The eighteenth –century Democratic Enlightenment was made possible by the removal of traditional paradigms such as the supreme authority of the Church in matters of religion and the divine right of kings in political matters. This original phase culminated in the American and French revolutions.
The nineteenth-century Liberal Enlightenment was driven by thinkers such as Tocqueville, Bentham and J.S Mill. Marx was, in his own way, part of this intellectual movement of emancipation tragically ‘hijacked’ by European imperial policies leading to the cataclysmic conflicts of WW1, followed by the equally disastrous clashes between liberal, fascist and communist ideologies. In this respect, the ‘liberal project’ of the Enlightenment was put on hold between 1914 and 1989, the victim of the polarisation of politics around more authoritarian and more dangerous models of government.
The latest phase of the Enlightenment or ‘Global Enlightenment’ has been made possible by ‘the end of communism’ (as claimed by Fukuyama in The End of History and the Last Man) but also by the systematic deregulation of the commercial and financial worlds. However, globalization enjoys the same historical and cultural conditions as its eighteenth-century predecessor insofar as it is furthered by the latest communication technology and brings hope to millions struggling to achieve political self-determination and better living conditions (as seen in the Arab Spring revolutions).
Kant, in his Idea for a Universal History with a Cosmopolitan Purpose (1784), predicted – ahead of Hegel – that History would culminate in the final realisation of human freedom, defined by a universal civic constitution and guaranteed by republican institutions. Kant hoped for the creation of a world government, capable of maintaining perpetual peace between nations. He dreamed of a world federation, open to multiculturalism and celebrating the triumph of reason over the forces of ignorance and intolerance.
To have belief in the global phase of the Enlightenment project is not to endorse a purely Western liberal agenda. On the contrary, it must be considered as a unique opportunity for mankind to work together and through continuous dialogue, to embrace the ideals of political freedom and social harmony embraced by the very architects of the original Enlightenment programme