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The Roads to Modernity: The British, French, and American Enlightenments
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28 of 31 people found the following review helpful
Format: Paperback
This superb, lucid and perhaps somewhat partisan book is primarily concerned with the British Enlightenment and with the differences between it and the Enlightenment in France and in America. The author points out that the mainstream of the British Enlightenment did not give absolute priority to Reason, which can easily lead people astray, but to innate moral sentiments and feelings of compassion and benevolence, which Reason and self-interest may support but can also pervert. Where the mainstream French Enlightenment aimed to regenerate mankind, the British wanted to improve it. Where the French were revolutionary, the British were evolutionary. Where the French were militantly anti-clerical, the British, even if they were Theists or Deists, had no intention to attack the Church as such - indeed men like Thomas Woolston, Conyers Middleton and Matthew Tindal were actually in Holy Orders. And the French philosophes generally had little sentiment to spare for the despised canaille, to whom they allowed `neither a moral sense nor a common sense that might approximate reason'. Education, important as it was in the writings of Helvétius and Holbach, would simply be wasted on them. They wanted enlightened reform, of course; but for the most part they pinned their hopes for this on the very unBritish notion of Enlightened Despotism, unreliable as their experience of actual Enlightened Despots turned out to be.

I have used the word `mainstream', which Himmelfarb does not use. She does of course recognize that there were two distinct varieties of the British Enlightenment - that associated with Shaftesbury, Hutcheson, Hume and Adam Smith and which she seems to regard as `mainstream'; and that associated with Radicals like Richard Price, Joseph Priestley, Tom Paine and William Godwin. These had more in common with mainstream French philosophy. In so far as evolutionary thought and practice has played a bigger role in British history than has revolution, the implication that the Shaftesbury-Smith tradition was in the British mainstream appears to be justified. Similarly, there are some Enlightenment thinkers in France - she discusses Montesquieu and Rousseau - who do not fit into the French mainstream as Himmelfarb has described it.

She challenges some ideas which, until fairly recently, were widely taught and accepted: that Adam Smith's fame rests on his work as an economist (The Wealth of Nations, 1776), whereas it had been established as a moral philosopher (The Theory of Moral Sentiments, 1759) and that, moreover, the latter book had the same moral foundation as the former. I cannot personally agree with this argument. She does make a case for the latter also being based on moral principles (freedom, the fundamental equality of human beings, and self-interest); but I don't think they include the basic notion in the former that morality flows from innate benevolence.

Himmelfarb includes Edmund Burke among the figures of the British Enlightenment. The causes he championed in his earlier career (Ireland, the American colonies, India, the rights of John Wilkes) clearly qualify him as Enlightened; and Himmelfarb argues that his opposition to the French Revolution, which has made him appear to many, both at the time and since, as an opponent of the Enlightenment, cannot be read as such. His opposition was to the FRENCH conception of the Enlightenment (shared by the British Radicals), but it was quite consonant with the British Enlightenment ideas which descended from Shaftesbury.

The author includes even John Wesley in the mainstream of the British Enlightenment. There is a widespread view that Methodism was anti-intellectual and anti-rational, that it encouraged only the minimum of educational attainments in its schools (in order, it is argued, to make the poor more docile), and that therefore it could not be part of the Enlightenment. Himmelfarb effectively demolishes these accusations with quotations from Wesley himself and with showing what syllabuses his schools actually taught and what a broad range of educational material he published: in the best Enlightenment tradition, Wesley was as interested in the intellectual as he was in the moral edification of the people. And, being in the British mainstream, he was not hostile to the Establishment (although the Establishment was scornful of him), and the wide scope of Methodist philanthropic, humanitarian and charitable enterprises joined those of many other 18th century groups which put the notion of benevolence into practice. Most of the French philosophes, on the other hand, were suspicious of charitable works - in part because they were mostly run by the hated Church, but also because they thought that they would encourage indolence among the poor!

