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17 of 17 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The Greatest Living Historian in English?
Professor Jonathan Israel's 'A Revolution of the Mind' may appear to be a mere (270 page) interlude to his massive trilogy on the Enlightenment, of which the first two volumes (800 and 900 pages) have already appeared. This graduate of Cambridge and Oxford points to the limitations of viewing the Enlightenment (and other historical periods) from an Anglophone...
Published on 25 Dec 2009 by Dr. Paul Auerbach

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12 of 33 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Readers beware
In Radical Enlightenment: Philosophy and the Making of Modernity 1650-1750 and Enlightenment Contested: Philosophy, Modernity, and the Emancipation of Man 1670-1752, Jonathan Israel argued that the roots of modern democracy lie in the philosophy of the late seventeenth century Dutch philosopher, Spinoza. He did this by taking from Spinoza certain ideas which he deemed to...
Published on 3 Dec 2009 by mbr


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17 of 17 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The Greatest Living Historian in English?, 25 Dec 2009
By 
Dr. Paul Auerbach (London, England, U.K.) - See all my reviews
(REAL NAME)   
This review is from: A Revolution of the Mind: Radical Enlightenment and the Intellectual Origins of Modern Democracy (Hardcover)
Professor Jonathan Israel's 'A Revolution of the Mind' may appear to be a mere (270 page) interlude to his massive trilogy on the Enlightenment, of which the first two volumes (800 and 900 pages) have already appeared. This graduate of Cambridge and Oxford points to the limitations of viewing the Enlightenment (and other historical periods) from an Anglophone perspective, and does so by exhaustively reviewing contemporaneous publications and manuscripts in at least eight languages.

This monumental scholarship is used to good purpose: the history of the Enlightenment is completely re-written in the context of a powerfully argued thesis that there were in fact two Enlightenments - a radical one emanating from the Dutch Republic in the seventeenth century and especially Spinoza, and a moderate one, more deferential to intellectual and temporal authority. In this latest volume, the history reaches to the period preceding the French Revolution, where the inheritors of the radical tradition, Diderot and the baron d'Holbach are in fierce conflict with the moderates Voltaire and his friend Fredrick the Great, king of Prussia.

Professor Israel sticks very much to the topic at hand, but it is impossible not to see the profound implications of his scholarship for later periods and for intellectual history in general. Many of us are breathlessly awaiting the third volume of the trilogy, where he promises to discuss the place of the young Marx in the Enlightenment tradition. The new volume is an excellent introduction to Israel's Enlightenment scholarship, but is not a mere interlude, as it introduces new material almost completely, as usual, from original sources.

