This book serves as a steeping stone to Israel's trilogy of books on the `Radical Enlightenment', a superb study of the early modern, but he seems to have moderated slightly the possible overemphasis on Spinoza in those works. All four books are an study of the Enlightenment's roots, and clarify the subject by bringing the question back to its seventeenth century birth and to the place of Spinoza as an underground force. That influence is overstated, but the sheer scope of the works is invigorating and uncovers much that deserves a place in what is the almost intractable nature of the rise of the modern. Note that the latter phrase refers to the larger phenomenon of the `modern transition' to use a phrase from the reviewer's World History and the Eonic Effect. In this context we can see where Israel's study tends to go slightly wrong: we cannot ascribe the rise of the modern to the same 'causes' that produced the `radical enlightenment', in turn senior to the later so-called Enlightenment. We need a larger context, and this seems to be the sixteenth century, with the Reformation and the onset of the Copernican Revolution, beside the prophetic and fundamental beginnings of the `radical tide' in the German Peasant Revolution, and transitional figures like Thomas Munzer, who shows the bridge between the `reformation' of religion and the radical social revolution. It thus becomes a question of what Israel means by radical. His radicals are moderate by the standards of Munzer who is however a sort of hybrid between the mad prophet and the proto-communist. And here again the larger context of a putative `modern transition' reminds us that radicals and moderates are leapfrogging each other from the era of the moderate Luther and radical Munzer to the moderate (?) George Washington to the radical Marx/Engels. It is clear that Israel has a point: the radical materialism, soon to pick up the theme of evolutionism, of the early nineteenth century radicals shows an obvious strain of the Spinozistic philosophy. This is one reason the modern left has been stuck in outdated materialism and the crypto-ideological Darwinism. The so-called moderates had created a bypass for this downshifting focus which contributed to the failure of marxism. Thus the same strain will soon abut in the contracted positivism and scientism of the nineteenth century, which engulfed the radicals but not the moderates, who were carefully and cogently warned by the prescient Kant, who provided a complex challenge to both Newton and Spinoza. But the problem is that the radical, as have seen, generates from the onset of the modern transition, and this has many parallel streams, such as the English Civil War, which is crucial to all that follows, but which could hardly be seen as generating from the parallel and synchronous Spinoza, Hobbes, et al. As a number of reviewers have noted, there is a broader set of figures, e.g, beside Spinoza, the constellation of Leibnitz and that of Newton and the physicists. In any case, the `modern transition' seems to be an integrated transformation from the sixteenth to the end of the eighteenth, with the nineteenth century being the `out of the starting gate' period for the whole set of multitasking effects. It is important to consider the `non-linear' (a slight misnomer) effect of this ultra-complex multitasking labyrinth of the modern transition. It becomes a theatre of effects, and the causalities are no longer easily traceable. One of the problems with Spinoza is that the idea of `freedom' is in shackles in his complex and brilliant exercise in causal monism. It is here that Kant, moderate or not, performed his own `revolution' in studying the context of the idea of freedom in the Newtonian and Spinozistic crypto-metaphysics. His critique of `reason' was an altogether radical gesture. The indeed revolutionary discovery of `transcendental idealism' (wretchedly so-called), despite at times a near incoherence, makes Spinoza seem the moderate, along with his radical followers in the Marx generation who end up in the tide of Feuerbach and a now out of date `monism' a la Spinoza. It provided a bridge between `spiritual/material' and `idealism/materialism' In general the modern transition is an integrated set of effects and can't be summarized by the focal starting point of a Spinoza (this overemphasis is attenuated here however). In any case, between Spinoza and Kant the future is still open. But we should note that the strain of Spinoza greatly limited the ability of later Marxists with their historical materialism to really make sense of history, religion, or culture. And this larger context reminds us that the Enlightenment is a kind of white cap on the surging tide of the modern transition, which uses a shotgun approach that is inconsistent but overdetermined to overwhelm reaction. And there is a balance of `dialectical' effects that makes summary in philosophical terms hazardous. A good example is the counterpoint of Romanticism (which should be distinguished from reactionary `counter-enlightenments') which emerges almost immediately as a descant on the rational Enlightenment. And this movement reminds us that the questions of art find a place in the framework of the modern transition, while in a philosophic rendering they are orphaned. It is important to track the rise of music from the sixteenth century to the grand climax of the end of the Enlightenment, to ask oneself if one has understood anything. This crescendo is not a rational process working itself out in history. The latter is a key component of something larger.
And that larger context is world history as a whole, its mysterious `Axial periods', and the mysterious rise of modernity in that saga. In any case Israel's work is a monumentally useful attempt to clarify the complexities of the modern transition, a entity so complex that it needs these multiple independent perspectives.
World History And the Eonic Effect: Civilization, Darwinism, and Theories of Evolution Fourth Edition