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Product details

  • Paperback: 832 pages
  • Publisher: OUP Oxford; New Ed edition (18 July 2002)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0199254567
  • ISBN-13: 978-0199254569
  • Product Dimensions: 23.4 x 4.6 x 15.7 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (2 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 97,807 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
  • See Complete Table of Contents

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Review

The tributes which Israel has received for Radical Enlightenment are thoroughly merited; this book will become a modern classic upon the subject. (David J. Sturdy, Cultural and Social History 2004-2006)

Deserves to be widely read because it is an example of ground-breaking vastly well-informed and thoroughly new history (David Horspool, The Guardian)

The scholarship is breathtaking. Israel has read everything, absorbed every nuance, followed up every byway ... Five years from now, our views of the Enlightenment will have been enormously influenced by Israel. (Peter Watson, New Statesman)

There is much to praise in Israel's majestic account of the Enlightenment and his detective work in placing Spinoza at the heart of it. (A.C. Grayling, FT Weekend)

Magnificent and magisterial, Radical Enlightenment will undoubtedly be one of truly great historical works of the decade. (John Adamson, Sunday Telegraph)

About the Author

Jonathan Israel is a professor in the School of Historical Studies, Institute for Advanced Study, Princeton

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To many a courtier, official, teacher, lawyer, physician, and churchman, philosophy and philosophers seemed to have burst upon the European scene in the late seventeenth century with terrifying force. Read the first page
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67 of 68 people found the following review helpful By Ralph Blumenau TOP 500 REVIEWER on 4 Jan. 2005
Format: Paperback
Most people, when they think of the Enlightenment, think first of 18th France, of Voltaire and of Diderot. The late Roy Porter, in his spirited Enlightenment (Penguin paperback) claimed that the roots of the Enlightenment were actually in England. Then we have recently had James Buchan's Capital of the Mind, which claims in its subtitle that the philosophers of Edinburgh "changed the world". Jonathan Israel says that these are all parochial approaches, and that the Enlightenment was a movement whose international character he intends to illustrate. He has indeed read prodigiously in international literature: his bibliography gives 26 pages of published primary sources and 31 of secondary literature, and these include titles in Latin, English, Dutch, French, German, Italian, Spanish, Portuguese, Swedish and Danish.
Nevertheless, what emerges quite clearly from this book is that he places the origins of the Radical Enlightenment very firmly in 17th century Holland in general and in Spinoza in particular; and although one might perhaps expect this from a historian whose previous book was an equally massive work on the Dutch Republic (OUP), he makes a totally convincing case for this. In the course of it we learn much about many Dutch thinkers. Many of them are scarcely known in this country; and there are some, like Anthonie van Dale and Frederik van Leenhof, who according to Professor Israel are almost unknown even in Holland today.
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7 of 8 people found the following review helpful By Robin Friedman TOP 500 REVIEWER on 19 July 2012
Format: Paperback
Jonathan Israel has written an erudite, extensive, and inspiring study on a seminal moment in Western thought, commonly known as the Age of Enlightenment.In short, the Enlightenment marks a change from a thought and society that was theologically focused to thought and society that were secular and scientific in character. This period and this transition has been much studied, but Israel has many new insights to offer. In addition, he writes a book filled with wonderful detail, with rare thinkers and books that make the reader yearn to learn more. It is an enlightening experience in itself to read this book.

The book begins with the philosophy of Descartes which is widely regarded as overthrowing the philosophy of scholasticism and initiating the modern period. Descartes developed a dualism with a mechanistic philosophy of nature and a spiritual philosophy of mind. It was the first of many attempts to reconcile theology with the newly developed scientific outlook.

But the focus of Professor Israel's study is on Spinoza (1632-1677.) Spinoza rejected Cartesian dualism and developed his philosophy equating God and Nature. He rejected a transcendental God, providence, miracles, revelation, and transcendental bases for human ethics. Spinoza developed his ideas in his Ethics while in his earlier and almost equally important Theological-Political Treatise, Spinoza developed the basis for modern Bible criticism.

