The African Case for The Enlightenment

I Can one think of a more inauspicious time than now to offer a case for the continuing relevance, the necessity even, of the Enlightenment project to the fortunes of contemporary Africa? What follows is not a defense of the Enlightenment and its ideals. Where that is concerned, the great enterprise does not need my defense. By the same token, those who claim to be defending it in the name of a racial identity or an even more groundless civilizational supremacy originating in one corner of the globe may be mortified by what I have to say. Once we move away from smug affirmations of identities and from the homogenization of diverse historicities, it will become clear that just as sure as humans are zoon dunamikon, mobile animals, like the snail and its shell, their ideas are no less given to migrating. Even when their original discoverers are loathe to share them, it is well-nigh impossible for them to stop their fellow humans from copying, buying, or pilfering those ideas for whatever ends they wish to realize. In this marketplace of ideas only the foolhardy would permit themselves to think that anyone or any group can claim absolute ownership of any idea they have articulated in a form that is no longer opaque to their fellows. It does not require courage to defend the Enlightenment project; all it requires is knowledge and an openness to considering other ways of organizing life and thought. As will become clear, much of the animus towards the Enlightenment project in the African context is traceable to an ignorance of Africa’s relations with it over time, and to witting or unwitting misreadings of its core elements. When this is not the case, it is founded on a dubious identity politics the origins of which are

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