Long ago, before Westerners associated "enlightenment" with meditation or yoga, there was the Enlightenment: the philosophical revolution of the 1600s and 1700s that made the modern West. Before the Enlightenment discovered natural rights, most people had no rights, speech was restricted, and few governments were accountable to their subjects. Enlightenment ideals are still common ideals: tolerance and equality, reason and science, an educated, engaged public. But today, we are witnessing the decoupling of Enlightenment principles from Enlightenment practices.
The Enlightenment was what historians call a "grand narrative." For full effect, say it with a smirk. How foolish those costumed dreamers were to believe in the advance of human knowledge, the dignity of all individuals, and the right to think, speak, and pray as we choose. How much cleverer we are, to not bother at all with such questions as we stroke our screens. As G.K. Chesterton said, "Everything matters—except everything."
The ideal of infinite progress is, ironically, an Enlightenment inheritance: Before the modern age, progress was in the hands of the Almighty, and moral authority rested with kings and churchmen. We might see this more clearly, if only we could settle on what the Enlightenment was. Everyone knows that it happened, but no one agrees on when, why, or where. The Enlightenment aspired to scientific reason, and the discovery of universal principles. But we, locavores in taste, are local in perspective too. Since 1989, and the demise of Marxism, one of the Enlightenment's grander narratives, historians have subdivided the Enlightenment like developers with condos. Now, we look back and see many Enlightenments. French dandies discourse wittily about Reason, and why it is reasonable to destroy the church. Red-faced Brits exchange their claret for coffee, and ponder the uses of Adam Smith's invisible hand. Practical Americans discover their natural rights in the wilderness. The Germans take off their clothes and commune with Nature. The Jews keep theirs on, and commune with the Germans. Everyone enlightens, but in their own way.