Professor Caroline Winterer in Stanford News

November 11, 2016

Intellectual historian at Stanford questions the idea of the American Enlightenment

According to Caroline Winterer, to be “enlightened” meant something different to Americans living in the 18th century than it does today.

Caroline Winterer, professor of history and director of the Stanford Humanities Center, recently came to a stunning realization – namely, that the so-called “American Enlightenment” was a narrative fabricated during the Cold War era. The United States, goes that narrative, is the bastion of “democratic civilization,” sure-minded and unstoppable, defined by its revolutionary break with hereditary monarchy and embrace of republican virtue. As envisioned by Cold War thinkers, America’s heritage of “democratic civilization” would shield it against totalitarianism.

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