Today’s Counter-Enlightenment

Not long ago, one might have concluded that, at least in Europe, there were no taboos left. A process that had begun with the Enlightenment had now reached the point at which “anything goes.” Particularly in the arts, there were no apparent limits to showing what even a generation ago would have been regarded as highly offensive.

Two generations ago, most countries had censors who not only tried to prevent younger people from seeing certain films but who actually banned books. Since the 1960’s, such proscriptions have weakened until, in the end, explicit sexuality, violence, blasphemy – while upsetting to some people – were tolerated as a part of the enlightened world.

Or were they? Are there really no limits? Outside Europe, the “anything goes” attitude was never fully accepted. And there were limits in Europe, too. The historian David Irving is still in detention in Austria for the crime of Holocaust denial. This is, to be sure, a special case. The denial of a well-documented truth may lead to new crimes. But is the answer to the old question, “What is truth?” always so clear?

We hope you're enjoying Project Syndicate.

To continue reading and receive unfettered access to all content, subscribe now.



Unlock additional commentaries for FREE by registering.