How Do We Write the Intellectual History of the Enlightenment? Spinozism, Radicalism, and Philosophy

Le Thé à l’anglaise servi dans le salon des Quatre-Glaces au palais du Temple à Paris en 1764
Le Thé à l’anglaise servi dans le salon des Qua­tre-Glaces au palais du Tem­ple à Paris en 1764, Michel Barthéle­my Ollivi­er, 1766.

We have pre­vi­ous­ly writ­ten about the debates over the polit­i­cal rel­e­vance of the Enlight­en­ment today, draw­ing on Antoine Lilti’s crit­i­cal review of the his­to­ries of Jonathan Israel. We present the Eng­lish trans­la­tion of his essay, which has import far beyond any dis­ci­pli­nary bound­aries.

For many years, the French Rev­o­lu­tion has served as an ori­gin sto­ry: for con­tem­po­rary France of course, but also for the entire­ty of a polit­i­cal moder­ni­ty marked by the hori­zon of rev­o­lu­tion­ary eman­ci­pa­tion more gen­er­al­ly. Today, with rev­o­lu­tion­ary pas­sions hav­ing appar­ent­ly been tem­pered and our rela­tion to tech­no­log­i­cal progress, sec­u­lar­iza­tion, and civ­i­liza­tion­al dia­logue put into ques­tion, the Enlight­en­ment seems to have picked up the relays and dis­cov­ered a his­tor­i­cal and polit­i­cal actu­al­i­ty. The num­ber of stud­ies in the schol­ar­ly field has grown rapid­ly, express­ing a renewed inter­est in the sub­ject. With­in pub­lic debate and dis­course, a major recent expo­si­tion at the Nation­al Library of France pre­sent­ed the Enlight­en­ment as a “lega­cy for tomor­row,” gen­er­at­ing both intense sup­port and sharp cri­tiques.1

This might be true, but which Enlight­en­ment? On this point, there is lit­tle agree­ment among his­to­ri­ans con­cern­ing the mul­ti­plic­i­ty of approach­es, and exist­ing works seem to dis­cour­age an over­ar­ch­ing frame­work. At a time when grand nar­ra­tives have fall­en out fash­ion, one can­not help but be struck by the gap between, on the one hand, the pro­lif­er­a­tion of his­to­ri­o­graph­i­cal stud­ies which offer a frag­ment­ed land­scape, and on the oth­er hand, the essay­ist dis­course striv­ing to actu­al­ize the Enlight­en­ment amidst con­tem­po­rary debates. This sit­u­a­tion might seem dis­cour­ag­ing; Jonathan Israel has not been dis­cour­aged. In a mas­sive work, two vol­umes of which have already appeared, with a third hav­ing been announced, he pro­pos­es a broad rein­ter­pre­ta­tion of the Enlight­en­ment based on the notion, bor­rowed from Mar­garet Jacob, of the “Rad­i­cal Enlight­en­ment,” and a re-eval­u­a­tion of the impact of Spinoza’s thought, which he deems to be essen­tial.2 The mon­u­men­tal scope of this enter­prise, as well as its sig­nif­i­cant and large­ly favor­able, even enthu­si­as­tic, recep­tion, makes this an indis­pens­able work. Both an ency­clo­pe­dic syn­the­sis and an engaged piece of writ­ing, Israel’s work marks an unques­tion­able inter­ven­tion in Enlight­en­ment his­to­ri­og­ra­phy – all the more since this soli­tary work is not iso­lat­ed, but rather indi­cates and ren­ders more vis­i­ble an ensem­ble of works that aim to rethink the sub­ver­sive ener­gy and charge of the Enlight­en­ment. Even the recent cur­ren­cy of the term “Rad­i­cal Enlight­en­ment” large­ly seems to sig­nal a change in ori­en­ta­tion, if not par­a­digm. While twen­ty years ago, the influ­ence of Jur­gen Habermas’s works had solid­i­fied a neo-Kant­ian inter­pre­ta­tion of the Enlight­en­ment, artic­u­lat­ed through the crit­i­cal par­a­digm and study of the pub­lic sphere, the works on this clan­des­tine phi­los­o­phy and the Rad­i­cal Enlight­en­ment would seem to her­ald a new inter­pre­ta­tive frame­work, which fea­tures Spin­ozism both as the matrix of the Enlight­en­ment and as a resource for con­tem­po­rary social sci­ence. Still, this label rais­es as many ques­tions as it answers. First of all, we can say that even while rec­og­niz­ing the con­tri­bu­tions of Israel’s work, I will focus here on the ques­tions that his inter­pre­ta­tion elic­its, as well as attempt to dis­cern the lim­its of his enter­prise. This will be less a mat­ter of dis­cussing his analy­ses point-by-point, than a reflec­tion on the tools uti­lized by the author and the con­cepts at work: what is Spin­ozism? In what way can the Enlight­en­ment be called rad­i­cal? How do we con­join or com­bine the his­to­ry of phi­los­o­phy with the cul­tur­al his­to­ry of intel­lec­tu­al pro­duc­tions? Is Europe impor­tant as a dimen­sion? The core of the dis­cus­sion will bear upon the equiv­a­lence Israel estab­lish­es between a clas­sic cat­e­go­ry in the his­to­ry of phi­los­o­phy – Spin­ozism – and a his­to­ri­o­graph­i­cal cat­e­go­ry – the Rad­i­cal Enlight­en­ment. This will enable us to for­mu­late sev­er­al alter­na­tive paths for approach­ing the rad­i­cal­i­ty of the Enlight­en­ment and its rela­tion to moder­ni­ty, a par­tic­u­lar­ly tan­gled term but impor­tant for Israel. In this sense, our dis­cus­sion will be essen­tial­ly his­to­ri­o­graph­ic: it invites us to inquire, more broad­ly, as to the way in which the his­to­ry of the phi­los­o­phy of the Enlight­en­ment is and can be writ­ten today. 

A Re-Reading of the Enlightenment

At first glance, Israel’s two pub­lished vol­umes seem to ren­der a syn­thet­ic inter­pre­ta­tion impos­si­ble, as a dense, some­times obscure set of authors shut­tle across some two thou­sand pages and thou­sands of foot­notes. The first vol­ume patient­ly fol­lows, over the course of a cen­tu­ry (1650-1750), the devel­op­ment of a rad­i­cal thought in Europe inspired by Spinoza’s work, as well as the reac­tions it sparked not only from the author­i­ties, but also more mod­er­ate authors.3 The point of depar­ture is the emer­gence in the Nether­lands of a philo­soph­i­cal rad­i­cal­ism in the sec­ond half of the 17th cen­tu­ry, specif­i­cal­ly around what is com­mon­ly called the Spin­oza Cir­cle: Spin­oza him­self, who is undoubt­ed­ly the pro­tag­o­nist of the book; but also Fran­cis­cus Van Enden, a pro­fes­sor of Latin; Joannes and Adri­aen Koerbagh, two young rad­i­cal authors; and Louis Mey­er, a Carte­sian doc­tor, friend of Spin­oza, and author, in 1666, of Philosophia S. Scrip­turae inter­pres, in which he aims to inter­pret the Bible through a philo­soph­i­cal cri­tique. The book ends right before the pub­li­ca­tion of the Ency­clopédie, which is pre­sent­ed as the apoth­e­o­sis of rad­i­cal Spin­ozism. The sec­ond vol­ume, which repris­es near­ly the same chrono­log­i­cal frame­work, takes a the­mat­ic approach to the rad­i­cal cor­pus, engag­ing the posi­tions of authors in the domains of reli­gion, pol­i­tics, social thought, and ulti­mate­ly the rela­tions between civ­i­liza­tions. Israel shows that the Rad­i­cal Enlight­en­ment can be defined by its com­plete oppo­si­tion to any com­pro­mise between phi­los­o­phy and reli­gion, by an intran­si­gent mate­ri­al­ism based on the Spin­ozist the­sis of the uni­ty of sub­stance, by a pure­ly ratio­nal­ist and math­e­mat­i­cal view of the world, by its demo­c­ra­t­ic and repub­li­can con­vic­tions, and final­ly, by its rejec­tion of all forms of inequal­i­ty – social, racial, or gen­der.4

In this volu­mi­nous, pro­lif­ic, and at times repet­i­tive work, one the­sis – pow­er­ful­ly pre­sent­ed – very clear­ly emerges: Spin­ozism had a con­sid­er­able influ­ence through­out Europe from the end of the 17th cen­tu­ry, but main­ly because of cen­sor­ship, it was often expressed in a clan­des­tine man­ner, to such an extent that his­to­ri­ans have con­sis­tent­ly under­es­ti­mat­ed or down­played it, rather show­cas­ing the more mod­er­ate, lib­er­al, empiri­cist, and deist authors, around which the intel­lec­tu­al his­to­ry of the Enlight­en­ment has been writ­ten. From this per­spec­tive, Israel’s aim is clear: to present a new gen­er­al inter­pre­ta­tion of the Enlight­en­ment that empha­sizes its rad­i­cal, mate­ri­al­ist, and demo­c­ra­t­ic cur­rent, and iden­ti­fies in it the true locus of West­ern moder­ni­ty, instead of and in place of the mod­er­ate reformism of Voltaire, Wolff, or Locke. Israel does not hide his pri­or­i­ties in the slight­est: the Rad­i­cal Enlight­en­ment holds all of his sym­pa­thy, and must be stud­ied, reha­bil­i­tat­ed, and defend­ed. This is the her­itage we must reclaim and recov­er.5 The “mod­er­ate” Enlight­en­ment, on the oth­er hand, only inspires his bare­ly con­cealed con­tempt: far from being an eman­ci­pa­to­ry force, it was often allied with con­ser­v­a­tive reac­tion, or in the best case sce­nario, forces of com­pro­mise.6 What­ev­er one’s judg­ment or opin­ion on this the­sis, these two vol­umes’ appeal would be not be doubt­ed, if only for the sum of knowl­edges that it gath­ers togeth­er and makes avail­able. Israel’s con­sid­er­able eru­di­tion, his mas­tery of sev­er­al Euro­pean lan­guages, and his capac­i­ty to reread and cite an impres­sive num­ber of for­got­ten texts all have been com­mend­ed by sev­er­al review­ers; the suc­cess of this book is for good rea­son, as it presents itself in all respects as an ency­clo­pe­dic sum­ma­tion or syn­the­sis. But its seduc­tive pow­er lies else­where; it is both a his­to­ri­o­graph­i­cal and polit­i­cal nar­ra­tive.

