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Reclaiming the Enlightenment: Toward a Politics of Radical Engagement

  • Sankar Muthu (a1)

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Reclaiming the Enlightenment: Toward a Politics of Radical Engagement. By Stephen Eric Bronner. New York: Columbia University Press, 2004. 224p. $29.50.

Stephen Eric Bronner reclaims what he takes to be the genuine spirit of Enlightenment thought from a variety of contemporaneous and historical critics on the Left and Right, but first and foremost from Max Horkheimer and Theodor Adorno's Dialectic of Enlightenment (DE) (1947). Bronner contends that many criticisms of Enlightenment thought today can be traced to what he characterizes as Horkheimer and Adorno's brilliant but ultimately inaccurate and misleading analysis. The losses involved are not only scholarly but political, Bronner argues, for progressive activists and intellectuals today can benefit from the ethical orientations and philosophical temperaments that informed Enlightenment thinkers. Reclaiming the Enlightenment is also a response to historians of political thought who have too often, in Bronner's opinion, missed the forest for the trees. While the recent historiography of Enlightenment thought has deepened and broadened our understanding of particular figures, themes, and regional variants of eighteenth-century political philosophy, he contends that the contemporary emphasis on multiple Enlightenments can have the effect of obscuring what he takes to be the fundamental ethos of Enlightenment thought.

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