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The epochal concept of modernity, Enlightenment, describes the style of thinking that predominated in the eighteenth century. It is difficult to periodize strictly. It started with the ‘crisis of the European mind’ in the last decades of the seventeenth century, reaching its maturity in the 1750s to the 1760s. The Enlightenment made a strong contribution to the crisis of the Old Regime, creating some premises of the French Revolution, up to Romanticism. Reason, experience, public opinion, and cosmopolitanism were considered operative tools. This research paper stresses the ‘reinvention of the Enlightenment’ against cultures menacing democracy and liberty. It is difficult today to consider the Enlightenment as a conceptual unity (as Cassirer did), as differences and varieties prevail in recent interpretations. In this, national contexts have played an important role and so have new perspectives: not only the history of ideas, but also gender studies and cultural history. In this way, a previous, unitary conception has been challenged by different Enlightenments: it can be ‘conservative’ (Pocock) or ‘radical’ (Jacob and Israel). Debates since 2000 have included those surrounding Israel and his Radical Enlightenment, the five volumes by J. Pocock and his Conservative Enlightenment and its compatibility with Empire, as well as themes such as religious universalism, human rights, and Pierre Bayle’s challenge concerning virtuous atheism, of particular relevance to a society like ours, which can be seen to be without religion, with few civic ethics and even post-secular. The last challenge concerns the continuity or fracture between the Enlightenment and the French Revolution.
- Definition and Meaning
- Times, Spaces, and Routes
- Operative Tools and Fields
- Emancipation, Reform, and Utopia
- Circulation and Practices: the Growth in Literacy
- Building an Epocal Concept
- Recent Discussions and New Themes
Definition and Meaning
Enlightenment is an epochal concept of modernity. It can be compared with others that preceded it such as Renaissance and Baroque, or followed like Romanticism, the latter mostly as its antithesis. The word Enlightenment is molded exactly on its German original, die Aufklärung, the first conceptual definition of which was due to Immanuel Kant; in 1784, he had tried to explain the meaning of the word to the readers of a Berlin journal. The first point to be borne in mind therefore is that the term was condensed with theoretical precision in a German area and that Enlightenment (second half of the nineteenth century) or Illuminismo (beginning of the twentieth century) were created as translations of the German term. But the concept of Aufklärung has had several metaphoric equivalents in European culture since the eighteenth century. The best known are linked to the term light, which in its turn is connected with reason: therefore Enlightenment was conceived from the very beginning as the Age of Enlightenment, emancipating reason, the time of humanity’s coming-of-age. This is what Kant meant. Reason is a critical tool allowing humans to get rid of prejudice, to change the world, dominating nature through science. Enlightenment is conceived as a culture of conscious change, that is, of reforms, the secularization of a term that was originally in the singular and expressed a religious concept of modernity.
It does not mechanically coincide with rationalism, but it is one of its essential and critical moments. In fact, a rationalistic conception of the world precedes the Enlightenment and really belongs to the seventeenth century, as philosophers like Descartes and Spinoza could show. With them, reason is a system, whereas with the Enlightenment it becomes a method. Reason becoming method is an essential point of enlightened epistemology, which not only uses Locke’s empiricism, but also Newton’s celebrated motto, ‘Hypotheses non fingo.’
Times, Spaces, and Routes
As for all complex epochal categories, it is not easy to imprison Enlightenment in a definite period in time or space. The fact that the concept originated in a German area does not necessarily mean that the center of Enlightenment is linked to that environment. From a historiographic point of view, at least three great European cultures claimed to have given origin and identity to the Enlightenment: France, England, and the German world. As far as France was concerned, the capital of Enlightenment (light) was Paris, in the name of the philosophes and of the Encyclopédie, which synthesized its essential knowledge. London could not only boast Locke’s and Newton’s contribution, or the precocity of the freethinkers, and later the great lesson of Scottish intellectuals, but also its own political system, already based on the separation of powers, and above all on the rapid evolution of public opinion, favored by a free press. The Germans in their turn claimed not only that they had first created the conceptual condensation of the term, but also that they had given (through Leibniz, Wolff, and Kant) Enlightenment a philosophy. Actually, these claims implicitly conceal all the ideological processes of the following age, which perceived cultural identities on a national basis, in antithesis to Enlightenment, thus denying a fundamental presupposition, cosmopolitanism.
