21st Century Enlightenment

I’m a big fan of Matthew Taylor, Chief Exec of the the RSA and one-time Chief Advisor on Political Strategy to Tony Blair.  Matthew was appointed to the Labour Party in 1994 to establish Labour’s rebuttal operation. His activities before the Labour Party included being a county councillor, a parliamentary candidate, a university research fellow and the director of a unit monitoring policy in the health service.

While I don’t agree with everything he says, his recent pamphlet ’21st Century Enlightenment’ is brilliant.  It takes as its starting off point ideas from Tzvetan Todorov, ideas that the core of the Enlightenment project; autonomy, universalism, and the human end purpose of our acts, are something that we can apply in todays social policy.  Here’s a passage from the book to give you a taster:

“Why should we cram education into the first quarter of life, juggle work and caring (first for children, then for parents) in the middle half and then suffer second-class status and fear of neglect in the final quarter?  So powerful are the logics of progress that it can come as a shock to be reminded that as well as lacking all our modern comforts, citizens of pre-industrial periods also enjoyed many things we might envy: shorter working hours, more festivals and parties, stronger community and family bonds, for example

The train of progress hurtles down the tracks with us as its passengers.  Whether we have good seats or bad, whether we enjoy or complain about the view, it rarely feels as though it is us setting the destination.  Rationality can tell us how best to get from A to Z but without deeper reasoning we cannot decide where Z should be.  David Halpern reports that the Danes are the happiest people in the world not only because of their material circumstances but because they say what matters most in life is good relationships.  In contrast, the most miserable nationality, the Bulgarians, say money is the key to happiness.  Living the good life may be as much about what you aim for as what you achieve.”

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