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Sapere aude!

from Lars Syll

An Answer to the Question: What is Enlightenment? - Immanuel Kant - Ljudbok  - BookBeatEnlightenment is man’s emergence from his self-imposed nonage. Nonage is the inability to use one’s own understanding without another’s guidance. This nonage is self-imposed if its cause lies not in lack of understanding but in indecision and lack of courage to use one’s own mind without another’s guidance. Sapere aude! “Have the courage to use your own understanding,” is therefore the motto of the enlightenment.

Laziness and cowardice are the reasons why such a large part of mankind gladly remain minors all their lives, long after nature has freed them from external guidance … Those guardians who have kindly taken supervision upon themselves see to it that the overwhelming majority of mankind — among them the entire fair sex — should consider the step to maturity, not only as hard, but as extremely dangerous. First, these guardians make their domestic cattle stupid and carefully prevent the docile creatures from taking a single step without the leading-strings to which they have fastened them. Then they show them the danger that would threaten them if they should try to walk by themselves. Now this danger is really not very great; after stumbling a few times they would, at last, learn to walk. However, examples of such failures intimidate and generally discourage all further attempts …

Dogmas and formulas, these mechanical tools designed for reasonable use — or rather abuse — of his natural gifts, are the fetters of an everlasting nonage …

Enlightenment requires nothing but freedom — and the most innocent of all that may be called “freedom”: freedom to make public use of one’s reason in all matters. Now I hear the cry from all sides: “Do not argue!” The officer says: “Do not argue — drill!” The tax collector: “Do not argue — pay!” The pastor: “Do not argue — believe!” Only one ruler in the world says: “Argue as much as you please, but obey!” We find restrictions on freedom everywhere. But which restriction is harmful to enlightenment? Which restriction is innocent, and which advances enlightenment? I reply: the public use of one’s reason must be free at all times, and this alone can bring enlightenment to mankind.

Immanuel Kant

To all my brothers and sisters in Afghanistan.

  1. Mervyn Hartwig
    August 21, 2021 at 1:06 pm

    This is actually highly Eurocentric and provides a rationale for imperialism. See e.g. Dussel, The Underside of Modernity. ‘Self-imposed’? ‘Laziness and cowardice’?

  2. Mervyn Hartwig
    August 21, 2021 at 1:08 pm

    This is actually highly Eurocentric and provides a rationale for imperialism. See e.g. Dussel, The Underside of Modernity. ‘Laziness and cowardice’? ‘Self-imposed’?

  3. August 24, 2021 at 10:16 am

    Lars you are so kind and generous in extending the invitation to your Afghan brothers and sisters to dare to be free of their culture mired in ancient superstitions – The idea that the brown people could learn to be free and to think rationally (just like white Europeans) was not considered as possible by Kant himself. According to him, brown people could never learn to think in abstractions like you — He characterized their capabilities as follows: Brown (Hindus, Chinese, Persians, Orientals): do have motivating forces but they have a strong degree of passivity (Gelassenheit) and all look like philosophers. Nevertheless, they incline greatly towards anger and love. They thus can be educated to the highest degree but only in the arts and not in the sciences. They can never achieve the level of abstract concepts. A great Hindustani man is one who has gone far in the art of deception and has much money. The Hindus always stay the way they are, they can never advance, although they began their education much earlier

    • Robert Locke
      August 24, 2021 at 11:25 am

      If you were an historian you would avoid anachronisms. Judge Kant in his time and place

      • mhartwig2015
        August 24, 2021 at 12:02 pm

        Actually, there was Western imperialism in Kant’s day and it’s still with us today, constituting a distanciated present. Kant provides a rationale for it, so there’s no anachronism. To hold him up as liberatory in the Afghanistan context today is offensive to all victims of imperialism in the global South.

      • Robert Locke
        August 25, 2021 at 10:41 am

        Your imperialism is anglo=aerican. Try learning about central europe’ rejection if anglo ameriacis.

    • Robert Locke
      August 27, 2021 at 12:38 pm

      French Physiocrats’ Admiration of the Chinese Imperial System
      In the 18th century, a group of French political economists, called the “Physiocrats,” used the Chinese imperial system as a basis for their calls for “enlightened despotism” in France. Headed by Francis Quesnay (1694-1774), a doctor in the French royal court, the Physiocrats saw much to admire in the Chinese notion of imperial rule. Quesnay, whose life spanned the rule of both the Kangxi and Qianlong emperors in China, argued for “enlightened despotism” on the part of the ruler and laid out a set of economic and social laws that formed a “Natural Order” that should guide the ruler.

