The Enlightenment: Those Who Dare to Know

Avi Lifschitz considers the changing meanings of the Enlightenment, both to those who created it and those historians who have since attempted to define it.

Liberty Leading the People 28th July 1830, by DelacroixThe Enlightenment is a term so often used and abused that it might no longer be clear what it stands for. It has been widely viewed as the source of everything that is peculiarly modern, from liberal constitutions to alienating technology. Its legacy is now invoked by diverse groups and parties, sometimes advocating very different policies. In the stormy debates surrounding the publication in 2005 of a caricature of the prophet Muhammad in a Danish newspaper, Muslim protesters argued that the blasphemous images ran against the Enlightenment values of toleration and respect for minorities. Their opponents cast the Muslim response itself as opposed to Enlightenment notions of the freedom of the press and the right to self-expression. Was there ever a set of distinctive ideas we may safely refer to as ‘the Enlightenment’?

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