There has been no comparable scholarship in English, and none that so completely changes our view of the world since Joseph Needham's `Science and Civilization in China'.
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11 of 11 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Moderation sucks, 31 Jan 2010
This review is from: A Revolution of the Mind: Radical Enlightenment and the Intellectual Origins of Modern Democracy (Hardcover)
It is commonly known that Jonathan Israel, professor of Modern History at Princeton, is a man with a mission. In Radical Enlightenment (2002) and Enlightenment Contested (2006) he presented his remarkable views on the history of the Enlightenment. His foremost motivation to do this lay in the ill-informedharsh judgment bestowed on the Enlightenment at the end of the twentieth century by anti-enlightenment thinkers and, closely connected to this, the highly unsatifactorial state historical research about this crucial epoch had fallen.
Israels central thesis in both the first two parts of his Enlightenment-project as well as in A Revolution of the Mind stresses that a fundamental distinction has to be made between Radical Enlightenment on the one hand, and Moderate Enlightenment on the other. Radical Enlightenment embodied the, if necessary through revolutionary means, pursuit of freedom of opinion, equal rights for all and the principal separation of church and state; each of which are core democratic values. Moderate Enlightenment, on the other hand, kept adhering to the idea of Providence, either Deļstic or religious and a strictly hierarchically structured society based on monarchal or aristocratic principles to which colonialism, economic exploitation and political suppression were inextricably linked. The changes these Moderates propagated would have to come about through gradual reform, leaving traditional structures as much untouched as possible; an approach with consequences not nearly as far reaching as that of their radical counterparts.
Jonathan Israel points out that there really was a revolution of the mind in the second half of the 18th century in Europe and Northern America. Numerous people became increasingly disenchanted with the Ancien Régime and the long term, reformist solutions the moderates offered. Not just in France the cry for a general revolution along radical lines was heeded. The American revolution of 1776 and the Dutch democratic Patriotten-movement (1779-1795) provide ample evidence that a new radical mentality was on the rise. The transition to this political active radical frame of mind is convincingly illustrated through a number of public controversies. Israel succeeds in showing the unbridgable gap between the Radical and Moderate Enlightenment using public debates between members of both sides. An interesting and important by-product of this methodology, is that in this way the overwhelming similarities between the radical agenda and 21st century democratic values are made clear for all to see.
Post-modern and other anti-Enlightenment theorists, that say rationality is just one among many discourses without special claims to validity or that denounce Enlightenment ideas based either on some Revealed Providence or some non-explicated feeling or emotion are unrelentlessly confronted by Israel, who politely points out the logical inconsistencies of their opinions based on their downright untenable pseudo-historical analyses.
The legitimate criticisms that are made against a number of supposedly basic Enlightenment principles, rangeing from Robespierres Terror to the technocratic rationality of the Holocaust, are ably warded off by Israel. In so far as these excesses are traceable to the Enlightenment at all, they are rooted in the heritage of the Moderate, not the Radical Enlightenment. After all, it was the Moderate Enlightenment that couldn't or wouldn't rid itself of its persistent ideas about hierarchical man and society, which cherished irrationalia such as Divine Providence or Invisible Hands in its core beliefs and which stubbornly clung to the political and social inequality of men.
The reputations of both Jean-Jacques Rousseau and Voltaire, those archetypal representatives of Enlightenment thinking, suffer heavily at the hands of Israel. Both are firmly linked to the Moderate Enlightenment (Voltaire) or identified as a philosophical loose cannon (Rousseau). Voltaire is shown to be an elitist, would-be aristocrat whose democratic opinions are questionably to say the least. Rousseau comes out even worse. After distancing himself from his one-time radical kindred spirits Diderot, d'Holbach and Helvetius, he develops his theory of the General Will and People's sovereignty, both of which could only thrive when dissenting opinions were systematically suppressed. This, of course, was totally at odds with the emancipatorian outlook of the Radical Enlightenment. To make matters worse, Israel points out that the ideological justification of the Jacobins Terror (1793-1794) can for a large part be attributed to Rousseau's (who died some fifteen years earlier) legacy. It is no coincidence that Rousseau was practically deified by Robespierre c.s. and that many Radical enlighteners had their lives drastically shortens by means of the guillotine.
In A Revolution of the Mind Jonathan Israel anticipates the final part of his pioneering study in search of the roots of the Enlightenment and through that our 21st century democratic values. His fundamental distinction between the Radical and Moderate Enlightenment functions as Ockhams razor. This enables him to link political, economic and social disasters that have plagued humanity since the late 18th century to the Moderate Enlightenment or to anti-Enlightenment forces he succeeds in rescueing those values which are now - nominally if not always practically - considered to be the very foundation of democracy; equal rights for all men, without regard to race, creed, nationality, gender or sexual preference; toleration for dissenting opinion and the principal separation between church and state.
Where Enlightenment historians had lost themselves in a comminution of the universal appeal of its original radical ideas in favor of petty nationalistic interpretations, Israels controversionalistic approach shows which public 17th and 18th century debates contributed to the formation of a universally appealing, new and revolutionary mentality, which remarkably enough forms the foundation of our current democratic values. It's impossible to overstate the importance of this stupendous enterprise.
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4 of 8 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars yes, 18 Dec 2009
This review is from: A Revolution of the Mind: Radical Enlightenment and the Intellectual Origins of Modern Democracy (Hardcover)
According to a previous reviewer 'A Revolution of the Mind'

"breeds the same intolerance of all forms of faith which was a hall-mark of some of the more radical Enlightenment figures Israel investigates".

I agree!

And that's why I'm giving it five stars.
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12 of 33 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Readers beware, 3 Dec 2009
By 
mbr "MBR" (London, England) - See all my reviews
This review is from: A Revolution of the Mind: Radical Enlightenment and the Intellectual Origins of Modern Democracy (Hardcover)
In Radical Enlightenment: Philosophy and the Making of Modernity 1650-1750 and Enlightenment Contested: Philosophy, Modernity, and the Emancipation of Man 1670-1752, Jonathan Israel argued that the roots of modern democracy lie in the philosophy of the late seventeenth century Dutch philosopher, Spinoza. He did this by taking from Spinoza certain ideas which he deemed to be central, creating a system out of those ideas, and then locating parts of that system in apparently disparate thinkers throughout the period he investigates. In these works, Israel's scope is breathtaking. As my second sentence should indicate, his judgement was not. This has been the central, and now widespread account (mingling praise of his scope with doubt over the synthesis) of most of Israel's fellow intellectual historians. Now, with much of the academic world against him, Israel has sought to take his account to a popular audience. The result is a work of sensationalist propagandising. His previous work claimed to be a radical departure from the orthodox account. It was in fact a massive embrace of the Whig historiography of the Enlightenment, which modern scholarship has shown to be a construction of liberal hagiography. A popularising of this approach can only succeed in reinforcing a naive, and utterly false, view of the early modern period as the slow triumph of reason over incredulity, and breeds the same intolerance of all forms of faith which was a hall-mark of some of the more radical Enlightenment figures Israel investigates.
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