120 pages of praise for the British Enlightenment are followed by just under 40 pages of criticisms of the French Enlightenment before we get 35 pages on the American Enlightenment. The political institutions of America, with the pride it took in the very practical achievements of republican liberty, was of course more `enlightened' than the institutions of Britain and would be an inspiration for the early phases of French republicanism. Even more so than in the British Enlightenment, there was in the American one no antagonism towards religion. Indeed, it was thought the source of morality; and, although church and state were separated, church and society were not. Unlike in the British Enlightenment, philanthropy played a much smaller part in the American one, partly because at the time there was little poverty among white Americans. The great blot on the American Enlightenment was of course the treatment of the Indians and of the slaves. The Founders, well aware that it violated the notion that all men were created equal, had a bad conscience about it and hoped that both problems would eventually disappear.

The Epilogue is, in my opinion, the weakest part of the book. It claims that the American Enlightenment is alive and well today, while that cannot be said of either the British or the French Enlightenment. The arguments here seem to me to be very weak, and an otherwise splendid book would have been better without this Epilogue.
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53 of 65 people found the following review helpful
Format: Hardcover
I had mixed feelings about this book. Himmelfarb cannot be discarded as merely an undistinguished poorly reasoned historian (as some critics seem to want to suggest). On the contrary she's a redactionist of importance in the area of historical movements and measures. And this work proves it again.

What Himmelfarb tries to do is reclaim the Enlightenment from what she sees as misguided French thinkers. It's difficult not to see her connections between a decline of religion, and the cultural outflowing resulting from aspects of the French Enlightenment.

In contrast she presents the British Enlightenment as connected with social affections, based on a more solid moral foundation than that of the French with it's naked "ideology of reason" - a term I wish she would have explained in further detail.

With that said, I found her claims regarding the French Enlightenment to be over-simplified. She claims, a preoccupation with reason as the primary fault of the French Enlightenment. However, I don't find this convincing in that the English movement was also very much focused on rationality, logic, and reason. My guess is her reaction here is too strong and too generalized. Furthermore, does she miss the need for societies to be built on the ideal of rigorous intellectualism?

On the whole, her work is both sophisticated and easy to get at, and certainly makes credible contributions to this field with her more conservative approach. Any honest evaluator cannot write this book off as a docile and unenthusiastic romanticizing of the events. - rather, it's a worthy read, worthy of evaluation.
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21 of 28 people found the following review helpful
on February 20, 2005
Format: Hardcover
Leveraging the concept of "American Exceptionalism" coined by de Tocqueville in Democracy in America, Lipset noted that exceptional in this sense is to be interpreted as qualitatively different from all other countries. The concept of American Exceptionalism as expressed by Lipset has broad academic acceptance and credibility. While there are those who might challenge this concept, it is fair to say that Americans continue to see themselves as different or unique from the rest of the world. This is not to say that America is better than the rest of the world, but that America is what it is because of its unique balance of public and private interests governed by constitutional ideals that are focused on personal and economic freedom.

It is through the lens of American Exceptionalism that we can best comprehend what Himmelfarb has put forward in The Roads to Modernity. Her comparison of the French, British and American Enlightenments yields some interesting differences providing greater context to the concept of American Exceptionalism. Himmelfarb completes this comparison with alacrity and evenhandedness. She does not end up being an apologist for the neo-conservative movement even though her eye is on present-day politics nor is this book a paean to Libertarians. On some level it is fair to criticize her for lightly brushing aside the Scottish Enlightenment and all but ignoring the Italian Renaissance as well as great Enlightenment thinkers outside of France, Britain and America. However, her point about the uniqueness of the American Enlightenment might have been lost if the comparison went to far a field intellectually.

Her main point is that the American Enlightenment's influence is alive and vibrant in American political discourse even today while the influence of the French and British Enlightenments are all but footnotes to the current political discourse of those nations. She opens herself to criticism from the political left because she espouses the centrality of religion to the success and endurance of American civic and political institutions, is unwilling to de-moralize political economy, and recognizes the importance of the individual and the social virtues. Many today forget that religion was viewed as key to the triumph of our democratic experiment by our Founding Fathers. Those who seemingly forget or conveniently brush over this fact only mention the two of the Founding Fathers who were deists (Franklin and Jefferson).

