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Not to be confused with Dark Enlightenment

"Men gather the clouds, and then they complain of the tempests that follow."

The Counter-Enlightenment is the umbrella term that represents a general political view opposed to the ideas of the Enlightenment viewing them as fundamentally misguided at best or plainly evil and degenerate at worst. Enlightenment ideas that are condemned include secularism and materialism, Whig Historigraphy and the notions of social progress, egalitarianism and the Blank Slate Theory, the inherent rights of man as a secular concept, negative freedom, being the absence of external constraints on personal decision making, Nationalism, which may be considered a secular religion to supplant actual religions, Popular soverignty, Humanism which is viewed to be incompatible with many religions, democracy (Including non-liberal democracy), anti-royalism and republicanism as expressions of Popular Soverignty and many many other enlightenment ideas.

Depending on the context, these ideas may be contested from an explicitly religious context, especially from that of an organised religion like Christianity or Islam, the theology of which may explicitly condemn these ideas (liberalism is a sin). In other cases it comes from other foundations such as the nature of man and the nature of history (progressive vs cyclical). Oftentimes these two perspectives compliment each other and function in tandem but sometimes there is a disconnect between what one may call the temporal perspective and religious perspective.

Ironically there is some overlap between enlightenment philosophers and the counter-enlightenment as many held romanticist ideals and condemned other enlightenment ideas such as Reductionism, examples include Hegel and Rousseau being considered the start of the movement.


Despite criticism of the Enlightenment being a widely discussed topic in twentieth- and twenty-first century thought, the term 'Counter-Enlightenment' was slow to enter general usage. It was first mentioned briefly in English in William Barrett's 1949 article "Art, Aristocracy and Reason" in Partisan Review. He used the term again in his 1958 book on existentialism, Irrational Man; however, his comment on Enlightenment criticism was very limited.In Germany, the expression "Gegen-Aufklärung" has a longer history. It was probably coined by Friedrich Nietzsche in "Nachgelassene Fragmente" in 1877.

Lewis White Beck used this term in his Early German Philosophy (1969), a book about Counter-Enlightenment in Germany. Beck claims that there is a counter-movement arising in Germany in reaction to Frederick II's secular authoritarian state. On the other hand, Johann Georg Hamann and his fellow philosophers believe that a more organic conception of social and political life, a more vitalistic view of nature, and an appreciation for beauty and the spiritual life of man have been neglected by the eighteenth century.

Isaiah Berlin

Isaiah Berlin established this term's place in the history of ideas. He used it to refer to a movement that arose primarily in late 18th- and early 19th-century Germany against the rationalism, universalism and empiricism that are commonly associated with the Enlightenment. Berlin's essay "The Counter-Enlightenment" was first published in 1973, and later reprinted in a collection of his works, Against the Current, in 1981. The term has been more widely used since.

Berlin argues that, while there were opponents of the Enlightenment outside of Germany (e.g. Joseph de Maistre) and before the 1770s (e.g. Giambattista Vico), Counter-Enlightenment thought did not take hold until the Germans 'rebelled against the dead hand of France in the realms of culture, art and philosophy, and avenged themselves by launching the great counter-attack against the Enlightenment.' This German reaction to the imperialistic universalism of the French Enlightenment and Revolution, which had been forced on them first by the francophile Frederick II of Prussia, then by the armies of Revolutionary France and finally by Napoleon, was crucial to the shift of consciousness that occurred in Europe at this time, leading eventually to Romanticism. The consequence of this revolt against the Enlightenment was pluralism. The opponents to the Enlightenment played a more crucial role than its proponents, some of whom were monists, whose political, intellectual and ideological offspring have been terreur and totalitarianism.

Darrin McMahon

In his book Enemies of the Enlightenment (2001), historian Darrin McMahon extends the Counter-Enlightenment back to pre-Revolutionary France and down to the level of 'Grub Street,' thereby marking a major advance on Berlin's intellectual and Germanocentric view. McMahon focuses on the early opponents to the Enlightenment in France, unearthing a long-forgotten 'Grub Street' literature in the late 18th and early 19th centuries aimed at the philosophes. He delves into the obscure world of the 'low Counter-Enlightenment' that attacked the encyclopédistes and fought to prevent the dissemination of Enlightenment ideas in the second half of the century. Many people from earlier times attacked the Enlightenment for undermining religion and the social and political order. It later became a major theme of conservative criticism of the Enlightenment. After the French Revolution, it appeared to vindicate the warnings of the anti-philosophes in the decades prior to 1789.

