The Dialectic of Counter-Enlightenment


by Christian Thorne

In this wide-ranging, ambitious, and engaging study, Christian Thorne confronts the history and enduring legacy of anti-foundationalist thought.

Anti-foundationalism—the skeptical line of thought that contends our beliefs cannot be authoritatively grounded and that most of what passes for knowledge is a sham—has become one of the dominant positions in contemporary criticism. Thorne argues that despite its ascendance, anti-foundationalism is wrong. In The Dialectic of Counter-Enlightenment, he uses deft readings of a range of texts to offer new perspectives on the ongoing clash between philosophy and comprehensive doubt.

The problem with anti-foundationalism is not, as is often thought, that it radiates uncertainty or will unglue the university, but instead that it is a system of thought—with set habits that generate unearned certainties. The shelves are full of histories of modern philosophy, but the history of the resistance to philosophical thought remains to be told. At its heart, The Dialectic of Counter-Enlightenment is a plea not to take doubt at its word—a plea for the return of a vanished philosophical intelligence and for the retirement of an anti-Enlightenment thinking that commits, over and over again, the very crimes that it lays at Enlightenment’s door.

An important work of criticism that makes crucial points about skepticism (which can be construed as a lack of belief in the possibility of universal rational agreement) and its ties to regressive politics… This is an important discussion of pre-Enlightenment opponents of enlightenment, of those who wanted to stand pat all in the defense of standing pat with the king or tyrant we know (whether devil or not), rather than either following the demands of philosophy or embracing egalitarianism. And it is flat out entertaining, to boot.—Robert Moore, PopMatters