smith, Who’s Afraid, 26-28, 120-122. For Smith’s central role in recent work rooting educa- tional and moral instruction in liturgy, discipline and communal tradition, see David I. Smith and James K. A. Smith, eds., Teaching and Christian Practices: Reshaping Faith and Learning (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2011).
- There is a historical context for this suspicion of modernity as I suggested in note 7 above. Our Western distrust of modernity via science, technology, modern capitalism, consumerism and the Leviathan state goes back in some ways to Romanticism. For introductions, see Ian Buruma and Avishai Margalit, Occidentalism: the West in the Eyes of its Enemies (New York: Penguin, 2004). The enduring character and power of this distrust, in a compelling narrative version, is described in Garth, Tolkien and the Great War. Elements of this echo the famous argument of C. P. Snow, The Two Cultures (1959; reprint, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1998); see especially the introduction by Stefan Collini.
- Louis Mink, “History and Fiction as Modes of Comprehension,” New Literary History 1.3 (Spring, 1970): 541-558; Nancy Partner, “Historicity in an Age of Reality-Fictions,” in A New Philosophy of History, eds. Frank Ankersmit and Hans Kellner (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1995), 21-39.
- Haskell, “Objectivity Is Not Neutrality”; and also essays in Allan Megill, ed., Rethinking Objectivity (Durham, NC and New York: Duke University Press, 1994). Anthropologist Mary Douglas admitted her Christian, presentist bias in work challenging the counter-culturalism of the late 1960s, but she did so without compromising the objective authority of her findings or argument; Timothy Larsen, The Slain God: Anthropology and the Christian Faith (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2011), 141.
- Robert Wokler, “Projecting the Enlightenment,” in After MacIntyre: Critical Perspectives on the Work of Alasdair MacIntyre, eds. John Morton and Susan Mendus (South Bend, IN: Notre Dame University Press, 1994), 108-126.
- James Harris, “The Government of the Passions” and Christian Mauer, “Self-Interest and Sociability,” in The Oxford Handbook of British Philosophy in the Eighteenth Century, ed. James Harris (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2013), 270-288 and 291-314.
- P. J. E. Kail, “Moral Judgment” and Colin Heydt, “Practical Ethics,” in The Oxford Handbook of British Philosophers in the Eighteenth Century, 315-332, 369-389.
- Duncan Forbes, Hume’s Philosophical Politics (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1975); Robert Crawford, ed., The Scottish Invention of English Literature (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1998). It is not even clear that Hutcheson was Scottish in some modern sense as MacIntyre claims. Just as likely he was Irish, born and raised in Dublin; see Wokler, “Projecting the Enlightenment,” 118-19; Michael Brown, Francis Hutcheson in Dublin, 1719- 30: The Crucible of His Thought (Portland, OR: Four Courts Press, 2002). It is possible to see Hume’s epistemological skepticism, historical sensibilities, and ironic outlook as in some ways a secular reworking of Scotland’s neo-Augustinian tradition; see David Allan, Virtue, Learning and the Scottish Enlightenment (Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 1993).
- Moderate divine and friend of Hume, Hugh Blair, was orthodox but no strict Calvinist. Yet preaching on providence he emphasized God’s hidden wisdom in achieving His purposes despite human plans. In “On Divine Government of the Passions of Men“ he argued, “The beauty and magnificence of the universe are much heightened by its being an extensive and complicated system; in which a variety of springs are made to play, and a multitude of different movements are, with most admirable art, regulated and kept in order. Interfering interests and jarring passions, are in such manner balanced against one another; such proper checks are placed on the violence of human pursuits; and the wrath of man is made so to hold this course, that how opposite soever the several motions seem to be, yet they concur and meet at last in one direction.” Blair, Sermons, vol. 2 (London: W. Allason, 1818), 376-379.
- For the enduring power of neo-Augustinian theology in Enlightened Britain, see Donald Greene, “How ‘Degraded’ Was Eighteenth-Century Anglicanism?,” Eighteenth Century Studies 24.1 (1990): 93-108; W. M. Spellman, John Locke and the Problem of Depravity (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1988); and Harrison, The Fall of Man and the Foundations of Science.
