the development of Chivalry-Now, I often refer to the Age
of Enlightenment as powerful contributor. While medieval chivalry
provided the moral foundation and pedigree of this philosophy, along
with viewing life as an illuminating quest, the Enlightenment introduced
new dimensions of consciousness that shaped the uniqueness of who
we are as a people.
Also known as the Age of Reason,
the period when it flourished occurred during the 17th and 18th
centuries. Although it resulted in a dramatic change in the way
that people think in Western culture, it represented what might
be considered a natural progression from classical Greek thought.
We were a different people before this burst
of intellectual curiosity spread like wildfire across Europe and
the New World. For example, before this movement, education was
primarily a study of ancient masters, such as Aristotle and
Homer. Originality was expressed by interpreting the wisdom
of the antiquity, which severely limited discovery and free thought.
Dark Age superstition remained fixed in a world that people little
understood. The failure of a crop might lead to charges of witchcraft,
in which innocent victims were then tortured and killed. Religious
wars and regional conflicts decimated populations. Disease was met
by ineffective remedies, such as bleeding and noxious fragrances.
The benefits of hygiene were unknown. That torture might result
in false confessions to alleviate pain defied common logic. Western
civilization was more or less static, caught in its own ignorance
of a world that waited to be discovered.
And then it changed. A catalyst in the mid 17th
century sparked an explosion of intellectual curiosity that had
long waited dormant. Many who responded are well remembered as instigators
of what is probably the most important historical turning point
of Western civilization.
Most notably it began when the English statesman
and philosopher, Francis Bacon (1561-1626), bravely challenged
the status quo by questioning the limits imposed by classical education
and theological interference. He espoused a new freedom of thought,
one which empowered people to discovery truth through experience
and experimentation. He encouraged people to question long held
maxims that had previously been regarded as sacrosanct.
Almost single-handedly, Francis Bacon broke the
chains of Dark Age inhibitions. He believed that scientific knowledge,
then known as the philosophy of Nature, provided the kind of power
that could alleviate human suffering and add significantly to the
quality and happiness of people's lives. History has proven him
right, although not without cost.
In spiritual matters, he separated and thereby
liberated scientific inquiry from religious domination, so that
both could thrive unimpeded. His words made sense, and eventually
transformed the relationship between religion and secular government.
John Locke (1632-1704) explored how the
human mind works, and convincingly argued that all knowledge arises
from experience. We are born with what amounts to a "tabula
rasa," a blank slate, upon which we record what we learn as
memory. The accumulation and inter-relationship of memories turns
into knowledge. He further concluded that we are all products of
our environments. We are able to overcome many of our limitations
through reason, experimentation and confirmation. We experience
the world, and then make propositions that must be tested. The complexity
of the world can be analyzed by studying its parts and their relationships.
Understanding how the mind works is no small
matter. It influences everything that follows, in science, psychology,
relationships, and in plotting future possibilities. It allows us
to choose what values we believe in according to reason and efficacy.
It is difficult to comprehend the impact of John Locke's writing
on us all. Together with Francis Bacon, he opened the gateway to
the Enlightenment, which in turn made the birth of the modern mind
possible. In fact, Thomas Jefferson, another famous child
of the Enlightenment, borrowed heavily from Locke when writing the
Declaration of Independence.
In France, Rene Descartes (1596-1650),
in his quest for clarity and order, insisted that the mechanics
of the natural world could be understood through a proper, empirical
approach toward learning. After centuries of limiting knowledge
to the interpretations of Aristotle and canon law, Descartes insisted
that real knowledge could only be found through direct and systematic
discovery that started from a position of doubt.
Mathematician and scientist Galileo Galilei
(1564-1642) challenged the status quo when he defended the heliocentric
observations of Copernicus, and was duly punished for doing so.
Nevertheless, his theories and observations helped tear down barriers
to science and brought shame upon his detractors.
Isaac Newton (1643-1727) focused his genius
on proving that nature could be mathematically analyzed and, from
the results, scientific laws obtained. Demonstrating the potential
of the human mind, he developed the foundations of calculus, and
formulated the theory of gravitation, motion, planetary motion and
light - all in his early 20s, during an 18 month hiatus from school
due to plague.
Julien Offroy de La Mettrie (1709-1751)
set about to prove that the efficacy of medicine could be improved
through empirical research, replacing techniques based on superstition.
At the age of 26, the inspired Cesare Beccaria
(1738-1794) drew upon the flood of Enlightenment principles to publish
his famous work On Crime and Punishments. In it, he pleaded on "behalf
of reason and humanity." The popularity of this book helped
spread the humanitarian outlook of the age, which then influenced
the conscience of a large portion of Europe.
Denis Diderot (1713-1784) edited and published
the extensive Encyclopedie, a collection the writings of the very
best minds of the age on a wide variety of subjects.
