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

A Revolution of the Mind: Radical Enlightenment and the Intellectual Origins of Modern Democracy [Kindle Edition]

Jonathan Israel
4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (4 customer reviews)

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"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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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 fascinating 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 even today.

Product details

  • Format: Kindle Edition
  • File Size: 606 KB
  • Print Length: 296 pages
  • Publisher: Princeton University Press (26 Oct 2009)
  • Sold by: Amazon Media EU S.à r.l.
  • Language: English
  • ASIN: B004YW6GM6
  • Text-to-Speech: Enabled
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  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (4 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: #266,687 Paid in Kindle Store (See Top 100 Paid in Kindle Store)
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Customer Reviews

4.2 out of 5 stars
4.2 out of 5 stars
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
11 of 11 people found the following review helpful
By docread
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
The author a foremost authority on the Enlightenment, has published a large corpus of work offering a groundbreaking perspective on the centrality of the Radical Enlightenment ideas in the formation of the political and cultural values of the modern western world.This book is by far the most accessible of his work and provides the reader with a succinct and cogent presentation of his theses.

We owe it to Margaret Jacob, the first historian to coin the term "Radical enlightenment" in her 1981 book,the conceptual distinction between the two main streams of the Enlightenment.On the one hand the moderate stream which was deistic,positively providential,Newtonian and supportive of the hierarchical order of Society.On the other hand the Radical stream which propounded pantheist materialistic views of the world derived from Spinoza and was politically radical stressing the essential equality of humans,and showing an unbending commitment to representative democracy,the rights of the individual and wide toleration with the full separation of state and church.

Jonathan Israel has elaborated and enriched the original thesis on a massive encyclopaedic scale.He has created a pantheon of cultural heroes, where the most venerable place is assigned to Spinoza, followed by Bayle and the materialist French "Philosophes" of the 18th Century namely Diderot, Helvetius and d'Holbach.In this book he allows prominent place as well to the three English radical P's Paine,Price and Priestley.He is scathingly critical of the other icons of the French Enlightenment particularly of Voltaire, Turgot and Rousseau as well as their Scottish contemporaries Hume, Ferguson and Adam Smith.
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4.0 out of 5 stars I was Enlightened 16 July 2014
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An erudite account of a fairly-recent social process not well-enough appreciated by lay people in our age and, it appears, the subject of persistent hijacking by present-day christian churches relying on that ignorance to claim that beneficial features of present life in the UK are due to our inheritance of social ambiance from the churches, rather than of our release from their ideology by the enlightenment process.
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1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
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The book was well-written, stimulating, provocative and enlightening. I am interested in the concept of Bildung as an alternative to prevailing reductionist concept of individual development (such as human capital, cognitive and constructivist conception of learning).
The book provided excellent background for that as well as showed the intimate connection between the ideas of human rights, democracy, equality and Bildung in the radical enlightment world view.
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0 of 4 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Its intention is appreciated 2 April 2013
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The problem with the narrative is that it get entagled in constantly naming the actvists and protagonist whose writing moulded the revolucionary thinking of the enlightenment.
The book lacks fluidity.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on (beta) 4.4 out of 5 stars  5 reviews
13 of 14 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Make this required reading for all college students and politicians! 8 Mar 2013
By Gayle Delaney - Published on
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This is the best book I have read on the Enlightenment; one that clarifies and organizes the streams of thought and political action that form the proudest development of humanity. To counter the depressing expressions of mankind: war, dominance, slavery, crime at all levels, exploitation of the weak, the concentration of wealth and power in the hands of the strong and often corrupt, we have beautiful art... AND we have the thought and action that express themselves the Enlightenment. The author makes it very clear that this precious movement is ever threatened by ignorance and credulity and by those who would nurture the weaker, more passive side of the populace while enriching the forces of those who concentrate power and wealth and rig the system to darken the Enlightenment.
It is shocking and sad that the current education of many, if not most Americans, ignores the development of the Enlightenment and allows superficial and highly distorted of teachings about our revolution to define freedom and liberty. Equality on many levels is seen as a threat, one as great as that of teaching children to be rational and to question authority. Our democracy suffers greatly from this ignorance and closed-mindedness. Free-thinkers are a threat to institutions that depend upon the credulity and fear, ignorance, and irrationality that reign in huge pockets of our electorate.
I would like to encourage the author NOW to write a book aimed at high school children and adults who have never read books on the Enlightenment nor, of course it's principle authors, and who do not speak French or Latin. I would stand on the corner and help him sell it!

NB: Be careful, this title is easily confused with many identical or similar. I also have an iTunes mp3 version which I could not find here for flooding of similar mp3 titles.
5 of 7 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Best Book on the Subject Available! 4 Feb 2013
By Craig Doner - Published on
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This seminal historical work is by far the best book I have read thus far on the subject. By distinguishing the "moderate" from the "radical" enlightenment, Israel makes it much easier to see the actual sources of the long lasting effects of the enlightenment. I would highly recommend this book to anyone interested in the subject!
8 of 12 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars A Polemic Piece 15 May 2013
By Paul Thompson - Published on
This book is very much a thesis piece. Israel sees the Enlightenment as split between a radical and mainstream strain. He then goes on to compensate for what he sees as the historical neglect traditionally afforded the 'radical' variant. The arguments, however, tend to be simplistic and redundant. Like many intellectual histories, the book is divided up into thematic chapters within the period, and this contributes to the redundancy (although it need not have). Rather than changing the story slightly for each chapter, he simply plugs in the relevant variables (say, what the radicals and the moderates argued about *war*...), without, for the most part, complicating how various thinkers may have 'crossed over' on certain points. The result is a series of chapters that play out exactly as one can easily predict, having understood the general 'radical position' from any one of them.

Especially facile is the notion that because the ideals of the 'radical Enlightenment' ended up being the dominant watchwords of 'western' society, long after they were rejected, that these radical works had a causal historical force. This logic leads the author to devote much of the introduction to a tour of the present day, which is a case he cannot of course actually make in a book with this temporal scope.

From an academic point of view, the value of this book is to cite someone using this idea of the Radical Enlightenment, and perhaps to assemble and cite a roll call of qualifying historical actors on either side of the 'divide'. From a lay point of view, the value of this book might lie in a consideration of its primary thesis, which I've just explained, in order to understand the playing out of history (especially the representative 'Enlightenment republic' of the United States) as the ideological victory of the political middle, rather than the radical left as is often assumed.

I don't think the author is wrong to identify these categories; I assume that thinking so highly of them led him to fear negating them with nuance.
4 of 6 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars The `Radical Enlightenment' and the `modern transition' 30 Jun 2013
By John C. Landon - Published on
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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
5.0 out of 5 stars Thought provoking 28 July 2014
By joan white - Published on
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Jonathan Israel is one of my favorite historians and this book is outstanding. He seeks to place radical enlightenment thought in its proper place, as the progenitor of the modern world.
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It was no accident, therefore, that Spinoza was the first major philosopher in the history of philosophy to proclaim democracy the best form of government. &quote;
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Radical Enlightenment is a set of basic principles that can be summed up concisely as: democracy; racial and sexual equality; individual liberty of lifestyle; full freedom of thought, expression, and the press; eradication of religious authority from the legislative process and education; and full separation of church and state. &quote;
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Throughout the Enlightenment’s history it is this irresolvable duality—rooted in the metaphysical dichotomy of one-substance doctrine (Spinozistic monism) and two-substance dualism, the latter as upheld by John Locke (1632–1704) and Voltaire, as well as other providential Deists and (most) Christians and Jews—that was always the principal and overriding factor shaping its course. &quote;
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