Monday, January 12, 2009

Counter-Enlightenment Today

In a debate with Noam Chomsky at Ohio State in 1988 Richard Perle ends his opening remarks with a stirring call for his audience to set its face against discussion of the documentary record:

Ladies and Gentlemen,

As we continue the evening, ask yourself whether the adumbration of documents that you haven’t seen and I haven’t seen, and the weight and the consequences of which it is impossible to estimate, bears up against your impression of where the United States has been in the post-war period and your sense of what the United States represents both at home and around the world.

Thank you.


(the relevant section comes at about 4.22 on the clip)

Chomsky has offered evidence to support his claims, Perle prefers that we concentrate on our 'impression of where the United States has been in the post-war period' and our 'sense of what the United States represents both at home and around the world'. The appeal to pre-existing sentiment, and the dismissive attitude to information that might weaken the hold of that sentiment, are characteristic of hostility to Enlightenment. The are often successful, since they show a shrewd appreciation of the role that 'sense' and 'impression' play in the selection and rejection of information relevant to the construction of a political world-view. Few of us can give up an hospitable 'impression' for the desolation afforded to us by the mere facts.

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