Johannes Kepler (1571-1630) discovered
three laws of planetary motion.
Thomas Hobbes' (1588-1679) philosophy
encompassed a system that included physics, human nature, politics,
Blaise Pascal (1623-1662) won acclaim
for his amazing accomplishments in the mechanics of calculations,
hydrodynamics, geometry, and barometrics.
Charles-Louis de Secondat, baron de Montesqieu
(1689-1755) became an influential political theorist. His work on
the fall of the Roman Republic instigated much discussion between
the founders of the United States, and helped them form a constitutional
government comprised of separate but equal branches of power.
The above mentioned names merely scratch the
surface of Enlightenment writers and philosophers, some of whom
were pensioned by kings. Adam Smith (the father of Capitalism).
Voltaire (famous French writer who spent his life fighting
intolerance). David Hume. Thomas Paine. Immanuel Kant. Pierre
Bayle. Benjamin Franklin (considered the Enlightenment ideal).
Mozart (who wrote the Magic Flute, which expressed
the spirit of the times). James Madison (author of the American
Constitution). Jean-Jacques Rousseau. Francis Hutcheson.
The list goes on. The Statue of Liberty herself, raising
the torch of knowledge, is an Age of Enlightenment figure, just
as the Declaration of Independence expresses many
of its convictions.
More important were the reading masses who systematically
replaced Dark Age superstition with scientific research, religious
toleration, human rights and republican principles of government.
Their excitement was contagiously progressive.
Not everything written by Enlightenment authors
has withstood the scrutiny of their ideals. To a certain extent,
the Enlightenment project was still limited by the knowledge and
prejudices of the times, and its true potential remains unfinished.
This is undoubtedly true. Nevertheless, without their enthusiasm
for truth, reason and humanity, Western civilization would still
be a collection of competing monarchies wallowing in ignorance and
religious intolerance. Doctors would still be using leaches. Education
would remain limited to the teachings of Aristotle. We might still
be struggling with the issues of women's suffrage and slavery. Imperialism
would define international relationships. We would still burning
witches at the stake. Free thought, which is the essence of positive
freedom, would be condemned as radical.
Chivalry-Now considers the accomplishments
of the Enlightenment a Kairos event, a point in time
when an explosion of consciousness results in what can only be seen
as evolutionary change. Other Kairos events might include the surge
of philosophers in classical antiquity, and the spread of Christianity.
When the ideals of chivalry are augmented and
modified by Age of Enlightenment perceptions, our morality is enhanced
to include the entire authenticity of the human being. Goodness
is not just something for us to follow. It is something to understand
and be part of, thus making it possible to apply cognitive moral
discipline to the complexities of life. As proponents of the Enlightenment
referred to themselves as "new philosophers," the marriage
of virtue and reason that Chivalry-Now encourages produces
a "new human being."
The question that remains is where are we now?
The Enlightenment greatly contributed to our Western heritage, but
what are we doing with its many gifts? Have we lost its enthusiasm?
Do we take the human mind and the ideals we cherish for granted?
Should we stand idly by while people trash them with hypocrisy?
Has democracy itself lost its significance, even as non-Western
cultures try to adopt it without the help of centuries of cultural
Part of the fall of Enlightenment thinking came
about when people channeled the potential of reason away from philanthropic
human development and focused on greed. As Francis Hutcheson said,
reason is only a subservient power to our ultimate determinations...
a moral base, or it could lead anywhere. The Gilded Age
did much to redefine the goals of life, and the results are plain.
What shallow idealism remained was further shaken by the bloody
depravity of World Wars I and II. Humanity no longer seemed
moral at all. How does one maintain ideals in the wake of so much
senseless murder and destruction. The ideals we held onto, however,
were already made impotent through greed. Only the insight and self-discipline
of existentialism showed us how to reclaim more than a modicum of
Chivalry-Now represents this progression
of Western thought and idealism. It starts with a distillation of
chivalric principles, or code of ethics, already fashioned from
the remnants of antiquity. It incorporates the awakened consciousness
and human potential of the Age of Reason. In light of the inevitable
disappointments and limitations of life, it finds strength in the
integrity of existentialism to preserve what nobility remains, and
bring new hope to the world.
It would be wrong to assume that Chivalry-Now
is just a mixture of these three philosophical elements. Each had
its good points and its bad, its truth and error. Chivalry-Now
is a quest that calls each of us to learn from life directly. The
12 Trusts serve as a starting point. What follows is a personal
journey that awakens one's mind to the potential of reason, compassion
and virtue. In the face of disappointment, which always results
from passing through initial idealism to maturity in an imperfect
world, the lessons learned from existentialism carry us forward
toward our goal.
is that goal? Living a life that is fully and authentically human,
and leaving the world a better place because we were here.