Revolutions Revisited: Two Faces of the Politics of Enlightenmentby Ralph Lerner
In this elegant extended essay, Ralph Lerner concentrates on the politics of enlightenment--the process by which those who sought to set minds free went about their work. Eighteenth-century revolutionaries in America and Europe, Lerner argues, found that a revolution aimed at liberating bodies and minds had somehow to be explained and defended. Lerner first investigates how the makers of revolution sought to improve their public's aspirations and chances. He pays particular attention to Benjamin Franklin, to the tone and substance of revolutionaries' appeals on both sides of the Atlantic, and to the preoccupations of first- and second-generation enlighteners among the Americans. He then unfolds the art by which later political actors, confronting the profound political, constitutional, and social divisions of their own day, drew upon and reworked their national revolutionary heritage. Lerner's examination of the speeches and writings of Edmund Burke, Abraham Lincoln, and Alexis de Tocqueville shows them to be masters of a political rhetoric once closely analyzed by Plato and his medieval student al-Farabi but now nearly forgotten.
Originally published in 1994.
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"Lerner has written a thematically unified work on a genre of political and historical rhetoric hitherto unnoticed in modern scholarship. . . . The writing is crisp, the research is thorough, and the argument is both novel and arresting."Paul A. Rahe, University of Tulsa
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Lerner has written an extraordinary, thought-provoking book. His essays on Burke, Lincoln, and Tocqueville are as stimulating and fresh as any in recent memory.--Journal of American History
Meet the Author
Ralph Lerner is professor, Committee on Social Thought, at the University of Chicago. He is author of The Thinking Revolutionary: Principle and Practice in the New Republic and coeditor of The Founders' Constitution.
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