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What were the most important responses to the watershed era of the Enlightenment philosophical era in Europe?

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The enlightenment philosophical tradition spurred Europe into a new direction and the responses to this watershed moment deserve our attention.

Among the influential and enormously important thinkers of this period was Nietzsche. He arguably possessed the most penetrating criticisms of Western civilisation and the most pressing insights and predictions about the prognosis of European culture. However, he is not alone in his revolutionary-type thinking. Marx, also had some impressive and penetrating analysis that is still relevant today. If one undertakes a study of Marx's Kapital in contradistinction to Adam Smith's The Wealth of Nations, then it becomes clear how the structure of capitalism can lead to certain concerns. Drawing on Smith's Enlightenment mind and his thesis on the division of labour being the best mode of production, for Marx such division would lead to 'alienation'; so where Smith saw in the processes of pre-mechanical pinmaking - when one man drew the wire, another cut it to length, a third pointed the shaft, a fourth forged the head and the 'invisible hand' was benevolent enough to ensure that wealth trickles down, Marx had the intuition to diagnose this situation with desperation in that within the hearts of man would fester a deep dissatisfaction with the nature of work that would eventually lead to 'class war' and revolution. It is within such industrialisation and the mechanical nature of work, the Marxists state, lead to problems whereby a disconnect is felt between the worker and the final product. This is very different to the traditional, historical modes of production in that the joiner, for instance , would be involved in every stage from the designing to the sourcing of wood, the assembly and a sense of pride would result upon seeing the final product. This is completing lacking in automated modern day capitalism. Although the initial observation was made within the context of manufacturing and industry, however, the same line of thinking can also be made in relation to the services industry - an 'alienation' that sow's the seeds for violence and rebellion. One finds insightful comparisons between Marx and Smith, both outstanding thinkers of their time. Marx especially was well versed in the European philosophical tradition and the tension between the laissez faire industrial capitalist vision of Smith receives many a refutation by Marx. Not only was he a theoretician but he espoused revolutionary practice by placing emphasis on the role of the proletariat. This class comprised the impoverished and oppressed urban workers, who were especially conspicuous at the outset of the industrial age. However, Marx always showed reservation to the possibility of the working class in staging a revolution. Not only did they lack wealth but were deprived of education. Poverty not only enslaved the proletariat by putting it at the mercy of those whose wealth gave them control over the entire social system; poverty also had the effect of making the proletariat oblivious to both the real causes of it situation and the remedy. Whilst this line of thinking is very useful, it is Nietzsche who foresees the trajectory of civilisation as bleak and gloomy. An adequate understanding of Nietzsche is impossible without recognition of the historical context in which he wrote. Nietzsche's core works were produced between 1872 and 1888. By that time, the intellectual revolution of the Enlightenment was well-established among Western intellectual elites and among the rising educated middle classes. The Enlightenment intellectual revolution and its outgrowths were existential in nature. The most important aspect of the impact of the revolution was what Nietzsche characterized as the 'death of God.' Advancements in human knowledge in a wide variety of areas had the effect of undermining the credibility of traditional theological views on cosmology, moral philosophy, the meaning of human existence and so forth. The overthrow of the Christian worldview that had dominated Western civilization for centuries left subsequent thinkers with a number of ultimately profound questions. If the purpose of an individual's life is not to achieve salvation in an afterlife, then what is the purpose of life? If the king or established political authorities do not rule by divine right, then what is the basis of political legitimacy? How should society be organized? If morality is not to be understood according to the teachings of the Church, the Bible, or traditional religious authority, then what is the basis of justice, morality, truth or right and wrong? Do such concepts have any intrinsic or objective meaning at all? If the observable universe was not the product of special creation by a divine power and if humanity was not 'created in the image of God,' then what is the meaning of existence? Does it have any meaning beyond itself? If history is not guided by divine providence, then how is the process of historical unfolding to be understood? These are the questions that Western thinkers have been grappling with since the older, theological view of the universe and existence was demolished by the intellectual innovations of the Enlightenment. For Nietzsche, the problems for Europe that arose from 'the death of God' required that values had to be reformulated and reconfigured. In particular, his concerns centred on what is called 'nihilism.' The word derives its name from the Latin root, nihil , meaning nothing or that which does not exist. Interestingly, this same root is found in the word annihilate - to destroy completely. It is because of the tendency towards nihilism, Nietzsche predicted that the 20th century would be a time of war on an unprecedented