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The Threat to Reason: How the Enlightenment Was Hijacked and How We Can Reclaim it Paperback – 4 Jun 2008

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Product details

  • Paperback: 224 pages
  • Publisher: Verso Books (4 Jun. 2008)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1844672530
  • ISBN-13: 978-1844672530
  • Product Dimensions: 12.9 x 1.6 x 19.7 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1 customer review)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 753,239 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Product Description


Fine, lucid and sharp ... well written and worth reading before the next wave of western tanks crosses a border, somewhere in the Middle East. -- Rod Liddle, Sunday Times

Fine, lucid and sharp ... well written and worth
reading before the next wave of western tanks
crosses a border, somewhere in the Middle East. -- Rod Liddle, Sunday Times

In the tradition of those great works that ask big and fundamental, yet curiously unexamined, questions. A profound and much-needed contribution ... In the spirit of Enlightenment thinkers, he both reveals the contradictions and hypocrisies of contemporary politics, and also points a way forward.
-- Joel Bakan, author of The Corporation.

In this thoughtful polemic Dan Hind argues that we are being misled by a debased "Folk Enlightenment" which has little in common with the Enlightenment initiated by Bacon and championed by Voltaire, Hume and Kant. -- Financial Times

In this thoughtful polemic Dan Hind argues that we are being misled by a debased "Folk Enlightenment" which has little in common with the Enlightenment initiated by Bacon and championed by Voltaire, Hume and Kant. -- Financial Times

Since September 11 2002, the idea of Enlightenment has been ripped from university textbooks and airlifted into battle between the West and its irrational enemies. In this elegant polemical essay, Dan Hind rightly quibbles with this supposedly Manichean tussle between the guarantors of Enlightenment in the West and everyone else. Hind wants to rescue the idea of Enlightenment from its usurpers, while pressing it into the service of something better -- James Harkin, Independent

From the Publisher


In exploring how the Enlightenment continues to operate as a powerful guiding principle in Western politics, The Threat to Reason reveals how the truly pressing threats to free inquiry reside within the allegedly enlightened institutions of state and corporation. In recovering the concept of Enlightenment from its self-appointed defenders, The Threat to Reason demonstrates its crucial importance to a truly democratic politics. Enlightenment does not call on us to stare at the spectacle of a showdown between reason and its enemies. Enlightenment calls on us to understand, and then change, the world.

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8 of 11 people found the following review helpful By J. M. Houston on 17 Mar. 2009
Format: Paperback
a brilliant book, full of insights into how the values of the enlightenment have been hijacked by corporate interests for their various nefarious ends.

if you really care about living in a world run on logic and reason, read this book. your real opponents may not be who you thought they were.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on (beta) 3 reviews
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
A thought-provoking work of social commentary 27 Aug. 2013
By Dumuzi-apsu - Published on
Format: Paperback
First off, I should note that the customer review by Hande Z provides a highly inaccurate summary of this book's content. Hind does argue that religious faith is compatible with enlightenment, but he never claims that enlightenment "needs (moderate) religious faith" as Hande Z says he does.

So what does the Hind say? Basically, he challenges a narrative that has been gaining vigor since 9/11. According to this narrative, the great battle to be fought is one between Enlightenment and unreason, between the forces of secularism, democracy, human rights, and progress on one hand and those of superstition and fundamentalism on the other. This narrative appears in books such as Christopher Hitchens's God Is Not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything and Dick Taverne's The March of Unreason: Science, Democracy, and the New Fundamentalism.

Hind objects to this narrative because he thinks it distorts our understanding of what the real threats are. In today's world, to rail against creationist museums, Islamic fundamentalism, and New Age mumbo-jumbo is, at best, to shoot fish in a barrel. At worst, it is to distract attention from, and even provide ideological cover for, the most problematic elements of today's status quo. In today's world, neoconservative warmongers appeal not to God but to the Enlightenment values of democracy and human rights, and polluters attack environmentalism not by rejecting science per se but by portraying environmentalists as sentimental haters of technology and progress. By making self-declared unreason our main target, Hind argues, this narrative blinds us to other, more insidious threats to reason that wear the cloak of Enlightenment.

Is this book worth the money? Well, I can't speak from experience, because I checked it out from a library. However, I will say the following:

Hind's writing style is extremely accessible, and he provides examples from a variety of areas (examples range from the regulatory history of Vioxx to battles over postmodernism in academia). In the course of his argument, we even get a brief introduction to the Enlightenment figure Francis Bacon and an analysis of Kant's famous essay "An Answer to the Question: What is Enlightenment?". Thus, there's material here for people of various intellectual tastes. Also, I think Hind's basic message (whether one agrees with it or not) is a very important contribution to contemporary debate; it absolutely needs to be heard and discussed.