Graeme Garrard

Cardiff University professor Graeme Garrard claims that historian William R. Everdell was the first to situate Rousseau as the "founder of the Counter-Enlightenment" in his 1971 dissertation and in his 1987 book, Christian Apologetics in France, 1730–1790: The Roots of Romantic Religion. In his 1996 article, "the Origin of the Counter-Enlightenment: Rousseau and the New Religion of Sincerity", in the American Political Science Review (Vol. 90, No. 2), Arthur M. Melzer corroborates Everdell's view in placing the origin of the Counter-Enlightenment in the religious writings of Jean-Jacques Rousseau, further showing Rousseau as the man who fired the first shot in the war between the Enlightenment and its opponents. Graeme Garrard follows Melzer in his "Rousseau's Counter-Enlightenment" (2003). This contradicts Berlin's depiction of Rousseau as a philosophe (albeit an erratic one) who shared the basic beliefs of his Enlightenment contemporaries. But similar to McMahon, Garrard traces the beginning of Counter-Enlightenment thought back to France and prior to the German Sturm und Drang movement of the 1770s. Garrard's book Counter-Enlightenments (2006) broadens the term even further, arguing against Berlin that there was no single 'movement' called 'The Counter-Enlightenment'. Rather, there have been many Counter-Enlightenments, from the middle of the 18th century to the 20th century among critical theorists, postmodernists and feminists. The Enlightenment has opponents on all points of its ideological compass, from the far left to the far right, and all points in between. Each of the Enlightenment's challengers depicted it as they saw it or wanted others to see it, resulting in a vast range of portraits, many of which are not only different but incompatible.

James Schmidt

The idea of Counter-Enlightenment has evolved in the following years. The historian James Schmidt questioned the idea of 'Enlightenment' and therefore of the existence of a movement opposing it. As the conception of 'Enlightenment' has become more complex and difficult to maintain, so has the idea of the 'Counter-Enlightenment'. Advances in Enlightenment scholarship in the last quarter-century have challenged the stereotypical view of the 18th century as an 'Age of Reason', leading Schmidt to speculate on whether the Enlightenment might not actually be a creation of its opponents, but the other way round. The fact that the term 'Enlightenment' was first used in 1894 in English to refer to a historical period supports the argument that it was a late construction projected back onto the 18th century.

The French Revolution

By the mid-1790s, the Reign of Terror during the French Revolution fueled a major reaction against the Enlightenment. Many leaders of the French Revolution and their supporters made Voltaire and Rousseau, as well as Marquis de Condorcet's ideas of reason, progress, anti-clericalism, and emancipation central themes to their movement. It led to an unavoidable backlash to the Enlightenment as there were people opposed to the revolution. Many counter-revolutionary writers, such as Edmund Burke, Joseph de Maistre and Augustin Barruel, asserted an intrinsic link between the Enlightenment and the Revolution. They blamed the Enlightenment for undermining traditional beliefs that sustained the ancien regime. As the Revolution became increasingly bloody, the idea of 'Enlightenment' was discredited, too. Hence, the French Revolution and its aftermath have contributed to the development of Counter-Enlightenment thought.

Edmund Burke was among the first of the Revolution's opponents to relate the philosophes to the instability in France in the 1790s. His Reflections on the Revolution in France (1790) identifies the Enlightenment as the principal cause of the French revolution. In Burke's opinion, the philosophes provided the revolutionary leaders with the theories on which their political schemes were based

Augustin Barruel's Counter-Enlightenment ideas were well developed before the revolution. He worked as an editor for the anti-philosophes literary journal, L'Année Littéraire. Barruel argues in his Memoirs Illustrating the History of Jacobinism (1797) that the Revolution was the consequence of a conspiracy of philosophes and freemasons.

In Considerations on France (1797), Joseph de Maistre interprets the Revolution as divine punishment for the sins of the Enlightenment. According to him, "the revolutionary storm is an overwhelming force of nature unleashed on Europe by God that mocked human pretensions.


