By Charles L. Griswold, Jr
Publisher: Cambridge University Press
Print Publication Year: 1998
Online Publication Date:November 2009
Chapter DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.1017/CBO9780511608964.001
Subjects: Eighteenth-century philosophy
Directly related to modern man's pride are his irony about himself, his awareness that he must live in a historicizing and twilight atmosphere, as it were, his fear that in the future he will be quite unable to preserve his youthful hopes and vigor. Here and there some go further, they become cynical, quite literally justifying the course of history, indeed the evolution of the world, for modern man's convenience according to the cynical axiom that everything was destined to be precisely what it now is. Men had to become what they now are and not something else, and against this “necessity” there can be no rebellion. The comfort afforded by this kind of cynicism is a refuge for those who cannot bear to live ironical lives.Friedrich Nietzsche
We find ourselves in a curious situation. Never in history have so many enjoyed so high a level of material prosperity, political and economic liberty, and peace and security. The benefits of the flourishing arts, sciences, and humanistic disciplines are within reach of an unprecedented number of people. We may praise the strict virtues of ancient Sparta or the high artistic and philosophical accomplishments of ancient Athens, but who among us would willingly return to either, or to any of the great medieval cities, let alone to a less distinguished polis? We are the children of the Enlightenment, and scarcely any of us would gladly claim a different patrimony. Life in premodern society strikes us as thoroughly undesirable. So widely shared is this conviction that in extraordinary numbers the peoples of the globe vote for it with their feet. The march of the liberal Enlightenment seems irresistible.