I am in full agreement with Himmelfarb that America was exceptional at its founding and remains so even today. Himmelfarb deftly succeeds in defining these qualitative differences. America today is a paradox to Europeans and many on the American left who can not seem to come to terms with the American focus and reliance on individuality, capitalism, and religion.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
TOP 500 REVIEWERVINE VOICEon October 25, 2011
Format: Paperback
What was Himmelfarb trying to prove? P.3 "This book is an ambitious attempt to reclaim the Enlightenent-from critics who decry it and defenders who acclaim it uncritically, from postmodernists who deny its existence and historians who belittle or disparage it, above all from the French who have dominated and usurped it. In reclaiming the Enlightenment, I propose to restore it, in good part, to the British who helped create it-who created, indeed, a very different Enlightenment from that of the French."

P.4 "This book is an exercise in the history of ideas. It is unapologetic, and un-ironic, in dealing with those ideas about reason and religion, liberty and virtue, nature and society, which in different forms and degrees, shaped the distinctive Enlightenment of the three countries that were so dramatically affected by them: France, Britain, and America."

She discusses the deep thinkers of the day like David Hume, John Locke, Adam Smith, Francis Hutcheson, and Voltaire. The British contribution is significant but I could not see that it overshadowed the French. So she succeeded in raising my awareness but did not convert me. Concepts may have been initiated by Bacon, Locke, and Newton but the French ended up influencing more people to accept the philosophical changes.

After reading the book I doubt that anyone can say that the Enlightenment was exclusively a French concept.
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3 of 4 people found the following review helpful
on June 24, 2008
Format: PaperbackVerified Purchase
This is mental exercise on the part of Professor Himmelfarb. She is attempting to "make the Enlightenment more British and make the British Enlightenment more inclusive." This is a response to scholars such as Horkheimer and Adorno who savage the Enlightenmen and historians such as Johnathan Israel who essentially denies that there was a British Enlightenment and the French who have hogged it for several years.

Rather than dividing the Enlightenment in to radical versus conservative she divides it geographically, into British, French and American sections. Representing the British: Newton, Locke, Hume, Godwin, Wollcraftstone and others. Representing the French: Voltaire, Diderot, and the ususal gang of suspects. Representing the Americans: Paine and the Founding Fathers.

Her selections of Wesley and Hogarth are odd as "Enlightened" figures. Wesley, founder of the Methodist Church believed in witchcraft. Hogarth was a moral cartoonist, with a propensity for gory drawings.

Himmelfarb offers good scholarship, and (despite some reviews to the contrary) does tackle the problems of the treatement of Native Americans and slavery.

Her main flaw is not in ignoring the American flaws but in ignoring the French ones. The Reign of Terror is barely mentioned and Napoleon Bonapart (whose rise to power is generally considered to be the end of the Enlightenment) is skipped.

Himmelfarb is openly conservative, and much of the criticism-good and bad can be construed as having its low or high rating in the political attitudes of the reviewer.
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2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
on November 2, 2009
Format: Paperback
The Roads to Modernity: The British, French, and American Enlightenments, written by Gertrude Himmelfarb, a neo-conservative who was married to Irving Kristol, argues that the English Revolution, which upheld a sociology of virtue, and the American Revolution, which upheld liberty, were just as important, if not more important, than the French Revolution, which upheld an ideology of reason, in the forming and shaping of modernity.

While the Americans "'moralized' and `socialized' religion," the French Revolution, "in seeking respite from the religious passions of the Old World," turned against religion itself (p. 207). The French Enlightenment instead upheld man's reason as the greatest of values. This reason was considered by the French philosophes to be antithetical to religion, which was viewed as having no value or as being valued only for its social utility. Many of the leaders of the French Enlightenment were avowed atheists and materialists. The author underscores the aftermath of the French Enlightenment, which led to a Reign of Terror that victimized the very thinkers, such as Robespierre, who engineered it. This is contrasted with the American Enlightenment, which led to stable institutions and a polity of freedom.

