The Enlightenment included thinkers like John Locke and Immanuel Kant who argued that people should stop deferring blindly to authority for how to live. Instead, they should think things through from the ground up, respect facts and skeptically re-examine their own assumptions and convictions.Enlightenment thinkers turned their skeptical ideas into skeptical institutions, notably the U.S. Constitution. America’s founders didn’t trust the people or themselves, so they built a system of rules, providing checks and balances to pit interest against interest.
The end product of Enlightenment, in this account, is liberal democracy and its deliberative approach to political decision-making. Brooks' Enlightenment has its shortcomings; he criticizes its naive contempt for religion, as well as a related "thin[ness] on meaning" that cultivates "soulless technocrats." Still, Enlightenment is to be preferred to anti-Enlightenment tendencies that "don’t think truth is to be found through skeptical inquiry and debate," but "see history as cataclysmic cycles — a zero-sum endeavor marked by conflict." Such elements are essentially authoritarian; "They prefer the direct rule by one strongman who is the embodiment of the will of the people."
It's easy to put a noble Enlightenment heritage against the bad people of today if you cherry-pick history to harvest an ideal version of it. Brooks' anglocentric Enlightenment would seem to have no room for the phenomenon of "enlightened despotism," but would seem compelled to dismiss that phenomenon as an oxymoron. And yet there has been what might be called an Authoritarian Enlightenment probably for as long as people have talked about Enlightenment in the secular European sense of the word. That Enlightenment allows skepticism relatively limited scope, compared to Brooks's ideal, both because the Authoritarian Enlightenment is also a Progressive Enlightenment dismissive of most if not all skepticism toward the idea, not to mention the necessity of progress, and especially dismissive of the skepticism of the "unenlightened." Twentieth century critics, inspired by the so-called Frankfurt School of Marxist critics, have located "totalitarian" tendencies in the Enlightenment's dismissal of resistance as necessarily unreasonable. In this account Enlightenment brought with it an entitlement to dominate if not destroy others. Some of the "anti-enlightenment" elements decried by Brooks probably see the world this way, threatened by elites that are intellectually arrogant and contemptuous toward traditions, e.g. the European Union, the Democratic party, etc. At the same time, some of the elements Brooks labels "anti-Enlightenment" aren't necessarily opposed to the Enlightenment's historic or cultural heritage. Again, it depends on what people mean by "Enlightenment." Some of our struggles today may simply be the Enlightenment turning on itself, as an Enlightenment in which skepticism is the essential element probably is bound to do. But the seemingly ongoing backlash against the Enlightenment only seems more unreasonable when people idealize Enlightenment as a purely benign force in history, without owning up to its abuses, actual and potential, or simply owning the fact that Enlightenment always will meet resistance, but shouldn't always back down in the face of skepticism.