If one wants to understand the Age of Enlightenment today, one has to not only put aside any simplification identifying center and peripheries, but accept its polycentric nature, which should be considered as a European and worldwide circulation of ideas, to which Kant attributed the choice of universal emancipation. This does not mean that one should ignore the diversities that have induced some scholars to imagine the existence of various kinds of Enlightenment. A polycentric interpretation probably helps better than others to save the unity and the diversities of Enlightenment at the same time.
It is never easy to define the period of time enclosing an epochal concept. If one compares the cultural events of France, England, and Germany with those of other areas from the Mediterranean sea to the north of Europe, one can take the 1680s, indicated by Paul Hazard as the beginning of the ‘crisis of European conscience,’ as a starting point, provided one does not fix dates or individual events. They were the years of the revocation of the Edict of Nantes, of the querelle between the Ancients and the Moderns, of the appearance in European culture of Etrangers Symboles (‘foreigners symbols’), like the Chinese Mandarin, archetype of virtuous atheists. In England, it was the period not only of intellectual maturity with Locke and Newton, but also of freethinkers like Anthony Collins and John Toland. Thomasius and Leibniz were the protagonists of the Frühe Aufklärung. In Holland, refugees like Pierre Bayle and Jean Leclerc elaborated the tools of a great critical culture. Only slightly later, the adventure of Giambattista Vico, Pietro Giannone, Alberto Radicati, di Passerano, and Ludovico Muratori had its beginning in Italy. As for the Iberian Peninsula, the décalage was greater.
The 1730s and 1740s can be considered years of transition, with the important exception of Voltaire’s and Montesquieu’s France, which inaugurated the Age of Enlightenment. In England, the radical culture of freethinking died out, whereas the Augustan season asserted itself through Samuel Johnson. In Italy, Radicati and Giannone succumbed to the success of the érudites and of the enlightened Catholics (from Scipione Maffei to Muratori). The latter’s Spanish equivalent was Father Fejio.
The 1750s and 1760s are the season of Enlightenment at the height of its glory. The circulation of ideas linked together all the European centers. Not only Paris, London, Berlin, or the cities of the great cultural mediation like Amsterdam and Geneva, but also Madrid, Lisbon, Milan, Naples, St Petersburg, and Stockolm became involved in a close dialogue. These were the days of the Encyclopédie, of the Contrat Social, of Cesare Beccaria’s Dei Delitti e Delle Pene. Learned periodicals became journals of opinion. The first great reforms were introduced in the fields of economy, legislation, politics, and morals. Pombal’s Portugal opened a confrontation with the Jesuits in which all the Bourbon states would become involved and which would have an echo in the great European enlightened culture.
The network of freemasonry developed the political language of a civil society, deeply entwining itself with all the other tools of European intellectual sociality. Reforming projects were most fruitfully nourished by Utopian ideals. Enlightened absolutism made its tentative appearance in Austria, Russia, Prussia, Tuscany, Denmark, and Sweden. If sovereigns were drawing near to the philosopher’s projects, there was also a fruitful exchange between enlightened culture and the governmental experience of a new generation of officials.
The 1770s and 1780s, when little by little the generation of the great representatives of Enlightenment (Voltaire, Rousseau, Diderot, D’Alembert, and d’Holbach) disappeared, witnessed an Atlantic event – the American Revolution, which gave Europe firsthand ideological material on questions not yet approached, such as the self-determination of peoples, parliamentary representation, and federative connection within a republican model: liberty, democracy, and civil ethics as a shared and written constitutional project. Europe’s boundaries widened with Russia entering the Mediterranean, and the inevitable modifications of the eastern balance. Historians like Edward Gibbon and law reformers like Gactano Filangieri took note of it. The models of reason changed. Freemasonry itself, which Lessing thought the ideal tool to diffuse Enlightenment, experienced a deep restlessness and the clash between operative rationality and a taste for the occult and mysticism. Raynal, who had enjoyed Diderot’s collaboration, attacked the European colonial models, denouncing both their violence against other civilizations as well as slavery and their inclination toward despotism; he went so far as to assert that the torch of freedom would be carried to Europe by a black Spartacus.