The author does not go as far as attributing the "creation of the modern world" to the British Enlightenment (p. 22), but believes that it was the British Revolution, through thinkers such as Adam Smith, David Hume, and Edmund Burke, that created a moral and social philosophy that shaped the American Enlightenment and the humane, compassionate, and realistic social ethic that informed it. America has "inherited and preserved aspects of the British Enlightenment that the British themselves have discarded and that other countries (France most notably) have never adopted" (p. 233). One such aspect was the preeminence of virtue, defined by Himmelfarb as "the willing capacity to put the public interest over the private" (p. 198), which America had inherited from Britain and preserved intact. The blend of virtue and freedom in America gives rise to "an inexplicable paradox: that the United States is the most capitalistic and at the same time the most moralistic of countries" (p. 233). American liberty is thus unique in that it is grounded in a virtue that was put into practice by British Methodists and Evangelicals whose traditions were preserved by their American counterparts.
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4 of 6 people found the following review helpful
Format: Paperback
In this well-argued work Himmelfarb compares the British (Scottish-English), French and American Enlightenments. The bulk of the book deals with the British Enlightenment with reference to amongst others, Adam Smith, Godwin, Hume, Hobbes, Locke, Newton and Lord Shaftesbury plus, unusually, John Wesley and Edmund Burke. She assigns a significant role to the social movement of Methodism. Thomas Paine and the Founding Fathers represent the American, whilst Diderot and Voltaire are considered the main characters in the French Enlightenment.

In every case there were exceptions, e.g. Locke and Newton had more in common with the revolutionary French whilst Montesquieu was closer to the evolutionary British. Roads to Modernity's history of the Western political tradition explains the enduring chasm between the Right and Left. From the start they embraced different philosophical assumptions and disparate notions of the human condition. It's plain to see why one yielded stability and growth while the other spawned genocidal secular salvationist movements or at best, stagnation.

The British "moral philosophers" differed from the French "philosophes'. What made them moral philosophers was their belief in a moral sense of empathy/compassion thought to be so deeply entrenched in the human soul as to have the same compelling power as innate ideas. The author views Lord Shaftesbury's Inquiry Concerning Virtue or Merit as the spark of the British Enlightenment. Shaftesbury credited humanity with this innate moral sense. Adam Smith's laissez-faire economics and belief in natural equality expressed in On The Wealth Of Nations mirrors Shaftesbury's concept of social affection. Smith believed that sympathy and benevolence were virtues inherent to the human condition.

Although formidable figures, Locke, Hobbes and Newton had little lasting influence on the issues that defined the British Enlightenment. According to Locke things could be judged good or evil only by reference to pleasure or pain, which themselves resulted from sensation. Shaftesbury disagreed - virtue did not derive from reason, religion, sensation or self-interest. These were methods for promoting or suppressing it but the moral sense was the real source of virtue. This moral conscience is the guide to distinguishing right from wrong. Shaftesbury did not shy away from discussing the baleful passions that torment mankind. He even warned of excessive virtue, since an immoderate degree of e.g. altruism could destroy the "effect of love," whilst excessive pity rendered a man incapable of remedial action.

For Shaftesbury, the sense of compassion was rooted in nature and instinct, preceding instruction and reason that serve to determine the best way of promoting the good. Thus the innate impulse to the good was the basis of the social ethic that informed British philosophical and moral discourse throughout the eighteenth century. Subsequent philosophers that followed Shaftesbury agreed on the moral conscience as universal attribute and viewed it as a corollary of reason and interest, but independent of and existing before them.

Burke unfairly gained a Counter-Enlightenment reputation owing to his revulsion in the atrocities of the French Revolution but he was a supporter of American independence who urged the government to respect the rights and freedoms of both Americans and Englishmen during the war of independence. Himmelfarb shows that his views never deviated from the notions about moral virtue that characterized the mainstream British Enlightenment.

John Wesley believed in improving social conditions in this life. He argued that to renounce reason was to renounce religion, that religion & reason go hand in hand, and that irrational religion is harmful. A combination of the two were needed to improve society. The Methodists produced a vast corpus of educational material on medicine, literature, grammar, science, natural history and more. Himmelfarb shows that the endeavor succeeded in uplifting the common people. Christians distributed food, clothes and money to the poor, visited the sick and imprisoned, ameliorated the plight of the unemployed and contributed to the abolition of slavery.

