This is difficult for an American to write because it involves concepts from another time and place, but we’ll give it a try. Historically there have been three Estates of the realm. Wikipedia says:
[They] were the broad orders of social hierarchy used in Christendom (Christian Europe) from the medieval period to early modern Europe. Different systems for dividing society members into estates developed and evolved over time. The best known system is the French Ancien Régime (Old Regime), a three-estate system used until the French Revolution (1789–1799). Monarchy was for the king and the queen and this system was made up of clergy (the First Estate), nobles (the Second Estate), and peasants and bourgeoisie (the Third Estate).
In some regions, notably Scandinavia and Russia, burghers (the urban merchant class) and rural commoners were split into separate estates, creating a four-estate system with rural commoners ranking the lowest as the Fourth Estate. Furthermore, the non-landowning poor could be left outside the estates, leaving them without political rights.
For those who live in what we call Western civilization, that describes a creepy, alien kind of society. But the concepts linger. We now have people who refer to themselves as the Fourth Estate, about which Wikipedia says:
The Fourth Estate (or fourth power) is a segment of society that wields an indirect but significant influence on society even though it is not a formally recognized part of the political system. The most commonly recognized part of the fourth estate is the news media, or press.
Thomas Carlyle attributed the origin of the term to Edmund Burke … . [They quote Carlyle:] “Burke said there were Three Estates in Parliament; but, in the Reporters’ Gallery yonder, there sat a Fourth Estate more important far than they all.”
Oscar Wilde wrote: “In old days men had the rack. Now they have the Press. That is an improvement certainly. But still it is very bad, and wrong, and demoralizing.”
And that’s not the end of it. Wikipedia also describes the Fifth Estate as “a socio-cultural reference to groupings of outlier viewpoints in contemporary society, and is most associated with bloggers, journalists publishing in non-mainstream media outlets, and the social media …:”
The “Fifth Estate” includes all kinds of economic, political, and supernatural craziness, including creationists, who dream of their glory days when they were the First Estate and literally wielded the power of life and death.
So why do we bother discussing these shadowy concepts today? It’s because we humbly suggest the existence of what could be described as a Sixth Estate — the only one that really matters. And what would that be? Isn’t it obvious? It’s science — recognized and liberated by the Enlightenment, which doomed the traditional estates to utter insignificance. What we’re describing isn’t really an “estate” in the traditional sense, because those who comprise it wield no actual power — except over their own minds.
The Enlightenment has been a constant theme of this humble blog since its earliest days — see, for example: Discovery Institute: Enemies of the Enlightenment. As we said there:
The Scottish Enlightenment achieved advances in numerous fields, including, e.g., philosophy (David Hume, one of the greatest philosophers, an empiricist, skeptic, and advocate of separation of powers and decentralized government), economics (Adam Smith, intellectual founding father of the free enterprise system), and geology (James Hutton, father of modern geology, and discoverer of “deep time” which contradicts the brief Genesis chronology of creation). Almost a century later, that continuing outburst of rationality resulted in Charles Darwin’s theory of evolution.
Additionally, due to trans-Atlantic travel and correspondence (Benjamin Franklin knew David Hume, for example) the Scottish Enlightenment inspired the American Revolution, Constitution, and Bill of Rights. It created an intellectual climate of reason and progress that powers our civilization to this day.
Reason, liberty, science, free enterprise — splendid results for an intellectual movement. Not even Athens at the height of its glory enjoyed such a philosophical foundation. We experience more freedom, health, and prosperity than any age ever dreamed of, and we have more knowledge of the universe than was ever believed possible. But not everyone is delighted with those magnificent accomplishments. Would-be tyrants, theocrats, Grand Inquisitors, Marxists, fascists, and other assorted despots are nostalgic for the pre-Enlightenment days when men lived in ignorance and unthinkingly obeyed authority. They hope for a restoration of those sordid centuries, imagining that in such a nightmare world they would be our masters.
Okay, now how can we bring this rambling discussion to a close? We suggest that it’s of vital importance to recognize — and teach! — what drives the age in which we live, and what lurks in the darkness that would bring our civilization to an end. It’s not enough to enjoy the life that we have. We need to know how it happened, what a difficult struggle it was — and how important it is to defend what we have against those who want to drag us backward.
So there you are, dear reader. Make of it what you will, but we think this is one of our best posts ever.
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