It is not easy to find an ad quem term. The beginning of the French Revolution, a starting point of an epochal crisis, is plausible beyond a logic privileging the French course. Some frontier areas were soon involved in the revolutionary turmoil. The process seemed to take longer in Germany, England, Spain, Portugal, and Italy, not to mention in Eastern Europe. The French Revolution and war put a stop to the politics of enlightened absolutism. The crisis of enlightened culture and its transformation into something different (from Jacobinism to counterrevolutionary resistance) lasted through most of the 1790s. As for England – which experienced the first unsettling industrial revolution – it carried out an uncompromising war not only against the French Revolution, but against the Napoleonic Empire as well, yet this did not modify its constitutional evolution, nor did it alter substantially the role of public opinion. This is true also with regard to the United States, which would later appear to an observer like Alexis de Tocqueville (De la démocratie en Amérique, 1835) as the most mature and complete project of the Enlightenment, from which the Europe of Restauration would have to learn freedom and democracy anew.
Operative Tools and Fields
An analysis of the categories of space and time connected with the concept of the Enlightenment implicitly shows its operative tools (reason, experience, criticism, scientific models, reforms, Utopian tensions, and theories of progress and of public and private happiness). Each of these terms not only has its own internal dynamics, but also tends to adapt to highly differentiated realities. Enlightenment today does not appear so much as a clear unitarian philosophy, according to its reconstruction by Ernest Cassirer (1932), but as a process of general emancipation that moves hypothesis, possibilities, and strategies that might appear different and antithetical at first sight. This is clear from a brief analysis of its main fields of influence: religion, ethics, politics, economy, history, social transformation, and cultural change.
As regards religion, in the long term, secularization had its roots in the first period of modernity (humanism, renaissance, reformation, and libertinism). Criticism of revealed religions was an important element of English freethinking in the early eighteenth century, with repercussions not only in Holland, but also in France and Italy. Materialism, pantheism (the term was coined by Toland in 1704), and the negation of the immortality of the soul involved both the protestant and the catholic world, as the religious adventures, destined to be defeated, of Jean Meslier, Giannone, and Radicati di Passerano demonstrate. The progressive reduction of magical, miraculous, and prophetic forecast practices were generalized as the refusal of superstition. With fruits of the application of critical models linked with philosophy and science, they created various intersections between faith and reason, from reasonable Christianity to enlightened Catholicism, to natural theology, to deism. Tolerance, which is not only the cohabitation of different religious confessions on the same territory, but also the possibility (enunciated by Pierre Bayle) of individual conscience to err, without any church arrogating to itself the power of constraint, was a good ground for testing important conquests. In the wake of a great juridical tradition, Voltaire would take this battle into the very core of the Enlightenment, elaborating for European public opinion the theoretical premises for the choices of Prussian, Austrian, and Tuscan enlightened absolutism.
D’Holbach’s coterie, which represents the most radical experience of the French Enlightenment from a religious point of view (with two phases: the first an anti-Christian offensive; the second the elaboration of a social model where ethics and politics were separated from religion) is only one of the components, although the most aggressive and sensational, of the French and European Enlightenment. It is all too easy to underline its elitist nature, limited to a small group speculating with the complicity of European publishers interested in creating a flourishing market of clandestine books. One should not underestimate this aspect, after a scholar like Robert Darnton explained the relation between publishing and sedition, between forbidden books and a crisis of political, ethical, and religious social structures.
The most lasting result of the Enlightenment in this field was the widespread consciousness not only among laymen but among priests as well, including enlightened Catholics, that religious choice mainly belonged to the private sphere. In this sense, the most mature enlightened project had accepted and adapted for a larger civil society the rights of conscience proposed by Bayle at the time of the ‘crisis of European conscience.’
Emancipation, Reform, and Utopia
In its most essential and creative moments, each innovative choice of the Enlightenment was preceded by an ethical reflection that cannot be mechanically reduced to an individual reckoning of pleasures and sorrows. The utilitarian moral itself had imagined with Bernard de Mandeville that private vice could become public virtue, but in the middle of the eighteenth century, it was perceived more as a tension to ensure the maximum happiness to the largest possible number of people. From this point of view, the analysis of Montesquieu’s works, of the ‘économists,’ of Pietro Verri, Beccaria, and Gaetano Filangieri, is important because of the strong relation they establish with a new ethical project. The Scottish Enlightenment also started from morals to discover economy and sociology. In fact, one of the concepts most charged with future, that of ‘civil religion’ theorized by Rousseau in his Contrat social, was based on a profound understanding of natural law (above all through Jean Barbeyrac), which had tried to set the field of man’s rights and duties free from the traditional links of Patristics and Scholasticism.
Rousseau and Mably had transformed this inheritance and founded a new system of the rights and duties of the citizen. The state took upon itself new tasks in the fields of instruction, cultural control, and assistance, thus widening its public dimension and secular action; as a consequence, religious choice tended to become a private question, involving the intimate and inviolable sphere. The most significant lesson of the Enlightenment was not so much a lay morality opposed to the religious one, as the possible dialogue on the field of citizenship between different kinds of ethics: a difficult project, continuously interrupted, which modernity has to tackle all the time.
