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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The core ideas that have shaped our modern world, August 28, 2011
Malvin (Frederick, MD USA) - See all my reviews
This review is from: Republics Ancient and Modern, Volume II: New Modes and Orders in Early Modern Political Thought (Paperback)
"New Modes & Orders" by Paul Rahe is an exceptionally well-written intellectual history of the Enlightenment. Comprising book two in his outstanding "Republics Ancient & Modern" trilogy, "New Modes & Orders" shows how philosophers working around the middle of the past millennium succeeded in breaking Western society away from the ancien regime system of monarchy and priestcraft; and setting the stage for a new order of ages. Displaying consummate mastery of his subject matter, Mr. Rahe's thoroughly engaging book is essential reading for anyone who wants to understand the core ideas that have shaped our modern world.

Mr. Rahe takes care to contextualize the subject matter which helps make the important debates of centuries past come alive. We are reminded that philosophers deployed the art of dissimulation to avoid the wrath of an intolerant Catholic church in service to monarchy; an insight that is key to unraveling the writings of important philosophers including Machiavelli, Montaigne, Bacon, Descartes, Harrington, Locke and dozens more. Mr. Rahe demonstrates how the Enlightenment sought to build a human-centered form of self-governance that was based on dispassionate reason and science; and not the whims of an unpredictably passionate God or king.

Mr. Rahe discusses various aspects of Enlightenment thought including the dignity of labor, virtue and vice, natural science and technology, political architecture, governance, humanity, and more. Understanding that the masses 'cannot know' but must be made to 'believe' (Locke), Mr. Rahe shows how Christian teachings that traditionally had stressed judgement and fear were coopted by savvy philosophers to advance their agenda. We see how Protestant leaders encouraged their parishioners to use their God-given faculties to develop the sciences and engage in commercial society; through which the faithful's good works might create peace, prosperity and salvation. As a result, to the extent that deists such as Benjamin Franklin could successfully espouse a moral code of industriousness, discipline and autonomy to guide human actions by the latter part of the 18th century, a wide-spread belief in the divine right of kings was all but dead.

On that point, Mr. Rahe briefly discusses how the British people at this historic juncture were too riven by deep-rooted factions that more or less broke along Catholic and Protestant lines to free themselves from the ancien regime; whereas the American colonies were more than primed for revolution. It is recommended that you read Republics Ancient & Modern, Vol. 1: The Ancien Régime in Classical Greece to understand how the Founding Fathers drew inspiration from the public spiritedness of Greece (and more specifically, of democracy as a lived experience); and Republics Ancient and Modern, Volume III: Inventions of Prudence: Constituting the American Regime to learn how Enlightenment ideas were specifically applied to the architecting of the United States government. The deep insights to be gained from reading Mr. Rahe include a more sophisticated appreciation for the underlying values that make a just, civil and progressive society possible - lessons that could not be more relevant to us than today.
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Republics Ancient and Modern, Volume II: New Modes and Orders in Early Modern Political Thought
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