Review: “The New Enlightenment” by Brian Ellis –  World Government & Social Humanism To Save Humanity

The New Enlightenment. On Steven Pinker beyond

“The New Enlightenment. On Steven Pinker & beyond” by Brian Ellis  argues that the 17th century onwards  Enlightenment that replaced superstition, dogma, subjugation and  subservience  with science,  reason, freedom and human rights has led to huge improvements in the human condition, but that  human rights must be accompanied by human social obligations and that a New Enlightenment  is urgently needed to reverse the impacts of rampant neoliberalism  and indeed to save Humanity from deadly  inequity and excessive exploitation of resources.

“The New Enlightenment. On Steven Pinker & beyond” [1] by Professor Brian Ellis (University of Melbourne and La Trobe University)  is the third in a series of recent books by this eminent Australian philosopher arguing against the damage being caused by neoliberalism (economic rationalism) that  is centred on private profit,  and arguing instead for a humane,  pragmatic and sustainable social humanism for the benefit of everybody. Brian Ellis’ earlier books include “Social Humanism. “Social Humanism. A New Metaphysics” [2, 3] and  “Rationalism. A critique of pure theory” [4, 5]. In short, Brian Ellis argues that neoliberalism seeks to maximize the freedom of the smart and advantaged to exploit human and natural resources for private profit, whereas social humanism (socialism, the welfare state) seeks to maximize sustainable human happiness, opportunity and dignity for everyone through evolving intra-national and international social contracts that pragmatically take evolved cultural differences into account.

At the start of “The New Enlightenment” Brian Ellis sets out the core arguments : “This book is about the debate we have to have about our future, not just the future of European peoples but the future of all humanity”. He agrees with Steven Pinker’s “Enlightenment Now” that the European Enlightenment brought great progress “as the scientific world view overtook the theological one” . However Ellis points out that until recent decades the major beneficiaries of this progress were European colonialists rather than their non-European subjects. Ellis argues that the spread of benefits to the Developing World came mostly from the 1970s onwards through globalisation, and the world’s adoption of free trade measures: “The greatest achievements of the European Enlightenment would appear to have been made only recently, specifically since the late 1970s” (pages 1-3 [1]).

Brian Ellis argues that new human freedoms come with human social obligations that must be met not just at the local and national level but at the international level of the community of nations. Science-informed physicist and philosopher Brian Ellis argues pragmatically for  an Interim World Government (IWG) that would be set up by the UN Security Council, the World Bank and a proposed Social and Economic Council (SEC) of the United Nations with limited powers in the social and economic spheres: “The IWG, given such a start, might eventually become a sort of world government. But what is possible in today’s world is just a world body with limited powers that can administer international affairs in the fairest and best ways for all nations … but it seems to me that if we do not do something like this, we are bound to become ruled by a consortium of international companies, who owe no allegiance to anyone, and who will, accordingly, govern the world in what they see as being in their own best interests. And as the crisis of 2008 clearly demonstrates such a neoliberal solution is fraught with danger. Next time, there might really be a global collapse of  free market capitalism, and in that case we will be looking at the near extinction  of human and, and most animal life on earth” (pages 227-230 [1]).

Brian Ellis concludes “The New Enlightenment” as follows “The theory of economic rationalism (nowadays called “neoliberalism”) was a product of the old enlightenment. Nevertheless, the methodology of Brahe, Kepler and Newton has, without malice aforethought, led to the decadent, impersonal, amoral , and socially divisive form of laissez faire capitalism, which now dominates the First World countries in the West … The Nordic countries and Japan are the leaders – and well out in front  of most other countries – in developing the fairest and best kinds of institutions for their own people. And, our aim in the new enlightenment must be to discover how and why they do it, and extend the know-how to the rest of the world – but not, I hasten to say, by conquest or colonisation. For that, most tragically, is what went wrong with the first enlightenment. A world that has the best achievable global contract will be the fairest and best of all possible worlds. Voltaire’s Pangloss was wrong, I think: this is not the best of all possible worlds. At least, let us hope not” (Pages 284-285 [1]).

In keeping with his pragmatic, humanist, universalist, internationalist,  and globalist outlook, Professor Brian Ellis invited several academic colleagues to provide essays for inclusion in the  “The New Enlightenment”. Thus Dr Tony Lynch (Senior Lecturer in Politics and International Studies, Philosophy and Studies in Religion at the University of New England”, provided a  section entitled “6.1 Plato on Justice  in a World of Democracy, Inequality and Class” that reveals the surprising  features of Plato’s proposed republic that minimized corruption and self-interest in governance.  Dr Tony Lynch concludes: “With democracy internally and transparently connected into concerns of class and inequality, in the context of an assembly of citizen equals, what we have is not utopian politics, and so one that is, here in the non-ideal world, always ideological and deceptive, but the possibility of a real social and political pragmatism; one in which the community of citizens, in all awareness of the non-ideality of the world and permanent temptations of pleonexia [ruthless self-seeking], collectively shape a shared social and political world towards the impossible ideal of perfect justice. This to be the living expression of their ideal social contract” (page 172 [1]).

