… is from pages 3-4 of Jonathan Israel’s 2010 book, A Revolution of the Mind:
The notion, still widespread today, that Enlightenment thinkers nurtured a naïve belief in man’s perfectibility seems to be a complete myth conjured up by early twentieth-century scholars unsympathetic to its claims. In reality, Enlightenment progress breathed a vivid awareness of the great difficulty of spreading toleration, curbing religious fanaticism, and otherwise ameliorating human organization, orderliness, and the general state of health and was always impressively empirically based. Its relative optimism rested on man’s obviously growing capacity to create wealth, invent technologies capable of raising production, and devise stable legal and political institutions, as well as, it should be mentioned, the disappearance of the plague.
DBx: If your goal is to extinguish the Enlightenment, you can do no better than to frighten the populace into believing that they are on the verge of being mowed down by a pathogen that is categorically more dangerous than is any other peril that they’ve encountered during their lifetimes. We now know that even a modern and ‘enlightened’ populace, when so alarmed, will without much thought or hesitancy sacrifice to the state all their freedoms and rights – and, hence, their dignity and humanity – in exchange for promised reductions, no matter how minuscule, of their prospects of encountering this Dreaded Monster.