His intention, however, is not a return to Gay's interpretation. Israel's Enlightenment is less mandarin and more plebeian. It is less an Enlightenment of rational reform than a radical, indeed self-consciously revolutionary, Enlightenment, whose origins lay not with the Englishmen Locke and Newton but with the Dutchmen Spinoza and Bayle, and whose heroes were not Montesquieu, Voltaire, Hume, and Kant, but Diderot, Raynal, Paine, and Lessing.
Indeed, one of Israel's primary purposes is to demonstrate how a "basic duality of philosophical systems" between a moderate and a radical Enlightenment cut across all national Enlightenments and gave to European intellectual history, from the s through the French Revolution, a fundamental coherence. Israel also constructs an Enlightenment that can answer its philosophical critics.
Not only did radical "new philosophy" embrace an uncompromising axiological commitment to the natural rights of the individual, this commitment, in turn, empowered a thoroughgoing critique of the subordination of women, European colonialism and the institution of slavery, conventional sexual morality, and any abridgment of the freedom of thought or expression. Israel's agenda is not merely historiographical. He hopes that the tradition of the radical Enlightenment might provide resources to resist contemporary forms of religious fundamentalism and contemporary threats to civil liberties.
But however justified these hopes, they carry Israel to an unfortunately simplistic account of the debate between the moderate and radical Enlightenments. There were very good reasons why moderates might hesitate before the radical vision. Were material motives sufficient to build a good society or were they a recipe for what Kant called "soulless opulence"? Would the language of the natural rights of the individual be a bulwark of liberty or would it foster civic disengagement? Might egalitarianism tend toward a tyranny of the majority, either in the political sense of democratic despotism or in the social sense of a stifling conformity?
Only when these questions—questions that certainly have their own contemporary relevance—are taken more seriously will we fully achieve the goal toward which Israel rightly aspires: Charles Sullivan is currently writing about the imaginative literature and political economy of eighteenth-century Scotland. He is associate professor of history and chair of the department at the University of Dallas.
If you would like to authenticate using a different subscribed institution that supports Shibboleth authentication or have your own login and password to Project MUSE, click 'Authenticate'. View freely available titles: This one is shitty because it deals foremost with philosophy.
Radical Enlightenment and the Intellectual Origins of Modern Democracy
Meditate upon the word for a minute. Do you break out in a cold sweat at the thought of a bunch of white, twenty-something males that look like they just rolled out of bed lounging around coffee houses, reeking of stale cigarettes and bicycle grease and trying to impress each other in some indecipherable code? Who don't realize that they've peaked? That they have nothing to offer a society that has moved past them?
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That's what the word philosophy conjures for me. Because I think philosophy, as it's currently practiced, is nothing but word games and parlor tricks. A way for nerds to have ready-made pick-up lines because they can't think spontaneously. Sure, it meant something at one time. It pierced the veil of religio-monarchist oppression to a large degree and gave form and expression to both secular democracy and science, at least in the West, back in the s during what we celebrate as the Enlightenment.
But that's about the last time it had anything worthwhile to say, at least as far as I'm concerned.
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But that's enough for me because I'm interested in history and curious about how we got where we are. Philosophy ushered in modernity. That's a pretty big deal. But, to be frank, the author is an awful writer. Aside from his penchant for quoting bygone philosophers in the original French and German without providing translations fuck you, Jonathan I. The conclusion of modernity is 'Merica and we speak English in 'Merica! Why should I have to bother with Google translate, you conceited bastard?
See what I mean about philosophers contentedly lounging about and talking only to themselves? This thing reads like bullet points interlaced with adjectives. We, the inheritors and benefactors of the Enlightenment, deserve better from our philosophy.
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View all 8 comments. Jun 07, Hadrian rated it liked it Shelves: As far as I can tell, his argument is based upon three main points: The first two points are well done here. Israel doesn't always go for the 'big names' of Locke, Kant, and Hume, but he insists on placing them within their historical context and their competitors and colleages, such as d'Holbach, Diderot, Helvetius, and Schimmelpennick. The third point doesn't seem as well established. It's more of a 'the ideas showed first, the revolution happened second, therefore the ideas caused the revolution'.
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But this might seem unfair. This is only a summary of a summary, after all, and Israel could very likely describe these histories in his other books. Still a fair primer. I still think I should read the trilogy, however. May 09, Donald rated it really liked it. I'd love to read Israel's enormous books on the subject, but I'll try his short version first.
The type is really big, so this book is even shorter than its page length implies. Israel makes three big arguments: The first two arguments are stronger than the third. After reading this, I accept his first argument, at least in a general way. I don't know enough about either the 18th century philosophers he cites or Spinoza to accept or reject the second.
The third seems overstated. But this is a fun book that everyone should read. It mentions a lot of names I'd never heard of - but could now research if I wanted to. The best part is watching Israel attack Rousseau and Voltaire, who are so often held up as heroes of reason. Mostly, this book makes me want to read Spinoza. Apr 26, Heather Stein rated it did not like it Recommends it for: This book is so polemical i am had trouble even managing to get through it.
The basic premise of a radical and moderate Enlightenment seems forced. The end of Diderot's life is much less radical than Israel would have us believe AND i am having problems with any definition of "moderate" Enlightenment figure that lumps Voltaire in with Sir Edmund Burke It will just get under your skin. Antoine This book is so polemical i am had trouble even managing to get through it.