Brian Ellis followed this with a section entitled “6.2. The Government of Modern China” that adopts a pragmatic and multiculturally tolerant position in relation to the Confucian and other unique cultural  contributions  to the present governance of China that has brought 1 billion people out of deadly poverty: “Whether Xi will eventually be replaced by another imperial appointment, I do not know. The Chinese imperial system, informed as it has been by the pragmatic social humanism of Confucius, has been the most stable form of government ever created. For, it has lasted for well over 2,000 years. So, there must be something in it. I say we should not attempt to interfere in any way with the government of China, if it remains at peace with the rest of the world, and, if they should decide, by their own free will, [to] follow the lead of the social democracies of the world, well and good. But if they do not, then it is none of our concern” (page181 [1]).

One must  note that China having brought 1 billion people out of deadly poverty (and thus  having addressed and upheld the fundamental  right to life on a truly gigantic scale ), one of China’s major challenges is now  how to maximize other  key human rights  in the context of a peaceful and stable society. However annual avoidable deaths from deprivation total 4 million in democratic and “free” India as compared to zero (0) in one-party China [6]. Further,  Professor Jorgen Randers (Norwegian co-author of “The Limits to Growth” in 1972, the Report to the Club of Rome) has stated: “I am a climate pessimist. I believe (regrettably) that humanity will not meet the climate challenge with sufficient strength to save our grandchildren from living in a climate-damaged world. Humanity (regrettably) will not make what sacrifice is necessary today in order to ensure a better life for our ancestors forty years hence. The reason is that we are narrowly focused on maximum well-being in the short term. This short-termism is reflected in the systems of governance that we have chosen to dominate our lives: Both democracy and capitalism place more emphasis on costs today that on benefits forty years in the future… Otherwise, I predict, it will be the Chinese who solve the global climate challenge – singlehandedly. Through a sequence of 5-year plans established with a clear long term vision, and executed without asking regular support from the Chinese. They are already well on the way, for the benefit of our grandchildren” [7].

In keeping with the tolerant, pragmatic, multicultural and globalist  approach of the book , Dr Greg Bailey (formerly Reader in Sanskrit and honorary Research Fellow in the School of Languages and Cultures, La Trobe University ) provided an essay entitled “6.3. On Governance in India: Ancient and Modern” that considers Indian  attitudes to governance from ancient brahminic and kingly traditions of caste  hierarchy to modernity, democracy  and the profound humanism of Economics Nobel Laureate Amartya Sen and his notion of human “entitlement” to basic sustenance.  Greg Bailey: “What do we mean by a new enlightenment?  A new way of looking at human existence and civilization that draws together insights from all the major civilizations in the  world, historically speaking, in a way that is critical of itself, whilst offering architectonic insights that all people can draw upon. At the minimum, and reflecting the crises of the specific moment, it must offer new ways to approach the existential problem of anthropogenic climate change and inequity in all aspects of life… If utilization of some of the classical Indian sources on polity and society could be considered for communicating the values of social cohesion, in conjunction with an acceptance of the possibility of human advancement across social classes, then the consistently argued ideas found in these sources could be taken up responsibly in a quest for a New Enlightenment” (pages 203-204 [1]).

“The New Enlightenment” was launched on 5th October 2019 in Eltham,  a very artistic,  intellectual and progressive suburb in the north of Melbourne, and the speakers included Brian Ellis, Greg Bailey,  Tony Lynch (his offering in absentia being read by  the chairman,  Dr John Bigelow, professor emeritus, Department of Philosophy, Monash University ) and myself (a 5 decade career biochemist and formerly a Reader in Biochemistry, La Trobe University). There were  several professors of economics of my longstanding acquaintance in the audience. My short speech was concerned with the latest science on the existential  threats facing Humanity and  the Biosphere, and the consequent urgent  need for a New Enlightenment and a globalist,  World Government approach to save Humanity and the Biosphere from a looming anthropogenic climate catastrophe.

