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on 29 March 2012
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. The two streams divided on the question of the primacy of human reason in human affairs. The main stream advocated that reason had to be limited by faith and tradition.

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.

The subversive nature of the Radical Enlightenment teachings about religion and politics is highlighted ,in particular the doctrines of the gentle Spinoza, who was the most feared and hated philosopher in Europe.Ironically these radical notions which were repudiated by the more established figures of the Enlightenment, proved crucially instrumental in inspiring and giving expression to the aims of the American and the French Revolutionaries at the end of the 18th Century. The author places the geographical fulcrum of radicalism in 17th century Dutch Calvinistic Society with it's enlightened cosmopolitan milieu of western Sephardic Jews, French Huguenots ,Dutch Republicans and Polish-German Socinians. He explains how the intellectual roots of secular liberalism and democracy were derived from the one substance monism of Spinoza, that privileges reason as the sole guide of human life in it's moral and political aspects. It would be difficult in a short review to summarise the wealth of the philosophical and historical material he has dug out in support of this extraordinary but convincing thesis.His work represents a definite milestone for the History of the Enlightenment and the origins of our modern liberal political system.
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on 31 January 2010
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 Deïstic 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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on 16 July 2014
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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on 25 December 2009
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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on 21 May 2013
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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TOP 500 REVIEWERon 16 March 2015
A prolific expert on the Enlightenment, Jonathan Israel tends to produce books of daunting length, so this is relatively short at about 240 pages. He is keen to prove that historians have tended to neglect, even deny, the profound ideological influence of radical Enlightenment C18 thinkers on the outbreak of the French Revolution. Only the diffusion of works by such writers as Diderot and d'Holbach, designed to achieve a revolution of ideas as the first step to real change, can explain the events triggered by the meeting of the Estates General in 1789.

Jonathan Israel explores in detail the "irreconcilable" division between the Radical and Moderate Enlightenments. The former believed in the use of reason, with a secular morality divorced from the distorting effects of superstitious religions, although some radical thinkers appreciated ethical Christian teaching. They called for equality, which required a representative democracy, freed from the self-seeking tyranny of kings and aristocrats, for tolerance and freedom of expression. To the moderates, this was at best over-optimistic and naïve. Tradition and the existing order were essential to maintain the fabric of society and God-given moral values. It is interesting to realise that the revered Voltaire belonged to this camp, corresponding with Frederick the Great of Prussia to deplore the idea of giving "enlightenment" to ordinary people who would be unable to cope with it. Similarly, the "moderate" Locke's support for the equality of the soul but not of physical status, meant that he could invest in the North American slave trade with a clear conscience and advocate the establishment of a new nobility in the Carolinas.

Ironically, members of the Counter-Enlightenment converged with the bloody French dictator Robespierre in condemning the Radical Enlightenment as a clinical, mechanistic approach to society, seeking to subvert natural human sentiment.

Frequent convoluted sentences and condensed ideas together with a tendency to list philosophers or their works call for prior knowledge and make for a challenging read. I found the best way to deal with the book was to skim through once for an overview, and then to work back through more slowly to grasp some of the more complex ideas, such as Spinoza's controversial and fundamental theory that mind and body are "one substance" or material, thus "reducing God and nature to the same thing, excluding all miracles and spirits separate from bodies, and evoking reason as the soul guide to human life, jettisoning tradition".

The result is that I have learned a good deal about the complexity of the Enlightenment and the conflicting ideas of its main protagonists. Writers on this fascinating theme tend to focus on different aspects, presenting contrasting views of philosophers and ranging over a wide field in a discursive and often confusing fashion, so piecing one's knowledge together from a variety of sources feels like gluing together a collection of shattered pots with intriguing designs.
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on 15 December 2014
Factual and challenging, but not too easy to read. A knowledge of the subject matter covered. It is the sort of book that calls for careful reading then re-reading. Supplements the author's Radical Enlightenment. It is also useful for reference.
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on 13 January 2016
Very happy to have added this excellent book to the history/philosophy/political thought
section of my home library.
Thank you seller, much appreciated!
Kind regards.
Harry Donaghy.
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on 18 December 2009
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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on 3 December 2009
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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