Tutelage, Tyranny, and Our Modern Counter-Enlightenment

Tutelage, Tyranny, and Our Modern Counter-Enlightenment
An American flag flies in front of a department of corrections building after it was set ablaze during a second night of rioting in Kenosha, Wis., on Aug. 24, 2020. (Scott Olson/Getty Images)
William Brooks

In a short but profound 1783 essay, Immanuel Kant wrote, “Enlightenment is man’s escape from his self-imposed tutelage.”

Kant went on to explain that tutelage implies an inability to make use of one’s intelligence without guidance from someone else. A state of tutelage, he suggested, is self-imposed. Its cause is not lack of intelligence but lack of the resolve required to think for yourself. Having the courage to express or listen to an original thought is a prerequisite for human enlightenment.

People can be prevented from using their intelligence in the name of a “progressive” ideology that robs them of their intellectual independence. Citizens are virtually compelled to forgo the use of their own mental capacity and powers of observation by the potent tactics of a dominant mob.

Leading up to the Bolshevik revolution in Russia, there was an unprecedented wave of crime and politically motivated violence. Historian Anna Geifman observed that “robbery, extortion, and murder became more common than traffic accidents.”

Writing on the suicide of liberalism in the October edition of First Things Magazine, Northwestern University professor Gary Saul Morson implied that conditions in pre-revolutionary Russia were eerily similar to the present disorder in many American cities.

“Far from regretting the death and maiming of innocent bystanders,” he wrote, “terrorists boasted of killing as many as possible, either because the victims were likely bourgeois or because any murder helped bring down the old order.”

According to Morson, a sense of the inevitability of revolution appeared to excuse the Russian Intelligentsia from taking a stand against the mayhem. Educated liberals acquiesced to the perpetrators of the violence, and no one had the courage to stand squarely behind the enforcement of law and order.

In fact, many pillars of Russian society aided the terrorists in any way they could: by collecting money for them, providing safe houses, and calling for amnesty for those who were arrested. Lawyers, teachers, doctors, engineers, industrialists, and bank directors all supported the terrorists, because doing so demonstrated “progressive” good manners and membership in the nation’s intelligentsia. The end result for Russia was some 70 years of communist tyranny.

Resistant Conservatives Seek Alternative Sources of Information

Few of us might have been courageous enough to resist the terror of the Bolsheviks, but at a time when most Western nations still retain some respect for the rule of law and democratic institutions, it's troubling to observe so many citizens rushing into a state of tutelage of their own free will. Whether this form of tutelage turns up in a social media post, a newspaper editorial, a cable news panel, or a speech from the throne, it has become a clear sign of the memetic intellectual climate of our times.

To ordinary citizens seeking full information on candidates and policy proposals in the course of an election campaign, it has become increasing evident that progressive opinion-makers are eager to shut down discourse when they disagree with the direction of a conversation.

Examples of this disposition abound on state media outlets such as the CBC and BBC, but even America’s venerable Fox News Channel is beginning to drift in the same direction. Once considered a leading defender of traditional values and well-ordered liberty, a significant cohort of Fox journalists are now zealous purveyors of progressive idealism and the Democratic Party. Hyper critics of Trump and the MAGA doctrine are front and center in the network’s election coverage and political analysis.

This month, Texas Sen. Ted Cruz appeared on “Fox and Friends,” which he would have expected to be as friendly a venue for a Republican as the entire line up at CNN and MSNBC is for Democrats. When the morning interview turned to the question of bias on the part of presidential debate moderators, Cruz pointed to a pattern in the debates in which moderators have been behaving like arms of the Democratic National Committee.

Cruz said that, in the first debate, he thought that Fox’s Chris Wallace had done “a terrible job moderating.” He acknowledged that USA Today’s Susan Page had not interrupted the Republican candidate as much as Wallace, but the questions asked were still basically from the playbook of the Biden campaign. Cruz’s observations came as no surprise to Fox viewers, who generally agreed with him.

Nevertheless, Fox’s Ainsley Earhardt took it upon herself to put the Republican senator in his place. “Just to defend Chris Wallace,” she said, “I thought Chris did a fine job. And he’s one of our friends and he's part of our family, Ted Cruz. ... We love him.” Cruz was given no opportunity to respond and compelled to move on to another subject.
In mid-September, a similar incident transpired on Fox’s noon hour show “Outnumbered” when former Republican Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich was shut down for mentioning George Soros in relation to the ongoing civil unrest in the United States. “Progressive district attorneys are anti-police, pro-criminal, and overwhelmingly elected with George Soros’s money,” Gingrich said. “And they’re a major cause of the violence we’re seeing because they keep putting the violent criminals back on the street,” he added.

Co-host Melissa Francis immediately interjected, “I’m not sure we need to bring George Soros into this.” When the show’s anchor, Harris Faulkner, tried to allow Gingrich to complete his thought, a second panelist, Marie Harf, interrupted to agree with Francis. The episode ended in an awkward silence while Gingrich summed up the exchange by saying, “Okay, so it’s verboten.” Basically, Gingrich made the point that factual observations and reality-based opinions are no longer just being dismissed as inapplicable to a particular debate, they're also now impermissible.

Such exchanges may not demonstrate a permanent ideological shift at Fox News. There remain several persistent conservative truth seekers with loyal audiences. But viewer comments indicate that such episodes are bell weathers of a drift that's turning off a significant portion of the network’s followers.

The recent prominence that Fox producers have given to left-wing contributors such as former NPR host Juan Williams, who regularly passes off Democratic Party talking points as political analysis, is also driving many conservative viewers in search of new sources of news and analysis.

Emancipation From Progressive Thought Control

Intellectual laziness and lack of courage can keep people in a state of tutelage for their entire lives. This is why progressive journalists and self-appointed members of our intelligentsia have found it so easy to impose themselves as guardians and managers of the public thought process.

Over several decades an inclination to control public thought and politicize reason in the name of “critical thinking” has set the agenda for almost all the world’s major press outlets and formative cultural institutions. Intellectual arts and skills are continuously misused for the purpose of turning falsehood into truth and truth into falsehood.

Too many citizens seek only to serve a movement that relieves them of the troublesome burden of independent thought. We find ourselves trapped in a counter-enlightenment, ironically led by a so-called critical intelligentsia whose plan for human salvation is based on a thoroughgoing disregard for reality, a boring moralism, and a noisy intolerance.

Emancipation from this self-imposed tutelage is our one and only hope for a free and well-ordered future.

William Brooks is a Montreal writer and educator. He currently serves as editor of “The Civil Conversation” for Canada’s Civitas Society and is an Epoch Times contributor.
Views expressed in this article are opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Epoch Times.
William Brooks is a Canadian writer who contributes to The Epoch Times from Halifax, Nova Scotia. He is a senior fellow with the Frontier Centre for Public Policy.