Also, from the point of view of political models, the Enlightenment does not show a unified front, but a series of possible choices, from enlightened absolutism to the return of a republican culture, to the bureaucratic centralization of the ‘well-ordered police state,’ to constitutionalism, to debates on representation, to projects of direct democracy. Each of these terms in fact can be used to define very different experiences, unless there is the intervention of a contextual historical event. There is a sharp distinction, for example, between the forced modernization of Peter the Great, which is an example of reformism to the point that it attracted Voltaire’s attention, and the strategies of ‘enlightened’ princes like Frederick II, Joseph II, Peter Leopold, and even Catherine the Great.
In the same way, with regard to republican thought, one should not confuse the patrician models of the republics, which survived the success of absolute power (Holland, Venice, and Genoa), or the mannered republicanism one learnt by reading the classics, with the new republican tensions that arose as a consequence of the claims for freedom of the Poles, the Corsicans, the Genevans, and above all the American colonies. But enlightened absolutism itself attracts or repels enlightened thinkers because of two equal possibilities. The first is the use of centralization in order to carry our reforming politics, where the accent was not so much on strength, however, necessary to win resistance, as on the involvement in the project of new fields: law, politics, economy, religion, and culture, together with the elimination of particularisms and unjust social relations. This implied the other necessity, that of transforming the model into constitutional forms. The process of emancipation, and of adaptation to the complexities of the real world one wants to change, Enlightenment moves between the two poles analyzed by Franco Venturi (1971): Utopia and reform, closely entwined. These two tensions vivify each other. But the course of the Enlightenment revolves round another two essential terms: freedom and democracy. The first term above all was the main object of Montesquieu’s L’esprit des lois (1748). It is not possible here to go beyond a schematization recognizing virtue as the essential value of republics, as distinguished from honor, the real ethical and social cement of monarchies. Montesquieu did not choose among the different political forms. He only discarded Asian despotism and was very diffident against absolutism, which he wanted to temper not only by separating the three powers, or through the binding strength of the laws, but also through the concrete presence of intermediate bodies, including the nobility.
The other term of reference for the political theory of the Enlightenment is Rousseau. He opposed to eighteenth-century cosmopolitism the love for one’s own country, which requires the practice of direct democracy. Rousseau’s democracy is right for a small republican country. It does not admit representatives. Between majority and minority, only the former represents the general will, because sovereignty derived from the social pact cannot be divided. The Genevan’s challenge was even more complex: he questioned a developmental model of civilization based not only on the progress of art and science, but also on the basis of social inequality. Democracy was the courage to modify ownership, justice, and instruction. A large part of later political thought is linked to a comparison between Montesquieu and Rousseau, to establish a connection between freedom and democracy, the aspiration to absorb the Genevan’s Utopian drive and transform it into a spirit of reform. An exemplary text is Dei delitti e delle pene, which questions the right to punish in an unjust society because it is unequal.
Various other experiences belong to Enlightened politics: cameralism, an administrative model mainly used by Prussian and Austrian officials; the physiocratic theory of legal despotism, in which a monarchic power guarantees certain natural laws, among which is ownership. From the above considerations, it appears that the question of enlightened politics is narrowly linked with the question of law, which becomes the ‘science of legislation.’ The weaker field was feminine political and cultural identity. For this question, one would have to wait for Mary Wollstonecraft and her work on women’s rights.
Economy became a science during the eighteenth century, evolving from late-mercantilist models. The physiocratic project established the essential points of the productive cycle based on agriculture and on free corn trade. If agriculture was the only wealth-producing sector, while transformation and circulation were the task of industry and commerce, taxation had to become progressive with respect to land, whose ownership was one of the fundamental natural rights. Adam Smith extended liberalism to sectors such as industry and commerce, which were not considered subsidiary, but highly productive. In this way, the first strong perception of an industrial revolution under way in England became a theory. During the last decades of the century, there was a return to protectionism.
What happened with the economy could well be verified with other sciences, not only social and natural, but human as well. The Scottish school created the premise for sociology, by studying social stratification or the concept of civil society. Economy itself, by defining a stages theory based on production, laid down the basis of anthropology. Consolidated disciplines like physics were renovated, as well as chemistry, geology, agronomy, and geography itself. Linneus and Buffon had reclassified nature, thus rendering it an open book. Natural history had given a common language to the natural and biological sciences.