      The Chinese system of rule relied on a strong central government headed by an emperor, who, with his many relatives, constituted a ruling family and lineage. But the emperor did not necessarily have the absolute power that is often associated with traditional monarchy. The Chinese never had an understanding of the power of the king in terms that were used in Europe. That is, the Chinese never believed in the “divine right of kings.” Rather, they believed that an emperor had to be an exceptional being — a sage king — who could mediate the cosmic forces. The emperor was also not invulnerable. His actions had to be tempered by basic political expectations, and he had to do the things that an emperor should do. If he did not do these things, he could be overthrown, and this would be considered legitimate. If such a thing occurred, the emperor would be understood to have lost the “Mandate of Heaven.” When a new dynasty was established, it was believed that the Mandate of Heaven had passed to the ruling house. It is interesting to note that when the Manchus overthrew the reigning Ming dynasty and established the Qing dynasty, they announced that the Ming had lost the Mandate of Heaven. And yet, in fulfilling their ceremonial responsibilities as the new holders of the Mandate, the Qing emperors continued to venerate the Ming emperors. The ritual veneration of emperors from the fallen dynasty was important because the Ming had legitimately held the Mandate of Heaven at one time. By ceremonially honoring the Ming as past holders of the Mandate and their legitimate predecessors, the Qing were actually justifying their own claim to the Mandate of Heaven, by asserting their own position as the Ming’s legitimate successors.

      2. An Integrated Bureaucracy
      The Benefits of Imperial Rule
      Preface to The Kangxi Emperor’s Southern Inspection Tour, Scroll Seven: Wuxi to Suzhou:

      “The Seventh Scroll respectfully depicts his majesty’s travels from Wuxi through Hushuguan to the Chang Gate of Suzhou where, seeing the throngs of people crowding the streets and narrow waterways, he specially reduced the size of the honor guard [accompanying him] into the city. Officials, gentry, and commoners, even white-haired old men and small children, all were moved by the emperor’s great favor; happily beating drums, burning incense, and hanging up bunting they prostrated themselves on both sides of the street to welcome him. The emperor’s stopover gave them a chance to behold [the personification of] a flourishing age; the sincerity of their love for him was clearly visible. Again and again, the people detained the emperor, offering him wine and fruit and singing hymns of praise. In painting this picture it has been difficult to convey all of these details. This is because our emperor has compassion for the people of Wu, remitting taxes, canceling rents, and so much more, thereby creating boundless goodwill in people’s hearts. As for the fact that on a small prominence on Tiger Hill, the people erected a pavilion to commemorate his largess and wish him longevity, it was also recorded [in this painting] with brush and silk.”

      • Robert Locke
        August 27, 2021 at 2:15 pm

        hinese Commodities
        In the sixteenth century, Europeans considered the Chinese a very civilized people with fascinating customs and commodities. Aside from exquisite porcelains (the best of which nobody in Europe ever saw), what attracted the most attention by Europeans were the curiosities of daily life, such as chopsticks luxuriously made of ebony or ivory and tipped with silver, bamboo ear pickers (the first Q-tip), and the daily use of a potent and delicious health tonic called cha 茶 or “tea.”

        Cultivation of ornamental carp was another curious custom, in practice since the Tang dynasty (618-907) by selective breeding for red, gold, and yellow colors. In 1162, under the reign of the Southern Song emperor Gaozong, the prestige of goldfish was increased when an official Jinyu chi 金魚池 (Goldfish Pond) was established within the imperial palace. Yellowish gold varieties were strictly forbidden outside the palace since yellow was the color reserved for the imperial family, but other varieties could be bred by anyone.

        By the time Europeans arrived, the appreciation of goldfish had been elevated to an art of leisure and conspicuous consumption enjoyed by the class of prosperous and learned scholar-officials.

        Chopsticks, or “bonesticks” were a great curiosity to Europeans, and were described in many texts. Matteo Ricci wrote: “In eating they have neither Forkes, nor Spoones, nor Knives; but use small smooth stickes, a palme and a halfe long, where-with they put all meats to their mouthes, without touching them with their fingers. … [They] usually are of Ebonie, or Ivorie tipped with Gold or Silver, where they touch the meate.” Fine chopsticks were often tipped with silver as it was believed that silver would indicate the presence of poison in the food.

        John Ovington wrote a treatise on the varieties of tea in Asia, crediting it for the lack of such diseases there as gout and stones. He also praises its power to “rowze the cloudy Vapors that benight the Brain, and drive away all Mists from the Eyes,” and quotes a short poem by Edmund Waller (1606–87) calling it the “Muse’s friend.” But he admits, “although these Virtues which I have mention’d may be fairly attributed to this China Liquor, yet are they sometimes obstructed by the Use of that Sugar which is commonly mix’d with it.”

