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

Margaret Jacob writes:

Once primarily interested in economic history, Jonathan Israel has more recently turned his attention to the intellectual roots of Western modernity in the 18th-century Enlightenment. In the 1980s, critics on the left would have told him not to bother. During that decade the Enlightenment became a prime target in the American culture wars. Postmodernists found it masculine, universalist and Eurocentric; fiscal conservatives read its texts selectively, finding value in Locke on government, or praising the free market philosophy of Adam Smith. Those were the days (to paraphrase Todd Gitlin) when the right got the White House and the left got the English departments, where the Enlightenment was seen as quaint at best and as the source of Western claims to superiority at worst.

(LRB 8 November 2012)

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