- James A. Harris, “Religion in Hutcheson’s Moral Philosophy,” Journal of the History of Philosophy 46.2 (2008): 205-222; James Moore, “Presbyterianism and the Right of Private Judgment: Church Government in Ireland and Scotland in the Age of Francis Hutcheson,” in Philosophy and Religion in Enlightenment Britain: New Case Studies, ed. Ruth Savage (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2012), 141-168.
- For a detailed assessment of the range of Milbank’s historical narrative, though on the Enlightenment more limited than my account, see the exchange in The Journal of Religious Ethics 32.2 (Summer, 2004).
- John Bowlin, “Introduction: Parts, Wholes, and Opposites: John Milbank as Geisteshistoriker,” The Journal of Religious Ethics 32.2 (2004): 257-269; John Milbank, “The Invocation of Clio: a Response,” The Journal of Religious Ethics 33.1 (March, 2005): 3-9.
- See Ibid., 10-11.
- Smith, Introducing Radical Orthodoxy, 104; see also 76-77. Zygmunt Bauman, Modernity and the Holocaust (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1989); John Gray, Enlightenment’s Wake: Politics and Culture at the Close of the Modern Age (London: Routledge, 1995). In response to similar denunciations see the essays in Gordon, Postmodernism and the Enlightenment; and Zeev Sternhell, The Anti-Enlightenment Tradition, trans. David Maisel (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2009). William Max Nelson explores some eighteenth-century speculation on what we might now call eugenics, though with far more nuance and caution than typical critics of a so-called Enlightenment totalitarianism; see his “Making Men: Enlightenment Ideas of Racial Engineering,” The American Historical Review 115.5 (December, 2010): 1364-1394.
- Concerning Milbank and history, see: Mark D. Chapman, “Why the Enlightenment Project Doesn’t Have to Fail,” The Heythrop Journal 39 (1998): 379-393; and the essays dedicated to Theology and Social Theory in The Journal of Religious Ethics 32.2 (2004).
- Jonathan Israel has attempted this, carrying the torch perhaps for Peter Gay’s still-striking history of four decades ago; see his Radical Enlightenment: Philosophy and the Making of Mo- dernity, 1650–1750 (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2001), and the subsequent volumes in his history. He certainly wants to recover the radical anti-religious Enlightenment in our age of revived religious bigotry and fanaticism. See Russ Leo, “Caute: Jonathan Israel’s Secular Modernity,” The Journal for Religious and Cultural Theory 9.2 (2008): 76-83.
- See my essay, “Enlightenment History, Objectivity, and the Moral Imagination,” in Christian Faith and the Historian’s Vocation, eds. John Fea, Jay Green and Eric Miller (South Bend: University of Notre Dame Press, 2010).
- For histories of the Enlightenment science of human nature, which conclude far differ- ently than the claims of MacIntyre, Milbank and Smith, see Christopher J. Berry, Social Theory and the Scottish Enlightenment (Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 1997); Knud Haakonssen, Natural Law and Moral Philosophy: From Grotius to the Scottish Enlightenment (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1996); Richard Olson, The Emergence of the Social Sciences 1642-1792 (New York: Twayne, 1992); Robert Wokler, “The Enlightenment and the French Revolutionary Birth Pangs of Modernity,” in The Rise of the Social Sciences and the Formation of Modernity: Conceptual Change in Context, 1750-1850, eds. Johan Heibron, Lars Magnusson, and Björn Wittrock (Dordrecht: Springer, 1998), 35-76. On history writing, see Mark Salber Phillips, Society and Sentiment: Genres of Historical Writing in Britain, 1740-1820 (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2000). Outside Britain, see Peter Hans Reill, The German Enlightenment and the Rise of Historicism (Berkeley: University of California, 1975); and Karen O’Brien, Narratives of Enlightenment: Cosmopolitan History from Voltaire to Gibbon (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1997)
- For Hume the historian, see Duncan Forbes, Hume’s Philosophical Politics; and Donald W. Livingstone, Hume’s Philosophy of Common Life (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1984); for Gibbon the historian, see G. W. Bowersock, John Clive and Stephan R. Graubard, eds., Edward Gibbon and the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1977); David P. Womersley’s critical edition of The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire (New York: Penguin, 2001); and Womersley, The Transformation of The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2008).