        Europeans were equally enchanted by the fine porcelains produced in China, but they were puzzled about their manufacture. Extravagant theories continued in circulation well into the eighteenth century despite the insistence of eye-witnesses that it was merely a very fine clay from a particular region mixed and fired into a hard, vitreous

      • Robert Locke
        August 27, 2021 at 2:56 pm

        Warum Leibniz ein Fan von China war
        Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz war ein Universalgelehrter mit hoher Achtung vor fremden Kulturen – speziell der chinesischen. Wie es dazu gekommen ist, klärt der chinesische Philosoph und Leibniz-Kenner Wenchao Li in einem Interview.

        Auf Facebook teilen Auf Twitter teilen
        „Was mich an Leibniz ganz besonders fasziniert, ist sein tiefgreifendes Interesse am Anderen, am Fremden und sein Engagement für das Allgemeinwohl“, sagt der chinesische Philosoph Wenchao Li von der Universität Hannover gegenüber science ORF.at. Li war vergangene Woche Gast eines Symposions in Wien, das anlässlich des 300. Todestages von Leibniz am 14.11. stattgefunden hat.

        Die Beziehung des Individuums zum Anderen ist für Leibniz ein wesentlicher Aspekt, der sowohl als Kompass für das private Leben, für den Bereich des Politischen und für den Umgang mit anderen Kulturen dienen kann. Leibniz fordert jeden Einzelnen dazu auf, sich zu bemühen, die Denk – und Handlungsweisen des Anderen zu verstehen.

        Empathie öffnet die Fenster der Monade
        In seinem metaphysischen Konzept bestimmt Leibniz das Individuum als Monade, „als Einheit in der Vielheit“. Eine Monade ist für Leibniz eine einfache Substanz, ein in sich abgeschlossener Mikrokosmos, der jedoch nicht – wie das Atom – als materielle Einheit zu verstehen ist. An die Stelle des toten und kraftlosen materiellen Punktes tritt ein Ich-Punkt, – ein seelisch-geistiges, mit einem intensiv mannigfaltigen Eigenleben ausgerüstetes Kraftwesen, das das gesamte Universum widerspiegelt. Weil die Monaden Substanzen sind, folgt: Die Monaden haben keine Fenster, durch die etwas hinein- oder heraustreten kann.

        Leibniz in Leipzig 2016
        Leibniz und China: Vor 300 Jahren geschrieben – heute hochaktuell (China Heute)
        Vortrag Karin Yamaguchi: Leibniz und China
        Uni Leipzig
        Engagement für das Gemeinwohl
        Neben den Ausführungen über den konkreten Anderen war laut Wenchao Li das Nachdenken über das Gemeinwohl für Leibniz von zentraler Bedeutung. Er verfasste Schriften über die Einrichtung von Waisenhäusern, über eine Feuer- und Rentenversicherung und die kostenlose medizinische Versorgung von Armen.

        Er plädierte für ein Zentrum für menschliche Anatomie, in dem möglichst detaillierte Krankheitsberichte gesammelt werden sollten, sprach sich für eine Art von Alternativmedizin aus und trat für ein Bierreinheitsgesetz ein. Der Grundsatz von Leibniz lautete: „Je sehnlicher und ernsthafter man das Gemeinwohl fördert, desto mehr wird man für das eigene Glück sorgen“.

        Kulturen des Anderen: China
        Das Engagement von Leibniz für den Anderen beschränkte sich nicht nur auf den europäischen Kontext, wie Wenchao Li betont, sondern erstreckte sich auch auf außereuropäische Kulturen, speziell auf China. Zeit seines Gelehrtenlebens setzte sich Leibniz in Briefen und in der 1697 publizierten Schrift „Novissima Sinica“ mit der chinesischen Kultur auseinander. Er bezeichnete China als das „Europa des Ostens“ und brachte den Leistungen der chinesischen Gelehrten große Hochachtung entgegen.

        In seiner Argumentation folgt Wenchao Li der Forderung von Leibniz, nicht den kommerziellen Handel mit Rohstoffen und Waren in den Mittelpunkt der beiden Kulturen zu stellen, sondern den wissenschaftlichen Erkenntnisaustausch in Theorie und Praxis. „Austausch, lernen, profitieren, so dass dadurch etwas Vorzügliches, Vernünftiges für beide Seiten herauskommt“, propagierte Leibniz.


        Biografie Wenchao Li
        Der 1957 geborene Wenchao Li studierte Germanistik, Philosophie, Linguistik und Politologie in Xi’an, Peking, Heidelberg und Berlin, wo er promovierte und sich habilitierte. Zu seinen Forschungsschwerpunkten zählen die Schriften von Leibniz, die Geschichte europäischer und chinesischer Philosophie sowie Wissenschafts- und Technikphilosophie. Seit 2010 ist Wenchao Li Leibniz-Stiftungsprofessor der Leibniz Universität Hannover.

