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.