My hard-hitting, science-informed speech is reproduced below (with documenting references  included):

The full title of Brian Ellis’  book is “The New Enlightenment. On Steven Pinker & beyond”. Steven Pinker’s book “Enlightenment Now. The case for reason, science, humanism and progress” argues that  the 17th century onwards European Enlightenment that promoted reason , science and humanism resulted in huge scientific, technological and moral advances with ultimately huge improvements in the human condition in many areas [8, 9].

Indeed Pinker’s book has 75 interesting Figures that set out improvements in various aspects of the human condition (especially in America) in recent decades. Pinker has great confidence that science, capitalism and the market will keep on delivering good outcomes and will be able to deal with problems facing humanity.

However Pinker scoffs at Greens and leftists, supports the neoliberal capitalist order, scorns the notion of a world government to save Humanity, and ignores horrendous realities of  the current Global Avoidable Mortality Holocaust (15 million deaths from deprivation  annually) [6],  the mass species extinction of the present Anthropocene Era (an extinction rate 100-1,000 times greater than normal) [10-12], the worsening Climate Emergency (a catastrophic plus 2 degrees Centigrade  temperature rise is now unavoidable) [13-28], and a worsening  Climate Genocide  (unless requisite action is taken 10 billion will  die this century en route to a sustainable residual human population of merely 0.5-1.0 billion by 2100) [29].

“Enlightenment Now” suffers from major counter-Enlightenment flaws that its author so cogently criticizes, notably culturally- and ideologically-based bias,  and the ignoring of massive realities.  Thus the scientific method that is at the heart of the Enlightenment involves the critical testing through empirical observation of potentially falsifiable  hypotheses. Contrary to the scientific method is anti-science, spin-based analysis  involving the selective use of asserted facts to support a partisan position. Pinker undermines an otherwise erudite, evidence-based argument about Enlightenment benefits,  by ignoring a veritable Herd of Elephants in the Room especially relating to the Developing World.

Thus to take just one example, Pinker falsely argues that deaths in wars have dramatically declined since WW2 – this is true for  post-WW2 Anglosphere war deaths but is not true for post-WW2 Developing World war deaths.  Thus in post-1950 US Asian wars alone, 40 million Asians died from violence or from war-imposed deprivation [6].

The current neoliberal order espoused by Pinker involves maximizing the freedom of the smart and advantaged to exploit human and natural resources for private profit – as opposed to social humanism (socialism, ecosocialism, communalism, communism, “Greenism”, the welfare state) that he variously scorns and which aims to  maximize human happiness, opportunity and dignity through evolving intra-national and international social contracts. Brian Ellis has cogently explored these matters in his  recent books “Social Humanism. A New Metaphysics” and  “Rationalism. A critique of pure theory”.

Neoliberal capitalist greed has brought us to a point at which both Humanity and the Biosphere in general are existentially threatened by nuclear weapons and climate change – as Stephen Hawking puts it: “We see great peril if governments and societies do not take action now to render nuclear weapons obsolete and to prevent further climate change”. To reiterate: Stephen Hawking is saying “take action NOW” [30, 31].

Neoliberal One Percenter Pinker condemns such expressions of concern  as “alarmist” and advocates an evolutionary,  business-as-usual,  neoliberal, capitalist One Percenter approach to  the existential threats of climate change and nuclear weapons. However a one-person-one-vote third chamber of world government (in addition to the nation-based UN General Assembly and the power-based UN Security Council) is needed to urgently address these dire differential wealth circumstances and dire threats. Nevertheless Pinker with characteristic sarcasm dismisses scientist calls for world government thus: “Many scientists are naifs when it comes to policy and cook up non-starters like world government, mandatory licensing of parents, and escaping a befouled earth by colonizing other planets” (page 390 [8]).

It is clear to scientists that life involves decreasing entropy (disorder)  by extracting free energy from an increasingly chaotic universe.   Indeed if there is any approximation to “purpose” for us it is surely to create order, beauty and truth  in defiance of  the Second Law of Thermodynamics  that states that the entropy of the world inexorably increases.

I have translated the 3 Laws of Thermodynamics, to whit, (1) conservation of energy, (2) entropy increases to a maximum, and (3) zero motion at Absolute Zero,  to Polya’s 3 Laws of Economics, to whit (1) Profit = Price minus Cost of Production, (2) Deceit about Cost of Production increases to a maximum, and (3) no life, work, price or profit on a dead Planet [32].

Unfortunately,  the neoliberalism that Pinker’s “Enlightenment Now” espouses  violates the core Enlightenment principles of profound respect for truth, beauty, scientific method and  accurate information. Thus we must not destroy what we cannot replace,  any one species is accordingly priceless, and the Cost of Production in our present  Gadarene,  One Percenter-dominated, mendacious  and anti-science neoliberal  world means huge suffering and premature death for the assertedly “deficient” and “uncompetitive” Ninety Percenters, mass  speciescide and mass  ecocide leading the Earth  towards omnicide and terracide.

