From time immemorial the prime agency of individual and social reproduction has been inertia, the biological form of which is instinct and the cultural form, tradition. That is to say, things were done because they had been done before— an efficient, though not infallible, way to achieve organismic and societal stability. Modernity is, in one of its numerous definitions, the progressive attenuation of inertia by consciousness. Where tradition was, there shall reason be.
In the classical account, science, democracy, market relations, and ethical individualism were born and grew up together, the offspring of modernity. The first modern generations looked upon what these phenomena had wrought, pronounced them good, and called for their indefinite continuation and extension. But subsequent developments have not been altogether satisfactory, notably environmental spoliation, advanced weaponry, totalitarian social organization, the destruction of peasant societies and folk cultures, widespread anomie, and an altered rhythm of daily life that has arguably produced toxic levels of stress and epidemic psychopathology. Many writers, from Pascal to Lasch, have rehearsed these ills and proposed that modernity be reconsidered. Enlightenment’s Wake, a collection of recent writings by English political philosopher John Gray, takes its place in this antimodernist tradition....
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