In the first instance, Israel’s art is to pro­pose a grand nar­ra­tive, cen­tered around the spread or dis­sem­i­na­tion of Spin­ozism, in a man­ner that 18th cen­tu­ry his­to­ri­og­ra­phy has not pro­duced for a long time. This aspect of the book does only apply or refer its abil­i­ty to order a large num­ber eru­dite or eso­teric mono­graphs with­in a wider tapes­try, but also to the specif­i­cal­ly nar­ra­tive dimen­sion of the book, since the major cur­rents of the Enlight­en­ment that the author iden­ti­fies (Spin­ozist rad­i­cal­ism, but also the mod­er­ate Enlight­en­ment and the Counter-Enlight­en­ment) con­front each oth­er, align with each oth­er, and then clash again through the entire peri­od, in a sort of “tri­an­gu­lar bat­tle of ideas.”7 As we will see, this nar­ra­tive dimen­sion fol­lows from a polit­i­cal read­ing of the intel­lec­tu­al field, whose cost is often a sim­pli­fi­ca­tion of intel­lec­tu­al genealo­gies.

The seduc­tive pow­er of the book is tied to three major dis­place­ments under­tak­en in regards to Enlight­en­ment his­to­ri­og­ra­phy. First, a the­mat­ic dis­place­ment, since rev­o­lu­tion­ary and mate­ri­al­ist rad­i­cal­ism occu­pies the pri­ma­ry lev­el here, at the expense of more clas­sic and more accept­ed [con­sen­suelles], fig­ures in the Enlight­en­ment pan­theon, which would be noth­ing more than a result of a com­pro­mise with author­i­ties, or even a reac­tion against such audac­i­ty. Next, a chrono­log­i­cal dis­place­ment, with Israel locat­ing the begin­nings of the Enlight­en­ment in the 1660s, in advance or ahead of the “cri­sis of the Euro­pean mind” impor­tant for Paul Haz­ard or the pre-Enlight­en­ment (Frühaufk­lärung). While the bold­est com­men­ta­tors usu­al­ly locate the intel­lec­tu­al tip­ping point in Europe around the 1680s, with the works of John Locke and Pierre Bayle, the Revo­ca­tion of the Edict of Nantes, and the Glo­ri­ous Rev­o­lu­tion, Israel sees the essen­tials of the Enlight­en­ment play­ing out ear­li­er, in the 1660s-1670s, when Spinoza’s work was devel­oped, writ­ten, and pub­lished.8 More­over, he argues that at a philo­soph­i­cal lev­el, every­thing had been said by the begin­ning of the 18th cen­tu­ry, with authors like Voltaire, Hume, or Mon­tesquieu only con­tribut­ing “minor addi­tions” to the intel­lec­tu­al devel­op­ments of the pre­vi­ous peri­od. Through mea­sured provo­ca­tion, he affirms that “even before Voltaire came to be wide­ly known, in the 1740s, the real busi­ness was already over.”9 Last­ly, a geo­graph­i­cal dis­place­ment, since the Dutch Enlight­en­ment plays both a pre­lim­i­nary and lead­ing role here, which Enlight­en­ment his­to­ri­og­ra­phy has not adjust­ed to. As a pre­em­i­nent spe­cial­ist of the his­to­ry of the Dutch Gold­en Age, Israel is right in his ele­ment, and draws upon the renewed inter­est in the study of 17th cen­tu­ry Dutch rad­i­cal thought in order to rein­sert Spin­oza with­in this intel­lec­tu­al cul­ture.10 On the oth­er hand, the British world – whether John Locke’s Eng­land or David Hume’s Scot­land – is for the most part exclud­ed from this land­scape, which is also sur­pris­ing.

At any rate, the attrac­tion of this book is also polit­i­cal, in that Israel is not con­tent to mere­ly shed light on the omnipres­ence of Spin­ozism in the 18th cen­tu­ry, but osten­si­bly advo­cates for the lega­cy of the Rad­i­cal Enlight­en­ment. At a time when Spin­oza has become an impor­tant ref­er­ence point in social sci­ences and polit­i­cal phi­los­o­phy, and which has meant a sig­nif­i­cant return to Spin­oza in crit­i­cal the­o­ry, such an illus­tra­tion is obvi­ous­ly invalu­able to those seek­ing to trace an intel­lec­tu­al geneal­o­gy of con­tem­po­rary crit­i­cal thought.11

This could, how­ev­er, cause a cer­tain mis­un­der­stand­ing. The neo-Spin­ozists owe much to Gilles Deleuze’s inter­pre­ta­tion of Spin­oza, which sees in the latter’s thought a phi­los­o­phy of affects, a kinet­ics or ener­get­ics of bod­ies and desires, an ethol­o­gy of human behav­iors on a plane of total imma­nence, as well as Anto­nio Negri, who makes Spin­oza into the prophet of the polit­i­cal pow­er of the mul­ti­tudes, against con­trac­tu­al­ist the­o­ries of the sov­er­eign­ty of the peo­ple. Israel, on the con­trary, sees and presents Spin­ozism above all as a rad­i­cal­iza­tion of Carte­sian ratio­nal­ism, stripped of its dual­ism and extend­ed into the polit­i­cal sphere.12 If the for­mer made the “return to Spin­oza” a crit­i­cal lever for think­ing con­tem­po­rary strug­gles, per­fect­ly com­pat­i­ble with oth­er ref­er­ences cir­cu­lat­ing with­in post­mod­ern phi­los­o­phy, for Israel the Rad­i­cal Enlight­en­ment is the only means for defend­ing the val­ues of sec­u­lar, demo­c­ra­t­ic, West­ern moder­ni­ty against the numer­ous attacks made against it: the return of reli­gion, the cri­tique of the ratio­nal­ist lega­cy, but also the post­mod­ern or post­colo­nial prob­lema­tiz­ing of the Enlight­en­ment, which he explic­it­ly frames his book as coun­ter­ing. Far from see­ing Spin­ozism as an “anti-mod­ern” thought or a “the­o­ret­i­cal anti­hu­man­ism,” he sees it as the source of a human­ist moder­ni­ty.13

The speci­fici­ty of the French recep­tion of Israel’s work has not been lim­it­ed to this mil­i­tant encounter with the neo-Spin­ozists. While the book has been exten­sive­ly com­ment­ed upon by his­to­ri­ans of the Enlight­en­ment in Eng­land, the Nether­lands, Italy, and the Unit­ed States, in France it has been dis­cussed not so much by his­to­ri­ans than by his­to­ri­ans of phi­los­o­phy.14 Here one can doubt­less see the typ­i­cal sus­pi­cion of French his­to­ri­og­ra­phy towards the his­to­ry of ideas. This sit­u­a­tion is unten­able, and the debate regard­ing how intel­lec­tu­al his­to­ry can be relo­cat­ed with­in the his­to­ry of the Enlight­en­ment should be artic­u­lat­ed. Before com­ing to this, we must first see what kind of intel­lec­tu­al his­to­ry Israel under­stands him­self as prac­tic­ing.

Which Intellectual History?

