Reflective Essay - The Enlightenment in America
Looking back on the primary principles of the Enlightenment, I believe that they are more or less intact in the majority of Americans. American society as a whole is one that is founded on the principle that all men are created equal, and that we should be given the right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. However, there are quite a few who would object to these rights, or attempt to infringe upon them in American society today, and the extent to which these principles are to be followed today is an ongoing debate. This leads to a nation that desperately wants to follow Enlightenment principles but has a few things getting in the way.
One Enlightenment principle is that of reason - the ability to find the truth through logic and objective reasoning. This is very true in our society; we attempt to find logical, practical solutions to our problems, while attempting to be impartial in our assessment of others' opinions. However, I find that more and more people are not thinking with reason, and instead allowing their emotions and fears to take over political discourse. For example, the fact that the foolish and paranoid 'birther' movement regarding President Obama's heritage gained so much ground and national attention demonstrates that people are not thinking with as much reason as they should.
The Enlightenment idea of living by nature is also one that has two different kinds of resonances within American society; there are those who think we should avoid factory farming and focus more on organic food, while the food-industrial complex takes increased steps to cut corners to provide a growing population with cheap, affordable food (high fructose corn syrup, 'pink slime', etc.). This is in line with the notion of progress; there are many now who take a much less progressive view of nature, in the face of global warming and climate change. While technology is improving, bettering people's lives, there is still massive income and social inequalities that prevent many from being happy.
Happiness and liberty are two more Enlightenment ideals that are shared by many Americans, even if the reality does not quite match up to what they would define as these concepts. The idea of liberty is a fundamental concept of the Constitution, and the founding of America as a whole; all rights should be protected by the government. However, with the increased lack of support for national marriage equality, for example, this dream of having equal rights under the law is still unfulfilled. In terms of happiness, people are very much taking a more secular way of looking at things, focusing on their quality of life in the present life regardless of their belief in one afterward.
In conclusion, the ideal of America is meant to follow these Enlightenment ideals; however, many of these ideas are being corrupted by increasing cynicism, paranoia, and fear. Because of fear of the unknown, and fear of the new, rights are denied to people, others fail to think rationally about their lives, and many more are afraid of what will happen to nature if we continue to abuse it. In order to get back to these Enlightenment ideals, some adjustments must be made in people's attitudes and behaviors in order to reach a more ideal state of being as a nation.
May, Henry F. The Enlightenment in America (1978) Oxford University Press, USA.