From Enlightenment to the Counter-Enlightenment

by Stephan Schulmeister


Brilliant minds elevated “the market” into a “higher being” of the postmodern age to which we must submit. The primacy of the market replaced the primacy of politics. A little contribution to the “new Enlightenment”

[This article published on August 31, 2016, is translated from the German on the Internet, Stephan Schulmeister is an Austrian economic researcher and author of many articles and books critical of mainstream economics. His latest book is “The Road to Prosperity” (2019) that alludes to Hayek’s “The Road to Bondage.”]

“Enlightenment is the exodus of people from their underage existence of their own making,” Kant said. While the theories of Hume, Smith, Kant, Rousseau, Ricardo, Mill, Marx and Keynes are very different, they had a common goal: emancipating people from “higher beings” and their earthly representatives.

Struggling for basic rights through the middle-class revolutions and for the social state through the workers’ movement are the most important examples of the emancipation process. A comparison of the workers’ situation in the 1970s and the 1870s shows what people can do when they understand themselves as enlightened and solidarity subjects of history.

Today, four decades later, we all must adjust to the new “higher being,” “the markets” (mostly the financial markets). “They” demand “structural reforms”; “they” act as judges, punish Greece and reward Germany. “They” live out their feelings on stock exchanges – today friendly, tomorrow euphoric and depressed the day after tomorrow.

Subjects to which we have to submit came out of markets as our (useful) instruments. The “primacy of the market” arose out of the “primacy of politics.” How does this unique counter-enlightenment manifest?

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