The French Enlightenment deified reason so the French Revolution turned against religion. Most of the leaders of the French thinkers were militant atheists and materialists. Their worship of rationality betrays a snobbish elitism and contempt for common people that contributed to the excesses of the revolution and later led to the dictatorship of Napoleon. Philosophes like Diderot and Voltaire despised the ordinary people for their faith and ignorance but there were noble exceptions like Montesquieu.

The Enlightenment in the American colonies was inspired by the moral and social philosophy of Smith, Hume and Burke with its humane and realistic social ethic. Himmelfarb claims that America has inherited and guarded aspects of the British Enlightenment that the British themselves have discarded and that continental Europe never adopted. This blend of virtue and freedom produced a strange paradox: the USA is the most capitalistic and simultaneously the most moralistic of nations. American liberty owes much to a virtue that was put into practice by British Methodists and Evangelicals whose traditions were adopted by Americans.

The American Enlightenment regarded spirituality as positive, as the source of morality. Although church and state were separated, church and society were intertwined; the author claims the role of religion guaranteed to the success and endurance of American institutions. The Founding Fathers recognized the ability of religion to unite society even though two of them - Franklin and Jefferson - were Deists.

In conclusion, Himmelfarb claims that the American Enlightenment is thriving today whilst the British and French versions have petered out. There is some truth in this as in the late 20th century France became the breeding ground of irrational pseudo-philosophies like postmodernism and deconstruction but these have spread to, and to a large extent taken over, the humanities on American campuses.

Yet France also preserved the evolutionary strain in the person of moral intellectuals like Jean-François Revel, Alain Besançon, Andre Glucksmann and Chantal Delsol. Having pondered Himmelfarb's informative analysis, it might perhaps make sense to divide the Enlightenment into Anglo-Saxon and Continental traditions which represent the evolutionary versus the revolutionary strains. The text is served by copious notes and this informative book concludes with an index.
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32 of 48 people found the following review helpful
on December 8, 2005
Format: Hardcover
The first time I heard about Mrs. Himmelfarb was a few years ago in an essay ("The Cost of Rights. Why liberty depends on Taxes" by S.Holmes and C.S. Sunstein, 1999) illustrating the debate about rights, duties and social responsibility. At that time the recurrent adage was "communitarism" and the slogan, somewhat odd, was "Less Rights, More Duties". Mrs. Himmelfarb was cited - rather coldly - as a political thinker and academic historian, who had forewarned about the decline of those Victorian values, responsible at her eyes for the success of the Anglo-Saxon societies in the XIX and XX centuries.

I'm not fond of conservative ideas, but must admit that in these last years some interesting historical analysis has come from conservative viewpoints, specially for modern history: I'm thinking of historians like Simon Schama (his excellent "Citizens. A Chronicle of the French revolution" on top) and - more recently - of the sometimes highly controversial theses of Niall Ferguson (his "Cash Nexus", but also "The Pity of War"). These historians have been able to reconsider historical periods from fresh viewpoints, attaining challenging new and lively pictures: not the classic Marxist historiography, not the French historical school mesmerized by macro-phenomena, but a mix of economic analysis (Ferguson), philosophic cum sociological investigation (Schama) and intelligent attention to apparently minor events.

Unfortunately that is not the case of this book I decided to buy because of my great passion for the late XVIII century and Enlightenment in general.

The hope was to find a challenging portrait to confront those, often too deferential, we got used to. And must confess at first I was pleased by the book, because - after all - Mrs. Himmelfarb is a very good writer and knows how to please her reader.

But the more I kept reading, the more frustrated I became: the portrait of the era, the presentation of the Enlightenment, a pervading moralizing attitude and finally the unwarranted arrogance of the author let me truly shocked...

There are too many points to be analyzed for a short review like this, and I will be truly glad to discuss specific issues with any reader who wants to write me.

Let me focus on some of the more relevant points.

The main confusion comes by avoiding a clear definition of Enlightenment. Most of the times it is considered like a "period" (like the Middle ages, or the cold War years), sometimes as an "intellectual movement", sometimes like a social sensibility, but with no unambiguous meaning.

By these implicit assumption, Mrs. Himmelfarb is able to present as Enlightenment champions historical figures never before considered as part of it: both Wesley and Burke, for example, are given ample space in the chapters dedicated to England.

But she does not explain why - by the same standard -other thinkers living in the same period are not included (Saint Simon for France, for example, but the list is very long).