        Chinesische Wissenschaft – rein empirisch?
        Leibniz war davon überzeugt, dass die Chinesen mehr empirisch-praktische Kenntnisse als die Europäer besaßen. Er bezog sich dabei auf die chinesische Medizin, die Akupunktur, die Arzneimittelkunde und auf die Kunst, einen Staat zu regieren. Die Europäer wären jedoch in der Theorie, speziell der Philosophie überlegen, die sie seit der griechischen Antike kontinuierlich ausgebildet hatten.

        Dieser Einschätzung von Leibniz widerspricht Wenchao Li: „Dass in China die Theorie fehlt, kann ich nicht nachvollziehen; sie ist nur sehr abstrakt und schwer zugänglich“.

        Das Buch der Wandlungen
        In der chinesischen Kultur vermeinte Leibniz eine Analogie zu dem von ihm 1679 entwickelten binären Zahlensystem zu finden, das nur zwei Zahlen verwendet; nämlich 1 und 0. Er bezog sich dabei auf das legendäre Buch „I Ging“ (auch „Yi Ching“) – das „Buch der Wandlungen“. Es basiert auf einem Zeichensystem, das ebenfalls auf zwei Zeichen beruht; auf einer durchgezogenen und einer geteilten Linie.

        Diese Linien drücken die Gegensätze Yin und Yang aus, also etwa den Himmel und die Erde oder das Lichte und Dunkle. Diese Linien werden kombiniert und mit Kommentaren versehen. Leibniz verstand das „I Ging“ als mathematisches Buch; was nicht den Tatsachen entsprach, wie Wenchao Li ausführt: „Es war vielmehr ein Weisheitsbuch, das im China des ersten vorchristlichen Jahrtausends dazu diente, archetypische Situationen des Lebens und des Kosmos abzubilden.“

        “Ketzerische“ Gedanken
        Die chinesische Kultur war auch ein wichtiges Gesprächsthema, das Leibniz mit Prinz Eugen von Savoyen während seines zweijährigen Aufenthalts in Wien erörterte. Zwischen 1712 und 1714 kam es immer wieder zu Tischgesprächen, in denen die jesuitische China-Mission und die Lehren des Konfuzius erörtert wurden.

        Wenchao Li erwähnt einen Vortrag von Leibniz, in dem er einen beinahe ketzerischen Gedanken geäußert hatte „dass nämlich nicht wenige barbarische und nicht christliche Völker und Kulturen gewisse grundlegende Glaubenssätze des Christentums erkannt und praktiziert hätten, so die Schöpfungslehre, die Unsterblichkeit der Seele und selbst die Trinität.“

  4. August 24, 2021 at 10:19 am

    This description of Brown races holds a place of honor — the Black Africans, and the Copper native Americans rank much lower in the subhuman categories. Of course this assumption of infinite superiority entitled the Whites to invade and subdue the savages, in order to civilize them – a process which continues to this day

  5. mhartwig2015
    August 24, 2021 at 10:51 am

    Very true. Critical realists need to move beyond Kant.

  6. August 24, 2021 at 4:20 pm

    I think that much of what has been commented on here is far too one-dimensional for my taste. Let me, first of all, say, as Robert does, that discussing philosophy and philosophers — just as pretty much anything — has to take place in a contextualized place and time. Judging people that lived more than 200 years ago from the standpoint of present days (scientific) knowledge is nothing but anachronistic. That Kant and most people in his time held views that expressed ‘misogyny’, or were discriminatory, or even ‘racist’, is not the question. We all know that. What would be much more interesting would be to situate and try to analyze and understand why and in which historical, social, and cultural context these views were anchored. That said, I think that had Kant lived today, he would surely strongly condemn all kinds of ‘racism’ and other attacks on universal human rights and enlightenment.

    • mhartwig2015
      August 26, 2021 at 1:26 pm

      Lars, you’re quite missing the point. Kantian abstract ‘universal human rights and enlightenment’ have been and are being used to justify imperialism, viz. the exploitation and plunder of the global South by the global North via globalised capital under the hegemony of the US, which in practice is highly eurocentric and racist.

  7. August 25, 2021 at 5:16 pm

    Exactly the same hypocrisy and double standards which prevailed two centuries ago continue to dominate world politics today. UK bemoaned the death of 500 soldiers in the useless Afghan war without a word of regret for the thousands of Afghani’s they killed. The French, who prohibit women from dressing according to their religious beliefs, are lecturing Afghani’s on giving freedom to women. And Americans who did massive rapes in Germany after occupation in WW2, are telling Afghanis about proper conduct. Killing of millions in Iraq and destruction of entire infrastructure of the country does not excite any moral outrage, but a terrorist attack which kills ten whites in France attracts global outrage. There is no difference between the times of Kant and those of today

    • August 26, 2021 at 8:43 am

      “Killing of millions in Iraq and destruction of entire infrastructure of the country does not excite any moral outrage”? What a self-righteous comment! Of course there is moral outrage, both at behaviour still familiar in the UK from the Enlightened treatment of Catholics in Ireland, but also at the suppression of protests in our Enlightened media. Nor is it only Catholics who have been outraged by this. In defence of Kant. two hundred years ago we still hadn’t discovered the circulation of electricity, never mind what we know about sexuality and how the brain works. All he had to go on was appearances, i.e. Hobbes/Locke/Hume empiricism, stuck in its vicious circle of seeing what they were prescribing.

