“Radical Enlightenment” – Peripheral, Substantial, or the Main Face of the Trans-Atlantic Enlightenment (1650-1850)

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Jonathan Israel


“Radical Enlightenment” and “moderate Enlightenment” are general categories which, it has become evident in recent decades, are unavoidable and essential for any valid discussion of the Enlightenment broadly conceived (1650-1850) and of the revolutionary era (1775-1848). Any discussion of the Enlightenment or revolutions that does not revolve around these general categories, first introduced in Germany in the 1920s and taken up in the United States since the 1970s, cannot have any validity or depth either historically or philosophically. “Radical Enlightenment” was neither peripheral to the Enlightenment as a whole, nor dominant, but rather the “other side of the coin” an inherent and absolute opposite, always present and always basic to the Enlightenment as a whole. Several different constructions of “Radical Enlightenment” have been proposed by the main innovators on the topic – Leo Strauss, Henry May, Günter Mühlpfordt, Margaret Jacob, Gianni Paganini, Martin Mulsow, and Jonathan Israel – but, it is argued here, the most essential element in the definition is the coupling, or linkage, of philosophical rejection of religious authority (and secularism - the elimination of theology from law, institutions, education and public affairs) with theoretical advocacy of democracy and basic human rights.


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Israel, Jonathan. 2014. “‘Radical Enlightenment’ – Peripheral, Substantial, or the Main Face of the Trans-Atlantic Enlightenment (1650-1850)”. Diametros, no. 40 (June):73-98. https://doi.org/10.13153/diam.40.2014.630.
Special Topic - The Radicalism of the Enlightenment
Author Biography

Jonathan Israel, Institute for Advanced Study School of Historical Studies

Jonathan IsraelModern European History ProfessorInstitute for Advanced StudySchool of Historical StudiesEinstein DrivePrinceton, New Jersey 08540USAe-mail: jisrael@ias.edu

Short biography: Jonathan Israel was raised and educated in London, studied at Cambridge and Oxford and, since 2001, has lived in the United States, as Professor of Modern History at the Institute for Advanced Study, Princeton. Prior to 1993 when he began his project on the Enlightenment, he specialized on the Dutch Golden Age and prior to 1974 on seventeenth-century Spanish America. His books on the Enlightenment are: Radical Enlightenment (2001); Enlightenment Contested (2006); A Revolution of the Mind (2010); Democratic Enlightenment (2011); Revolutionary Ideas (2014) and the volume edited together with Martin Mulsow, Radikalaufklärung (2014).

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