Professor Israel argues that Spinoza's thought constitutes the basis for what he terms "radical enlightmentment", which rejected theology and revealed religion in favor of a philosophy of mechanism and determinism.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)

Amazon.com: 27 reviews
149 of 154 people found the following review helpful
How Spinoza liberated the world 22 May 2001
By pnotley@hotmail.com - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Hardcover
Israel's book offers a valuable new perspective on the nature of the Enlightenment. Instead of concentrating on England or France, Israel looks at all of Europe. There is considerable attention paid not only to the Netherlands, Israel's main area of expertise as a historian, but also to Spain, Portugal, Italy, the many German states and Scandinavia. Nor is this emphasis undeserved, since the Dutch Republic was the home of Spinoza, Sweden the home of Linnaeus, and Italy the home of Vico. Only two areas receive little attention. One is Russia, under the grip of Tsarist despotism. The other is the future United States, which were arguably peripheral to the intellectual life of the West before 1750. Israel argues that the Enlightenment can be seen as a construct and a conflict between four major forces. The first is Cartesianism, the second Newton-Lockean ideas, the third the Leibnitzian synthesis, and the fourth, and the main subject of this book, the Radical Enlightenment around Spinoza. The main theme of this book is that Spinoza's ideas, and the debates around them were central to the development of the Enlightenment.
Israel's perspective is an unusual one. His book ends in 1750 and therefore only briefly discusses much of what people popularly consider the Enlightenment. Diderot gets only a few pages, and Rousseau and Voltaire get even less. The Scottish Enlightenment is not mentioned at all, and Hume is barely mentioned. Israel's concentration is on the critique of religion; it is this ultimately successful challenge that he considers the Enlightenment's major achievement. As a consequence other areas get less attention. It is Locke the theorist against innate ideas and the ambiguous believe in miracles that Israel concentrates on, not so much the constitutional theorist. The development of history, of economics, of many of the sciences are downplayed in this account. The liberation of women is discussed only briefly and the question of slavery is discussed even less. Many questions that have concerned intellectual history over the past few decades are dealt with only cursorily. One would have to go elsewhere to find out what were the links between the Enlightenment and the French Revolution, what was the relationship between religion, magic and the rise of science, and what was the popular mentality of the time? Likewise questions about the potential dark side of modernity, why Enlightenment arose at this particular time in history, or the origins of pornography will have to be looked at elsewhere.
Nevertheless this book makes a valuable contribution. First off it demonstrates Spinoza's importance to the rise of the Enlightenment as his pantheism, materialism and determinism became the major challenge that other philosphers had to face. There is also some tantalizing evidence that Spinoza's ideas were making greater popular headway in the Netherlands than one might have thought. Second, it provides copious accounts of the many debates and discussions in intellectual life that other accounts tend to ignore. Many accounts concentrate on the "great men," while Straussian accounts tend to drastically oversimplify intellectual debates. By discussing such thinkers as Fontenelle and his debunking of classical oracles, Bekker on the death of the devil, the many Dutch thinkers who helped to propagate Spinoza's ideas one gets a fuller picture of the Enlightenment's progress. Third, Israel's book is full of many valuable insights. Israel is particularly good on how Spinoza's theory of toleration is more liberal than that of Locke's. He also shows how the "moderate" enlightenment consistently supported the censorship of their radical opponents. He is also good on the fundamental modernity of Vico, as well as on the limited influence Locke and Newton had on the continent before the 1730s. All in all, this is an important book.
62 of 63 people found the following review helpful
A slightly flawed masterpiece 4 Jan. 2005
By Ralph Blumenau - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback
Most people, when they think of the Enlightenment, think first of 18th France, of Voltaire and of Diderot. The late Roy Porter, in his spirited Enlightenment (Penguin paperback) claimed that the roots of the Enlightenment were actually in England. Then we have recently had James Buchan's Capital of the Mind, which claims in its subtitle that the philosophers of Edinburgh "changed the world". Jonathan Israel says that these are all parochial approaches, and that the Enlightenment was a movement whose international character he intends to illustrate. He has indeed read prodigiously in international literature: his bibliography gives 26 pages of published primary sources and 31 of secondary literature, and these include titles in Latin, English, Dutch, French, German, Italian, Spanish, Portuguese, Swedish and Danish.

Nevertheless, what emerges quite clearly from this book is that he places the origins of the Radical Enlightenment very firmly in 17th century Holland in general and in Spinoza in particular; and although one might perhaps expect this from a historian whose previous book was an equally massive work on the Dutch Republic (OUP), he makes a totally convincing case for this. In the course of it we learn much about many Dutch thinkers. Many of them are scarcely known in this country; and there are some, like Anthonie van Dale and Frederik van Leenhof, who according to Professor Israel are almost unknown even in Holland today.