On the other hand, not everyone will enjoy the book. When it comes to economic issues, Hind writes from a strongly left-wing (or at least anti-corporate) perspective. Certain parts of his argument depend on that perspective, so economic conservatives and right-libertarians will not get much out of those parts. (Moderate leftists likely will get something out of them, even if they don't completely agree with Hind's perspective.) Also, Hind perhaps spends an unnecessary amount of time (though not a lot of time; he's always concise) distinguishing and labeling different kinds of "Enlightenment": the Folk Enlightenment, which presents the simplistic Enlightenment-vs-unreason narrative described above; the Occult Enlightenment, i.e. the various governmental and corporate quests for information that elude public awareness and accountability; and the Open Enlightenment, which is the kind of Enlightenment Hind wants. The distinctions themselves may be legitimate, but I think Hind could have written the book just as clearly without drawing those distinctions and introducing pretentious terminology for them.
10 of 15 people found the following review helpful
Heat or light? 27 Nov. 2008
By Hande Z - Published on
Format: Paperback
Reason and faith operate in different spheres. Reason incorporates logic, proof, and judgment based on evidence, rationality, and experience. Faith largely ignores these things, and its adherents thrive on hope, symbolism, and interpretations. One cannot reason with a person who claims that there is no need to define his god and offers no proof of what he believes to be true save his sincere and intense belief that his god is true and his faith is strong. Those who cannot accept such blurry ideas will turn away. People who have religious beliefs will deny that their belief requires them to suspend reason. They prefer to call it matters that only god knows, and he (or she) will reveal all in good time. Where or how that will occur does not matter. It is this sort of imprecision that bothers those who uphold reason against faith.

Dan Hind tried to salvage something for the religious. He appeared to sense the danger of extreme religious views, but he seemed more perturbed by Richard Dawkins and Sam Harris who champion reason more aggressively than many others. They have been successful and they have opened many eyes. For that they are being villified by virtually all who have religious leanings. Hind thinks that reason can itself be a threat to reason. Really? One might make a wrong assessment of evidence, or reason wrongly, but reason cannot be a threat to reason. If that were true, one might as well waste no time or effort thinking. That is precisely what religious leaders want their congregation to do - forsake critical thinking and obey by "blind faith". Whenever challenged and forced into a corner, the religious man will declare that he is convinced that he is right because of his blind faith. If he has no wish to think critically and examine the possibility of his being wrong there is no room for reason work.

Hind has written an interesting book that he hopes might salvage the religious from Dawkins and Harris. He used the idea of a lost or "hijacked" enlightenment as the means of persuading his readers to believe that Dawkins, Harris, reason, and corporations are as dangerous as the jihadists and the plotters of the 9/11 attack in New York. Hind thus bundles all extreme positions together, the extreme fundamentalists, the extreme corporate cheats, and (what he thought to be) the extreme rationalists. The thesis he advances in this book is that the "Enlightenment" as he understood it and wishes us to embrace too, is the spirit in search of knowledge and that spirit cannot travel with reason as its only companion. It needs (moderate) religious faith. It's up to the reader to think if that is possible; or, whether, just as there is no such thing as reason in extreme, there can be no religious faith that is moderate. A religious moderate is often a euphemism for a religious coward or hypocrite. You might be persuaded by Hind, or you might not. Nonetheless, the book was well written and provocative, and although I do not accept his main thesis, I would recommend the book as a stimulating work.
4 of 6 people found the following review helpful
An Essay Pleading for Greater Understanding 20 Nov. 2009
By J. Green - Published on
Format: Paperback
This isn't a particularly profound book, but Hind has a valid point to make: Rationality and Enlightenment have been hijacked by big business and liberal imperialism to justify treating human beings as means to accomplish their goals rather than as ends in themselves. Hind doesn't think religions accurately describe the way the universe is at all, but on the other hand instrumental rationality can't give us an ethical code with any purchase, because you can't derive an ought from an is. Moreover, to paint religions, relativism, alternative medicine, postmodernism, environmentalists, and the like as the enemies of civilization is a gross misrepresentation of the more urgent and damaging challenges facing humanity, challenges that are frequently concealed or brushed under the carpet by our "rational" and "enlightened" leaders.

Not a hugely controversial point, and probably not as sensational as Dawkins, Harris et al.'s polemics. Just a call for a reason. Which is probably why it will go unnoticed. Now there's irony for you.
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