One might expect that an overview of Spin­ozism in Enlight­en­ment-era Europe, sketched by a his­to­ri­an break­ing with the method­ol­o­gy of social and eco­nom­ic his­to­ry and a pre-emi­nent spe­cial­ist on the Jew­ish dias­po­ra and com­mer­cial net­works in mod­ern Europe, would be the occa­sion for a dia­logue between intel­lec­tu­al his­to­ry socio­cul­tur­al approach­es.15 The open­ing chap­ters devot­ed to the social and polit­i­cal con­text attest to this hope, which is quick­ly dis­ap­point­ed when it becomes clear that the author wish­es to sit­u­ate him­self in the frame­work of the his­to­ry of ideas in the man­ner of Paul Haz­ard and Peter Gay, who are, more­over, two mod­els con­sid­ered: the for­mer for the atten­tion giv­en to the turn of the cen­tu­ry and the cri­sis of the Euro­pean mind, the lat­ter for the ambi­tion to offer a glob­al his­to­ry of the Enlight­en­ment.16 The paths of these authors are often detailed, the con­tro­ver­sies, even minor ones, are relat­ed in rich detail, the strate­gies and con­di­tions of pub­li­ca­tion are often evoked. In par­tic­u­lar, the chap­ters con­cern­ing the pro­gres­sive pub­li­ca­tion of Spinoza’s works are well doc­u­ment­ed and sev­er­al com­men­taries on Spin­ozis­tic nov­els offer a pre­cious, though rare open­ing out of the prop­er­ly philo­soph­i­cal cor­pus (RE, 591-8). Nev­er­the­less, the argu­ment is sit­u­at­ed exclu­sive­ly at the lev­el of texts and their inter­pre­ta­tion: what is the thought of this or that author, what did he mean to say, which author influ­enced him the most, what cur­rent was he sit­u­at­ed in? The recep­tion of the works and their appro­pri­a­tions are large­ly ignored, with­out men­tion­ing the social and cul­tur­al prac­tices which have been the object of so many efforts these past few decades. Thus Freema­son­ry itself is swept away with the back of the hand. While cer­tain Mason­ic lodges or lib­er­tine cir­cles played an essen­tial role in the gen­e­sis of the rad­i­cal enlight­en­ment described by Mar­garet Jacob, per­mit­ting the cir­cu­la­tion of Eng­lish ideas in the Nether­lands and serv­ing as the cru­cible where dif­fer­ent her­itages merged, it is here vol­un­tar­i­ly exclud­ed from the land­scape by way of peremp­to­ry for­mu­las: “If our aim is to get to the heart of the Enlight­en­ment as a deci­sive­ly impor­tant world-his­tor­i­cal phe­nom­e­non, arguably the less said about Freema­son­ry the bet­ter” (EC, 865). The ensem­ble is thus pre­sent­ed in a fash­ion that is extreme­ly clas­si­cal, even a lit­tle obso­lete, in which the authors and their works are reviewed one after the oth­er, in order to eval­u­ate their degree of adhe­sion to Spin­ozism. Enlight­en­ment Con­test­ed goes par­tic­u­lar­ly far in this direc­tion. On the one hand, the the­mat­ic con­struc­tion of the book gives it the allure of an immense col­lage of com­men­taries on texts. On the oth­er hand, a vir­u­lent intro­duc­tion explic­it­ly demands the motor role of ideas in social or polit­i­cal trans­for­ma­tions and invites, on its exam­ple, the refound­ing of his­tor­i­cal stud­ies around a new intel­lec­tu­al his­to­ry which looks very much like an old his­to­ry of ideas. To do this, Israel presents a fair­ly per­son­al read­ing of the debates of the last decades, pre­sent­ed as oppos­ing three cur­rents which fol­lowed the old, dis­cred­it­ed his­to­ry of ideas: the Cam­bridge school around the propo­si­tions of Quentin Skin­ner, the his­to­ry of con­cepts ani­mat­ed by Rein­hart Kosel­leck, and the his­to­ry of men­tal­i­ties or “dif­fu­sion­ist” rep­re­sent­ed here by Robert Darn­ton and Roger Charti­er. It is on the lat­ter, pre­sent­ed in a per­fect­ly car­i­ca­tured fash­ion, that he con­cen­trates his attacks, reproach­ing it for a struc­tural­ist and mate­ri­al­ist approach, neglect­ing the role of ideas in favor of social and cul­tur­al trans­for­ma­tions so vague as to be indemon­stra­ble (EC, 15-26).17 In reac­tion, Israel pro­pos­es to prac­tice a new intel­lec­tu­al his­to­ry which will put back at the heart of his­tor­i­cal expla­na­tion the coher­ence of philo­soph­i­cal sys­tems and the role of ideas. The his­to­ri­o­graph­i­cal stakes are very clear­ly attached: it is a mat­ter of return­ing to an expla­na­tion of the French Rev­o­lu­tion by its intel­lec­tu­al ori­gins, that is to say, by the ide­o­log­i­cal shock that was rep­re­sent­ed by Spin­ozist rad­i­cal­ism and its avatars. “Social­ly and insti­tu­tion­al­ly, ancien régime soci­ety did not change very dra­mat­i­cal­ly between 1650 and 1789. What did change spec­tac­u­lar­ly and fun­da­men­tal­ly was pre­cise­ly the intel­lec­tu­al con­text; and so this is what chiefly needs explain­ing” (EC, 5).

Obvi­ous­ly, faced with this para­dox of an ide­al­ist his­to­ry of mate­ri­al­ism, one could over­turn the asser­tion. But my objec­tive here is not to rehearse the old debates oppos­ing social his­to­ry and intel­lec­tu­al his­to­ry. What appears more strik­ing, at the method­olog­i­cal lev­el, is that Israel stops here, at this affir­ma­tion of an intel­lec­tu­al change whose his­to­ry is to be retraced in the form of the thwart­ed yet inex­orable pro­gres­sion of a coher­ent and com­bat­ive rad­i­cal­ism, struc­tured by Spin­ozism. He seems unaware of a whole oth­er cur­rent of intel­lec­tu­al his­to­ry, which insist­ed on the lim­its of the inter­pre­tive ges­ture, on the sub­terfuges of coher­ence, on the pro­found­ly unsta­ble dimen­sion of tex­tu­al sig­ni­fi­ca­tions. This approach, nour­ished by the work of Michel Fou­cault or by the warn­ings of Jacques Der­ri­da, then defend­ed by authors like Dominick LaCapra, could have cau­tioned Israel against the use of homo­ge­neous and coher­ent cat­e­gories like “Spin­ozism,” “Rad­i­cal Enlight­en­ment,” or “moder­ni­ty,” where it is impor­tant to be sen­si­tive to the slid­ing of sig­ni­fi­ca­tions, the ambi­gu­i­ty of texts, the per­for­ma­tiv­i­ty of philo­soph­i­cal utter­ances, and the inter­pre­tive oper­a­tions which are those of his­to­ri­ans.18 Even stay­ing with­in the frame­work of a more clas­si­cal intel­lec­tu­al his­to­ry of the Enlight­en­ment, we might remem­ber Fran­co Venturi’s warn­ing against the ide­al­ist impasse of a his­to­ry of ideas attached to the recon­sti­tu­tion of the coher­ence of philo­soph­i­cal sys­tems, in com­plete con­tra­dic­tion with the pre­cise­ly non-sys­tem­at­ic dimen­sion of Enlight­en­ment thought.19

This dou­ble refusal – one, explic­it­ly, of the part played by the social his­to­ry of cul­ture, and the oth­er, implic­it­ly, of an intel­lec­tu­al his­to­ry which would not be only a his­to­ry of ideas – weak­ens the demon­stra­tion. Israel, in effect, con­tin­u­ous­ly inter­laces two motifs. The first cor­re­sponds to a his­tor­i­cal argu­ment, accord­ing to which the rad­i­cal, Spin­ozist cur­rent of the Enlight­en­ment was the most influ­en­tial in the 18th cen­tu­ry.20 But the defense of this argu­ment implies being much more atten­tive to the cir­cu­la­tion and appro­pri­a­tion of the works it evokes, not to men­tion the appear­ance of Spin­ozist motifs in ordi­nary irre­li­gious dis­cours­es. Now, at times Israel stud­ies works which were nev­er pub­lished under the Ancien Régime to any great extent, and which some­times were not even cir­cu­lat­ed as man­u­scripts.21 Exhum­ing some texts, includ­ing a rad­i­cal cri­tique of reli­gion, cer­tain­ly demon­strates that from the end of the 17th cen­tu­ry a cur­rent of thought exist­ed which was rad­i­cal­ly hos­tile to revealed reli­gion, but who seri­ous­ly doubts this? On the oth­er hand, if these texts remained unknown until the eru­dite research of the the past few years, can we seri­ous­ly accept that they were more impor­tant than the works of Leib­niz, Voltaire, Locke, Hume, or Mon­tesquieu, and that they pow­er­ful­ly con­tributed to prepar­ing the French Rev­o­lu­tion?

The sec­ond, more philo­soph­i­cal the­sis avoids this reproach by pos­tu­lat­ing that the impor­tance of the rad­i­cal cur­rent of the Enlight­en­ment is tied to its fore­shad­ow­ing of the devel­op­ment of moder­ni­ty. It is a mat­ter here of a tele­o­log­i­cal per­spec­tive, which can sat­is­fy itself with a reading/interpretation of these texts, and the actu­al­iza­tion of their stakes, but which runs into two dif­fi­cul­ties: the argu­ment of coher­ence, which makes rad­i­cal­ism into an indis­so­cia­ble “pack­age of basic val­ues,” and leaves lit­tle room for the diver­si­ty of the appro­pri­a­tions of Spin­ozism; and a restric­tive def­i­n­i­tion of moder­ni­ty as the com­plete eman­ci­pa­tion from reli­gion, the ratio­nal­ist approach to the world and to soci­ety, and egal­i­tar­i­an­ism.22

It is clear­ly the artic­u­la­tion of these two the­ses, some­times dis­tin­guished but often con­flat­ed, which makes the book inter­est­ing and which is also the source of all its fragili­ty. It is there­fore nec­es­sary, to wade now into the heart of the dis­cus­sion, to inter­ro­gate the essen­tial points of this archi­tec­ture: the place of Spin­ozism at the cen­ter of the Enlight­en­ment and the def­i­n­i­tion of what is a rad­i­cal philo­soph­i­cal state­ment.

