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This democracy  makes possible prosperity  without freedom.

— Jürgen Habermas

Constantly we are collapsing. Constantly we are fixing.

— Vaclav Smil

I define modernism as any attempt by modern men and women to become subjects as well as objects of modernization, to get a grip on the modern world and make themselves at home in it.

— Marshall Berman

Extreme poverty is being eradicated, and the world is becoming middle class.

–Steven Pinker

            Two recently published books present a profound intellectual challenge to thinkers both left and right. Steven Pinker’s Enlightenment Now! and Hans Rosling’s Factfulness offer overwhelming evidence that in the last 500, 100, and even 50 years successive generations have gotten healthier, wealthier, more educated, and, yes, more happier than ever before. The ultimate conclusion to be drawn is that, according to Pinker, the Enlightenment project has been a resounding success which nobody seems to notice much less celebrate.

Both books are well documented and give every reason to believe that since the application of the scientific method to society’s problems began, humanity is both quantitatively and qualitatively better off.

In contrast, of course, there is no counter shortage of Spenglerian mutations in the blogosphere, news media, publishing houses, and academia. After all, bad news sells better than good news.

Yet while Pinker’s and Rosling’s methods and evidence are above reproach and provide a welcome antidote to the often overwrought crisis thinking of our times, there is a dark side to Enlightenment progress and it was described by the German exile authors of The Dialectic of Enlightenment in 1944.

Yes, there has been significant material progress. Yes, man is physically better off maybe even intellectually on some level. But does he not live under an ever growing shadow of totalistic control?

Knowledge confers power and more power affords more control.

Thus, the real threat of “Enlightenment triumphant” is not a lack of food or water or even more advanced pleasures but the threat of ever increasing control over both the individual and whole populations.

Techniques of control become ever more subtle, ever more global. Thus, humanity may even  succeed in extricating itself from its present self-made physical crises but at the same time it also will be better equipped to tame and control individual social and creative energies.

Although greater and greater swaths of the globe strive to live under the banner of democracy; it may prove to be a hallow endeavor. Formal elections, manufactured issues, and carefully groomed and directed leadership all serving those elites who manage the intricate systems of power. Perhaps in direct proportion to our growing physical well being, our circle of potential freedom shrinks accordingly. Nietzsche’s last man may already walk the earth.

Bio: PhD in Continental Philosophy from Sofia University. Regular contributor to Counterpunch. Teaches at Ravensburg-Weinburg and Neu Ulm University of Applied Sciences.

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