Kant, Enlightenment, and the Middle East
For Immanuel Kant, “enlightenment means man’s emergence from his self-imposed immaturity” (What is Enlightenment?). The process of enlightenment, which in this context began in the 17th century, appears to have been largely accepted by the Western democracies. (For the most part) we who live in democracies are free to, and often do, question what we are told by higher authorities, whether they be government, leaders, the church or other societal norms. We are no longer, as Kant might say, livestock simply following what we are told to do and what to believe. But how has this process progressed across the world?
In the middle east of the twentieth century, the citizens of many countries have lived under this “self-imposed immaturity.” what to believe has been dictated to many by the very authorities that Kant cites, especially strict dogmatic theocracies. But today, I would argue we are witnessing another “age of enlightenment.”
In this blog and throughout this course we have explored the various connections between our political theory material and the current wave of uprising in the middle east. We ought to explore now this wave of revolutionary sentiment through the guise of enlightenment ideals.
The enlightenment represented a major transition toward conclusions and beliefs founded on individual use of reason and the faculties of the human mind. Libya, Egypt, Tunisia, Yemen–these countries have all experienced waves of revolt founded on individual thought rather than the acceptance of hierarchical norms. It is my belief that these young revolutionaries have–with the aid of globalized communications as I have often mentioned in this blog–observed the successes of liberal western democracy and the benefits of freedom and wish to experience that themselves. As Kant proclaims, “Nothing is required for this enlightenment…except freedom” (What is Enlightenment).
Kant writes this piece in 1784, shortly after the successes of enlightenment ideals of freedom manifested in the American Revolution. Today, the wave of enlightenment has spread across the arab world, one after another. The ideal spreads like dominoes falling; it took an initial push and now history appears to be on this course.
Kant’s proclamation that he does not live in an enlightened age, but rather an age of enlightenment, applies to the arab world today. The arab world is just beginning to rise out of a period of immaturity. It will perhaps take years, decades or longer for revolutionaries to realize dreams of democracy. There is always the fear of reactionary backlash, as occurred in Europe in the wake of the French revolution. Let us hope that history does not repeat itself.
But now we have the benefit of hindsight. Within us we hold the power to aid in this age of enlightenment. We as leaders of the world can help with offering of ideas. We can publicly declare our support. We may provide covert support or economic aid. We can use military action as we have begun to do in the case of Libya. We have the opportunity, and perhaps the obligation, to augment the enlightening of the arab world, to the benefit of the world as a whole.
Here is a link to The Economist wrap up of arab unrest and revolution: http://www.economist.com/blogs/newsbook/2011/03/middle_east_unrest