America, observers are fond of saying, is the only country based upon an idea. That idea—that all men and women are created equal and have inalienable rights to life liberty and the pursuit of happiness—is directly informed by the Enlightenment, the movement that dominated ideas and culture in the 18th century.
But are we still an Enlightenment nation?
"The Enlightenment principle that we can apply reason and sympathy to enhance human flourishing may seem obvious," writes Steven Pinker in his new book Enlightenment Now: The Case for Reason, Science, Humanism and Progress. "I wrote this book because I have come to realize that it's not."
Pinker is a linguist who teaches at Harvard and is the author of The Better Angels of Our Nature, The Blank Slate, and How the Mind Works. He's been named on the top 100 most influential intellectuals by both Time and Foreign Policy.
In this wide-ranging interview with Reason's Nick Gillespie, Pinker explains why he thinks Pope Francis is a problem when it comes to capitalism, nuclear energy is a solution to climate change, and why libertarians need to lighten up when it comes to regulation. He also makes the case for studying the humanities as essential to intellectual honesty and seriousness even as he attacks that "cluster of ideas, which is not the same as the humanities, but just happens to have descended over large sectors of the academic humanities: "the deep hatred of the institutions of modernity, the equation of liberal democracy with fascism, the feeling that society is in an ever-worsening spiral of decline, and the lack of appreciation, I think, that the institutions of liberal democracy have made the humanities possible, made them flourish."
For full text, links, credits, and downloadable versions: https://reason.com/reasontv/2018/03/22/steven-pinker-enlightenment-now