Spinoza and Radical Enlightenment

Israel’s argu­ment is less nov­el than he claims. It is a bit auda­cious to claim that the influ­ence of Spin­oza has been entire­ly under­es­ti­mat­ed. In real­i­ty, numer­ous works have been devot­ed to the devel­op­ment of Spin­ozism in the Nether­lands, as well as its reper­cus­sions in Europe, start­ing with Paul Vernière’s impor­tant book on the recep­tion of Spin­oza in France before the Rev­o­lu­tion.23 It is true that Vernière, in con­trast with Israel, inter­pret­ed this recep­tion on the mod­el of a pro­duc­tive mis­un­der­stand­ing, con­sid­er­ing that the impor­tant pres­ence of ref­er­ences to Spin­oza are drawn from par­tial and fal­si­fied read­ings. But it remains the case that Vernière’s work was fun­da­men­tal in pre­cise­ly and patient­ly track­ing the place Spin­oza occu­pied in the intel­lec­tu­al debates of the Enlight­en­ment and in iden­ti­fy­ing the prin­ci­pal inter­me­di­aries which assured it suc­cess. As for the idea of an intel­lec­tu­al rev­o­lu­tion pro­duced by Spin­oza in the domain of reli­gious dis­be­lief, it is not new and was defend­ed notably by Sil­via Berti, who argues that the author of the Ethics intro­duced a caesura in the his­to­ry of irre­li­gion by pro­vid­ing it the intel­lec­tu­al instru­ments of a rig­or­ous athe­ism, dis­tinct from the diverse forms of skep­ti­cism.24 The term Rad­i­cal Enlight­en­ment is itself bor­rowed from Mar­garet Jacob, who had already argued for the redis­cov­ery of these cur­rents of thought, and focused above all, for her part, on the Anglo-Dutch con­junc­ture of the years 1690–1720, the con­se­quences of the Sci­en­tif­ic Rev­o­lu­tion and Eng­lish neo-repub­li­can­ism, the pan­the­ism of John Toland, and the Mason­ic lodges of The Hague. More gen­er­al­ly, the abun­dant bib­li­og­ra­phy which Israel leans on tes­ti­fies fair­ly elo­quent­ly to the efforts which pre­ced­ed him. He nev­er­the­less deserves the mer­it of hav­ing pro­vid­ed a strong argu­ment: that of an intel­lec­tu­al hege­mo­ny of Spin­ozism at the core of the Rad­i­cal Enlight­en­ment. Both the meth­ods and con­clu­sions of this argu­ment war­rant dis­cus­sion.

Tak­ing the authors and their texts one after the oth­er, Israel shows what they owe to Spin­oza, at the price of read­ings which sys­tem­at­i­cal­ly hold the texts in the mean­ing of the most Spin­ozist read­ing. Israel often tracks the Spin­ozist ref­er­ence with as much zeal as the cen­sors of the epoch, not hes­i­tat­ing to “read between the lines,” accord­ing to the method of Leo Strauss, to con­vince us of the Spin­ozism of the authors who claim to refute Spin­oza or who have nev­er even read him. Thus, the bor­der [périmètre] of the Rad­i­cal Enlight­en­ment is sin­gu­lar­ly enlarged, to the point of includ­ing with­in it authors whose rad­i­cal­i­ty is ques­tion­able. The notion of “read­ing between the lines,” pro­posed by Strauss to decode the thought of authors work­ing under per­se­cu­tion, cer­tain­ly allows us to be atten­tive to his­tor­i­cal con­di­tions and to rhetor­i­cal tech­niques of the pro­duc­tion of philo­soph­i­cal texts. But it also entails being manip­u­lat­ed with many pre­cau­tions, at the risk of veer­ing too eas­i­ly into the over­in­ter­pre­ta­tion or overeval­u­a­tion of het­ero­dox thought.25 Israel’s approach often con­sists in evac­u­at­ing the inter­pre­tive debates and choos­ing between cer­tain read­ings, thus emp­ty­ing the works of their ambi­gu­i­ties. Take the case of Bayle, whom Israel presents as the sec­ond major fig­ure of the Rad­i­cal Enlight­en­ment, after Spin­oza and before Diderot. Cer­tain­ly, the inter­pre­ta­tion pre­vi­ous­ly offered by Élis­a­beth Labrousse of a fideist and mod­er­ate Bayle has been put into ques­tion by more rad­i­cal read­ings of his thought, but it is a lit­tle hasty to make him a con­vinced dis­ci­ple of Spin­oza when he rep­re­sent­ed for a part of the cen­tu­ry the most authen­tic crit­ic of Spin­ozist mate­ri­al­ism. Even Gian­lu­ca Mori, who argues for Spinoza’s strong influ­ence on Bayle, admits that “the monism of the Ethics remains for Bayle com­plete­ly absurd and unac­cept­able,”26 where­as for Israel, it is a mat­ter of the cor­ner­stone of Spin­ozist rad­i­cal­ism. If cer­tain texts speak to the rap­proche­ment between Bayle’s thought and that of the philoso­pher of Ams­ter­dam, the essen­tial ele­ment resides in the fact that Bayle’s work, a ver­i­ta­ble philo­soph­i­cal polypho­ny, remains large­ly unde­cid­able and con­tin­ues to sus­tain debates and dis­cus­sions among the top spe­cial­ists. Reduc­ing this ambi­gu­i­ty, inte­gral to Bayle’s man­ner of writ­ing itself and his absolute­ly non-sys­tem­at­ic prac­tice of phi­los­o­phy, to make him the sec­ond major fig­ure of philo­soph­i­cal rad­i­cal­ism does not allow us to under­stand why Bayle was so cel­e­brat­ed by the major­i­ty of “mod­er­ate” authors, Voltaire first of all. To take an even more strik­ing exam­ple, Israel presents Vico as a rep­re­sen­ta­tive of the Spin­ozist Enlight­en­ment in Italy. For this point he relies on a very minor cur­rent of Vico stud­ies, which high­lights the fact that VIco pro­pos­es a sec­u­lar­ized read­ing of the his­to­ry of human­i­ty. But Israel superbly neglects the fact that Vico was, accord­ing to most of the cri­te­ria which define rad­i­cal thought for Israel – philo­soph­i­cal monism, repub­li­can­ism, the cri­tique of abso­lutism – in total oppo­si­tion to Spin­oza. As for Vico’s empha­sis on the impor­tance of prov­i­dence, we have to take this, Israel tells us, as a sim­ply ora­to­ry pre­cau­tion. One might doubt all the same that it is more rel­e­vant to make Vico a Spin­ozist than an anti-mod­ern. The pow­er of Vico’s work and his his­tor­i­cal inter­est undoubt­ed­ly lie pre­cise­ly in his escape from these kinds of cat­e­gories and his demon­stra­tion of their lim­its.27

The trac­ing of Spin­ozism is even more strik­ing when Israel talks about what one might call the heart of the Rad­i­cal Enlight­en­ment: the het­ero­dox philo­soph­i­cal lit­er­a­ture cir­cu­lat­ing in the form of clan­des­tine man­u­scripts, at the end of the 17th and begin­ning of the 18th cen­turies. The inter­est in these authors and these texts is long-stand­ing, and goes back, in France, at least to Gus­tave Lan­son, then to Ira Wade.28 But these efforts have pro­lif­er­at­ed in France, Italy, Ger­many, and even Spain, espe­cial­ly since the 1980s, to the point of con­sti­tut­ing a dynam­ic sec­tor of research, gen­er­at­ing crit­i­cal edi­tions, col­lo­quia, col­lec­tive writ­ings, and even prompt­ing a jour­nal. An impres­sive num­ber of authors were exhumed, their man­u­scripts found, their sources exam­ined.29 It is hence­forth well estab­lished that the years 1660–1750 were the gold­en age of the clan­des­tine philo­soph­i­cal man­u­script, becom­ing a ver­i­ta­ble weapon of philo­soph­i­cal com­mu­ni­ca­tion. Israel makes good use [faire son miel] of all these eru­dite works, propos­ing a com­pre­hen­sive vision of very spe­cial­ized stud­ies [recherch­es], some­times get­ting a bit bogged down in the dis­putes of attri­bu­tion and patient iden­ti­fi­ca­tion of sources. To do this, he has a key of read­ing that opens all doors: Spin­oza. It allows him to remove these works from the cir­cle of spe­cial­ists to cast [fon­dre] them into a sto­ry where the influ­ence of the Spin­ozan rev­o­lu­tion can be felt on every page. But where the major­i­ty of the research has high­light­ed the com­plex­i­ty of this lit­er­a­ture, nour­ished by mul­ti­ple ref­er­ences and some­times only with dif­fi­cul­ty com­pat­i­ble with a strict­ly philo­soph­i­cal lev­el, Israel wants only to see the beau­ti­ful order of Spin­ozism in motion: “the cen­tral thrust, the main bloc of rad­i­cal ideas, stems pre­dom­i­nant­ly from the Dutch rad­i­cal milieu, the world of Spin­oza and Spin­ozism” (RE, 694).

