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A review of Enlightenment Now by Steven Pinker



When Bill Gates called it his new favourite book, I had to check Enlightenment now. Before that I was aware of Pinker as that guy who was involved in a few debates. (Not that you need to know who the author is). The book starts with a premise that the society has been improving with time and now is the best time to be alive. If you believe the media, however, the world is increasingly a depressing place. Violence is on the rise.


This notion is completely dismissed in the first few chapters where Pinker provides statistics and facts to prove his premise. He addresses the role of free market in lifting a billion people out of poverty in two countries, China and India. Authoritarian capitalism did help countries like China, Singapore and South Korea. But increasingly there has been a movement towards liberal or Enlightenment values. The world as we know it was driven by the Enlightenment era. And after reading the book I do not doubt it. After this I will go back and read Will Durant's The Story of Philosophy just because I now have a better context to read it. The first read was good, but I wasn't satisfied.


With the rise of right-wing populism, however, one may start doubting the process, the innate ability of humans and collectively, the society, to rise to the challenge posed by populist movement.


A few things I need to think about, whether moderate liberal values can counter populist authoritarian movements. With what is happening in Delhi (I have stayed out of news just because it is depressing), I need to have faith in the Enlightenment principles, even if it's difficult.


PS: I remember reading in the book that despite two world wars, 20th century was better than its predecessors. I need to check.


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