Tuesday, April 25, 2017

The Religion of Enlightenment Utopianism

Late-eighteenth [xxi] and nineteenth-century utopianism was more absurd than most. But wherein lay the absurdity? Not so much in the ignorance of human history as in its faux religiosity. The great abstractions—Liberity, Equality, Fraternity; Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness—always came in threes. They were secular trinities amply supplied with creeds, priests, keepers of orthodoxy, heresy-hunters, the fervent faithful. All they lacked was self-knowledge, awareness of themselves as profane theologies. Indeed, nowhere was this more apparent than in their understanding of religion itself. Philosophes fashioned a “purely rational philosophy of religion based on the abstract generalities . . . common to all forms of religion. For deism is nothing but the ghost of religion which haunts the grave of dead faith and lost hope” (Dynamics of World History, 88). It never occurred to the builders of the new society hat the religion they concocted—of society itself—was not enough. Such things cannot be concocted anyway, put together as from some recipe book of socially useful devotion. Real religion, Dawson argued, must “embody itself in concrete forms appropriate to the national character and the cultural tradition” (88) of a people. The late-eighteenth-century version was manifestly ersatz.


Dermot Quinn, “Introduction,” in Dynamics of World History, ed. John J. Mulloy (Washington, DE: ISI Books, 2002), xx–xxi.

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