Antoine Lilte has published a stunning review in one of the French journals that is worth reading instead. Apr 03, Steve rated it really liked it Shelves: This book in many ways amounts to an abstract or summary of his brilliant and quite lengthy trilogy on the Enlightenment Radical Enlightenment, Enlightenment Contested, and Democratic Enlightenment , all of which I've read and enjoyed over the past few years as I've studied the Enlightenment.
As with all of his books they are informative and quite readable if you're into 2-inch-thick non-fiction titles covering a fairly obscure but incredibly important process in Western civilization. Dec 22, Billy McCoy rated it it was amazing. Apr 14, Luke rated it liked it Shelves: In Revolution of the Mind: Radical Enlightenment and the Intellectual Origins of Modern Democracy, Jonathan Israel argues that the Enlightenment must be viewed as a competition between two separate strains of philosophical thought.
The first strain, moderate Enlightenment, is that most commonly recognized, advocating for Enlightened despotism, a deistic worldview, a small group of enlightened individuals, and incremental reform. The radical Enlightenment, on the other hand, aimed for democratic In Revolution of the Mind: The radical Enlightenment, on the other hand, aimed for democratic solutions, rational atheism, and sweeping change in Atlantic societies as a way to liberate all people of tyranny. However, Israel overstates the differences between radical and moderate Enlightenments, arguing that they were two irreconcilable strands of thought that brought the Western world on two different trajectories.
To him, the moderate Enlightenment was epitomized by the regimes of Catherine I of Russia and Frederick the Great of Prussia, while the radical Enlightenment is much more recognizable to us living in the liberal and social democratic world. This does not seem to be a quite fair explanation, as there was a great deal of correspondence between thinkers of both the moderate and radical Enlightenments and the two spheres did converge a great deal. Strangely, Israel argues that the radical Enlightenment must be viewed as the core of the French Revolution and that debates about Old Regime crises is overstated.
Studies of the intellectual origins of the French Revolution were quite common until the s and s before they were eclipsed by broader cultural, political, and economic studies of the origins of the French Revolution. Without doubt, they were influenced by the Enlightenment, but the reality of the French Revolution is that it was not an ideological struggle, but a simple attempt for better conditions, at least before when the Republic was formed.
Israel argues that the Reign of Terror represented a disavowal of the radical Enlightenment, leaving a space of less than a year for the radical Enlightenment to have been the dominant force in the French Revolution. Yet, Republican leaders looked more to Jean-Jacques Rousseau who Israel characterizes as moderate than Thomas Paine or Denis Diderot who he characterizes as radical , suggesting that the Revolution did not rely on as radical thought as Israel thinks. Mar 08, Grace rated it really liked it. This short volume necessarily skips a lot of detail and mainly focuses on the differences between the moderate and radical enlightenments in the later, immediately pre-French revolution period of about Israel argues that new 'radical enlightenment' ideas combined with longstanding social and political inequalities to produce revolutionary ferment - a controversial position in that philosophy is often thought not to cause very much.
The other major argument outlined here is that there were two fundamentally opposed enlightenment threads radical and moderate and that our current ideals of equality, democracy and justice stem very clearly from the radical side Spinoza, Diderot, d'Holbach, Paine etc not the moderate represented by Voltaire, Locke, Hume, sometimes Rousseau as we often tend to think.
I would have liked more discussion of the strengths and weaknesses of the radical enlightenment position but this is primarily a history book and I suppose I can now go away and think about that stuff myself. It was very interesting though and relevant to the contemporary world in that there are still conflicts between the ideal of equality and commitment to authority and the status quo.
Apr 08, Devin Creed rated it liked it. Israel splits the Enlightenment into two camps, Radical and Moderate. The Radicals, led by Diderot and D'Holbach, employed the monistic thought of Spinoza to lay the foundations for secular modernity. Mar 02, SB rated it liked it. I'm now convinced of the book's thesis: But boy this was a slog. Measuring close to 3. I figured this much more manageable book would be a good way to familiarize myself with the major themes in the trilogy, and I think that, seen in that light, the book has served its purpos Measuring close to 3.
I figured this much more manageable book would be a good way to familiarize myself with the major themes in the trilogy, and I think that, seen in that light, the book has served its purpose. Throughout the book, it's quite clear that Jonathan Israel has an axe to grind. In his view, the Enlightenment's most novel thinkers, which he groups together in what he calls the Radical Enlightenment, have been unjustly ignored or maginalized. This lack of focus on the Radical Enlightenment creates a 'highly perplexing problem of historiography' for students of the period, and Israel has little patience for this 'astounding failure dragging on over the decades'.
His fellow historians, Israel asserts, have been 'famously loathe to concede that ideas played a formatively crucial part' in shaping, and creating the conditions for, the revolutions of the late 18th century, specifically in France - though he mentions the American colonies and the Dutch United Provinces as well. However, Israel explains, 'there is no place for such an attitude' and the 'prevailing view about the French Revolution not being caused by books and ideas in the first place I am not completely convinced that this is true, primarily because I find Israel's grouping together of various writers into his categories forced and perhaps suggestive of more uniformity and influence than actually existed.
If indeed these 'Radical Enlightenment' books and ideas had such a strong and mobilizing influence on the public at large, why then did the French Revolution spiral out of control so quickly and disastrously?