The Curious Enlightenment of Professor Caritat is a brilliant fictional journey through Western political philosophy by one of our most original thinkers. Professor Caritat, a middle-aged Candide, walks naively through the neighbouring countries of Utilitaria, Communitaria and Libertaria, in his quest to find the best of all possible worlds. Cut loose from the confines of his ivory tower, this wandering professor is made to confront the perplexed state of modern thinking in this dazzling comedy of ideas.
Lukes, a professor of sociology, pays ample homage to the Enlightenment, modeling this light and lovely satire on Candide. Not many pages into the book, its hero, Professor Nicholas Caritat, a prominent scholar of the Enlightenment, is given the nickname Dr. Pangloss. Having been arrested by the military junta of Militaria on the grounds that his work foments ``optimism,'' Caritat has just been sprung from jail by members of the Visible Hand, a guerrilla group. The Hand gives him a mission: he must find ``grounds for Optimism'' and ``the best possible world.'' Caritat visits a string of countries--not to be found in our atlases--that are founded on (and warped by) various political philosophies. A citizen of Utilitaria informs him that ``a high suicide rate, provided the suicides are appropriately distributed, can make a real contribution to the overall sum of happiness.'' Wherever he goes, the good Professor trips all over the cherished beliefs of the citizenry, landing himself, and those around him, in hot water. In Communitaria, where political correctness has been carried to an absurd logical conclusion, Caritat finds himself facing charges of sexual harassment in front of the country's ``Body of Gender.'' In the laissez-faire paradise of Libertaria, it isn't long before Caritat finds himself on the street with the homeless. Lukes is more than generous with the breadcrumbs of political philosophy, but the tale never becomes dull or bookish. He writes with great humor and confidence as the insouciant Caritat is buffeted from one false Utopia to the next. Toward the end, Caritat gets the point and expresses his distrust of Utopias in a moving letter to his children, part of which reads: ``Another thing I have noticed is that everyone I have met so far seems to have stopped learning. They seem as if trapped in their language and their world and quite closed to one another's.'' Though not the best of all possible philosophical satires, Lukes's imaginative intellect and playful tone make this one as good as we are likely to see for quite a while.