  8. August 25, 2021 at 6:50 pm

    Very few know that the Taliban originated as a group to protect Afghan women from rape by US led occupying forces

  9. August 26, 2021 at 2:50 pm

    Racism was invented to justify conquest of the globe through monstrously brutal methods, by vilifying all other cultures and races as subhuman, while turning whites into demigods. Where we are today is a continuation of where we started from.

  10. August 27, 2021 at 10:13 am

    ‘Racism’ is a word invented to explain the differences in appearance and culture between people living in different parts of the world, and Asad, not looking back as far as the Old Testament stories of Cane and Abel (as early as Genesis 4) and the rape of Dinah (Genesis 38), seems to have forgotten that this is about differences and needs built into human nature. A few “rotten apples” have infected some but not all of the others. It seems he has already forgotten how pro-Afghanistan the West was when it drove out the Russians, and would not have invaded it had Afghan militants not flown planes into American skyscrapers. The mood in Ireland at that time, inspired by Nelson Mandela, was finally turning to peace processes from Locke’s “Enlightened” post-Newton balancing of forces. That seems to have been the original motivation both of the US/UK intervention in Afghanistan and Joe Biden’s withdrawal: the Lockean stalemate that might have left time for reflection never having been achieved. Asad himself needs to learn to recognise his friends instead of allowing his reasonable self to be consumed by indiscriminate hate and understandable but nevertheless knee-jerk reaction. I expressed my own moral outrage decades ago by saying I was ashamed to be British.

    • Econoclast
      August 29, 2021 at 9:28 pm

      “how pro-Afghanistan the West was when it drove out the Russians, and would not have invaded it had Afghan militants not flown planes into American skyscrapers.”

      Really? It was Saudis, not Afghans. And Jimmy Carter got us into Afghanistan, spurred on by his rabid anticommunist National Security Advisor, Zbigniew Brzezinski, (he’s proudly admitted this publicly) in order to “mire the Soviets into their own Vietnam”. Ha! USA got mired instead. Afghanistan was a target in the right-wing Project for a New American Century. And a novelist showed the way. In James Michener’s 1962 novel, Caravans, one of his characters predicts that the Americans will bomb Afghanistan in the foreseeable future. How prescient.

  11. Econoclast
    August 29, 2021 at 11:14 pm

    As I read this long set of posts I believe I’ve spotted a contradiction: on the one hand we talk about Kant in the context of employing critical thinking, but on the other we must not judge Kant outside of his time and place, i.e., by current standards.

    Really? This advocates judging him within his cultural context, and it is culture that often impedes critical thinking.

    I am descended from two families of prominent Virginia slaveholders, one with a major river named after him and the other a fellow who platted the city of Lynchburg. America’s first shame — slaveholding and de-humanizing black people by law in the process — was never ok, was averted by some and thus was a choice. The idea that I cannot judge them because they were beholden to their time is absurd on its face.

    Further, I completely agree with Asad about this: “Of course this assumption of infinite superiority entitled the Whites to invade and subdue the savages, in order to civilize them – a process which continues to this day.”

    I’m sorry, but I detect some subtle instances of an unconscious white supremacy in this thread.

    • Robert Locke
      August 30, 2021 at 10:02 am

      Can’t believe ththis attack on the enlightebment, for wgat purpose.i

      • August 30, 2021 at 10:30 am

        Can’t but agree, Robert. Sad and disappointing.

      • mhartwig2015
        August 30, 2021 at 12:50 pm

        What is really sad – better, tragic – and disappointing is that Northern ‘enlightened intellectuals’ like yourselves are quite unable to see that Kantian abstract ‘human rights and enlightenment’ have been and are being used to ‘justify’ the domination, exploitation and plunder of the global South by the global North. To hold up ‘Kantian enlightenment’ to Afghans today without any qualification is insensitive and insulting.

        This does not mean that there are no human rights – just not the abstract Kantian ones that are often used to provide a rationale for ‘humanitarian interventions’. The ‘democracy’ they seek to impose (mainly in rhetoric) is also sham – it’s substance is plutocracy/corpocracy.

      • August 30, 2021 at 1:02 pm

        Maybe I’m not “enlightened”, then, because I can see it well enough. I just don’t blame the messenger for the message.