The lack of definition reverberates also in confusion about the length of the period the author considered as relevant: a careful reader cannot but realize that she considers almost only the years from 1770 to 1789, that most historians define as "Late Enlightenment", a period peculiar under many aspects (not least because of the emergence of a different sensibility both in taste and philosophy). Some scholar goes further describing this period as "Pre-Romanticism" and some has even fostered "heretical" theses blaming on it those great disasters like the French Revolution and the rise of Totalitarism (Schama).

Considering this late period the only "official" Enlightenment is highly misleading, and leaves in complete neglect all the hard background (the emergence of rationalism with thinkers like Descartes, Leibniz and Port Royal Logicians, the socio-cultural milieu in which the movement prospered and expanded - continental diffusion of the French language, the cultural salons in Paris, the emergence of a "Republic of Letters"- and the dispersion all over Europe of the new ideas thanks not just to enlightened rulers but also to brilliant and often less known intellectuals - not just Voltaire, D'Alembert and Diderot).

But nothing is so frustrating as the underlying thesis of the essay: one reader has proposed to rename the book "Reclaiming French Fries" and this can only give an idea of the arrogance of the author...

Some of her opinions are too good not to be cited.

Pag.3 "This book is an ambitious (sic) attempt to reclaim the Enlightenment ... from the French who have dominated and usurped (sic) it"

Later we are told that Enlightenment was a British creation, stolen by the evil and self-important French.

Mrs. Himmelfarb must be credited to be the first scholar with the courage to "reclaim" the Anglo-Saxon ownership of Enlightenment: no one before - not even contemporaries in Germany, Italy, England, Russia, Austria - ever realized this momentous truth.... More than 200 years and no one to understand this self-evident truth!

Pag.8 "It was only its association with the French Revolution that gave the French enlightenment the primacy it now has... "

By 1789 Enlightenment was almost finished... its legacy already in the hands of history. Even the immediate connection between French Enlightenment and Revolution is not holding anymore under the scrutiny of history - or at least not in the automatic association of cause and effect.

Pag.21 "...France having had neither a religious reformation nor a political revolution..."

Probably a lapse of the author. France DID HAVE a Reformation. It suffered a long religious war between French Catholics and French Huguenots, culminated with the St. Bartholomew night bloodbath, the murder of the pro-Catholic Guise and later with the Nantes Edict. A Huguenot reformed church is still existing today in France!

Besides, suspension of the Toleration Edict by the Sun King is still credited to have been a forerunner of the Enlightenment: diffusion of the French language all over Europe tutored by learned Huguenot émigrés and dissenting intellectuals created a common language, a common arena and a common culture over which Enlightenment spread.

Pag.5 "What is conspicuously absent (in the historical studies about Enlightenment) is virtue. Yet it was VIRTUE, RATHER THAN REASON THAT TOOK PRECEDENCE FOR THE BRITISH..."

A fresh instance about the true meaning of Mrs. Himmelfarb's true Enlightenment, resulting in complete confusion between morality, sociology and philosophy!

En passant, I have observed she is not alone today in showing a tendency to analyze history with the meter of morality in search of "Empires of Virtue". It is an attitude I already denounced for Warren Treadgold's "A Concise History of Byzantium" and it can be highly distorting. The mission of historical analysis is different from the construction of Arcadian heavens.

Pag.227 "In America today Enlightenment is alive and well..."

Which Enlightenment? Explanation is required: she means the British moral attitudes (virtue having precedence over reason) that informed the years between 1770 and 1800. Strange Enlightenment indeed..

In the following pages we are still to be lectured about Compassionate Conservatism as the sole rightful heir of the Enlightenment...

There are also some others saucy remarks, I wasn't able to trace back...

One about the supremacy of the American enlightenment over the French based on the number of reprints of "The Federalist" compared ... not with those of "The Spirit of the Laws", but of the "Encyclopédie" (by the same token we can state the primacy of "Playboy" over "The Federalist", based on diffusion and number of reprints).

An other interesting remark is lecturing the reader over the supremacy of English language over French, based on the less rhetoric emphasis of the former (I recommend readers to give a look at the instances she uses as proofs - they are too good to be true).

