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

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Overview

"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. In A 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 Mind shows 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 history, A Revolution of the Mind reveals the surprising origin of our most cherished values - and helps explain why in certain circles they are frequently disapproved of and attacked eventoday.

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Editorial Reviews

Choice
Israel's new book is a breathtaking rethinking of the Enlightenment and its impact in the modern world.
Nation
Spinoza's radicalism was certainly frightening in its time, and Israel has valuably if aggressively opened the question of its influence on the Enlightenment and the era of revolution.
— Samuel Moyn
Harper's Magazine
Israel is right to emphasize the importance of this intellectual movement, but since his is such a sweeping revision of so many generations of received ideas, his work raises the question of why the radical Enlightenment has been misunderstood or obscured for so long in favor of such colorful figures as Voltaire (in Israel's telling, a witty, snobbish sycophant). . . . We are lucky that a historian of Israel's caliber has taken these subjects on and lucky, too, that he has now produced a readable introduction to them.
— Benjamin Moser
Library Journal
In this sharply written synthesis, Israel (modern history, Inst. for Advanced Study, Princeton) deftly traces the intellectual development of modern democratic thought from its origins in the philosophies of Spinoza and Bayle to the Atlantic revolutionary movements of the 1770s, 1780s, and 1790s. Central to Israel's cerebral argument, also put forward in his two previous monumental works, Radical Enlightenment: Philosophy and the Making of Modernity 1650–1750 and Enlightenment Contested: Philosophy, Modernity, and the Emancipation of Man 1670–1752, is the concept of a dialectical Enlightenment pitting the mainstream or moderate Enlightenment of Voltaire, Montesquieu, and Smith against the clandestine forces of a Radical Enlightenment advocated by Baron d'Holbach, Helvetius, and Diderot. Israel maintains that while moderate advocates were comfortable working within the confines of traditional authority characterized by censorship, social inequality, and privilege, radical thinkers sought nothing less than the destruction of the ancien régime and the restructuring of society based upon equality. VERDICT Israel's reasoned assertion for the influence of the Radical Enlightenment on democratic thought is certainly compelling, making this essential reading for students of the Enlightenment era as well as anyone interested in the foundations of modern democracy.—Brian Odom, Pelham P.L, AL
Nation
Spinoza's radicalism was certainly frightening in its time, and Israel has valuably if aggressively opened the question of its influence on the Enlightenment and the era of revolution.
— Samuel Moyn
Harper's Magazine
Israel is right to emphasize the importance of this intellectual movement, but since his is such a sweeping revision of so many generations of received ideas, his work raises the question of why the radical Enlightenment has been misunderstood or obscured for so long in favor of such colorful figures as Voltaire (in Israel's telling, a witty, snobbish sycophant). . . . We are lucky that a historian of Israel's caliber has taken these subjects on and lucky, too, that he has now produced a readable introduction to them.
— Benjamin Moser
Choice
Israel's new book is a breathtaking rethinking of the Enlightenment and its impact in the modern world.
Christian Century
Perhaps no active scholar has shaped the conversation about the sources and meaning of the Enlightenment more than Jonathan Israel. . . . Almost miraculously, Israel manages to embody the greatest intellectual virtues and vices.
Nation - Samuel Moyn
Spinoza's radicalism was certainly frightening in its time, and Israel has valuably if aggressively opened the question of its influence on the Enlightenment and the era of revolution.
Harper's Magazine - Benjamin Moser
Israel is right to emphasize the importance of this intellectual movement, but since his is such a sweeping revision of so many generations of received ideas, his work raises the question of why the radical Enlightenment has been misunderstood or obscured for so long in favor of such colorful figures as Voltaire (in Israel's telling, a witty, snobbish sycophant). . . . We are lucky that a historian of Israel's caliber has taken these subjects on and lucky, too, that he has now produced a readable introduction to them.
1650-1850 - Rivka Weisberg and Carl Pletsch
Israel succeeds commendably in a great evaluation and dissemination of generally unknown texts from beyond the familiar territories of France, England, and America. In this respect, he broadens the common conception of where Enlightenment ideas were debated and implemented, unlike Isaiah Berlin, who failed to notice the American Enlightenment.
From the Publisher
"Spinoza's radicalism was certainly frightening in its time, and Israel has valuably if aggressively opened the question of its influence on the Enlightenment and the era of revolution."—Samuel Moyn, Nation

"Israel is right to emphasize the importance of this intellectual movement, but since his is such a sweeping revision of so many generations of received ideas, his work raises the question of why the radical Enlightenment has been misunderstood or obscured for so long in favor of such colorful figures as Voltaire (in Israel's telling, a witty, snobbish sycophant). . . . We are lucky that a historian of Israel's caliber has taken these subjects on and lucky, too, that he has now produced a readable introduction to them."—Benjamin Moser, Harper's Magazine

"Israel's reasoned assertion for the influence of the Radical Enlightenment on democratic thought is certainly compelling, making this essential reading for students of the Enlightenment era as well as anyone interested in the foundations of modern democracy."—Library Journal

"Israel's new book is a breathtaking rethinking of the Enlightenment and its impact in the modern world."—Choice

"Perhaps no active scholar has shaped the conversation about the sources and meaning of the Enlightenment more than Jonathan Israel. . . . Almost miraculously, Israel manages to embody the greatest intellectual virtues and vices."—Christian Century

"Israel succeeds commendably in a great evaluation and dissemination of generally unknown texts from beyond the familiar territories of France, England, and America. In this respect, he broadens the common conception of where Enlightenment ideas were debated and implemented, unlike Isaiah Berlin, who failed to notice the American Enlightenment."—Rivka Weisberg and Carl Pletsch, 1650-1850

"In telling this fascinating story, A Revolution of the Mind reveals the surprising origins of our most cherished values—and helps explain why in certain circles they are frequently disapproved of and attacked even today."—World Book Industry

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780691142005
  • Publisher: Princeton University Press
  • Publication date: 10/26/2009
  • Edition description: New Edition
  • Pages: 296
  • Product dimensions: 5.80 (w) x 8.50 (h) x 1.10 (d)

Meet the Author

Jonathan Israel is professor of modern history at the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton. He is in the process of finishing a monumental three-volume history of the Radical Enlightenment, the first two volumes of which, "Radical Enlightenment" and "Enlightenment Contested", have already been published.

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Table of Contents

Ch. I Progress and the Enlightenment's Two Conflicting Ways of Improving the World 1

Ch. II Democracy or Social Hierarchy? The Political Rift 37

Ch. III The Problem of Equality and Inequality: The Rise of Economics 92

Ch. IV The Enlightenment's Critique of War and the Quest for "Perpetual Peace" 124

Ch. V Two Kinds of Moral Philosophy in Conflict 154

Ch. VI Voltaire versus Spinoza: The Enlightenment as a Basic Duality of Philosophical Systems 199

Ch. VII Conclusion 221

Notes 243

Index 267

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