      • mhartwig2015
        August 30, 2021 at 1:26 pm

        Dave: The messenger is regurgitating the message.

      • August 30, 2021 at 2:18 pm

        I agree, but try telling Kant that. He’s been dead 217 years!

  12. Ken Zimmerman
    August 30, 2021 at 11:20 am

    How people categorize others they encounter and act toward them is an ongoing source of uncertainty and a practical maze people are forced to navigate. Often with little guidance from any culture; or conflicting guidance. Culture is often being disturbed and must be reassembled to deal with these disturbances. 

    In the United States, the Census Bureau attempts to conduct a complete accounting of all residents every 10 years. The data gathered by the Bureau are very important, because they serve to determine the distribution of federal dollars to support housing assistance, highway construction, employment services, schools, hospital services, programs for the elderly, and other funding targets. In the year 2000, persons filling out census forms were given a unique opportunity. For the first time ever, those with mixed racial heritage were permitted to select more than one racial category. As a result of new governmental policy, the category “multiracial” is now a reality in the United States. Does this mean that people who are multiracial have never before existed in this country? Of course not. Even a superficial exploration of U.S. history will show that multiracial people have been present throughout. The recent study using DNA tests to comfirm that Thomas Jefferson was the father of at least one child by his slave Sally Hemings (Foster et al., 1998) is but one example of how the history of slavery in the United States has contributed to the existence of people of multiracial descent. However, until recently government policies in the United States have not allowed for the recognition of a multiracial identity. Rather, they have enforced policies such as the rule of hypo-descent-one drop of black blood makes you black-to maintain distinct racial categories. 

    The preceding example clearly illustrates how the categories that we use to describe ourselves and those around us are the product of cultural rather than biological factors. Biologically, people who are multiracial certainly exist throughout the United States. Indeed, it is unlikely that anyone is “racially pure.” Nevertheless, it is the social recognition, definition, and grouping of these factors that make them culturally significant in our daily interactions. Our reliance on such distinct categories is made clear when we ask someone whose race is not immediately discernible to us, “What are you?” 

    These culturally defined classifications are also significant in that they are structured as categories that are fundamentally different from one another. Thus, we expect people to be black or white, never in between. It is important to point out, however, that difference isn’t necessarily a negative quality. On the contrary, the existence of categories of difference adds a great deal of rich-ness to our lives. The presence of different cultural traditions, types of food, forms of music, and styles of dance serves to make society more interesting. It is not the differences that are the causes of inequality in our culture. Rather, it is the meanings and values applied to these differences that makes them harmful. For example, it is not that people of color are defined as different from whites in the United States but that whites are viewed as superior and as the cultural standard against which all others are judged that transforms categories of race differences into a system of racial inequality. 

    So, our job must be to explore how categories of difference with regard to race/ethnicity, social class, sex/gender, and sexuality are constructed and then transformed into systems of inequality. We need to investigate what creates these categories and how they are constructed, and consider some explanations about why these categories are created. It is important that we understand how the processes that construct these categories simultaneously create structures of social stratification-a system by which society ranks categories of people in a hierarchy-and how social stratification results in systems of inequality. Then we must consider the effects that categories of difference have on all members of our own and other societies and how this inequality can be addressed. By examining closely the processes that construct categories of difference, we will better understand how they impact our lives. Furthermore, by recognizing how systems of inequality are created, we can gain a greater understanding of how to transform such systems into ones of more equality.

    In 1982-83, Susie Guillory Phipps unsuccessfully sued the Louisiana Bureau of Vital Records to change her racial classification from black to white. The descendant of an 18th century white planter and a black slave, Phipps was designated “black” in her birth certificate in accordance with a 1970 state law which declared anyone with at least 1/32 “Negro blood” to be black. The legal battle raised intriguing questions about the concept of race, its meaning in contemporary society, and its use (and abuse) in public policy. Assistant Attorney General Ron Davis defended the law by pointing out that some type of racial classification was necessary to comply with federal record-keeping requirements and to facilitate programs for the prevention of genetic diseases. Phipps’s attorney, Brian Begue, argued that the assignment of racial categories on birth certificates was unconstitutional and that the 1/32 designation was inaccurate. He called on a retired Tulane University professor who cited research indicating that most whites have 1/20 “Negro” ancestry. In the end, Phipps lost. The court upheld a state law which quantified racial identity, and in so doing affirmed the legality of assigning individuals to specific racial groupings. 

    The Phipps case illustrates the continuing dilemma of defining race and establishing its meaning in institutional life. Today, even more so than in the past, to assert that variations in human physiognomy are racially based is to enter a constant and intense debate. Scientific interpretations of race have not been alone in sparking heated controversy; religious perspectives have done so as well.  Most centrally, of course, race has been a matter of political contention. This has been particularly true in the United States, where the concept of race has varied enormously over time without ever leaving the center stage of US history.