In the 1770s, the 'Sturm und Drang' movement started in Germany. It questioned some key assumptions and implications of the Aufklärung and the term 'Romanticism' was first coined. Many early Romantic writers such as Chateaubriand, Federich von Hardenberg (Novalis) and Samuel Taylor Coleridge inherited the Counter-Revolutionary antipathy towards the philosophes. All three directly blamed the philosophes in France and the Aufklärer in Germany for devaluing beauty, spirit and history in favour of a view of man as a soulless machine and a view of the universe as a meaningless, disenchanted void lacking richness and beauty. One particular concern to early Romantic writers was the allegedly anti-religious nature of the Enlightenment since the philosophes and Aufklarer were generally deists, opposed to revealed religion. Some historians, such as Hamann, nevertheless contend that this view of the Enlightenment as an age hostile to religion is common ground between these Romantic writers and many of their conservative Counter-Revolutionary predecessors. However, not many have commented on the Enlightenment, except for Chateaubriand, Novalis, and Coleridge, since the term itself did not exist at the time and most of their contemporaries ignored it.

The historian Jacques Barzun argues that Romanticism has its roots in the Enlightenment. It was not anti-rational, but rather balanced rationality against the competing claims of intuition and the sense of justice. This view is expressed in Goya's Sleep of Reason, in which the nightmarish owl offers the dozing social critic of Los Caprichos, a piece of drawing chalk. Even the rational critic is inspired by irrational dream-content under the gaze of the sharp-eyed lynx. Marshall Brown makes much the same argument as Barzun in Romanticism and Enlightenment, questioning the stark opposition between these two periods.

By the middle of the 19th century, the memory of the French Revolution was fading and so was the influence of Romanticism. In this optimistic age of science and industry, there were few critics of the Enlightenment, and few explicit defenders. Friedrich Nietzsche is a notable and highly influential exception. After an initial defence of the Enlightenment in his so-called 'middle period' (late-1870s to early 1880s), Nietzsche turned vehemently against it.


Personality and Behaviour

There are two possible depictions for Counter-Enlightenment. The first one is coded to romanticism and its artistic figures and characters from the period's works, being poetic, mystical, and idealist. This version is justified by the connection between romanticist thought and its ideas to the opposition of some enlightenment thought.

The second depiction is as a Medieval executioner and torturer the likes of Franz Schmidt, who is extremely cruel and unfeeling to his victims on count of the Anti-Humanist influences, seeing himself as God's executioner. May be drawn with props such as tongs, red hot pokers, saws, knives, and any number of other torture devices from the "Dark Ages". In essence, he is a stereotypical medieval executioner.

Due to this mismatch Counter-Enlightenment is cannonically schizophrenic

How to Draw

Flag of Counter-Enlightenment
  1. Draw a ball
  2. Fill it with dark blue
  3. Draw a circle in a darker blue
  4. Draw a circle inside of that circle in a yet darker blue
  5. Draw another, yet darker, circle inside of that circle
  6. Inside of that circle, draw a circle darker than the previous one
  7. Add the eyes and you're done
Color Name HEX RGB
Dark Blue #2C2786 44, 39, 134
Darker Blue #2C2967 44, 41, 103
Darkerer Blue #24224E 36, 34, 78
Darkererer Blue #131236 19, 18, 54
Darkerererer Blue #050429 5, 4, 41


Maistreanism/Theological Counter-Enlightenment

Joseph de Maistre saw the consequences of enlightenment; the great terror and the french revolution as the natural consequence of the abandonment of God and Christian morality, in fact viewing them as divine punishment for the hubris of man. He explicitly condemned secular rationalism as a concept upon which governments cannot be built upon, as they would inevitably fall to internal conflict, instead, the Catholic faith should serve the foundation for all authority and government. De Maistre was however (de facto) Christian humanist, justifying some humanist principles from a religious perspective.


Romanticism was an artistic, literary, musical, and intellectual movement that originated in Europe towards the end of the 18th century, and in most areas was at its peak in the approximate period from 1800 to 1850. Romanticism was characterized by its emphasis on emotion and individualism, clandestine literature, paganism, idealization of nature, suspicion of science and industrialization, and glorification of the past with a strong preference for the medieval rather than the classical. It was partly a reaction to the Industrial Revolution, the social and political norms of the Age of Enlightenment, and the scientific rationalization of nature. It was embodied most strongly in visual arts, music, and literature, but had a major impact on historiography, education, chess, and the social/natural sciences. It had a significant and complex effect on politics, with romantic thinkers influencing conservatism, liberalism, radicalism, and nationalism.


Obscurantism is a philosophy that identify and describe the anti-intellectual practices of deliberately presenting information in an abstruse and imprecise manner that limits further inquiry and understanding of a subject. The two historical and intellectual denotations of obscurantism are:

1. The deliberate restriction of knowledge — opposition to the dissemination of knowledge.

2. deliberate obscurity — a recondite style of writing characterized by deliberate vagueness.