As for history, one can only register a change in some fundamental paradigms: the loss of the superiority of sacred history, the transformation of ecclesiastical history into the history of religions, the emergence of the history of civilization within new models of universal history, the flourishing of civil history as institutional history, and the first appearance of the history of science.
Circulation and Practices: the Growth in Literacy
If one examines this process from the point of view of cultural history and of the general transformation of intellectual models, European and even the worldwide circulation of ideas can be measured through parameters that are apparently external to intellectual history, but not unimportant. The author refers first of all to the international book market, and to the creation of an incredibly large number of tools, thanks to which the consultation of books was made possible, from public and private libraries to bibliographies, catalogs, abstracts, and reviews. Books and newspapers gained an almost universal circulation. In Europe and America, there was an increase in literacy. The world of potential readers expanded not only thanks to the advent of the middle classes but because the distance between male and female instruction tends to diminish in urban spaces. Somebody called this the revolution of middle class readers. Even reading habits changed; there was a greater tendency for undirected reading, not linked to learned professions but to the consumption of leisure time. The demands of the new readers also brought about a change in genres. The novel had an incredible development, offering as it does to all classes means for education, identification, and escapism. Among the forbidden books of the second half of the eighteenth century, the philosophique and pornographique genres often followed the same semiclandestine circuits, thus contributing to the modification of the cultural and ethical general models of society. Music and theater as well were often fields for ideological formation and dispute. Journalism followed in the tracks of this expansion of the book market, and from the objectivity of abstracts, which are made for a public of learned people, moved to the subjectivity of journals, the concision of reports. Journals of opinion were essential for the formation of this new international public sphere, which discovered languages, interlocuters, and spaces. To this sphere belong the salons, public, and private spaces at the same time. Intellectual sociality took a number of forms, from the old and new academies, to clubs, to cafés, down to the taverns where conversation and gossip were a way for disseminating news. The Enlightenment–Academies relation is supported by a rich bibliography, starting with Reinhard Koselleck’s (1959) work, which laid down the basis for a more through analysis of the links between Freemasonry and Enlightenment. The former is now considered the privileged center for the formation of the political language on which the assemblary model of the French Revolution would be created.
Many centers of intellectual communication reverse the prevailing male image one received when analyzing the concept from the point of view of intellectual history. Women were present in the famous French salons, where they have some personal control over an ephemeral though socially important genre like conversation. They started being accepted in some lodges and academies, their role thus changing from that of consumers of books and newspapers (also of a literature for women, produced by men) to that of writers. First, they occupied the space of women’s literature, then they took an active part in the journalistic debate. The inclusion of women in the public sphere does not alter the fact that their role was still subordinate. Women’s writing often tends to self-identification, but it remains unfinished, secret. And this corresponds to a social model that is prevalent in the male-dominated Enlightenment. Rousseau, who had put the question of the public education of citizens, had kept women separate; Filangieri himself had followed suit. This explains the novelty of Wollstonecraft’s denunciation. In fact, the public sphere created by the High Enlightenment seemed to be threatened by new classes joining the world of writing and communication, forming an international Grub Street and living on collaborations and translations. The creation of a more aggressive political language, and of the use of reason both as prophecy and announcement of the crisis, broke the balance of the previous generations, which had reached the highest levels of intellectual communication in the academies, in the teaching and in the publishing world. In this phase, women seemed to live less apart. The fact remains that on this question Enlightenment as emancipation was a partial project delegated to the future, because it had not fully accepted the other half of its universe.
Building an Epochal Concept
Finally, it should be said that the French Revolution, while celebrating the Enlightenment as its parent, strongly contributed to its interruption first of all because what had survived as idéologie had to adapt to the heavy Napoleonic tutelage and stabilization, and second because the behavior and the propaganda of Napoleonic France were experienced by other European cultures as a violence that forced them to find anew their national, religious, and identifying roots. This explains why part of Romanticism set itself up as an antithetic culture to the Enlightenment that was considered responsible for the political conditions in Europe. Friedrich Meinecke spotted the opposition between cosmopolitism and the national state (1908). While new problems required new kinds of culture, certain fundamental values, after being driven underground during the Restauration, after the Napoleonic age, sprang up again in all the moments of opening to freedom and democracy, which are scattered in the history of Europe. In French history, the ideological elaboration of the Third Republic renewed the strong link between Revolution and Enlightenment again, the latter being dragged by the former.