The stakes are cru­cial: the philo­soph­i­cal plu­ral­ism of Rad­i­cal Enlight­en­ment. One of the great lessons of the works pro­duced over the past few decades is first of all the the­o­ret­i­cal eclec­ti­cism of this clan­des­tine phi­los­o­phy. The het­ero­dox thought of the pre-Enlight­en­ment, far from being reducible to a deriva­tion of Spin­ozism, is nour­ished by a con­sid­er­able diver­si­ty of sources, a simul­ta­ne­ous encounter and com­bi­na­tion of Hobbes, the skep­ti­cal tra­di­tion (some­times rad­i­cal­ized in the direc­tion of dis­be­lief),30 dif­fer­ent cur­rents of Protes­tantism (such as Socini­an­ism), but also the work of lib­ertines like Giulio Cesare Vani­ni, François La Mothe Le Vay­er, Gabriel Naudé, whose impor­tance and impact have been sig­nif­i­cant­ly reeval­u­at­ed, and final­ly Spin­oza. Thus, if Toland, the great fig­ure of Eng­lish deism, owes every­thing to his read­ing of Spin­oza in Israel’s view, oth­er his­to­ri­ans of phi­los­o­phy con­sid­er, on the con­trary, that his mate­ri­al­ism, which will pro­found­ly irri­gate the 18th cen­tu­ry, owes as much to the refu­ta­tion of Spin­oza, through con­tact with Leib­niz or the new sci­ences of nature, as to Spin­oza him­self.31 In the same way, the mate­ri­al­ist con­cep­tions of man, refus­ing the idea of an immor­tal soul, derive often in Eng­land from the­o­log­i­cal debates with­in Protes­tantism itself, and with­out any link to Spin­ozism, but often depen­dent on inno­va­tions in med­ical thought.32 In Ger­many, the influ­ence of Spinoza’s work on the authors of the Frühaufk­lärung is unde­ni­able, but it is no doubt less vibrant than that of the cur­rents emerg­ing from the Ref­or­ma­tion, par­tic­u­lar­ly the anti-trini­tar­i­an cur­rents.33 Even in Hol­land, the rad­i­cal authors of the end of the 17th cen­tu­ry are far from pre­sent­ing a homo­ge­neous pro­file. Israel shows well, in an inter­est­ing and orig­i­nal chap­ter, the intense cir­cu­la­tion of themes and pro­nounce­ments issued from the work of Spin­oza in works like the Philopa­ter, a bil­dungsro­man pub­lished in 1691 and 1697, or in cer­tain polem­i­cal texts (RE, 295-327). But why sys­tem­at­i­cal­ly qual­i­fy their authors as “Spin­ozists,” which assumes either the coher­ence of an intel­lec­tu­al fil­i­a­tion, or the claim of belong­ing to a school, when this is real­ly a mat­ter of hybrid texts, whose val­ue and inter­est are pre­cise­ly their intel­lec­tu­al hybrid­i­ty, often forged in the urgency of polemic? Con­sid­er­a­tion of the ways in which these clan­des­tine man­u­scripts put into play orig­i­nal thoughts, which do not nec­es­sar­i­ly return to the major cat­e­gories of the his­to­ry of phi­los­o­phy and work often at the heart of reli­gious tra­di­tions them­selves, would allow us to do jus­tice to the inven­tive­ness of het­ero­dox thought. 

The most strik­ing case is doubt­less the famous Trea­tise of the Three Imposters, also known as The Spir­it of Spin­oza, which was the most wide­ly dis­sem­i­nat­ed clan­des­tine man­u­script in Europe in the first half of the 18th cen­tu­ry. Its his­to­ry is par­tic­u­lar­ly com­plex and remains full of mys­ter­ies despite the recent work which has estab­lished the major points.34 A first ver­sion of the text was def­i­nite­ly writ­ten at the end of the 1670s, in all like­li­hood by Jean-Max­im­i­lien Lucas, author of an impor­tant Life of Spin­oza; it already com­bined, around Spin­ozist cita­tions, a diver­si­ty of lib­er­tine and Hobbe­sian ref­er­ences. The text was then revised at the begin­ning of the 1710s by sev­er­al authors, Charles Levi­er, Jean Aymon and Jean Rous­set de Mis­sy, from the Huguenot com­mu­ni­ty of The Hague and mem­bers of a lib­er­tine asso­ci­a­tion, the Knights of Jubi­la­tion, linked to the milieus of book­sellers and in which it is pos­si­ble to see a pro­to-Mason­ry.35 When received to great suc­cess, it was again mod­i­fied for an edi­tion pub­lished in 1719, but whose dif­fu­sion remained mar­gin­al. What is essen­tial is that this man­u­script played an impor­tant role in the spread of Spin­ozist themes, and even more so in the iden­ti­fi­ca­tion of Spin­oza with a rad­i­cal cri­tique of reli­gion, but that it is in real­i­ty a text woven togeth­er of motifs com­ing from dif­fer­ent het­ero­dox tra­di­tions. Along­side the devel­op­ments inspired by the Ethics and the The­o­log­i­cal-Polit­i­cal Trea­tise, we find here numer­ous Hobbe­sian themes, notably the expla­na­tion of reli­gions by fear, or lib­er­tine themes, like the argu­ment about the polit­i­cal decep­tion of reli­gions. The Trea­tise of the Three Imposters is there­fore in no sense a coher­ent syn­the­sis of Spinoza’s thought, but real­ly a col­lage of argu­ments and cita­tions from dif­fer­ent philo­soph­i­cal tra­di­tions, and where the extracts of Spin­oza rub shoul­ders with those of Char­ron, Vani­ni, Naudé, La Mothe Le Vay­er and Hobbes.36 Now, while rec­og­niz­ing this diver­si­ty of sources and the fact that, after the open­ing chap­ters, the text “no longer draws direct­ly on Spin­oza,” Israel con­cludes that the man­u­script is of an essen­tial­ly Spin­ozist ori­en­ta­tion and sees in it an illus­tra­tion of this “fun­da­men­tal his­tor­i­cal real­i­ty” which is, in his eyes, the Spin­ozist matrix of the Rad­i­cal Enlight­en­ment (RE 697, 694). But such a reduc­tive inter­pre­ta­tion of the Trea­tise, con­test­ed by numer­ous spe­cial­ists, is not based on any pre­cise analy­sis of the text and, giv­en the impor­tance of the stakes, one can only be sur­prised by the casu­al­ness with which the author pro­claims its Spin­ozist coher­ence.

The analy­sis of the milieu in which the text was pro­duced does not make the case for such a read­ing, either. The authors, hav­ing par­tic­i­pat­ed in the elab­o­ra­tion of a defin­i­tive ver­sion, are not dis­ci­ples of Spin­oza, but poly­graphs who each belong to var­i­ous tra­di­tions of free-thought. Aymon remains poor­ly known: he was adven­tur­er in the lit­er­ary milieus with a dubi­ous rep­u­ta­tion, liv­ing between bohemi­an­ism and espi­onage, dis­cred­it­ed by the theft of old man­u­scripts from the Roy­al Library. Rous­set de Mis­sy was a jour­nal­ist close to Pros­per Marc­hand. He trans­lat­ed Collins and Locke, and his role tes­ti­fies there­fore rather to a read­ing that focus­es on the influ­ences of Eng­lish deism and the impact of Dutch pro­to-Mason­ry.37

In real­i­ty, it is this whole approach to clan­des­tine philo­soph­i­cal man­u­scripts which is marked by a cir­cu­lar rea­son­ing: because he has iden­ti­fied the Rad­i­cal Enlight­en­ment with the influ­ence of Spin­oza, Israel only seri­ous­ly con­sid­ers the texts which belong to this cat­e­go­ry and con­sid­ers oth­ers to be mar­gin­al. Thus, when he insists on the fact that the Trea­tise of the Three Imposters was, by far, the most wide­ly dis­sem­i­nat­ed of the clan­des­tine man­u­scripts, he remarks that anoth­er man­u­script was at the same lev­el and had the same geo­graph­ic area of dif­fu­sion: Bodin’s Col­lo­qui­um Hep­ta­plom­eres, but he dis­miss­es this from the study under the pre­text that, writ­ten a cen­tu­ry ear­li­er, it bore the marks of belief in “super­nat­ur­al forces such as demons and witch­es,” which the “esprit forts of 1700s must have regard­ed as thor­ough­ly anti­quat­ed and absurd indi­ca­tions” (RE, 695). But in this case, how to explain its suc­cess? Log­i­cal­ly, it would be nec­es­sary to con­clude either that doc­tri­nal coher­ence was not so strong in the rad­i­cal milieus, or that the dif­fu­sion of man­u­scripts is not a good indi­ca­tor of their impor­tance and their intel­lec­tu­al influ­ence.38 It is then a social and cul­tur­al his­to­ry of the col­lec­tions of man­u­scripts which is eager­ly await­ed, but Israel bare­ly makes a dent (RE, 59-66).

