Review: ‘Enlightenment Now,’ by Steven Pinker

I was made to read Steve Pinker’s new tome, by someone very close to me.

To start with, I don’t disagree with his data, or his stance against Post-modernism, for example. But, here’s my review of his attempted, ahistoric Nate Silver-isation of Renaissance.

It’s a good book, even though I disagree with it, gigantic dataset compilation that will provide joy to optimists. True Conservatives, such as yours truly, are however, rarely optimistic. Simply because we don’t believe history is inexorably progressive or teleological.


I don’t disagree with the data given, I just failed to see the purpose of the book. Yes, the world has gotten better than when Vasco Da Gama landed in Western India. So bloody what? It is inevitable that progress happens with time. Science and technology progressed from Pagan Greek and Romans to Abrahamic Europeans. During the same time, classical civilizations like India and China sunk into oblivion even without having any qualitative difference in economy with their European counterparts. When Pinker says Enlightenment, he doesn’t mean a historical analysis of Enlightenment. He seems to mean a lazy caricature of it from which he can then simplistically cherry-pick and connect to “all good things” since 1700. He attributes those good things to systemic changes, while discarding all the bad, including eugenics and world wars, to individual evil. That’s not an argument, that’s a fallacy. Pinker does a classic post hoc, ergo propter hoc. Surely Pinker knows that correlation doesn’t mean causation and doesn’t justify patterns of history.

Imagine someone standing on a summer dawn in 1905, in some sunlit meadows in Edwardian southern England. Life couldn’t have seemed better. Science and technology progress was better than ever, the spirit of scientific enquiry was worshipped throughout Europe, trade was internationalized under Pax Britannica and enforced by a peerless Royal Navy, communication was for the first time truly global due to revolutionary changes, travel all around the world was free and safe, and there was overall a great power peace for almost a hundred years. The rest, as they say, is proverbial.

The fact remains, that life cannot be quantified or metricized. Polls failed to predict Brexit and Trump’s win, or Arab Spring, or the breakdown of Pax Americana after a quarter-century of unipolarity, and they overlooked the renewed great power rivalry. There were once marauding hordes destroying priceless artifacts in dark ages Europe in the name of religion, when Baghdad and Tehran were proper civilizations. They are doing the same in the Middle East now, just in the name of a different religion. History is cyclical, and data dudes are myopic, parochial, and naïve if they think it is destined only to get better.

Full Review: You Kant Be Serious.

Related Posts