    When European explorers in the New World ‘discovered’ people who looked different than themselves, these ‘natives’ challenged then existing conceptions of the origins of the human species, and raised disturbing questions as to whether all could be considered in the same “family of man.” Religious debates flared over the attempt to reconcile the Bible with the existence of “racially distinct” people. Arguments took place over creation itself, as theories of polygenesis questioned whether God had made only one species of humanity (“monogenesis”). Europeans wondered if the natives of the New World were indeed human beings with redeemable souls. At stake were not only the prospects for conversion, but the types of treatment to be accorded them. The expropriation of property, the denial of political rights, the introduction of slavery and of other forms of coercive labor, as well as outright extermination, all presupposed a worldview which distinguished Europeans-children of God, human beings, etc.-from ‘others.’ Such a world view was needed to explain why some should be “free” and others enslaved, why some had rights to land and property while others did not. Race, and the interpretation of racial differences, was a central factor in that world view. These encounters threatened all European cultures. Cultures existing for over a thousand years with certainty about who they were and their place in the cosmos.

  13. August 30, 2021 at 12:51 pm

    Economist is relying on defective eyesight rather than trusting his reason if he is attributing unconscious right wing supremacy to me. Perhaps he was right about Jimmy Carter, but my argument was with Asad being hypocritical (as unbalanced as the Kant he was criticising), and not with Lars letting Kant speak for himself. What I actually wrote was that I shared Asad’s moral outrage, and I might have added that Christ was – so far as we know – brown, not white, and certainly “catholic” in his attitude to the brotherhood of ALL mankind.

    Robert, my attack on the “Enlightenment” was justified by the catastrophic effect it has had on the environment.

    I repeat: the problem is built into human nature – a side effect of our needing to grow up – which applies as much to Catholics as to anyone else, i.e. not as Kant says, free speech having used our reason, but as George Spencer Brown put it, “The condition of being able to learn is that you don’t already know”. We have to learn how to think straight and usually don’t because we feel we already have. Hence the assumption of infinite superiority supposedly “entitling” Asad’s enlightened Whites (the ironic capitalisation is his, not mine). My defence of Kant was NOT a defence of slavery but a claim that one can’t think straight about slavery until one has learned why it is wrong. “Garbage in, garbage out”.

    • August 30, 2021 at 2:10 pm

      Looking up Jimmy Carter’s presidency, it seems he was only president until January 1981, so that twenty years ago the president was Reagan, not Carter. Econoclast may still be right about the significance of Brzezinski’s influence.

      • Robert Locke
        August 31, 2021 at 10:19 am

        When I set out to write a Phd thesis I decided tto studt the attenpt to studyt to restore the Legitimisr Monarchy at the beginning of the 3rd Republic. I am not a royalist, conservative, catholic, nor french in heritage, I learmed a lot/


  14. mhartwig2015
    August 31, 2021 at 1:58 pm

    Human Rights in Afghanistan American-style
    The bloody legacy of the 20-year US intervention was underscored on the eve of the final evacuation with a “preemptive” drone strike carried out against what the US military had claimed was a car carrying a suicide bomber. It wiped out 10 Afghan civilians, nine of them from the same family. The victims included seven children aged 2 to 12 along with their father and brother—a 19-year-old student—and a neighbor.
    Sunday’s attack, conducted as the US staggered to the finish line of its evacuation operation from Kabul international airport, was described by the Pentagon as “a self-defense unmanned over-the-horizon air strike” conducted against Islamic State-Khorasan (ISIS-K), which claimed responsibility for the suicide bombing at the airport last Thursday.
    The drone massacre constitutes one more in a countless number of such atrocities carried out in the 20-year neocolonial war and occupation that has ravaged Afghanistan. It will doubtless not be the last, as Washington continues to claim the right to stage attacks at will against what it deems terrorist targets in the country even after the withdrawal of the last US forces.
    Reports from Kabul paint a picture of horror at the site of the drone strike. Outraged neighbors of the slaughtered Ahmadi family told Al Jazeera of “human flesh stuck to the walls. Bones fallen into bushes. Walls stained with blood.” One neighbor said of one of the youngest children killed, “We only found his legs.”
    The children killed in the attack included three two-year-olds and two three-year-olds.
    The missile struck just as the children’s father returned from work and they ran out to his car to greet him.
    The father, Zemarai, had worked for the aid agency Nutrition and Education International, resulting in the family’s receiving a US Special Immigrant Visa. They had packed their bags and were waiting for a call telling them to go to the Kabul airport. The other adult killed in the strike was a former member of the Afghan National Army.
    Ramin Yousufi, a relative of the slaughtered family, told the BBC that the drone strike had brought “hell in our lives.”
    “Why did they kill our family, our children?” he asked, sobbing. “Seven children burned up. We can’t identify them from their faces, their bodies.”