Now, among those who prob­a­bly played an impor­tant role in the first dif­fu­sion of the Trea­tise, we find Peter Friedrich Arpe in The Hague, a Ger­man free­thinker formed in the bib­lio­phile milieus of Copen­hagen, and linked, it seems, to Baron Hohen­dorf, a sig­nif­i­cant col­lec­tor of clan­des­tine man­u­scripts in his own right and on behalf of Prince Eugène, whom he rep­re­sent­ed diplo­mat­i­cal­ly in The Hague. Now Arpe, there already, was in no sense a Spin­ozist author: his thought was above all marked by the nat­u­ral­ism of the Renais­sance, notably that of Bruno, and by the lib­er­tine tra­di­tion. His best-known work, pub­lished in the same years of 1712-1713, was the Apol­o­gy for Vani­ni.39

It is reduc­tive to only see in the dif­fu­sion of these texts an urgent intel­lec­tu­al engage­ment in the ser­vice of philo­soph­i­cal rad­i­cal­ism. Many mys­ter­ies still sur­round the com­po­si­tion of these texts and the exact moti­va­tions of their authors. One could men­tion in this con­nec­tion the case of De impos­toribus reli­gion­um, one of the athe­ist trea­tis­es cir­cu­lat­ed most wide­ly in Ger­many, where it was con­flat­ed with the Trea­tise of the Three Imposters, but which was in real­i­ty com­plete­ly dif­fer­ent. The text was writ­ten in Ham­burg by Johann Joachim Müller at first as a prank aimed at his friend Johann Friedrich May­er, an ortho­dox pas­tor obsessed with the strug­gle against athe­ism. The book end­ed up being tak­en very seri­ous­ly by some of its read­ers, the light-heart­ed and exper­i­men­tal athe­ism of Müller sub­se­quent­ly becom­ing a vec­tor of the dif­fu­sion of free-thought.40 More gen­er­al­ly, we must not over­es­ti­mate the doc­tri­nal coher­ence and ide­o­log­i­cal engage­ment of the Rad­i­cal Enlight­en­ment, where the texts left for us must some­times be inter­pret­ed at many lev­els, leav­ing room for play, irony, provo­ca­tion, and the taste for scan­dal.41

We can thus doubt that the Rad­i­cal Enlight­en­ment was as Spin­ozist as Israel claims, and that the work of the philoso­pher of Ams­ter­dam was the only, or at least prin­ci­pal, source of the most vir­u­lent reli­gious, social, and polit­i­cal con­tes­ta­tion. But the cat­e­go­ry itself of Spin­ozism appears prob­lem­at­ic. Of course, this is the kind of notion that the his­to­ry of phi­los­o­phy is accus­tomed to using. But can we real­ly make it a his­to­ri­o­graph­i­cal cat­e­go­ry, and at what price? Indeed, for many authors of the 18th cen­tu­ry, the term gath­ers togeth­er an ensem­ble of notions from diverse het­ero­dox tra­di­tions. If the Trea­tise of the Three Imposters, this Harlequin’s coat of free-thought, could cir­cu­late under the title The Spir­it of Spin­oza, we can­not escape the ques­tion which haunts the two vol­umes, but is nev­er for­mu­lat­ed: of what is Spin­oza the name?

What is Spinozism?

To demon­strate the impor­tance of Spin­ozism as the matrix of the Rad­i­cal Enlight­en­ment, Israel begins by defin­ing the Spinoza’s doc­trine, start­ing with an analy­sis of his work and that of his dis­ci­ples, to then show every­thing in the works of dif­fer­ent authors in the 18th cen­tu­ry which cor­re­sponds to it. For all his con­cern to reduce Spin­ozist thought to a sys­tem of con­nect­ed notions, con­sti­tut­ing a rad­i­cal rup­ture in the serene sky of phi­los­o­phy and thus an intel­lec­tu­al pro­gram for all rad­i­cals, Israel does not seem to real­ize that the oper­a­tion itself of claim­ing what Spinoza’s doc­trine con­sists of is not at all a neu­tral his­to­ri­o­graph­ic oper­a­tion, which can remain an objec­tive descrip­tion, but real­ly an inter­pre­ta­tive deci­sion, like the one that was cease­less­ly made by his dis­ci­ples or his adver­saries since the 17th cen­tu­ry.

The dif­fi­cul­ty is aggra­vat­ed by the fact that what Israel describes as “Spin­ozism,” or even the rad­i­cal “pack­age,” cor­re­sponds rather to rad­i­cal Dutch phi­los­o­phy as a whole in the 17th cen­tu­ry, and cer­tain of its traits are above all observed in oth­er authors. Thus, the cri­tique of Sacred His­to­ry, cer­tain­ly present in Spin­oza, is even more the work of Mey­er. The ped­a­gog­i­cal and demo­c­ra­t­ic con­cern is much more that of the Koerbagh broth­ers, who paid for it with their lives. Rev­o­lu­tion­ary and repub­li­can activism was bare­ly a strength of Spin­oza, who was rather sus­pi­cious towards rev­o­lu­tion­ary move­ments. It was Van den Enden who sup­ports here the argu­ment for show­ing that philo­soph­i­cal rad­i­cal­ism is nec­es­sar­i­ly also polit­i­cal.42 It was also the writ­ings of Van den Enden hos­tile to the Dutch colo­nial enter­prise in the north of Brazil which become, with­out being real­ly con­tex­tu­al­ized, “the stand­point of the rad­i­cal Enlight­en­ment” on the ques­tion of slav­ery and Euro­pean supe­ri­or­i­ty, in the name of the “typ­i­cal­ly Spin­ozis­tic ground­ing of his the­o­ry of equal­i­ty” (EC, 608). At which point we can ask our­selves, with Pierre-François More­au, if we are not deal­ing with a “Spin­ozism with­out Spin­oza.”43

It would be legit­i­mate, and with­out doubt stim­u­lat­ing, to con­struct the cat­e­go­ry of Spin­ozism beyond Spinoza’s own work, as a sort of col­lec­tive pro­duc­tion, which would owe as much to dis­ci­ples, friends, and the first edi­tors of the work, as to the mas­ter him­self.44 Again this would have to be done explic­it­ly by pre­cise­ly study­ing the dynam­ics of this intel­lec­tu­al, dis­cur­sive, and edi­to­r­i­al pro­duc­tion, in the imme­di­ate cir­cles of recog­ni­tion where the first inter­pre­ta­tion of the “phi­los­o­phy of Spin­oza” was elab­o­rat­ed and fixed. Now this is pre­cise­ly what Israel does not do, since he con­tents him­self with devot­ing a mono­graph­ic chap­ter to some promi­nent fig­ures of this cir­cle, those whose per­son­al works influ­enced the intel­lec­tu­al his­to­ry of the Nether­lands. On the oth­er hand, this loose def­i­n­i­tion of Spin­ozism has the ulti­mate con­se­quence of eras­ing the philo­soph­i­cal speci­fici­ty of Spinoza’s work, reduc­ing it to the refusal of Carte­sian dual­ism, the dis­en­chant­ment of the world, and a diver­si­ty of egal­i­tar­i­an aspi­ra­tions.

Why, then, make at this point Spin­oza the deus ex machi­na of the Rad­i­cal Enlight­en­ment, when oth­er authors have empha­sized the diver­si­ty of rad­i­cal Dutch thought in the 17th cen­tu­ry?45 Doubt­less because this canon­i­cal fig­ure in the his­to­ry of phi­los­o­phy offers Israel a nar­ra­tive bar­gain in the form of “final­ly Spin­oza arrived” which makes up for the pro­fu­sion of less­er-known authors. But, more pro­found­ly, because the pres­ence itself of the name Spin­oza through­out the 18th cen­tu­ry, as the fig­ure of athe­ism, allows him to sub­stan­ti­ate the impor­tance of the the­o­ret­i­cal rev­o­lu­tion pro­duced in Hol­land. The name of the philoso­pher of Ams­ter­dam allows the iden­ti­fi­ca­tion of philo­soph­i­cal rad­i­cal­i­ty of the 18th cen­tu­ry and that of the Nether­lands in the 1660s. 

