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39 of 39 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Not for the casual reader
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...
Published on February 16, 2009 by Jay C. Smith

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0 of 2 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars gotta provide reasons
Jonathan Israel does a commendable job of surveying the radical and moderate enlightenment. In the end he fails to provide reasons or explanations as to how the enlightenment thinkers influence our society today. Or were they just a ladder that was tossed away after use? We really get no connection to contemporary society.
Published 6 months ago by Pete Halick


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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
By 
Jay C. Smith (Portland, OR USA) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Enlightenment Contested: Philosophy, Modernity, and the Emancipation of Man 1670-1752 (Paperback)
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. Their core ideas, nearly all of which can be traced to Spinoza in some form, included, for example, one-substance materialism (versus Cartesian mind-body dualism); the adoption of philosophical reason as the exclusive criterion of what is true; a rejection of the supernatural, tending toward atheism (as opposed to Deism or theism); secular "universalism" in ethics; religious and political tolerance; and democratic republicanism in politics.

One of Israel's most important contributions is his exhaustive documentation of who read whom when, and of how they reacted. He convincingly demonstrates how ideas were disseminated and why certain ideas either did or did not take hold. This is how good intellectual history should work.
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41 of 45 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Fascinating, April 28, 2007
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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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26 of 32 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A stunning work, September 13, 2007
By 
J. H. Wright (Berkeley Heights, NJ United States) - See all my reviews
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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
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This review is from: Enlightenment Contested: Philosophy, Modernity, and the Emancipation of Man 1670-1752 (Paperback)
A book that is a must for anyone interested ideas and how they effect the shape of the modern world.
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1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Impressive book - not quite awesome after all, February 11, 2012
This review is from: Enlightenment Contested: Philosophy, Modernity, and the Emancipation of Man 1670-1752 (Paperback)
[interim review, since I have not finished yet]

This is an awesome book - it covers an incredible amount of ground, and it is a pleasure to engage with. it is not, however, a pleasure to read; it is a slog to read. Huge sentences are structured so that you read half way along before you know what he is talking about, and then you have to go back again to the start. You suddenly realise that whole paragraphs have slipped by in a haze and you have to go back and read them again. Given that the main text is eight hundred large dense pages, this is a problem (hey, the next volume, which I plan, for some weird masochistic reason, to read next, is even bigger).

You would think that British enlightenment historiography, which is often held up as the best english prose ever, would have had some sort of an influence, but alas not. Just a month or so ago I read History and the Enlightenment by Hugh Trevor-Roper, more precisely, I _inhaled_ History and the Enlightenment by Hugh Trevor-Roper. It was an unadulterated delight to read. I suspect that Israel has strong, and not terribly favourable, opinions about Trevor-Roper, but people who previously had no interest in the influence of Montesquieu on Edward Gibbon will happily learn about it from Trevor-Roper just for the sake of it. Nobody is ever going to read Jonathan Israel just for the sake of it; reading Jonathan Israel is a slog; the only audience he is ever going to have is graduate students who are held down and force-fed him by their professors, and that is a shame.

[finished it now]

I think I probably retract the 'awsome' that I originally wrote in the title to this review. Impressive, yes; awesome, not quite. I was left with too many reservations at the end, e.g. about Israel's teleological perspective and his 'a few good men' theory of history (with Benedict Spinoza and Pierre Bayle as Major Smith and Lieutenant Schaffer). But it's still a five star book, and worth the (considerable) effort. The problem is that it is also 870 large pages long, and I have neither room nor time nor - really - enthusiasm, to construct an appropriate response just for an amazon review (if the NYRB is interested, they should feel free to get in touch). But I shall certainly read Democratic Enlightenment sometime fairly soon, and in the face of a prospective thousand pages or so of logorrheic, narcosis-inducing, careless prose, that has got to be saying something positive.
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0 of 2 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars gotta provide reasons, January 11, 2014
By 
Pete Halick (Franklin, MI United States) - See all my reviews
This review is from: Enlightenment Contested: Philosophy, Modernity, and the Emancipation of Man 1670-1752 (Paperback)
Jonathan Israel does a commendable job of surveying the radical and moderate enlightenment. In the end he fails to provide reasons or explanations as to how the enlightenment thinkers influence our society today. Or were they just a ladder that was tossed away after use? We really get no connection to contemporary society.
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2 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Nagels aan doodskisten, January 5, 2010
This review is from: Enlightenment Contested: Philosophy, Modernity, and the Emancipation of Man 1670-1752 (Paperback)
Jonathan Israel zet de lijn van Radical Enlightenment onverminderd voort. Iemand die zich ten doel stelt om de Verlichting te redden van de hedendaagse neiging om de verworvenheden (o.a. tolerantie, kritische houding, rationele argumentatie) ervan te ontkennen, kan niet genoeg gelezen worden. Het leuke van Enlightenment Contested is de verrassende (en verfrissende) debunking van een groot aantal heilige huizen. Israel zet de Gematigde Verlichting neer voor wat het is; een onhoudbare (en afgemeten aan de criteria die heden als richtinggevend worden beschouwd, onsuccesvolle) poging om rationaliteit en welke vorm van religieuze openbaring dan ook met elkaar te verenigen. Onder de mokerslagen van zijn kritiek sneuvelen een aantal reputaties die voorheen onaantastbaar leken. John Locke's gematigde tolerantie wordt verworpen als onhoudbaar ten faveure van tolerantie volgens m.n. Spinoza, Bayle en Diderot. Israel toont aan dat op Newton's natuurkundig-theologisch systeem na 1700 al fundamentele radicale kritiek was (ook bijvoorbeeld door de gematigde Leibnitz), in weerwil van de bijna onaantastbare status van Newton op het continent. Ook de grote pleitbezorger van Newton, Voltaire, wordt door Israel in het rijtje van de Gematigden geplaatst. Dat Voltaire zich in de strijd om de publicatie van Diderot's Encyclopedie zich gedwongen zag dit radicale project licht knarsetandend te verdedigen, doet niet af aan de fikse deuk die het imago van deze voorheen exemplarische Verlichter oploopt. Israel is ook in dit 2de deel van de geplande triologie weer volstrekt helder wat zijn agenda is. In Enlightenment Contested polemiseert hij met hedendaagse anti-verlichters als MacIntyre, Taylor en Gray en toont aan waarom hun opvattingen over de Verlichting als legitimering van intolerantie en kolonialisme getuigen van weinig historische kennis, gedateerde interpretaties en vooral het nalaten een onderscheid tussen de actuele geldigheid van de ideeen van de radicale Verlichting en die van de gematigde Verlichting te maken.
De voornaamste kritiek op dit boek is dan ook vooral redactioneel van aard. In zijn ijver en streven naar volledigheid is er teveel overlap in het boek zelf en met Radical Enlightenment. Het wordt wel eens vermoeiend om bij elke theologische of filosofische haarkloverij die door Israel wordt opgevoerd weer die hele lijst van namen langs te zien komen. Dit gezegd hebbend, ben ik erg benieuwd naar deel 3. Hopelijk wordt daarin voldoende plaats ingeruimd voor de gedeelde wortels van de Verlichting en de Romantiek. Israel kennende zal daarin ruim voorzien worden. Deel 3, bring it on!"
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Enlightenment Contested: Philosophy, Modernity, and the Emancipation of Man 1670-1752
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