scale - its bitter fruits were expressed in the Great War and the Second World War- the destructiveness of the latter surpassed even the shocking brutality of the former. The suffering and death generated by the two world wars and the invention of weapons technology with the capacity to destroy all of mankind demolished the 19th century faith in progress and pushed post-war intellectuals towards a confrontation with the nihilistic implications of modern science and philosophy of the kind Nietzsche had previously written about. It is for this reason why Nietzsche continues to be a trendy read for academics and undergraduates- without doubt, his observations are worthy of reflection. Another writer, who again holds noteworthy credentials in terms of his understanding of the human condition, is the Russian storyteller, Fyodor Dostoyevsky. He expresses philosophical ideas through the works of fiction where important themes concerning human behaviour and modernity are conveyed by his ability in creating fascinating characters and ways of interaction. Alongside being given the title of Father of Russian literature, he has been considered as a Psychologist par excellence. His unparalleled breadth and depth of vision operates on an elemental scale whereby the human mind is his province. He is interested in finding explanations for what goes wrong with human thought and conduct. In particular, he is inquisitive about abnormality and unhealthiness. His works are replete with morbidity as he studies the dark end of the spectrum of human behaviour. What he found was an ugly reality of modern day man that foreshadows 20th century psychoanalytic theory, which was to be fully developed by the likes of Freud and Jung. This is the reason why the playwright, Albert Camus, referred to him as the 'real 19th century prophet' because he held a position that wasn't the typical, zero-one binary that was emanating from Europe. His nuanced understanding of Russian society meant that he was deeply uneasy about the growing materialism and scientific advancements of his time. Herein lies the crux of his thesis. For most, it was an optimistic period in history. Technological improvements were set to create happier lives; there would be freedom from poverty, injustice and superstition. Surely, this was the road to happiness and progress - a fashionable, utopian attitude that was seen as modern. Dostoyevsky valiantly swam against this current, warning of its dangers. First, scientific materialism was dangerous. By rejecting religion and any form of transcendent reality, the doors would open to an existentialist paradigm of human existence that would lead to anarchy and nihilism (his positions are not entirely the same as Nietzsche's). There is a stark contrast, however, from the Nietzschean conception of nihilism in that 'the death of God' isn't solely responsible for destruction and havoc but it can result from man's (mis)understanding of God. It is in this light that the adage is proclaimed in respect to the themes expressed by Dostoyevski in that, ' If there is no God then everything is permissible and If there is a God then I am his representative'. The case being that a believer and an atheist can both be nihilists. This particular view is especially important because of our current modernity. The dynamics of revolutionary thinking isn't fundamentally dissimilar to that of 19th Century Europe. Dostoyevski, himself was at one time a hardened socialist-anarchist and espoused the view that through the acts of violence, society can change and reform. He later renounced his violent tendencies because he found its distasteful origins to lie in the European enlightenment tradition and instead found solace in Orthodox Christianity - a remedy, he believed would solve many problems. Moving to our current contemporary times, again, one finds that the topic of nihilism is addressed within literature. The popular book and movie Fight Club, by the author Chuck Palaniuk, gives the story of a group of people who interact with society based on violence and inflicting chaos. The first chapter begins with apocalypse. It is an act of rebellion and nihilism that sees the 'Mischief Committee of Mayhem Project running wild, destroying every scrap of history'. It is the case of a group of people who are in turmoil because they are nothing more than a mere cog in the wider machinations of an interdependent global economy. They become so infuriated yet so desperate to find meaning, they become devoted to destruction. As part of their disenfranchisement and disillusionment with a culture that has taken man away from his traditional values, the notion of what it means to be a man in the midst of a feminised culture is a precarious one. As a way of reacting to such a dilemma, fight clubs are set up all over the country, whereby men of all segments of the social spectrum can indulge gratuitous violence. Throughout the book, the need to destroy the present vestiges of a corrupt civilisation in order for something good and new to evolve, is glorified. 'It's Project Mayhem that's going to save the world. A cultural ice age. A prematurely induced dark age. Project Mayhem will force humanity to go dormant or into remission long enough for the earth to recover. Project Mayhem will break up civilization so we can make something better out of the world.' The notion of using violence that springs from a nihilist philosophy is present in many works of literature. Slaughter as seen in the French Revolution, Bolshevik insurrection, Al Qaeda terrorism anders Breivik shootings and ISIS Jihadism represent the typical hallmarks of a revolutionary style of European politics that is rearing its ugly head again. It is the 'ghost in the machine' that continually expresses itself in a myriad of ways and if left unchallenged, will reap destruction in cities across the world.

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