Even the social conservatives  Pope Francis I and  Pope Benedict XVI  have clearly stated: “Yet only when the economic and social costs of using up shared environmental resources are recognized with transparency and fully borne by those who incur them, not by other peoples or future generations, can those [economic] actions be considered ethical”[33, 34] .

Several recent reports collectively endorsed by thousands of expert scientists have warned the world that time is running out to save Humanity and the Biosphere from further catastrophic climate change and further massive biodiversity loss [11, 12, 23, 24]. Massive harm has already occurred due to continuing carbon pollution, population growth and economic growth, and it is clear that zero growth in these areas is insufficient  – there must be (1) negative carbon pollution (atmospheric CO2 draw-down to the pre-Industrial Revolution level of about 300 parts per million CO2),  (2) negative population growth (population decline by about 50%  – world coral started dying when the atmospheric CO2 reached 320 parts per million at which time the earth’s human population was 3.3 billion, half of today’s ), and (3) corresponding negative economic growth (degrowth) by about 50% to halt and reverse this worsening disaster (with most of the burden being borne by the rich countries to permit the Developing  World to improve their circumstances) [35].

As recognized nearly 50 years ago by the ”Limits to Growth” report to the Club of Rome, there are limits to human resource exploitation. Thus Professor Dabo Guan  has estimated that “For everyone in the world to have an American lifestyle, we would need seven planets, and three to live as Europeans” [36].

Unfortunately the whole proposition of negative growth in relation to atmospheric greenhouse gases (GHGs), population  and economic activity is anathema to the present  growth-based world order dominated by the rich. However the present  plus 1.1 degrees Centigrade temperature rise is  already disastrous for tropical Island Nations [13]. Plus 1.5 degrees Centigrade will arrive in 10 years’ time (and earlier associated with a bad El Nino) [37]. A catastrophic plus 2 degrees Centigrade is effectively unavoidable [20, 22].  National Paris Agreement commitments imply a 3-4 degrees Centigrade temperature rise by 2100 [38]. Nevertheless we are obliged to do everything we can to make the future “less bad” for future  generations.

As argued by “The New Enlightenment”,  there is an urgent need for a new World Government element that is  elected on a  one-person-one-vote basis and is devoted to equitable economics  in a world that is badly running out of sustainably exploitable resources and time.


[1]. Brian Ellis,   “The New Enlightenment. On Steven Pinker & beyond”,  Australian Scholarly Publishing , Melbourne, 2019.

[2]. Brian Ellis, ”Social Humanism. A New Metaphysics”,  Routledge , UK , 2012.

[3]. Gideon Polya, “Book Review: “Social Humanism. A New Metaphysics” By Brian Ellis –  Last Chance To Save Planet?”, Countercurrents,  19 August, 2012: .

[4]. Brian Ellis, “Rationalism. A critique of pure theory”, Australian Scholarly, Melbourne, 2017.

[5]. Gideon Polya, “Review: “Rationalism” by Brian Ellis, Countercurrents, 14 August 2017: .

[6]. Gideon Polya, “Body Count. Global avoidable mortality since 1950”, that includes  an avoidable mortality-related history of every country from Neolithic times and is now available for free perusal  on the web  :  .

[7]. Jorgen Randers, “Systematic short-termism:  Climate, capitalism and democracy”, Climate Code red, 2012: ..

[8]. Steven Pinker,  “Enlightenment Now. The case for reason, science, humanism and progress” , Penguin, 2018.

[9]. Gideon Polya, “Enlightenment Now” by Steven Pinker – Climate Genocide & Avoidable Mortality Holocaust ignored”, Countercurrents, 7 Septmeber 2019: .

[10].  Phillip Levin and Donald Levin, “The real biodiversity crisis”, American Scientist, January-February 2002: .

[11]. William J. Ripple et al., 15,364 signatories from 184 countries, “World scientists’ warning to Humanity: a second notice”, Bioscience, 13 November 2017: .

[12]. Gideon Polya, “Over 15,000 scientists issue dire warning to Humanity on catastrophic climate change and biodiversity loss”, Countercurrents, 20 November 2017: .

[13]. Gideon Polya, “Climate criminal Australia sabotages Pacific Islands Forum & threatens all Island Nations”, Countercurrents, 24 August 2019: .

[14]. Gideon Polya, “ War Criminal & Climate Criminal Australian Deception At UN General Assembly”, Countercurrents, 29 Septemebr 2019: .