The dif­fi­cul­ty here is that the demon­stra­tion rests implic­it­ly on the per­ma­nence of Spin­ozism, of which the name of Spin­oza would be the proof, while his thought has been the sub­ject of a great num­ber of diver­gent inter­pre­ta­tions, and this since the 18th cen­tu­ry. Between the dog­mat­ic athe­ism of the clan­des­tine authors of the begin­ning of the cen­tu­ry, the the­o­rist of fatal­ism dear to Diderot, and the pan­the­is­tic, even mys­ti­cal Spin­oza who was redis­cov­ered in Ger­many at the end of the cen­tu­ry, and who nour­ished Euro­pean Roman­ti­cism,46 the ref­er­ence to Spin­oza can include very dif­fer­ent philo­soph­i­cal real­i­ties. As Pierre Macherey writes, “from the moment that the col­lec­tion of his texts became pub­lic, the year which fol­lowed the death of its ‘author,’ the phi­los­o­phy of Spin­oza has not ceased to be, until the present, an object of fas­ci­na­tion and rumi­na­tion, in this sense that each cen­tu­ry of mod­ern Euro­pean cul­ture in some way rein­vent­ed him, to mod­el him after the image that they have elab­o­rat­ed of him… Thus it is as if, with­out inter­rup­tion for three cen­turies, Spin­oza has accom­pa­nied, at each of its turns, the his­to­ry of thought and also that of soci­ety, incar­nat­ed in the most con­trast­ing and yet most exem­plary fig­ures.”47 But then what are we talk­ing about when we evoke the Spin­ozism of the 18th cen­tu­ry: the per­sis­tent influ­ence of the texts of Spin­oza, the ensem­ble of ideas attached to the name of Spin­oza by those who align them­selves with him, includ­ing when they com­mit what spe­cial­ists call mis­in­ter­pre­ta­tions, or con­no­ta­tions attached to to his name and their effec­tive­ness in intel­lec­tu­al com­bat? Because he rarely attempts to dis­tin­guish these dif­fer­ent lev­els, Israel weak­ens his demon­stra­tion, notably when he cites – very fre­quent­ly – the fol­low­ers of the reli­gious ortho­doxy to demon­strate the influ­ence of Spin­oza. Must the fact that a Ger­man the­olo­gian denounces Spin­oza as the “chief athe­ist of our age” (RE, 161) be tak­en as a proof of the effec­tive influ­ence of his work? If the “doc­trine of Spin­oza” is the gen­er­al name of athe­ism, in Chris­t­ian con­tro­ver­sies, of even for fol­low­ers of the Enlight­en­ment called “mod­er­ate,” it is dif­fi­cult to take their lamen­ta­tions of the tena­cious influ­ence of the Spin­ozist sect as a con­vinc­ing indi­ca­tion of his the­o­ret­i­cal hege­mo­ny among het­ero­dox thinkers. This is how­ev­er one of the rhetor­i­cal pro­ce­dures pre­ferred by the author.48

If Israel will­ing­ly cites in sup­port of his the­sis the adver­saries of the Rad­i­cal Enlight­en­ment, it is because he adopts, he says, a “con­tro­ver­sial­ist” approach to his­to­ry. Such a dec­la­ra­tion of inten­tion is attrac­tive, so deeply has the analy­sis of intel­lec­tu­al con­tro­ver­sies imposed itself for the past fif­teen years as one of the meth­ods most sen­si­tive to renew the prac­tices of intel­lec­tu­al his­to­ry, espe­cial­ly due to the pio­neer­ing efforts of the his­to­ry and anthro­pol­o­gy of sci­ence. Numer­ous works have shown that a pre­cise and con­tex­tu­al­ized analy­sis of con­tro­ver­sies, atten­tive to lit­er­ary and rhetor­i­cal strate­gies, to sociopo­lit­i­cal con­di­tions, to the are­nas in which philo­soph­i­cal dis­putes devel­op, allows us to ful­ly renew the meth­ods of intel­lec­tu­al his­to­ry in join­ing the inter­nal­ist approach – the prop­er­ly the­o­ret­i­cal or sci­en­tif­ic stakes – to the exter­nal­ist approach – the con­di­tions of devel­op­ment or res­o­lu­tion of the con­tro­ver­sy.49 But the way that Israel pro­ceeds is very dif­fer­ent from these premis­es. The con­tro­ver­sies that he stud­ies pro­duce noth­ing at the intel­lec­tu­al lev­el, they only bring to light, and thus reveal, already con­sti­tut­ed posi­tions. They involve oppos­ing def­i­nite cur­rents, that are defined once and for all and remain almost unchanged for the whole peri­od. There are rad­i­cals – Spin­ozists – and mod­er­ates (whose influ­ences are more var­ied because they can be New­to­ni­ans, Leib­nit­zo-Wolf­fi­ans, Lock­eans, or Carte­sians) who oppose, align with, or destroy each oth­er, and whose respec­tive influ­ence can be mea­sured. But the con­tro­ver­sies them­selves seem pow­er­less to recon­fig­ure intel­lec­tu­al cur­rents; they only mod­i­fy the rela­tions of force between two camps, hence the mul­ti­pli­ca­tion of polit­i­cal, even mil­i­tary, metaphors, oppos­ing homo­ge­neous blocs which are hos­tile and “irrec­on­cil­able.”50

There would be how­ev­er anoth­er pos­si­ble approach which would con­sist not in sort­ing out the ele­ments of Spinoza’s thought in the con­tro­ver­sies, but study­ing the way that these con­tro­ver­sies pro­duce, invent, and recon­fig­ure Spin­ozism, and for what pur­pose.51 It is indeed very strik­ing to note that the dis­sem­i­na­tion of Spin­ozist propo­si­tions were large­ly car­ried out through refu­ta­tions, which, some­times sin­cere­ly and some­times in a more ambigu­ous man­ner, cit­ed the author of the The­o­log­i­cal-Polit­i­cal Trea­tise and the Ethics to bet­ter estab­lish what appeared to them unac­cept­able or scan­dalous in his work.52 Even authors favor­able towards cer­tain aspects of Spinoza’s thought had a rela­tion to it which was not of rev­er­ence, but, at best, of crit­i­cal inven­tion, so much so that the ref­er­ence to Spin­oza nec­es­sar­i­ly cir­cu­lat­ed in the mode of con­tro­ver­sy, or more exact­ly of refu­ta­tion.53 The ques­tion, for exam­ple, would be less to know at which point Bayle was authen­ti­cal­ly Spin­ozist, in the sense that he sin­cere­ly adhered to this or that prin­ci­ple of his phi­los­o­phy, but rather how the arti­cle that he devot­ed to Spin­oza in his His­tor­i­cal Dic­tio­nary pro­found­ly defined what Spin­ozism was for the entire 18th cen­tu­ry. Such an approach would then allow us to inter­ro­gate this great speci­fici­ty of Spin­ozism: why did the major­i­ty of rad­i­cal authors in the 18th cen­tu­ry, those who Israel con­sid­ers “Spin­ozists,” want absolute­ly to refute Spin­oza? Israel essen­tial­ly responds: because of pru­dence, even dis­sim­u­la­tion, which is, of course, a plau­si­ble answer, in an era when cen­sor­ship remained for­mi­da­ble. But one could also take seri­ous­ly the fact that Spin­ozism, before being a con­sti­tut­ed doc­trine, was first of all an object of scan­dal, the sym­bol of an “athe­ism made into a sys­tem,” accord­ing to Bayle’s for­mu­la­tion. Israel is right to say that Spin­oza was seen as “the supreme philo­soph­i­cal bogey­man of Ear­ly Enlight­en­ment Europe” (RE, 159), but he is wrong to believe that only the authors that he con­sid­ers con­ser­v­a­tive or mod­er­ate saw Spin­oza as a dan­ger. It is more pro­duc­tive to con­sid­er that the Rad­i­cal Enlight­en­ment, even when it bor­rowed from Spin­oza, con­struct­ed itself nec­es­sar­i­ly against him. Thus, the sys­tem­at­ic and deduc­tive rea­son­ing of Spin­oza is for­eign to those whom Paul Vernière called the “neo-Spin­ozists” and who were some­times called in the sec­ond half of the 18th cen­tu­ry “mod­ern Spin­ozists”: these authors who rethought mate­ri­al­ism start­ing from vital­ist med­i­cine, exper­i­men­tal dis­cov­er­ies, and life sci­ences to make an evo­lu­tion­ist pan­the­ism, Diderot being the pre­em­i­nent fig­ure.54 The lan­guage nour­ished by scholas­ti­cism, its physics, its will for geo­met­ri­cal demon­stra­tion, appeared to them ter­ri­bly archa­ic, even when they intend to fol­low him in the “con­se­quences” of his sys­tem.55 Even in the eyes of the most rad­i­cal, Spin­oza is as much a chal­lenge as an inspi­ra­tion.

Yves Cit­ton has also recent­ly tak­en up the ques­tion of the Spin­ozism in the 18th cen­tu­ry, but start­ing from a dif­fer­ent point of view: he strives to update the lit­er­ary and philo­soph­i­cal works of the peri­od inspired by Spin­ozist themes and to draw polit­i­cal and intel­lec­tu­al lessons from them, espe­cial­ly to rethink con­tem­po­rary the­o­ries of free­dom. His approach, he claims, is res­olute­ly non-his­tor­i­cal: the cul­tur­al con­text, the his­to­ry of the book, or the biogra­phies of the authors are delib­er­ate­ly exclud­ed from the field of analy­sis, in favor of a direct encounter with the body of texts. He does not remote­ly claim to trace the known influ­ence of Spin­oza on the authors he stud­ies, but reads their texts par­al­lel to his, “on the look­out for effects of res­o­nance, lit­er­al encoun­ters, metaphor­i­cal regroup­ings, weav­ings of par­al­lel nar­ra­tives,” and, set­ting out from here, bring­ing to light the exis­tence of a Spin­ozist imag­i­nary, defined in view of recent inter­pre­ta­tions of Spin­oza.56 How­ev­er, his­to­ri­ans could take use­ful lessons from this book, in par­tic­u­lar because it shows well that the Spin­ozism of the 18th cen­tu­ry is an elu­sive object, a men­ac­ing specter, that must be thought in terms of inven­tion much more than influ­ence. Far from avoid­ing the prob­lems posed by the iden­ti­fi­ca­tion of a Spin­ozist tra­di­tion, the method­olog­i­cal lib­er­ties tak­en by Cit­ton with regard to the his­to­ry of ideas show well that the Spin­ozism of the 18th cen­tu­ry is only mean­ing­ful through the inter­pre­tive act of the researcher who decides to read these texts as Spin­ozist, with the mea­sur­ing rod of his own intel­lec­tu­al agen­da. What per­mits him for exam­ple to inte­grate, in a sec­ond cir­cle of “Spin­ozist” authors that Israel defines as mod­er­ate, such as Mon­tesquieu, Voltaire, or Mau­per­tu­is, and even, in a provoca­tive fash­ion, cer­tain defend­ers of the ortho­doxy such as Lamy and Plu­quet, who con­tribute to defin­ing Spin­ozism by refus­ing it. Spin­ozism, in this per­spec­tive, is no longer a group of authors unit­ed by an intel­lec­tu­al and polit­i­cal coher­ence and a com­mon bat­tle, but rather the dis­sem­i­na­tion of an ensem­ble of themes, for­mu­las, and texts asso­ci­at­ed with the name of Spin­oza.