These are only some of the most offending parts of the book, but inaccuracies are almost countless, also in the part dedicated to America.

American Enlightenment is reduced to the political writers of the "Federalist". Only passing mention is done (and in a different context) of Franklin. The Founding Fathers are considered as demi-gods with a reverence that hinders the many differences between them and a dispassionate analysis of their ideas.

No attempt is done to frame the American Revolution in the larger debate about rights (Whig) and duties (Tory)... a debate that led more than one commentator to talk of "American rebellion" and of a British civil war exported on American soil.

If you happen to be fond of these themes, you may be interested in other works I chanced to read about the same topic:


- "The Republic of Letters. A cultural history of the French Enlightenment" by Dena Goodman. Very interesting and well written, but uneven in the result, and sometimes with a too marked militant feminist approach (yet the author doesn't seem to appreciate the fact that Enlightenment was the first period in which women had a true relevant cultural role).

- "The Age of Conversation" by Benedetta Craveri - a must read for sure! Gripping like a novel and hugely learned, this is the story of the development of that culture of bonne manieres, intelligent conversation, informal culture and tact that we now tend to associate with Enlightenment and the last years of the Ancien Regime.

- "Citizens. A Chronicle of the French Revolution". One of the best works on the French Revolution I ever read, it tries to answer the question if the French Revolution was the authomatic consequence of Enlightenment ideas. The reply is no.

- "France in the Elightenment" by Daniel ROCHE. More a sociologic analysis of the age... Probably the most boring and driest book I ever read.

- "The Roots of Romanticism" by Isaiah Berlin. The great philosophers and one of his best books. Reading it cannot be but a pleasure.


- "Enlightenment" by Roy Porter... a more appropriate title should be "The British enlightenment", since the author focuses exclusively on the national dimension. Extremely interesting, not always easy nor pleasant.


- "The Long Affair : Thomas Jefferson and the French Revolution, 1785-1800 by Conor Cruise O'Brien excellent. In depth study about Jeffersonian thought and French revolutionary ideas.

- "A few Bloody Noses - The American War of Independence" by Robert Harvey (columnist, editor and former British MP ), an appraisal of the war from an all British point of view. Interesting but average. Well explained the thesis of the American Revolution as a civil war

- "The Paris Years of Thomas Jefferson" by William Howard Adams. Very interesting, but incomplete.


- "Miniature Portraits" by G. Lytton Strachey. More on the literary side, but the portrait dedicated (indirectly) to Voltaire and the one dedicated to Hume are true cameos.

You are most welcome if you can suggest other interesting readings or just share ideas and comments!

Thanks for reading.
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on September 18, 2005
Format: Paperback
I started reading this book with some apprehension, raised by the opening sentence in which Himmelfarb purports to do to the Enlightenment what the US Congress cafeteria not so long ago did for potato fries: reclaiming it from the French. In fact, Himmelfarb's book is not so much an attack on French 'philosophes' as it is an attempt to make the Enlightenment more inclusive, broadening its scope beyond a narrow focus on reason in order to include the "sociology of virtue" of British moral philosophers and the "politics of liberty" of America's Founding Fathers. As noted by other reviewers, the chapter devoted to the French 'Siecle des Lumieres' is short and rather superficial. Himmelfarb is more convincing when she shows that the Enlightenment, at least in its Anglo-american versions, was not always inimical to religion. The chapter on Methodism makes a valid claim that religious revivals such as Wesleyanism in England and the Great Awakening in America can be seen as an extension of the Enlightenment's phenomenon, and that their ideals of social virtue and moral compassion are still very much alive today.

But did she have to reject anything French to make that point?
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on December 29, 2013
Format: Kindle EditionVerified Purchase
I used this book as a supplement to my assigned reading at Georgetown University and it assisted me as a secondary source for a final term paper I wrote in the Spring term of 2013. I was very pleased with this book. It offers a look at what happens when a people find new ways to govern themselves. A copy should be provided to every citizen of countries in which are currently undergoing radical and sometimes violent changes so they can understand that democracy is not a pretty process. It takes time, and sometimes two or three false starts before things begin to smooth out and work (perhaps not perfectly.)
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