True, it is a Frenchman, René Descartes, who could be said to have planted the seeds of what would become the Enlightenment, and there is a good deal about him in the book; but the principal theatre for the debate about Descartes is again shown to be Holland, where he had moved for safety in 1628, where the Discours de la Méthode was first published in 1637, and from where it later spread to other countries. Indeed, Spinoza's first published work was The Principles of Cartesian Philosophy (1663). I think myself that the title of the book is somewhat misleading. It ought really to have been called Spinoza and the Enlightenment, since it is almost wholly devoted to his influence: all later Enlightenment thinkers of whatever nation are discussed almost exclusively in terms of the extent to which they were in agreement or disagreement with him.

That debate is described in exhaustive - I would say - exhausting - detail, since in fact the various arguments are repeated over and over again. There are principally three parties to this argument: thinkers of the Radical Enlightenment who follow Spinoza more or less all the way; those of the Moderate Enlightenment, who accept a broadly rational approach but stop short of denying a providential deity and the principal mysteries of the Christian faith; and the Conservatives or fideists who demand total acceptance of the traditional doctrines of the churches about such matters as miracles, the existence of Hell and of the Devil. Jonathan Israel patiently gives the arguments of this last group more space than most histories of the Enlightenment would do. Interestingly, many members of even the first group often denied that they were "Spinozists". That label was used by anti-rationalists, right up to eve of the French Revolution in a positively McCarthyist way to discredit even members of the second group, who themselves went out of their way to condemn Spinoza in the strongest terms. The true Spinozists often protected themselves by giving a full statement of the Spinozan positions and then following them with perfunctory or even deliberately feeble objections.

Despite its enormous length and the width of Israel's research, the book does remain rather narrowly focussed. The debates described in the book are largely about religion and about the challenges to deductive rationalism both from the churches and from the pragmatic schools. Such discussion as there is of Enlightenment political thought is again entirely related to the influence of or reaction against Spinoza's unfinished Tractatus Politicus. So, for instance, the debate in France between the thèse royale, the thèse nobiliaire, and democracy does not feature on its own terms. At the end there is an interesting short section on Diderot and his relationship to Spinozism; but there is nothing much of interest on Montesquieu, Voltaire, Helvétius or Holbach, all of whom are considerable figures in the history of the French Enlightenment. And there are just two references to Hume.

There are two other major criticisms: the book takes much previous knowledge for granted (for example, what exactly had been both the psychological and political teaching of Thomas Hobbes). Although there are several references to Malebranche and Malebranchisme, there is nowhere a concise account of what that philosopher taught: the "Occasionalism" for which he is famous has just two references in the index, only one of which links that doctrine with him.

However, Professor Israel has undoubteldy written a most important book which significantly shifts the focus of Enlightenment studies. For that and for his immense scholarship he deserves the praise that reviewers have heaped upon his book.
61 of 63 people found the following review helpful
Radical, Contestable 16 July 2007
By Gil Hyle - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback
Jonathan Israel presents his work as an important new history of the `Early' Enlightenment (1680-1740).

He has two key, inter-related theses. Firstly, that the whole of the early Enlightenment was driven by an engagement with the views of Spinoza (e.g. P.431) and secondly that the whole of the early Enlightenment, across Europe needs to be understood as a single, integrated process.

At one stage (P.456) he draws a comparison betweenSpinozism and Marxism and that gives you a good sense of how he sees Spinoza's movement.

His own background as a specialist in the Enlightenment in the Netherlands comes strongly into play and the book is at its best on this topic. The original growth of Cartesianism is taken as read. Spinoza's breach with Cartesian dualism and his counter arguments for monism are gone into in more detail . The book comes alive when discussing the popularizers of Spinoza such as Leenhof, Van Dale, Bekker, Kuyper, Van Den Enden, Meyer, Beverlaand, Goeree. Other radical figures such as Vauvenarues, de Boulainvilliars, Radicati, le Clerc take on a new significance in this light.

Such figures have been lost to history. It is a paradox of the history of philosophy that the greatest intellectual achievement often resides in defending the indefensible, putting obstacles in the path of progress. Those who championed change often achieved less of lasting intellectual quality, being too busy achieving a different world.

It is for this reason refreshing that Hobbes, Locke, Berkeley, Hume, Voltaire, Leibniz, Malebranche and Rousseau play a support role in this book. Soon we begin to believe that the Enlightenment may indeed have been driven forward by radical deists and atheists elaborating on Spinoza.

