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Republican Learning: John Toland and the Crisis of Christian Culture, 1696-1722 (Politics, Culture & Society in Early Modern Britain) [Hardcover]

Justin Champion
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Book Description

29 May 2003 0719057140 978-0719057144
This book explores the life, thought and political commitments of the free thinker John Toland (1670 - 1722). Studying both his private archive and published works, it illustrates how Toland moved in both subversive and elite political circles in England and abroad. It explores the connections between his republican political thought and his irreligious belief about Christian doctrine, the ecclesiastical establishment and divine revelation, arguing that far from being a marginal and insignificant figure, Toland counted queens, princes and government ministers as his friends and political associates. The book argues that Toland shaped the republican tradition after the Glorious Revolution into a practical and politically viable programme, focused not on destroying the monarchy, but on reforming public religion and the Church of England. The book also examines how Toland used his social contacts to distribute his ideas in private. It explores the connections between Toland's erudition and print culture, arguing that his intellectual project was aimed at compromising the authority of Christian 'knowledge' as much as the political power of the Church. The book illustrates how Toland's ideas and influence impacted upon English political life. It portrays a fascinating character in early modern history, of great interest to scholars and enthusiasts of the period.

Product details

  • Hardcover: 272 pages
  • Publisher: Manchester University Press (29 May 2003)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0719057140
  • ISBN-13: 978-0719057144
  • Product Dimensions: 24.2 x 16.1 x 2.6 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1 customer review)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 2,339,704 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
  • See Complete Table of Contents

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"'This is a significant contribution based on extensive new research, and is likely to be the standard account of Toland for many years to come.' Professor David Wootton, Queen Mary, University of London"

About the Author

Justin Champion is Professor of History at Royal Holloway, University of London --This text refers to the Paperback edition.

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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The Mystery of Reason 18 Sep 2009
Although John Toland is largely remembered for his attacks on the Anglican church he was first and foremost a politician. His audience was the decision making elite of Hanoverian England whose legitimacy he constantly upheld against the Popery of the High Church Tories and Jacobite claimants to the British throne. Yet, despite his identification with the radical wing of the Whig party, he has long been an enigma to British readers.

Toland shot to prominence with the publication of Christianity Not Mysterious (1696) in which he argued that all fundamental doctrine was accessible to human reason unaided by divine revelation or the institution of the Church. Although the book was publicly condemned as anticlerical it was relatively mild in tone compared to his later writings through which he gradually came to attack all forms of authority be they monarchs, bishops or institutions. His only commitment was to "true and never deceiving reason".

Toland took the view that secular and religious institutions should serve to enhance the liberties of the individual rather than act as sources of authority in society. A committed republican he tried to combine his political beliefs with the continuing existence of a constitutional monarchy, important for someone who was constantly seeking the financial security of office.

In Hanoverian England "ideas were...intimately related to the distribution of social authority and power". Hence religious controversy was at the heart of political debate and questioning one was viewed as an attack on the other. Toland's objective was to restore Christianity to its "primitive verities" free from the non Christian elements introduced by the Church over the centuries. In so doing he wanted to free society from "the tyranny of clerical politics".
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Excellent content, well written 6 Mar 2010
By Joseph M. Hennessey - Published on
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
Republican Learning serves as a superb complement to Robert E. Sullivan's John Toland and the Deist Controversy. (I wish the editors/publisher had chosen the subtitle, "John Toland and the Crisis of Christian Culture, 1696-1722, which better describes the book's content, and Republican Learning might sound as if it has something to do with American political party.) This book takes a more narrow, focussed angle, demonstrating Toland's talent for engaging in polemics directed at the British ancien regime of government supported by the established Anglican Church.

Toland was a bitter critic of all clergymen, but especially of the 'popish' variety. He, like Locke, would extend none of their vaunted toleration to Catholics, because their priests seemed to dominate consciences too much, and seemed to have too much allegiance to Rome, and not enough to the English government. Toland was what we now call a 'culture warrior,' a subversive, one who learned the thought processes of the Church, and then turned those weapons back on the Church. He was greatly influenced by Baruch Spinoza, especially in his attempts to deligitimize the 'revelation' factor in the Bible. At page 204 and following, Champion does a good job of exposing Toland's corrupt patristic 'scholarship.'

The best feature of the book is its tracing of how Toland acted as a sort of intellectual middleman, between the average readers, and those within the circle of English political power. Champion frequently raises the age-old parlor game question, do books have any effect in real life? To me, there is no question that the answer is yes, if you look at the Bible, the Qu'ran, the pamphlet literature which led to the American Revolution, the works of Karl Marx, and Mao's Little Red Book. After reading Champion, i am convinced that Toland is a key link in the secularizing chain, between Spinoza, Toland, the American patriots (Adams, Jeffferon and Madison at least were anti-clerical, anti-popish)and the ultra-violent French revolution against the Catholic clergy and the appropriation of its property.

As a conservative traditionalist, i hope that Toland's tactics can be turned against him and the rest of the enlightenment. Even they cannot say that they are infallible, because that would be too popish, too dictatorial.
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