History Unplugged Podcast

History Unplugged Podcast

Scott Rank
 

American’s Political Polarization Traces Back to 18th-Century Enlightenment Factions That Never Resolved Their Differences

October 28, 2021   ●   44 min

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Pundits on both the left and right proclaim our democracy is in crisis. This can be characterized by an eroding of civil institutions or politicians completely ignoring democratic norms by doing whatever is necessary to seek power and asking “where are the nuclear launch codes?” However, these challenges may not be so new. And the fault lines in our society may be centuries old and stem back to the beginning of the Enlightenment, when scholars asked fundamental questions of how we know what is and isn’t true, and how do we order our society along those principles. Different intellectuals had different solutions, so you have the American Revolution on one hand, and the French Revolution on the other.

But today’s guest, Seth David Radwell a researcher of the Enlightenment and A business leader with a master’s degree in Public Policy from Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government, argues that our political divisions are not “unprecedented.” In his book, American Schism: How the Two Enlightenments Hold the Secret to Healing Our Nation, Radwell , proposes a new dialogue between thoughtful and concerned Americans from both red and blue states who make up the exhausted majority—a dialogue informed by our country’s history.

Increasingly disturbed by the contentious state of politics, social unrest, and the apparent disappearance of “truth,” Radwell set out to examine his own long-held assumptions about American democracy and ideals. Through a deep dive into foundational documents and the influence of the European Enlightenment, he discovered today’s raging conflicts have their roots in the fundamentally different visions of America that emerged at our nation’s founding.

In American Schism, Radwell looks at our country’s history and ongoing political tensions through the lens of the Radical Enlightenment versus the Moderate Enlightenment, and their dynamic interplay with Counter-Enlightenment movements over the last few centuries. He offers a new vision for America with practical action steps for repairing our rift and healing our wounds.
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