An evening discussion on the occasion of the publication of Zeev Sternhell’s book
The Anti-Enlightenment Tradition
From the Eighteenth Century to the Cold War
In this book, Zeev Sternhell, a historian of ideas and a political scientist renowned for his research on fascism, deepens his search for the trend that ultimately undermined the foundations of democracy and gave rise to radical nationalism, culminating in the right-wing revolutions of the twentieth century. The author offers a new and revolutionary interpretation that dates the beginnings of this trend before the period that historians have ascribed to it.
Anti-Enlightenment—which rejects the authority of reason, universal principles, and natural rights—originated as a response to the Enlightenment of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries; but from the eighteenth century it developed as a movement in its own right, not as anti-modernity but rather as an alternative modernity. This movement, whose founders include Johann Gottfried Herder and Edmund Burke, laid the foundations for nationalism, rejected the precedence and autonomy of the individual, and viewed society not as a complex of free individuals but rather as an organic body. Anti-Enlightenment became increasingly established in the nineteenth century, and in the beginning of the twentieth century it created the aggressive nationalism with its diverse ideological and local offshoots, culminating in European Fascism. The complex journey on which the author takes his readers ends in an additional fascinating aspect of the anti-Enlightenment tradition: the struggle during the Cold War against the French Enlightenment, which was portrayed as the harbinger of the Soviet revolution. (Am Oved–Ofakim Library)