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Enlightenment Contested: Philosophy, Modernity, and the Emancipation of Man 1670-1752 [Paperback]

by Jonathan I. Israel
4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (7 customer reviews)

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Book Description

January 15, 2009 0199541523 978-0199541522
Jonathan Israel presents the first major reassessment of the Western Enlightenment for a generation. Continuing the story he began in the best-selling Radical Enlightenment , and now focusing his attention on the first half of the eighteenth century, he returns to the original sources to offer a groundbreaking new perspective on the nature and development of the most important currents in modern thought.

Israel traces many of the core principles of Western modernity to their roots in the social, political, and philosophical ferment of this period: the primacy of reason, democracy, racial equality, feminism, religious toleration, sexual emancipation, and freedom of expression. He emphasizes the dual character of the Enlightenment, and the bitter struggle between on the one hand a generally dominant, anti-democratic mainstream, supporting the monarchy, aristocracy, and ecclesiastical authority, and on the other a largely repressed democratic, republican, and "materialist" radical fringe. He also contends that the supposedly separate French, British, German, Dutch, and Italian enlightenments interacted to such a degree that their study in isolation gives a hopelessly distorted picture.

A work of dazzling and highly accessible scholarship, Enlightenment Contested will be the definitive reference point for historians, philosophers, and anyone engaged with this fascinating period of human development.

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Enlightenment Contested: Philosophy, Modernity, and the Emancipation of Man 1670-1752 + Radical Enlightenment: Philosophy and the Making of Modernity 1650-1750 + Democratic Enlightenment: Philosophy, Revolution, and Human Rights, 1750-1790
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Editorial Reviews


"Enlightenment Contested is full of wonderful things."--John Dunn, Literary Review

"Mr. Israel's groundbreaking interpretation looks to establish itself as the one to beat."--The Economist

"An enormously impressive piece of shcholarship. The breadth and depth of the author's reading are breathtaking and Enlightenment Contested is set to become the definitive work for philosophers as well as historians on this extraordinary period."--Keith Richmond, Tribune

About the Author

Jonathan Israel is Professor of Modern European History, Institute for Advanced Study, Princeton.

Product Details

  • Paperback: 1024 pages
  • Publisher: Oxford University Press, USA (January 15, 2009)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0199541523
  • ISBN-13: 978-0199541522
  • Product Dimensions: 9.1 x 6.1 x 2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 3.3 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (7 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #140,263 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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39 of 39 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Not for the casual reader February 16, 2009
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
Enlightenment Contested: Philosophy, Modernity, and the Emancipation of Man 1670-1752
This is the second volume of Israel's planned three-volume intellectual history of the Enlightenment. It follows his Radical Enlightenment (2001). These are works aimed primarily at specialists and will hold the attention of lay readers only if they have a strong interest in the subject matter plus hearty endurance.

It doesn't help that Israel is not a good stylist and that the editors apparently were lenient. Lengthy sentences composed of murky subordinate clauses populate nearly every page. Those who do not read French, Latin, Dutch, or German will have to guess the meaning of substantial paragraph-length (or longer) quotations that are not translated from the source language.

Nevertheless, Enlightenment Contested, like its predecessor volume, is rich both in its thesis and in its impressive offering of expansive, indeed overwhelming, supporting detail. The bibliography of this volume alone covers 180 small-print pages.

Israel proposes that a set of "radical" core ideas drove the intellectual conversation in Europe in this period, with Spinoza as the central figure and with Bayle, Diderot, and others later assuming key roles. Against the radicals stood the "moderates," notably including Locke, Newton, Hume, Montesquieu, Turgot, and Kant. These are just a few of the major players in Israel's cast of dozens (even hundreds) of thinkers engaged in the contest of European ideas in this period.

Israel concludes that the radical party ultimately won out.
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41 of 45 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Fascinating April 28, 2007
Actually, I would give it 4.5/5 but Amazon won't let me. Overall it's a fascinating book. The highlights for me are Israel's comments about Locke and Newton. Certainly in my education, Locke has always been presented as, if not the absolute originator of our liberal notion of tolerance, at least its more important forerunner, and Israel arues convincingly something fellow students and I couldn't articulate well enough: that there is a lot lacking from Locke's notion of toleration. The Newtonian dominance at the time and subsequently; especially when one learns of a thinker developing what sounds like the genesis of the theory of relativity only to be forgotten for 200 years. It's a shame that, at least in Canadian universities, we tend to not even think about Spinoza in terms of political theory, to pick just one example of how Israel shows we have missed a lot of what actually went on. His research seems very thorough and though he repeats himself on a number of occasions (in particular with regard to Spinoza and Balye, whom he seems to adore), the argument is significant and definitely worth your time if you're interested in the history of ideas, like I am. My one problem with the book is a matter of personal politics, as I believe that the 'moderate mainstream' wasn't wholly out to lunch. In any case, it is something that is well worth your time and it would be nice if this argument would have some affect on the odd department.
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25 of 31 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A stunning work September 13, 2007
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
No number of stars is enough for this book. The scholarship is amazing, the narrative clear and fascinating from start to finish, the topic more relevant than ever. This book and its predecessor (Radical Enlightenment) are two of the best books I have read in many years, and by far the best on this subject. I am very seldom so enthusiastic about any product. So many books come with the lure of an interesting title or an impressive review, and yet disappoint. Not this one. This was an extremely enjoyable and rewarding read, and a book I shall return to, many times.
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4.0 out of 5 stars A great read June 9, 2013
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
A book that is a must for anyone interested ideas and how they effect the shape of the modern world.
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