Most commentators and intellectuals talk about science, knowledge and the enlightened inheritance in the context of a struggle with external enemies: the enlightened liberal polity is threatened by “medieval” Islam; enlightened scholarship is threatened by postmodern relativism, and so on. Richard Dawkins’s recent documentary, The Enemies of Reason, perfectly expresses this version of Enlightenment. For him the enemies of reason are homeopaths, astrologers and faith healers (when they aren’t religious fundamentalists, of course). In my book, The Threat to Reason, I ask whether it is adequate to set up a conflict between the rational and the irrational, cheer for the rational side, and revel in one’s enlightened sophistication. For it seems to me that this way of thinking about Enlightenment obscures much more serious “enemies of reason” than reiki therapists.
I try to show that the most serious threats to an adequate understanding of reality reside in rational institutions—above all in the state and the corporation. A model of Enlightenment that ignores or misrepresents these threats should be recognised for what it is, a branch of the entertainment business, a kind of “folk Enlightenment.” This folk Enlightenment, with its staple confrontation between the rational (good) and the irrational (bad), sells books and attracts viewers, but its commercial appeal should not blind us to its inadequacy.