    • Robert Locke
      September 1, 2021 at 9:05 am

      When I sudied for Phd Comprehensives, my fields were Hgh Middle Ages, 900=1350. Early Mod Eur 1848=1763, Fren Rev- Nap 1763=1848, 19th and 20th cen europe. They were about Europe and its dynamic internal history. The enlightenment is about that.

  15. mhartwig2015
    September 1, 2021 at 1:02 pm

    Kant, whose ‘What is enlightenment?’ was cited at the beginning of this thread, addressed ‘to all my Afghan brothers and sisters’, is the preeminent philosopher of capitalist modernity. The abstract human rights he formulated are regularly cited as excuses for ‘humanitarian interventions’. The Americans and Europeans are always prating about them. But their practice is very different.

    Europe’s ‘dynamic “internal” history’ has depended crucially on the domination and exploitation of the global South. ‘The enlightenment’ seems blind to that.

    ‘*The* enlightenment’?? Were there no other enlightenments in human history? What eurocentric arrogance.

    • Robert Locke
      September 2, 2021 at 11:23 am

      Tou are so ignoraant. Ever heard of the renasnce of the 13eh century Read the Journal of World History and learn something.

      • Robert Locke
        September 2, 2021 at 11:57 am

        Lost Maps of the Caliphs: Drawing the World in Eleventh-Century Cairo by Yossef Rapoport and Emilie Savage-Smith (review)
        Pinar Emiralioğlu
        Journal of World History
        University of Hawai’i Press
        Volume 32, Number 3, September 2021
        pp. 550-552
        View CitationRelated Content Related Content
        Additional Information
        In lieu of an abstract, here is a brief excerpt of the content:
        Reviewed by:
        Pinar Emiralioğlu
        Lost Maps of the Caliphs: Drawing the World in Eleventh-Century Cairo. By YOSSEF RAPOPORT and EMILIE SAVAGE-SMITH. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2019. iii + 349 pp. ISBN 978-0-226-54088-7. $55.00 (hardcover).
        In this outstanding study on an illustrated copy of the Book of Curiosities from eleventh-century Cairo, Rapoport and Savage-Smith open a window into the global vision, cartographic, and geographic knowledge as well as political and economic aspirations of the Muslim world. With an intricately weaved analysis, the authors come to the conclusion that the Book of Curiosities was composed most probably by a military man, who consulted Greek as well as Persian, Indian, and Coptic geographical and cartographical knowledge. In doing so, he composed one of the greatest achievements of medieval mapmaking and showcased the integral role that the Mediterranean Sea played for political and economic ambitions of the Islamic civilization which had its roots in the desert.

      • mhartwig2015
        September 2, 2021 at 2:11 pm

        So why do you talk about ‘the enlightenment’ as if there is only one — the European one?

        You’ve descended to abuse, so ooroo.

      • September 3, 2021 at 12:24 pm

        So you are right, Mervyn, but Robert had already answered your question, which is hardly abuse.

        Personally I always treat the modern capital letter use of the word ‘Enlightment’ as ironical, given it is the very opposite of the Christian enlightment it aimed to supersede, that had replaced hegemonic slavery with a religious tradition of being grateful for what you are given, which by then had grown to include feudal traditions recognising and providing for mutual responsibilities..

  16. Gerald Holtham
    September 2, 2021 at 9:43 pm

    Not my subject but as I understand it, the enlightenment was the result of Arab texts reaching Western Europe. The texts were themselves the result of Muslim, Arab scholars advancing after assimilating Greek astronomy, mathematics and philosophy that had been lost in the West or distorted by the dominant religion. They helped to release Europe from its dogmatic slumber and lead eventually to values of freedom of conscience and freedom of enquiry. The values of the enlightenment are not the property of any racial group. They have been embraced – and rejected – by people in all continents.
    Attempting to impose them by force is of course paradoxical and usually unsuccessful. “One persuaded against his will if of the same opinion still”. But hypocrisy does not negate or damn the values it proclaims, it damns only itself. As La Rochefoucauld said “hypocrisy is the homage that vice pays to virtue”. Enlightenment values are not necessary or sufficient for imperialism. Genghis Khan, the Ottomans, the Sultanate of Oman, Chaka Zulu were accomplished imperialists without subscribing to enlightenment values. The only contribution of the enlightenment to Western imperialism was that the freedom of enquiry it fostered led to scientific advance that gave Western countries a huge technological advantage over others, including in military matters. But enlightenment values were best represented by the opponents of imperialism who objected to it on conscientious grounds like John Hobson, William James and Henry Richard..

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