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Democratic Enlightenment: Philosophy, Revolution, and Human Rights, 1750-1790

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That the Enlightenment shaped modernity is uncontested. Yet remarkably few historians or philosophers have attempted to trace the process of ideas from the political and social turmoil of the late eighteenth century to the present day. This is precisely what Jonathan Israel now does.

In Democratic Enlightenment, Israel demonstrates that the Enlightenment was an essentially revolutionary process, driven by philosophical debate. The American Revolution and its concerns certainly ...

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Democratic Enlightenment: Philosophy, Revolution, and Human Rights 1750-1790

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Overview


That the Enlightenment shaped modernity is uncontested. Yet remarkably few historians or philosophers have attempted to trace the process of ideas from the political and social turmoil of the late eighteenth century to the present day. This is precisely what Jonathan Israel now does.

In Democratic Enlightenment, Israel demonstrates that the Enlightenment was an essentially revolutionary process, driven by philosophical debate. The American Revolution and its concerns certainly acted as a major factor in the intellectual ferment that shaped the wider upheaval that followed, but the radical philosophes were no less critical than enthusiastic about the American model. From 1789, the General Revolution's impetus came from a small group of philosophe-revolutionnaires, men such as Mirabeau, Sieyes, Condorcet, Volney, Roederer, and Brissot. Not aligned to any of the social groups represented in the French National assembly, they nonetheless forged "la philosophie moderne"--in effect Radical Enlightenment ideas--into a world-transforming ideology that had a lasting impact in Latin America, Canada and eastern Europe as well as France, Italy, Germany, and the Low Countries. In addition, Israel argues that while all French revolutionary journals powerfully affirmed that la philosophie moderne was the main cause of the French Revolution, the main stream of historical thought has failed to grasp what this implies. Israel sets the record straight, demonstrating the true nature of the engine that drove the Revolution, and the intimate links between the radical wing of the Enlightenment and the anti-Robespierriste "Revolution of reason."

Acclaim for earlier volumes in the trilogy:

"His vast--and vastly impressive--book sets out to redefine the intellectual landscape of early modern Europe. Magnificent and magisterialwill undoubtedly be one of the truly great historical works of the decade." -- Sunday Telegraph

"The scholarship is breathtaking. Israel has read everything, absorbed every nuance, followed up every byway." -- New Statesman

"An enormously impressive piece of scholarship. The breadth and depth of the author's reading are breathtaking and Enlightenment Contested is set to become the definitive work for philosophers as well as historians on this extraordinary period." -- Tribune

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher

"A magisterial study of the immediate and middle-range intellectual underpinnings of the French and subsequent democratic revolutions...this trilogy is by far the most comprehensive and best study of the late 18th-century attitudinal changes that shaped modern thought and action...No serious work equals it in span...or depth...this is an essential book for all who are studying the Enlightenment." -- Library Journal

"Israel has turned up evidence of the Radical Enlightenment's influence in surprising places, and that labor alone should ensure that this book finds a place on every specialist's shelf." -- New York Times Book Review

Library Journal
With this third volume, Israel (history, Inst. for Advanced Study; Radical Enlightenment; Enlightenment Contested) completes his groundbreaking work on the Enlightenment. Though his prose is at times almost opaque and the book is so thick that it will probably be read in parts rather than as a whole, it's a magisterial study of the immediate and middle-range intellectual underpinnings of the French and subsequent democratic revolutions. A renowned controversialist, Israel takes on conventional views of the origins of the French Revolution, arguing that only the radical Enlightenment of Diderot, d'Holbach, and Helvetius provided a language capable of fueling such change in a society mired in tradition. Despite its defects in style, this trilogy is by far the most comprehensive and best study of the late 18th-century attitudinal changes that shaped modern thought and action. No serious work equals it in span (it covers Europe, Asia, and the Americas) or depth (Germany's Enlightenment, the Aufklärung, merits as much space as the philosophes or Hume). VERDICT It's unfortunate that so good a scholar is not a better writer; nonetheless, this is an essential book for all who are studying the Enlightenment.—David Keymer, Modesto, CA
Darrin M. McMahon
Working with tremendous energy, Israel has turned up evidence of the Radical Enlightenment's influence in surprising places, and that labor alone should ensure that this book finds a place on every specialist's shelf.
—The New York Times Book Review
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780199548200
  • Publisher: Oxford University Press
  • Publication date: 10/25/2011
  • Pages: 1152
  • Product dimensions: 6.60 (w) x 9.30 (h) x 2.50 (d)

Meet the Author

Jonathan Israel is Professor of Modern History at the Institute for Advance Study, Princeton. He is a Fellow of the British Academy and corresponding fellow of the Royal Netherlands Academy of Sciences. His previous books include The Dutch Republic: Its Rise, Greatness and Fall, 1477-1806, Radical Enlightenment: Philosophy and the Making of Modernity 1650-1750, and Enlightenment Contested: Philosophy, Modernity, and the Emancipation of Man 1670-1752.

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Table of Contents

1. Introduction

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