A Revolution of the Mind

A Revolution of the Mind: Radical Enlightenment and the Intellectual Origins of Modern Democracy

Jonathan Israel
Copyright Date: 2010
Pages: 296
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  • Book Info
    A Revolution of the Mind
    Book Description:

    Democracy, free thought and expression, religious tolerance, individual liberty, political self-determination of peoples, sexual and racial equality--these values have firmly entered the mainstream in the decades since they were enshrined in the 1948 U.N. Declaration of Human Rights. But if these ideals no longer seem radical today, their origin was very radical indeed--far more so than most historians have been willing to recognize. InA Revolution of the Mind, Jonathan Israel, one of the world's leading historians of the Enlightenment, traces the philosophical roots of these ideas to what were the least respectable strata of Enlightenment thought--what he calls the Radical Enlightenment.

    Originating as a clandestine movement of ideas that was almost entirely hidden from public view during its earliest phase, the Radical Enlightenment matured in opposition to the moderate mainstream Enlightenment dominant in Europe and America in the eighteenth century. During the revolutionary decades of the 1770s, 1780s, and 1790s, the Radical Enlightenment burst into the open, only to provoke a long and bitter backlash.A Revolution of the Mindshows that this vigorous opposition was mainly due to the powerful impulses in society to defend the principles of monarchy, aristocracy, empire, and racial hierarchy--principles linked to the upholding of censorship, church authority, social inequality, racial segregation, religious discrimination, and far-reaching privilege for ruling groups.

    In telling this fascinating history,A Revolution of the Mindreveals the surprising origin of our most cherished values--and helps explain why in certain circles they are frequently disapproved of and attacked even today.

    eISBN: 978-1-4008-3160-9
    Subjects: History, Philosophy, Political Science

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. Preface
    (pp. vii-xvi)
  4. Chapter I Progress and the Enlightenment’s Two Conflicting Ways of Improving the World
    (pp. 1-36)

    That notions concerning “progress,” “improvement of society,” and what one now-forgotten radicalminded novelist of the 1790s termed the “amelioration of the state of mankind” were central to the Enlightenment is scarcely surprising.¹ Four out of six of the Enlightenment’s philosophical founding figures—Descartes, Hobbes, Spinoza, and Bayle—held that most people’s ideas about the most fundamental questions are wildly wrong and that were it possible to improve men’s ideas about the world and about the structure of reality, this, in itself, would significantly improve human existence. For it would make society safer and more stable (Hobbes’s main concern), more rational...

  5. Chapter II Democracy or Social Hierarchy? The Political Rift
    (pp. 37-91)

    The Atlantic democratic revolutions of the later eighteenth century, then, were certainly caused by deeply rooted, complex “structural” change, a full-scale “revolution,” but one of a kind that later nineteenthcentury and twentieth-century historians and philosophers have found exceedingly difficult to come to grips with. The mistake in the historiography, arguably, has been to assume that developments driven by powerful social forces must have clear recent changes in social structure, some dramatic transformation of conditions, as their primary cause. This seems to be a fallacy and one that would seem to account for the confusion and frustration evident in the historiography...

  6. Chapter III The Problem of Equality and Inequality: The Rise of Economics
    (pp. 92-123)

    The principle of equality, we have seen, was crucial to the Radical Enlightenment from the outset. This was because in Spinoza, Bayle, and the clandestine philosophical literature of the early Enlightenment, moral and social theory is grounded on the principle that every person’s happiness, and hence worldly interests, must be deemed equal. Thus, the toleration of these philosophers, and uncompromising plea for freedom of expression and the press, were integrally linked to the notion that every person’s needs and views are of equal weight. The radical thinkers wholly erased the distinction (retained by Locke) between an individual’s theological status—or...

  7. Chapter IV The Enlightenment’s Critique of War and the Quest for “Perpetual Peace”
    (pp. 124-153)

    Only with more regard for others can there be fewer wars and what greater need, asked the radical thinkers, has humanity than that? What else is there so opposed to the general happiness, progress of reason, and to human civilization generally, demanded d’Holbach, than the vastly destructive wars everywhere ceaselessly waged by princes in pursuit of quarrels that have nothing to do with the interests of those they consider their subjects?¹ And without an equally vast fund of crass credulity, error, ignorance, and prejudice among men that nothing has so far managed to tackle, how else would it be possible...

  8. Chapter V Two Kinds of Moral Philosophy in Conflict
    (pp. 154-198)

    Despite the great variety of the world’s religions, af-firms Diderot, all peoples have felt, more or less along the same lines, that it is necessary to be just. All nations have honored such virtues as goodness, friendship, loyalty, sincerity, and gratitude. Consequently, we should not look to any particular event or revelation for the source of what is so general and unalterable.¹ True morality, argues Diderot, is essentially reverence for, and obedience to, just laws and good institutions, so that societies have good or bad customs and morals depending on whether they have good or bad laws; and the happiness...

  9. Chapter VI Voltaire versus Spinoza: The Enlightenment as a Basic Duality of Philosophical Systems
    (pp. 199-220)

    D’Holbach argued that no people can feel true loyalty and love for its government without being aware of the advantages just and equitable government brings. “Hence, we must enlighten the people” if we want them to behave reasonably and understand the drawbacks that arise from being misled by hypocrites, ambitious men, and religious leaders. “It is through general education,” he declares, that the “people can be rendered reasonable,” be led to understand their true interests, and become convinced of the loyalty they owe to government, of their duties, of the advantages of peace and tranquility.¹

    Under then-existing conditions, with most...

  10. Chapter VII Conclusion
    (pp. 221-242)

    By the mid-1770s the split in the French, German, Dutch, American, Italian, and British enlightenments had become open, clear, and irreparable. It was impossible to bridge the gap between Moderate and Radical Enlightenment in philosophy, science, moral thought, or politics, and many could see that this was the case. It was a vast conflict—political, social, and intellectual—that had to be fought out and one that in the 1770s, 1780s, and 1790s, looked dangerously unresolved. What is more, despite Voltaire’s last great throw and Turgot’s adamant stance against materialism, it was clear, even to the former, that he had...

  11. Notes
    (pp. 243-266)
  12. Index
    (pp. 267-276)