How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love Enlightenment
A Soviet-specific tale
I was not fond of “Enlightenment Age” of history until very recently. Now I understand why. It's all about school, of course.
In my school curriculum, no connection was made between the Enlightenment and the Industrial Revolution. Both were in fact parts of liberty movement but school left me with impression that Enlightenment was an age of talkers who did nothing, and then, with Industrial Revolution, stuff actually happened (maybe because everyone got extremely bored of doing nothing?).
The school exposition of the most groundbreaking period in human history is of course dreadful: an honest story about it is ardently anti-statist, and will never happened in public schools. But even that doesn't explain my attitude. After all, I was fond of science (probably even more so than now). What on Earth could make me disregard Enlightenment?
Now, if you don't know much about USSR, prepare for a eye-boggling trivia. If I was a foreigner, I'd certainly be astonished to learn one day that, in a truly Orwellian fashion (before Orwell, though :-), there was a Department (Ministry) of Enlightenment in USSR.
It wasn't “Education Department”, and for sure it wasn't “The Ministry for Schooling”. No, they had lots of pathos back there in 1920s. It was called Enlightenment Department. Rebranded in 1946 as more traditional Ministry Education but the term didn't escape popular culture.
I was born in 1987, the end of SU was near but not looming. Soviet culture had lot of impact on me, since it was essentially the only one around in early post-Soviet years. I happened to learn of the department name during my childhood. Not casual maybe, but that's it.
Naturally, since the young age I became very suspicious of the word “Enlightenment” — of its Russian equivalent, to be precise. When I started reading about Enlightenment in English, this obstruction was not there, and my attitude to it was, quite surprisingly, completely different due to that fact alone. By now I've learnt to appreciate both the Age and the movement.
But until very recently, “Enlightenment” for me was something that bureaucrats were doing — hence boring, redundant and overall evil. Because of that I stll shiver inside a little bit when I hear the word in its Russian form, which is not really Enlightenment for me, I barely even hear the “light” part in it. In Russian, “enlightenment” stayed with me merely as some nasty stuff that government officials routinely do with citizens' minds and knowledge.