The twentieth century, however, really needed to reflect on the Enlightenment again, having a critical period troubled by nationalistic, fascist, and totalitarian cultures that threatened liberty, democracy, and equality. These threats were answered by Cassirer’s (1932), Becker’s (1932), Hazard’s (1935, 1946) and many other projects. From these roots, there originated an important historiography (Venturi (1971), Gay (1967), Koselleck (1959), Pocock, Darnton, Jacob (1980), Roche, and many others) that to this day finds an echo in the International Society for Eighteenth Century Studies and in the dense network of National Societies. Margaret Candee Jacob has written about a ‘Radical Enlightment,’ which was masonic, pantheist, and republican. John Pocock (1999), more recently, has located in the English world a ‘Conservative Enlightenment,’ while Jonathan Israel (2001) widens the chronological terms of a European ‘Radical Enlightenment’ and ‘its making of modernity,’ starting from 1650.
There are also many publications on the limitations, deficiencies, and responsibilities of Enlightenment in the evils of modernity, to begin with T.W. Adorno and M. Horkheimer (1947). But in the light of the dramatic problems of our times, many evoke the necessity of a further Enlightenment, of a future of Enlightenment that will resume the interrupted project. One can well imagine that it will inevitably be a new one, because the past can give inspiration, but not necessarily return. It is true, however, that we must find our own answers to emancipation, freedom, and Utopia for the world otherwise risks being an icy globality without universalism.
Recent Discussions and New Themes
Israel’s work on the Radical Enlightenment and its prosecution has been the occasion for an interesting debate, which can be summarized by describing the conclusions of a meeting organized in France (Lyon) in 2004, an occasion to verify the terms implied, starting from the retrodating of the Enlightenment to the time of Spinoza: Israel considers spinozism the main root of the radical project. The organizers of the meeting agreed that Israel’s work had reopened the discussion about the Enlightenment, but he faced serious criticism, not only about a solution that implies a key that is too restricted, but also one that is primarily resolved in terms of intellectual history. Also deemed to be of importance was his decision to produce a transnational history. The problems surrounding the chosen key are confirmed by the second volume, Enlightenment Contested (2006), which strangely enough returns at the first half of the eighteenth century. Also, the recent book on the revolution of the mind reveals that the connection between the Radical Enlightenment and the French Revolution, strongly defended in the previous volumes, is less linear than previously suggested. With his last volume, Democratic Enlightenment (2011), Israel not only has completed his huge opus concerning the Enlightenment and its roots, analyzing the temporal and spatial period between 1750 and 1790, but also answers his critics starting with Antoine Lilti, now leader of the ‘Annales,’ and an important scholar of the world of the Parisian salons in the eighteenth century, critically connected with social and cultural history. On the basis of his reading of the first two volumes, Lilti accused Israel of practicing only an old intellectual history. It is easy to perceive in the pages of the ‘Annales’ (3, 2009) a defense of a model of history, connected with great scholars such as Robert Darton, Roger Chartier, Daniel Roche, and others, but in some ways a sort of flagship of French historiography. Confirming his previous choice, Israel has good reasons not only to demonstrate that cultural and social history have not produced a general and transnational reconstruction of the Enlightenment as a worldwide ‘revolution of the mind,’ but also that his history is not the old intellectual history, focused solely on ideas. He considers also social processes of transmission, transformation, conflicts, and secret sects such as masons, all connected with a society not of the happy few, or the great intellectuals, but rather collectivities of men and women. He also confirms his agreement with John Robertson about the unity of the Enlightenment, and its distance from the huge national project by Pocock, which separates Gibbon not only from the French, but also from the transnational Enlightenment. It is true that he insists on the keyword philosophy, but it incorporates religion, criticism, philology, as well as politics, science, and law. It is a fundamental tool of transformation, but only if it involves collective and conflicting social energies. Israel is open in his polemics against a model of history that reduces all to interpretation, literary artifact, or communication. But the best answers are on the terrain of the research. The first part on earthquakes involves not only Lisbon, but also South America and is a way to verify the differences between science and superstition, Nature and Providence, materialism and deism, philosophers and antiphilosophers, as social groups with their tools of propaganda. The challenge involves also Jean Jacques Rousseau and his growing distance from the philosophes and the ‘Encyclopédie.’ The chapters concerning the main tool of the French philosophes not only are clear and rich, but also incorporate the findings of Darnton. Less convincing and perhaps too simplified is what he has to say about Rousseau, considered more for his deism and antimaterialism than for his Contrat social. In the reconstruction of a transnational and complete image of the Enlightenment the second part, ‘Rationalising the Ancien Regime,’ is impressive, revealing a global vision, which connects the different European cultures, and political forms. Action and reaction, projects and resistances are clearly analyzed for all European countries. The third part, ‘Europe and the Remaking of the World,’ considers America, not only the North and the crucial event of the American Revolution, but also South America as well as Spain and Portugal India, China, Japan, and their relationships with different European cultures. This section reveals Israel to be perhaps the best pupil of the great John Eliott. He also accepts from Sankar Muthu that Enlightenment is against Empire. The fourth part is dedicated to the return of Spinoza: he defines in one of the central chapters Pantheismusstrei, involving France, but above all Germany where Lessing opened a Radical or Democratic Enlightenment, while Kant fought against Israel’s hero, Spinoza, inventing an idealistic philosophy. The fifth part, dedicated to the French Revolution, appears a correct reconstruction of the glorious moment in which the Third Estate celebrated its triumph against Monarchy, Aristocracy, and the Church. It is easy to be persuaded by this part of the benefits of a Revolution, which erased the Ancien Régime, and invented Human Rights. The author is persuaded that a strong contribution to this field was offered by philosophes such as Rousseau and later Filangieri, in relation to the American Revolution. Also, Kant was an admirer of this phase of the French Revolution, but it is also true that Hegel, considering the Terror and the Napoleonic European authoritarian order, held the Enlightenment responsible. This book merits to be read with a great respect for its huge intellectual courage, and its capacity to answer many objections of his opponents. Respecting the project involves considering all three volumes. It would appear that for a long time this will be the main reference in the field. In this sense, the author thinks that the lector in fabula now has certainly the duty to correct single judgments, but doing that, must respect one of the intellectual adventures that can be compared only with Paul Hazard’s opening a European Resistance, by Franco Venturi’s continuation of the same Resistance, or now also by John Pocock.
Another great project is almost concluded. The author speaks about the five volumes by John Pocock, in which he utilizes the great historian Edward Gibbon not only to confront him with the proposals of the French Enlightenment, stressing the differences, but also to reconstruct the way in which the eighteenth century’s English world debated great themes such as Empire and colonialism. The history of the past is here a means of considering the future. Pocock confirms the compatibility between a Moderate or Conservative Enlightenment and the imperial vocation of Great Britain, connected with the Union of 1707. He reads Roman history as a metaphor for the English colonial and imperial choice. The problem has been largely discussed not only in England and in the United States, but also in other countries. Sankar Muthu has demonstrated that Enlightenment and Empire were opposed (2003). The Scottish Enlightenment and its connection with the Union have been analyzed not only by J. Robertson, but also by G. Abbattista on Empire, D. Francesconi, considering ‘the age of history’ (2003), and S. Sebastiani, speaking about ‘the limits of progress’ (2008).
A new problem and field of research has emerged, as a creation and inheritance of the Enlightenment, around human rights. The terms, not coincidentally, emerged with Rousseau and Voltaire in the 1960s, becoming central in the 1970s and above all in the 1980s. The invention of human rights became central with the American Revolution and also in the Declaration of the Rights of the Man and the Citizen at the beginning of the French Revolution, connecting the birth of the United States with Europe. Not only did Diderot invoke liberty by a black Spartacus, but he also has a recent critical edition of Gaetano Filangieri’s Scienza della legislazione. The study of its translations has confirmed the presence of human rights, republicanism, and constitutionalism in the 1980s in Europe. The Italian contribution has been emphasized by Ferrone in his research on Filangieri (2003), recently translated into French. Now he is writing about human rights, a problem announced in a chapter of his Lezioni illuministiche (2010). An attempt at studying human rights in the eighteenth century has been realized by L. Hunt (2007). She had formerly opened the question in 1996 with regard to the French Revolution. Her new fascinating inquiry explores the essential role of the novel to form general ideas of empathy, sympathy, identification, and knowledge of the Other, inventing a deep need for equality and preparing a diffused persuasion in the West that men, women, and also blacks had the same natural rights. If the function of the novel is well analyzed, it is possible to remark that the research about law, politics, and philosophy is instead reduced. Hunt explains the long self-evidence of the concepts connected with human rights and also the limits of their concrete application. If Rousseau (1762) and Voltaire (1763) individuated the concept and the words, the first attempt to define them emerged in 1776, to be deepened in 1789. Less explored here is the attempt at translating the seventeenth-century tradition of natural law realized for the future by Jean Barbeyrac, which echoed across Europe. Cesare Beccarla is quoted only through Morellet’s translation. But the roots of human rights connected Vico, Genovesi, Filangieri, Pagano in Naples, and also Peter Leopold in Tuscany, as implicitly emerged in Furio Diaz and Venturi’s researches and now explicitly in Ferrone and Trampus. On empathy and the novel in the eighteenth century it is now also necessary to read R. Loretelli (2010).