- The usefulness of the strong concept of world-view, contrasted to narrative and Christian theology, is being reevaluated. See Gregory A. Clark, “The Nature of Conversion: How the Rhetoric of Worldview Philosophy Can Betray Evangelicals,” in The Nature of Confession: Evangelicals and Postliberals in Conversation, eds. Timothy R. Phillips and Dennis L. Okholm (Downers Grove, IL: IVP, 1996), 201-218. Norman Klassen and Jens Zimmermann make a similar case for the historical legacy of the Enlightenment as other Christian scholars I have discussed, while suggesting limits on Christian worldviewism; see their The Passionate Intel- lect: Incarnational Humanism And the Future of University Education (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2006), 172-173, 183. James K. A. Smith too has recently added a thoughtful re-evaluation to this discussion of Christian worldviewism; Mathew Lee Anderson, “Desiring the Kingdom: Why Worldview is Not Enough,” http://www.firstthings.com/blogs/firstthoughts/2010/01/ desiring-the-kingdom-why-worldview-is-not-enough.
- Richard Sher, Church and University in the Scottish Enlightenment: The Moderate Literati of Edinburgh (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1985); Dena Goodman, The Republic of Letters: A Cultural History of the French Enlightenment (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1996); McMahon, Enemies of the Enlightenment; Jeffrey D. Burson and Ulrich L. Lehner, eds., Enlightenment and Catholicism in Europe: a Transnational History (South Bend: University of Notre Dame Press, 2014). Even when a historian makes Hume the central figure of Scot- land’s enlightenment, participating in a Europe-wide reform movement driven by political economics—not unlike the claims of MacIntyre and Milbank—the explanation grows from a much richer, diverse historical setting and one which vindicates rather than denounces the Enlightenment. See John Robertson, The Case for Enlightenment: Scotland and Naples 1680-1760 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2005).
- For starters, see discussions and bibliographies throughout Martin Fitzpatrick, Peter Jones, Christa Knellwolf and Ian McCalman, eds., The Enlightenment World (London: Routledge, 2004); James Schmidt, “Introduction: What is Enlightenment? A Question, Its Context, and Some Consequences,” in What is Enlightenment? Eighteenth-Century Answers and Twentieth-Century Questions, ed. Schmidt (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1996).
- As James E. Bradley has argued, scholarship since the 1980s has established the far closer and more interesting relationship between Protestant orthodoxy and Enlightenment philosophy and reform; see his “The Changing Shape of Religion Ideas in Enlightened Eng- land,” in Seeing Things Their Way: Intellectual History and the Return of Religion, eds. Alister Chapman, John Coffey, and Brad S. Gregory (South Bend: University of Notre Dame Press, 2009), 175-201. Also: Luke Brekke, “Arguing for Miracles in the Eighteenth-Century Public Sphere,” Eighteenth-Century Thought 4 (2009): 111-142; Leon Chai, Jonathan Edwards and the Limits of Enlightenment Philosophy (Oxford, 1998); George M. Marsden, Jonathan Edwards: A Life (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2004); Avihu Zakai, Jonathan Edwards’s Philosophy of History: The Reenchantment of the World in the Age of Enlightenment (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2009); J. W. Haas, Jr, “John Wesley’s Vision of Science in the Service of Christ,” Prospectives on Science and Christian Faith 47 (1995), at: http://www.asa3.org/ASA/ PSCF/1995/PSCF12-95Haas.html; Ken MacMillan, “John Wesley and the Enlightened Historians,” Methodist History, 38.2 (2000): 121-132. Outside Britain, start with Dale Van Kley, The Religious Origins of the French Revolution: From Calvin to the Civil Constitution, 1560-1791 (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1996), and see the essays and bibliographies in Burson and Lehner, Enlightenment and Catholicism in Europe.
- Smith for example is quite cautious to get Augustine “right,” and criticizes Derrida and Caputo for offering “Augustines” with too much missing. See his Introducing Radical Orthodoxy, 108-109, 112, 114. MacIntyre praises Hutcheson for his proper respect of his Scot- tish inheritance while chastising Hume for failing to do so. Why not be as cautious about Enlightenment philosophers and writers?
- For an argument about thinking historically through the Incarnation, see my “At the Mercy of the Flesh: the Incarnation and Historical Reflection,” Fides et Historia 47.1 (2015): 128-140.
