A Revolution of the Mind: Radical Enlightenment and the Intellectual Origins of Modern Democracy

Margaret Jacob writes:

For Israel, the unity of enlightened ideals was founded in philosophical materialism, in an atheism which allowed nature and the works of man to be explained solely in terms of matter in motion. All his books see a philosophical and ethical debt to Spinoza (who died in 1677) as guiding the Enlightenment project and giving momentum to its quest to establish republics based on a democratic egalitarianism. Spinoza’s conflation of God with nature, his attack on superstition and fundamentalist readings of the Bible, his denial of free will – leaving the passions simply to exist, unmoralised – set a new intellectual agenda whose effects were evident in the clandestine literature of the early 18th century and, after 1750, in the mature thought of French materialists such as Diderot, Helvétius and d’Holbach.

(LRB 8 November 2012)

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