[15]. Gideon Polya, “Revised Annual Per Capita Greenhouse Gas Pollution For All Countries – What Is Your Country Doing?”, Countercurrents, 6 January, 2016: .

[16]. Gideon Polya, “Exposing And Thence Punishing Worst Polluter Nations Via Weighted Annual Per Capita Greenhouse Gas Pollution Scores”, Countercurrents, 19 March, 2016: .

[17]. Gideon Polya, “Resolutely promised prosecutions of climate criminals may force urgent climate action”, Global Research, 8 February 2019: .

[18]. Gideon Polya, “Inescapable $200-$250 trillion global Carbon Debt increasing by $16 trillion annually”, Countercurrents, 27 April 2019: .

[19]. “Lying by omission, avoidable mortality from deprivation, holocaust denial and looming terracide”, Countercurrents, 4 April 2019: .

[20]. “Are we doomed?”: .

[21]. “Methane Bomb Threat”: .

[22]. “Too late to avoid global warming catastrophe”: .

[23]. Gideon Polya, “IPCC +1.5C avoidance report – effectively too late, but stop coal burning for “less bad” catastrophes”, Countercurrents, 12 October 2018: .

[24]. IPCC, “Global warming of 1.5 °C. Summary for Policymakers”, 8 October 2018: .

[25]. “Nuclear weapons ban, end poverty and reverse climate change”: .

[26]. Gideon Polya, ”Huge Carbon Debt & Intergenerational Injustice: CO2 draw-down necessity”, Global Research,  7 June 2018:

[27]. James Hansen, “Climate change in a nutshell: the gathering storm”, Columbia University, 18 December 2018:  .

[28]. Gideon Polya,  “Millions join Global School Climate Strike – we are running out of time ”, 22 September 2019: .

[29]. “Climate Genocide”: .

[30]. Professor Stephen Hawking quoted in  Will Dunham, “Nuclear, climate perils push Doomsday Clock ahead”, Reuters, 22 January 2007: .

[31].  Stephen Hawking, “Brief Answers to the Big Questions”, John Murray, 2018, Chapter 7.

[32].  Gideon Polya, “Polya’s 3 Laws of Economics expose deadly, dishonest  and terminal neoliberal capitalism”, Countercurrents,  17 October, 2015: .

[33]. Gideon Polya,  “Green Left Pope Francis Demands Climate Action “Without Delay” To Prevent Climate “Catastrophe””, Countercurrents, 10 August, 2015: .

[34]. Gideon Polya, “Pope decrees full Carbon Price”. MWC News, 28 July 2015: .

[35]. Gideon Polya, “How much negative carbon emissions, negative population growth & negative economic growth is needed  to save planet?”, Countercurrents, 28 November 2018: .

[36]. Irene Banos Ruiz , “China’s new love affair with dogs – as pets, not food – presents environmental  problems”, DW, 21 June 2016: .

[37]. Peter Hannam, “A worrying signal”: its hot and only going to get hotter”, Sydney Morning Herald,  7 February 2019:

[38]. Brandon Miller, “World is woefully short of 2 degree goal for climate change, according to UN report”, CNN, 28 November 2018: .

Dr Gideon Polya taught science students at a major Australian university for 4 decades. He published some 130 works in a 5 decade scientific career, most recently a huge pharmacological reference text “Biochemical Targets of Plant Bioactive Compounds” (CRC Press/Taylor & Francis, New York & London , 2003). He has published “Body Count. Global avoidable mortality since 1950” (G.M. Polya, Melbourne, 2007: ); see also his contributions “Australian complicity in Iraq mass mortality” in “Lies, Deep Fries & Statistics” (edited by Robyn Williams, ABC Books, Sydney, 2007:   ) and “Ongoing Palestinian Genocide” in “The Plight of the Palestinians (edited by William Cook, Palgrave Macmillan, London, 2010: ). He has published a revised and updated 2008 version of his 1998 book “Jane Austen and the Black Hole of British History” (see:  ) as biofuel-, globalization- and climate-driven global food price increases threaten a greater famine catastrophe than the man-made famine in British-ruled India that killed 6-7 million Indians in the “forgotten” World War 2 Bengal Famine (see recent BBC broadcast involving Dr Polya, Economics Nobel Laureate Professor Amartya Sen and others:  ;  Gideon Polya:  ; Gideon Polya Writing: ; Gideon Polya, Wikipedia: ) . When words fail one can say it in pictures – for images of Gideon Polya’s huge paintings for the Planet, Peace, Mother and Child see: and  .




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