Human rights have been connected with republicanism, as the mainstream (M. Viroli and others), but recent international research has verified that concepts such as liberty, public happiness, the common good, equal rights, patriotism, and also constitutionalism were present in Monarchisms (2007). England was not the only nation that evolved in this sense, but also Tuscany and the Hapsburg Empire, where Leopold II corrected Joseph II’s centralism, a process interrupted by the French Revolution.
Another problem anticipated by researchers on the history of historiography, the history of philosophy and comparative studies again in Italy (G. Ricuperati, S. Berti, R. Minuti, and L. Simonutti) has been deepened recently by an international team of historians: L. Hunt, M.C. Jacob, and W.W. Mijnhardt, in two recent books exploring a huge work that was born in Amsterdam between 1723 and 1733 in seven folio volumes, involving J.F. Bernard, the editor, and an anonymous writer of the texts and B. Picart, one of the best engravers of his time, Cérémonies et coutumes religieuses de tous les peuples du monde. The researchers, who are connected with prestigious American and Dutch universities and international foundations such as the Getty Museum, have stressed the role of this creative compilation, described as The Book That Changed Europe (2010) and the first attempt to construct an innovative history of religions, which, through the confrontation of rituals, did not distinguish between monotheisms and polytheisms, opening in this field a true religious universalism in a pre-anthropological sense. The second book on Picart similarly involves a lot of problems of research and interdisciplinary competences (2010). The two works document not only the indifference of the anthropologists toward this creative and precocious approach, but also the ideological change presented in the later editions. If the Parisian edition by Antoine Banier and Jean Baptiste Le Mascrier was an attempt at orienting the project in a Catholic direction, the French and English editions of the nineteenth century were dominated by regressive and dangerous ideas of the superiority of the West and of Christian (Protestant) monotheism.
Also, the debate about the great challenge suggested by Pierre Bayle, in dialogue with Hobbes and Spinoza, about the ‘virtuous atheist’ and more generally about a society with civic virtue but without religion, has been reopened with regard to two different, even opposite, perspectives: the first is connected with the Radical Enlightenment and the roots of a cosmopolitan modernity; the second, which emerged in recent years as a result of a diffused consciousness of a strong return of institutional religions, considers our society as postsecular. The defeat of secularization is strongly connected with the pretension of Catholicismto have invented human rights, subtracting them aggressively from the secular Enlightenment. The same happened in other religions and sects that were also against science.
The last object of discussion is the connection between the French Revolution and the Enlightenment. If Israel, in his first two books (2001 and 2006), confirms a deep continuity between them, as the necessary root of our secular present and future, his recent book A Revolution of the Mind (2010) seems to like neither the Terror and Robespierre, or his presumed source of inspiration, Rousseau, holding them responsible for totalitarian democracy, and reading the general will, as J. Talmon did, as the main root of future evils. How these arguments can be coherent with continuity is a problem that is not resolved here. For a different analysis, one can cite Ferrone and his Lezioni illuministiche (2010), who openly challenges this connection, which was invented in a conservative and conditioning sense by Hegel, and united in the same condemnation Revolution and Enlightenment, without true historical evidence. The author has posed the same perspective in a meeting about the Enlightenment and the French Revolution in Italian debates (Vizille, 2007) the fruits of which were edited in 2010 by G. Bertrand and E. Neppi. Also, B. Baczko in his recent book about the politics of the French Revolution (2008) stresses the difficulty in finding an exit from the Revolution, confronting Washington and Bonaparte. The Napoleonic imperial adventure sounds very different from the correct choice of the American Hero and his renunciation. The Empire was a dramatic way to depart from the Revolution, paid for in Europe with tragic wars, and with a reaction constraining the conquests of the Enlightenment to an underground survival, conditioning Restauration, Romantism, and the Age of nations to be without cosmopolitanism, with a regression of liberty and human rights, dreamed for by all Enlightened philosophers as Utopia and reform.
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