In the 18th century, enlightenment philosophers applied the term obscurantist to any enemy of intellectual enlightenment and the liberal diffusion of knowledge. In the 19th century, in distinguishing the varieties of obscurantism found in metaphysics and theology, from the "more subtle" obscurantism of the critical philosophy of Immanuel Kant and of modern philosophical skepticism, Friedrich Nietzsche said that: "The essential element in the black art of obscurantism is not that it wants to darken individual understanding, but that it wants to blacken our picture of the world, and darken our idea of existence."

In a way, it is a pejorative term against ideas and philosophies that condemn enlightenment ideals and connceting these movements with anti-intellectualism despite them not being inherently connected: As a result the enlightenment is similarly condemned as false light by reactionaries and counter-enlightenment thinkers like De Maistre.



Morally Gray

  • Hobbesianism - Thou may be an enlightenment philosopher, however, the Leviathan is a neat idea. But thy religious views leave a lot to be desired...
  • Reactionary Modernism - I must insist that the old ways of crime and punishment are still the best. But we both like Humboldt.
  • Reactionary Liberalism - Pardon?
  • Conservative Liberalism - Even more moderate than reactlib, but Burke is pretty good.
  • Reactionary Libertarianism - I like your ideas, but isn't libertarianism an unholy spawn of the enlightenment?
  • Neoreactionaryism - Are you sure you're a reactionary? You seem to have a lot of... enlightenment inspirations.
  • Anti-Humanism - Human rights are an unholy joke that places man above God and all that is holy! That being said, I despise thy modern variants. And man is still made in the image of God, we are not just animals.
  • Illuminatism - Enlightenment Occultist! But if you become what people call you... Then you'll be perfect. And we both like Consiglio dei Dieci.
  • Kraterocracy - Yes, warriors and duels, rejection of "human rights" and stalwartism are all blessed, but I think that that straying away from God is the false path to false strength.
  • Avaritionism - I can warm your desire to fight for money and godless actions as long as you help me and those whom I represent. But capitalism and anarchism are products of the enlightenment.
  • Romantic Nationalism - While Nationalism is a product of the enlightenment, you are most certainly preferable to classical Nationalism.

False Light

  • Enlightenment Thought - I will snuff thee out for good, thine ruses about the middle ages don't work anymore!
  • Voltaire - "The ungodly Arch-Villain Voltaire has died like a dog! I have always had God before my eyes, friends who have no religion cannot long be my friends." As the youth say, Rest In Piss bozo, thou shant be missed.
  • Neo-Enlightenment - Just another imbecile to snuff out.
  • Enlightened Absolutism - DAMN THEE BOY! I will have my revenge...
  • Neo-Marxism and Frankfurt School - As much as you claim to hate the enlightenment, all of your ideas are inherently in line with its teachings.
  • Classical Liberalism - The punishment for treason is the breaking wheel.
  • Queer Anarchism - And the pyre for sodomy... well... I might have had something more apt in mind.
  • Homoconservatism - Ah yes... one screams rebellion against order and the other twists it from within, both of you deserve but one outcome.
  • Homofascism - Come one come all, there's enough red hot glass rods to shove up all of you!
  • Jacobinism - I hope to find thy severed jaw and preserve it for future generations to spit on.
  • Girondism and La Plaineism - It's a shame the revolution ate you before we could get to you.
  • Nationalism - All of your ideas are modernist, it just so happens you were abandoned by the mob as they have moved on to the next thing.
  • Revolutionary Progressivism - Dark theatres are best reserved for dark deeds. *gouges out eyes with a red hot poker*
  • Progressivism - We used to beat people with barbed whips for saying things like that you know. I say we bring that back!
  • Esoteric Fascism - Dirty Satanic occultist! Witch hunts and the Albigensian Crusade were based. Servant of the demiurge? Me? That's gnostic talk, heathen...
  • Satanic Theocracy - Had you not displeased God, he wouldn't have sent me, child.
  • Secular Satanism - Blasphemy deserves no mercy, thou will be crushed to death.
  • Illegalism - Ah, the marauder has finally been caught. God truly is just, as now I will inflict misery that you brought into this world upon your flesh, tenfold!
  • State Liberalism - Little tyrant, lost your mandate and your strength, now you lie before me, begging for thy death. Sweet release I tend to grant, but for you... You'll wish the Devil your soul had.
  • Fordism - Wait, you WHAT? I'll have to think of even worse devices to do your crimes justice.

Further Information

For overlapping political theory see:

Neoreactionarism or Reactionaryism