- It may be the case that the Incarnational historical reflection I defend would live in deep tension with Enlightenment religious skepticism. At least this might be true in the distinction between Incarnational humanism and Enlightenment humanism. See Klassen and Zimmermann, The Passionate Intellect.
- Merold Westphal, Suspicion and Faith: the Religious Uses of Modern Atheism (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1993).
- Milbank especially points out the “decadent” character of early-modern Christianity; it warranted some but not the heart of Enlightenment response. If Augustine and Aquinas wrote their theologies against their own ages, is ours ontologically more impoverished? Did theirs really have more theological resources that made a real difference in the quality of their fellow peoples’ lives? This subject I think goes much further than I can address here, to the debates over ontology, naturalism and the so-called worldview and incommensurability clashes. Behind some of this are arguments over the “new atheism.” For myself, I find the communitarianism of MacIntyre, the Incarnational theological reflections of Milbank and Smith very attractive. As it stands, I am tempted to unhook their history from their ethical and theological arguments.
- Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Letters and Papers from Prison, ed. Eberhard Bethge, trans. Reginald H. Fuller (New York: Macmillan, 1965), 224-227. While Bonheoffer likely associated the Enlightenment with the liberal theology he challenged, that was no longer so simple by the 1940s. For this see Jean Bethke Elshtain, “Bonhoeffer and the Sovereign State,” First Things (August, 1996), at: http://www.firstthings.com/article/1996/08/002-bonhoeffer- and-the-sovereign-state; Martin Rumscheidt, “The Formation of Bonhoeffer’s Theology,” and Peter Selby, “Christianity in a World Come of Age,” in The Cambridge Companion to Dietrich Bonhoeffer, ed. John W. de Gruchy (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1999), 50-70, 226-245; Charles Marsh, Strange Glory: a life of Dietrich Bonhoeffer (New York: Knopf, 2014), 373-375. Bonhoeffer’s concession to modern cultural adulthood directs how I read the consequences of Michael J. Buckley’s At the Origins of Modern Atheism (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1990); and William Placher’s The Domestication of Transcendence: How Modern Thinking About God Went Wrong (Westminster: John Knox Press, 1996), as well as the theological and ethical reflections of Jacques Ellul. For a recent defense see Mark Chapman, “Why the Enlightenment Project Doesn’t Have to Fail.”
- Surely not unanimous; see Charles Taylor, A Catholic Modernity?: Charles Taylor’s Marianist Award Lecture, with responses by William M. Shea, Rosemary Luling Haughton, George Marsden, and Jean Bethke Elshtain (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1999). For a thoughtful attempt at taking up the Enlightenment moral and political legacy toward neither rejection nor reclamation, see Bruce W. Ward’s Redeeming the Enlightenment: Christianity and the Liberal Virtues (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2010).
- George Marsden, Reforming Fundamentalism: Fuller Seminary and the New Evangelicalism (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1995); Joel Carpenter, Revive Us Again: The Reawakening of American Fundamentalism (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1999); and Marsden, The Outrageous Idea of Christian Scholarship (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1994).
- Molly Worthen, Apostles of Reason: The Crisis of Authority in American Evangelicalism (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2013). But see also Owen Strachan, Awakening the Evangelical Mind: An Intellectual History of the Neo-Evangelical Movement (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2015). For Marsden’s own substantial resistance to the epistemological and religious implications of the Enlightenment, see Marsden, The Twilight of the American Enlightenment: The 1950s and the Crisis of Liberal Belief (New York: Basic Books, 2014).
- For one Christian’s nearly unwieldy but not unsympathetic vantage it does not hurt to wade through Charles Taylor’s A Secular Age (Cambridge, MA: Belknap, 2007). James K. A. Smith’s recent turn to Taylor’s dense, far more complex narrative of modernity would require an essay of its own; see “The Logic of Incarnation,” 33-34. It is striking that Taylor’s response to enlightened modernity is far more nuanced than the accounts I have discussed here.
- Northwestern College’s Summer Research grant supported the initial work on this essay. In 2009 the Conference on Faith and History gave me an opportunity to read an early version of it. My colleagues Don Wacome, Sam Martin, Randy Jensen, and Bob Winn made valuable comments or talked me through parts of it. Finally, I am grateful for the patient responses from two anonymous readers for the journal.