The argument goes too far as we slip from the 1670s and 1680s to the 1730s and 1740s. Israel is too keen to amalgamate the whole period. He fails to emphasise sufficiently that whereas Spinoza's own work, with Geulincx and Malebrance and Gassendi was part of a debate about Descartes, what came later was something different. Spinoza may have survived better in the 1730s as an icon than Descartes or Malebranche, but he was no less an historical figure. The new battle, by that time, was - as he says - a three cornered fight. But the third corner with Lockean empiricism and Leibnizian/Wolffian rationalism was an emergent mechanical materialism and not a continuing Spinozism. The two over-lapped, but were not the same.

Furthermore, Israel nowhere recognises the full force of the Newtonian-Lockean and Leibniz-Wollfian critiques of Spinoza - undermining, respectively the epistemology and concept of necessity on which Spinoza relied. The internal tensions and dialogue within Spinozism are also often lost sight of in the repeated insistence on drawing the lineage of continuity. Thus the intellectual origins of 18th century materialism are misplaced and he does not see that the changed treatment of Spinoza in the works of the moderate Enlightenment, such that he came aroudn 1730 to be treated with « meticulous care » (P.658) derives from Spinoza's increasing irrelevance.

The failure to chart as carefully as he might have the changing pattern of influence of the radicalEnlightenment reflects a certain crudity of approach which affects more substantially Israel's unwisely formulated second thesis. The idea that the early Enlightenment was a single trans-European process is simply too crude. Israel's own nation-specific chapters don't even support it. Israel speaks repeatedly of the `Republic of Letters'as an unproblematic trans-European unity. Yet the evidence is of a far more complex set of phenomena, driven not only by the interchange of ideas, but also by the precarious realities of book and manuscript circulation (often via smuggling routes) of erratic patterns of translation and survival of Latin as an international language and of local governmental and institutional politics. We never get any structured treatment of the complex inter-related systems of dialogue in secret discussion circles, in the manuscript circulation of material and in the very different published circulation of material. It is paradoxical that the national and even `local' character of the Enlightenment is so effectively lost in the midst of so sweeping and knowledgeable a survey across Europe.

A very particular and telling problem lies with defining the margins between heterodox Christianity and deist Enlightenment. Israel's account involves drawing figures like Leerhof into the deist fold while evaluating others such as Van Hatten as merely heterodox Christians. Tellingly, at one point we are assured that Stosch's stance was « philosophical not local » (P.641). We see here an artificial distinction that has less grounding in historical reality than in Israels' retrospective schema.

It is strikingly illustrated in this book that when Marx's eleventh thesis on Feuerbach rejected philosophy he was rejecting a substantial, reputable tradition of philosophical militancy against revealed religion. Spinozism was a militant tradition, determined, in its day, by bravery and deception to undermine the established churches.The early Enlightment was also a period of militant deism rampant among the ruling elites, championed by figures such as Federick the Great, the Duc de Noailles and the Earl of Shaftesbury. This combination of dissent from within the ruling elite and isolated radical intellectuals is strikingly strange to us.

