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Radical Enlightenment: Philosophy and the Making of Modernity 1650-1750 Paperback – September 12, 2002

ISBN-13: 000-0199254567 ISBN-10: 0199254567 Edition: 1st
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Editorial Reviews


"His vast--and vastly impressive--book sets out to redefine the intellectual landscape of early modern Europe....Magnificent and magisterial, Radical Enlightenment will undoubtedly be one of the truly great historical works of the decade."--John Adamson, Sunday Telegraph

"[A] magnificent...study of the impact of Spinoza and his philosophy on European cultural history at the hinge of the 17th and 18th centuries....Sumptuous in the energy, clarity and breadth of its scholarship."--Los Angeles Times Book Review

"Mr. Israel's lucid, engrossing account of the Enlightenment's formative period explains why we want our intellectual histories rewritten for every generation, for this Enlightenment overflows with our favorite things."--The Scriblerian

About the Author

Jonathan Israel is a professor in the School of Historical Studies, Institute for Advanced Study, Princeton

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 832 pages
  • Publisher: Oxford University Press; 1 edition (September 12, 2002)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0199254567
  • ISBN-13: 978-0199254569
  • Product Dimensions: 9.2 x 1.8 x 6.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 2.6 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (27 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #375,032 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

149 of 154 people found the following review helpful By pnotley@hotmail.com on May 22, 2001
Format: Hardcover
Israel's book offers a valuable new perspective on the nature of the Enlightenment. Instead of concentrating on England or France, Israel looks at all of Europe. There is considerable attention paid not only to the Netherlands, Israel's main area of expertise as a historian, but also to Spain, Portugal, Italy, the many German states and Scandinavia. Nor is this emphasis undeserved, since the Dutch Republic was the home of Spinoza, Sweden the home of Linnaeus, and Italy the home of Vico. Only two areas receive little attention. One is Russia, under the grip of Tsarist despotism. The other is the future United States, which were arguably peripheral to the intellectual life of the West before 1750. Israel argues that the Enlightenment can be seen as a construct and a conflict between four major forces. The first is Cartesianism, the second Newton-Lockean ideas, the third the Leibnitzian synthesis, and the fourth, and the main subject of this book, the Radical Enlightenment around Spinoza. The main theme of this book is that Spinoza's ideas, and the debates around them were central to the development of the Enlightenment.
Israel's perspective is an unusual one. His book ends in 1750 and therefore only briefly discusses much of what people popularly consider the Enlightenment. Diderot gets only a few pages, and Rousseau and Voltaire get even less. The Scottish Enlightenment is not mentioned at all, and Hume is barely mentioned. Israel's concentration is on the critique of religion; it is this ultimately successful challenge that he considers the Enlightenment's major achievement. As a consequence other areas get less attention. It is Locke the theorist against innate ideas and the ambiguous believe in miracles that Israel concentrates on, not so much the constitutional theorist.
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62 of 63 people found the following review helpful By Ralph Blumenau TOP 1000 REVIEWER on January 4, 2005
Format: Paperback
Most people, when they think of the Enlightenment, think first of 18th France, of Voltaire and of Diderot. The late Roy Porter, in his spirited Enlightenment (Penguin paperback) claimed that the roots of the Enlightenment were actually in England. Then we have recently had James Buchan's Capital of the Mind, which claims in its subtitle that the philosophers of Edinburgh "changed the world". Jonathan Israel says that these are all parochial approaches, and that the Enlightenment was a movement whose international character he intends to illustrate. He has indeed read prodigiously in international literature: his bibliography gives 26 pages of published primary sources and 31 of secondary literature, and these include titles in Latin, English, Dutch, French, German, Italian, Spanish, Portuguese, Swedish and Danish.

Nevertheless, what emerges quite clearly from this book is that he places the origins of the Radical Enlightenment very firmly in 17th century Holland in general and in Spinoza in particular; and although one might perhaps expect this from a historian whose previous book was an equally massive work on the Dutch Republic (OUP), he makes a totally convincing case for this. In the course of it we learn much about many Dutch thinkers. Many of them are scarcely known in this country; and there are some, like Anthonie van Dale and Frederik van Leenhof, who according to Professor Israel are almost unknown even in Holland today.
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61 of 63 people found the following review helpful By Gil Hyle on July 16, 2007
Format: Paperback
Jonathan Israel presents his work as an important new history of the `Early' Enlightenment (1680-1740).

He has two key, inter-related theses. Firstly, that the whole of the early Enlightenment was driven by an engagement with the views of Spinoza (e.g. P.431) and secondly that the whole of the early Enlightenment, across Europe needs to be understood as a single, integrated process.

At one stage (P.456) he draws a comparison betweenSpinozism and Marxism and that gives you a good sense of how he sees Spinoza's movement.

His own background as a specialist in the Enlightenment in the Netherlands comes strongly into play and the book is at its best on this topic. The original growth of Cartesianism is taken as read. Spinoza's breach with Cartesian dualism and his counter arguments for monism are gone into in more detail . The book comes alive when discussing the popularizers of Spinoza such as Leenhof, Van Dale, Bekker, Kuyper, Van Den Enden, Meyer, Beverlaand, Goeree. Other radical figures such as Vauvenarues, de Boulainvilliars, Radicati, le Clerc take on a new significance in this light.

Such figures have been lost to history. It is a paradox of the history of philosophy that the greatest intellectual achievement often resides in defending the indefensible, putting obstacles in the path of progress. Those who championed change often achieved less of lasting intellectual quality, being too busy achieving a different world.

It is for this reason refreshing that Hobbes, Locke, Berkeley, Hume, Voltaire, Leibniz, Malebranche and Rousseau play a support role in this book. Soon we begin to believe that the Enlightenment may indeed have been driven forward by radical deists and atheists elaborating on Spinoza.
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