Now we can say the Enlightenment is the attempt to build a world on this autonomous reason. Then let me add quickly a few words about the term “reason,” Autonomy is not willfulness. Reason is not calculation. Reason is the awareness of the principles of truth and justice.. In the name of this reason, the Enlightenment fought against the demonic authorities of the ancien in France of the 18th century, and in all Europe.
They fought against it in the name of reason which is awareness of the principles of truth and goodness – not in the name of business, of calculcating, reason; not in the name of controlling reason, of usefulness, but in the name of justice and truth. The 18th century had some heroic elements in it: reason is always seen fighting against the distortions of humanity in the regime of the French kings and the Roman popes and all those who worked with them for the suppression and distortion of humanity. So don’t be contemptuous about the 18th century, about rationalism and Enlightenment. First know it, and then see what they did for us. It is the Enlightenment which produced the fact that we have no more witch trials. It is Cartesian philosophy applied to concrete problems which made such a superstition impossible. And so are innumerable other things. It is the general education which.
we enjoy in the Western countries which is a creation of the 18th century. And it is the democratic ideology which is produced by the same century.
Now that is all done in the name of reason, and this reason had another sound in the ears of most generations of men than it has in our ears, where it has become nothing other than an interdependent but shallow rational calculation. Then there is a third concept, which follows immediately from the two others. If we find, in the depths of our own being, the principles of truth and justice; if every individual is able to do this, then one must ask: If these individuals have different interests, how then can a common knowledge, common symbols – democracy, economy, etc. , and finally Protestant theology – how can they be possible? Isn’t this the end of a coherent society, if autonomous reason in every individual is the ultimate arbiter? The answer was: the principle of harmony. This principle again has nothing to do with harmony in the sense of a nice harmony of everybody with everybody. The 18th century knew how life really was, and it was terrible for many people at least, in the 18th century. The term “harmony” means that if every individual follows his rational, or even non-rational, trends, that then there is a law behind their backs which has the effect that everything comes out most adequately.
This is the meaning of the Manchester school of economics, the meaning of the pursuit of happiness in the American Constituion; the meaning of the belief in democracy, that in spite of everybody deciding for himself about the government, a common will, a volonte generale, will develop in this way. This is the belief in ethics and education, that everybody is educated as a personality, and finally a community spirit will be the result. And this is the principle of Protestantism, that if every individual, in his way, encounters the Biblical message, then a kind of conformism of Protestant character will be the outcome.