Despite the weaknesses of his two specific theses on this period, Israel has written a fascinating work, reminding us of that militancy, of Spinoza's central role in it and of - as so often - how the militant minority drive the moderate as well as the reactionary mainstreams.
71 of 75 people found the following review helpful
Spinoza, Enlightenment, and the Love of Learning 25 Mar. 2003
By Robin Friedman - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback
Jonathan Israel has written an erudite, extensive, and inspiring study on a seminal moment in Western thought, commonly known as the Age of Enlightenment.In short, the Enlightenment marks a change from a thought and society that was theologically focused to thought and society that were secular and scientific in character. This period and this transition has been much studied, but Israel has many new insights to offer. In addition, he writes a book filled with wonderful detail, with rare thinkers and books that make the reader yearn to learn more. It is an enlightening experience in itself to read this book.
The book begins with the philosophy of Descartes which is widely regarded as overthrowing the philosophy of scholasticism and initiating the modern period. Descartes developed a dualism with a mechanistic philosophy of nature and a spiritual philosophy of mind. It was the first of many attempts to reconcile theology with the newly developed scientific outlook.
But the focus of Professor Israel's study is on Spinoza (1632-1677.) Spinoza rejected Cartesian dualism and developed his philosophy equating God and Nature. He rejected a transcendental God, providence, miracles, revelation, and transcendental bases for human ethics. Spinoza developed his ideas in his Ethics while in his earlier and almost equally important Theological-Political Treatise, Spinoza developed the basis for modern Bible criticism.
Professor Israel argues that Spinoza's thought constitutes the basis for what he terms "radical enlightmentment", which rejected theology and revealed religion in favor of a philosophy of mechanism and determinism. Radical enlightenment proved to be a potent weapon in rejecting the divine right of kings and other forms of privilege, in promoting democracy and the rights of women, in encouraging free speech and free thought, and in allowing people to pursue happiness, in particular sexual fulfillment, in this world without fear of hells and punishments in the next world. Spinoza influenced many scholars and thinkers and also, Israel points out, had substantial influence on unlettered people of his time.
Professor Israel contrasts the Radical Enlightenment emanating from Spinoza with "moderate enlightenment". Moderate enlightenment sought, as I indicated above, to reconcile mechanism and science with traditional religious faith, to the extent possible. Professor Israel identifies three separate strains of moderate enlightenment: Cartesianism, the monadic philosophy of Leibniz and Wolff, and the deism and empiricism of Locke and Newton. Most of the book is about Radical Enlightenment and its impact and about the interplay between Radical Enlightenment on the one hand and Moderate Enlightenment and traditionalism on the other hand.
The book includes a good basic exposition of the thought of Spinoza. (The exposition of Descartes thought and of the teachings of scholasticism is less thorough.) The major theme of the book is that Spinoza's ideas were not simply those of an isolated recluse; rather, his ideas became widely known and disseminated even during his lifetime, and became the basis for much of the secular, modern thought and life we have today.
Israel discusses a plethora of sources, some well-known some highly obscure in which various thinkers from throughout Europe (another theme of Israel's book is that Enlightenment was European in character and shared essentially the same features in all European countries) adopted and promulgated Spinozistic doctrines. The books and individuals are fascinating, as are the conflicts many of them encountered with civil and religous authorities. He discusses how many writers had to try to present their teachings covertly (i.e. by appearing to criticize Spinozism while in fact advocating it.) in order to attempt to avoid conflict. There are also extended treatments of Leibniz and Locke and their interactions with Radical Enlightenment.
For the most part, Professor Israel avoids explicit comment on the philosophical merits of the many ideas and thinkers he explores. The reader is left to think through the issues on the basis of his descriptions and from the words of the thinkers themselves. It is a fascinating study.
I have long been a student of Spinoza and came away from this book awed by the wealth of learning displayed in this book and by the scope and influence of Radical Enlightenment in the years following Spinoza's death. Philosophically, I came away from this book with a new appreciation of the virtues of Western secularism and with a renewed understanding of the dear price that has been paid for the intellectual liberation of the mind and heart. It is a journey that every person must undertake for him or herself, and many people may reach results that differ from those reached during the age of Radical Enlightenment. Spinoza's goal (shared with the religious thinkers whom he rejected) was to find the path to human blessedness, enlightenment, and happiness by freeing the mind. I got a good sense of the value of this search through reading this masterful book.
33 of 34 people found the following review helpful
Too much of a good thing 16 May 2008
By R. Prebble - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback
I was looking for a good book on the Enlightenment, but there are three problems with this one. For a start, I knew that Israel was interested in Spinoza's influence, but I had no idea this was to be such an emphasis. It starts well, but the vast bulk of the latter stages of the book, post Spinoza, is an argument to show how and how much every single writer associated with the Enlightenment was influenced by Spinoza. This is particularly apparent where Israel chips away at the conventional wisdom which gives prominence to English thinkers. The book would thus make a stunning PhD thesis - the erudition is mind-boggling - but in pursuing such a narrow focus it fails to live up to its promise.

Second, Israel often becomes so immersed in his sources that he seems unable to step back and pass judegment on whether this much detail is needed on a particular topic. For example, we are presented with the intricate workings of the systems of power that sought to suppress radical ideas, which is both fascinating and important, but repeated versions of this again bring to mind a PhD thesis that could have benefited from editing.

Third, Israel assumes a lot of the reader. From the start he refers in passing, with no explanation or cross-reference, to players great and small in the Enlightenment story. Who they are and why they are significant only become apparent sometimes hundreds of pages later. This puts a great strain on the reader not familiar with all of the minor people involved. Israel also assumes the reader is fluent in French: he quotes extensively in French with no translation, which to me is unwarranted. Latin, German and Dutch are traslated for the reader, so why not French?

All in all, the book is too much hard work on too narrow a topic to be useful for anyone but the specialist. A good editor could have immensely improved this book.
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