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Ascent of Man

The Enlightenment idea of moral progress is under siege from all sides. But on the cusp of a new millennium, it is worth hanging on to the battered idea.

By Michael Ignatieff   October 1999

On 11th august, hundreds of millions of people, from the Caribbean to the Bay of Bengal, stared skywards to watch the sun go dark. It was a moment for large thoughts-about how far we had come since our ancestors ran away in fear at the darkened sky, about how science has changed the way we feel about nature: panic turning into wonder or into that quintessential modern emotion, disenchantment.

A time for still larger thoughts is looming. Come 31st December, most of the human race will be like children in the back seat of the family car, peeking over their…

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