More than a the­o­ret­i­cal cor­pus, Spin­ozism is a scan­dal: the extreme fig­ure of het­ero­doxy. An author who one reads lit­tle or not at all, who is known through refu­ta­tions and whose influ­ence is exer­cised large­ly in an indi­rect fash­ion.57 An author whose work, poor­ly known, is tak­en to be dif­fi­cult to under­stand and whose “obscu­ri­ty makes it famous.”58 A name, there­fore, which imme­di­ate­ly evokes a sub­ver­sive thought and which func­tions as a remark­able engager in con­tro­ver­sies thanks to its mul­ti­ple rep­re­sen­ta­tions. This name of Spin­oza has played a role which was doubt­less essen­tial, since if his own work was very inac­ces­si­ble, the hagio­graph­ic sketch writ­ten by Jean-Max­im­i­lien Lucas, in his Life of Spin­oza, dis­sem­i­nat­ed the image of a philoso­pher at once dis­be­liev­ing, dis­in­ter­est­ed, soli­tary, and wise, and pro­vid­ed to Bayle a strik­ing fig­ure of vir­tu­ous athe­ism, devel­oped in his arti­cle of the His­tor­i­cal Dic­tio­nary and the cor­ner­stone of his crit­i­cal thought. The apoc­ryphal anec­dotes main­tain a cer­tain fas­ci­na­tion around the char­ac­ter of Spin­oza him­self, and in par­tic­u­lar around the con­di­tions of his death: was his the death of an unfazed athe­ist, or did he recant? The debate was so vir­u­lent that it drove Johannes Colerus, more than fif­teen years lat­er, to inquire at the places them­selves and near­by his last tes­ti­monies, and devot­ed the large part of his The Life of Bene­dict de Spin­osa, pub­lished in 1705, to the last moments of the philoso­pher.59 The suc­cess of Spin­ozism among rad­i­cal authors also grew from this con­struc­tion of a Spin­ozist leg­end, artic­u­lat­ed around an athe­ist Jew whose life was obscure and vir­tu­ous and whose works, lit­tle or bad­ly known, were accom­pa­nied with an odor of scan­dal. The very way that Spin­ozism acts as an active force in the intel­lec­tu­al debates of the Enlight­en­ment can­not be reduced to a set of propo­si­tions that would tra­verse the whole under­ground 18th cen­tu­ry, still less the sub­ver­sive pow­er of a coher­ent doc­trine. The authors who dis­cuss Spin­oza are not sim­ply influ­enced by him, they con­sti­tute Spin­oza in inter­pret­ing him, and very often in refut­ing him. At the lim­it, could we not say, with Pierre Macherey, that the “phi­los­o­phy of Spin­oza” is “an arbi­trary denom­i­na­tion,” a “his­tor­i­cal fic­tion” cease­less­ly recre­at­ed in dif­fer­ent con­di­tions which dis­prove or con­test its coher­ence at the moment that they recon­sti­tute the illu­sion?60

Was the Enlightenment Radical?

If the his­to­ri­ans of clan­des­tine phi­los­o­phy debate the exact place occu­pied by Spin­ozism, the phrase “Rad­i­cal Enlight­en­ment” itself seems wide­ly accept­ed, but its weak­ly prob­lema­tised usage is weighed down with mis­un­der­stand­ings. My hypoth­e­sis is that the suc­cess of this term owes a lot to the ambi­gu­i­ty that it main­tains on the philo­soph­i­cal or polit­i­cal nature of this rad­i­cal­i­ty. If we look close­ly, Israel always defines the Rad­i­cal Enlight­en­ment start­ing with its philo­soph­i­cal con­tent: rad­i­cal thinkers are those who defend a set of posi­tions com­ing from philo­soph­i­cal monism. As he says many times, the Rad­i­cal Enlight­en­ment is those who draw the most rad­i­cal con­clu­sions from the the­sis of the uni­ty of sub­stance and from the effects of the sci­en­tif­ic rev­o­lu­tion. But he finds that these con­clu­sions are rad­i­cal not only in the sense that it would be a mat­ter of push­ing the argu­ment to its ulti­mate con­se­quences, but also in a polit­i­cal sense, where these con­clu­sions are those which most direct­ly oppose the estab­lished order in all its domains. Israel does not seem to doubt that the two lev­els nec­es­sar­i­ly coin­cide. From there, two prob­lems arise.

On the one hand, this ade­qua­tion sup­pos­es a coher­ence of rad­i­cal posi­tions, as if a monist and mate­ri­al­ist ontol­ogy nec­es­sar­i­ly implied rad­i­cal social and polit­i­cal posi­tions: demo­c­ra­t­ic repub­li­can­ism, equal­i­ty of the sex­es, free­dom of expres­sion, anti-colo­nial­ism. But this argu­ment rests on a vision of the philo­soph­i­cal field as a con­tin­u­um of homoge­nous posi­tions going from con­ser­vatism to rad­i­cal­ism, pass­ing through mod­er­a­tion. This is a very reduc­tive vision which fares poor­ly against case stud­ies. Israel fur­ther­more has a hard time con­vinc­ing us that Spin­oza him­self was a con­vinced demo­c­rat, much less a rev­o­lu­tion­ary or a fem­i­nist.61 When he gets to the Spin­ozists of the 18th cen­tu­ry, the demon­stra­tion turns out to be even more frag­ile. To take only one exam­ple, Boulainvil­liers, who was doubt­less one of the most authen­tic com­men­ta­tors on Spin­oza, would have dif­fi­cul­ty pass­ing for a demo­c­ra­t­ic and rev­o­lu­tion­ary repub­li­can, when he was in fact a par­ti­san of strong aris­to­crat­ic pow­er against monar­chist abso­lutism.62 As far as that goes, we have the right to doubt that Spin­ozism, or rad­i­cal mate­ri­al­ism more gen­er­al­ly, was the sole the­o­ret­i­cal basis per­mit­ting one to con­ceive and pro­mote, in the 18th cen­tu­ry, the rights of women, the eman­ci­pa­tion of Jews, or the abo­li­tion of slav­ery.

On the oth­er hand, if the def­i­n­i­tion of Rad­i­cal Enlight­en­ment is explic­it­ly philo­soph­i­cal, in real­i­ty the very usage of the term rad­i­cal, which does not belong to the tra­di­tion­al his­to­ri­o­graph­ic vocab­u­lary of the Enlight­en­ment but rather that of the Eng­lish Rev­o­lu­tions, has the func­tion of ren­der­ing plau­si­ble a direct line of causal­i­ty between Spin­ozism and the French Rev­o­lu­tion. As we have seen, this will to renew with an expla­na­tion of the French Rev­o­lu­tion by its intel­lec­tu­al ori­gins is explic­it, but Israel nev­er stud­ies the recep­tion of these authors and thus leaves unex­plained the pas­sage from the­o­ry to action. The bur­den of proof, some­how, rests on the adjec­tive rad­i­cal which, just as much in the his­to­ri­o­graph­i­cal tra­di­tion in a way Israel was formed as our con­tem­po­rary lan­guage, can­not be exempt of strong polit­i­cal con­no­ta­tions. How­ev­er, while among the his­to­ri­ans of the rad­i­cal Eng­lish tra­di­tion, Christo­pher Hill and E.P. Thomp­son, it is a mat­ter of study­ing the polit­i­cal ideas of rev­o­lu­tion­ary actors, like Ger­ard Win­stan­ley for exam­ple, Israel stud­ies a philo­soph­i­cal cur­rent, cut off from polit­i­cal action or social agi­ta­tion, and in cat­e­go­riz­ing it as rad­i­cal autho­rizes its rev­o­lu­tion­ary dimen­sion, even though this is not at all proven.63

It might be use­ful to turn towards the numer­ous method­olog­i­cal dis­cus­sions in British his­to­ri­og­ra­phy that have have focused on the usages of the term, notably after the use that was made of it by Marx­ist his­to­ri­ans to trace the con­ti­nu­ity of a rad­i­cal tra­di­tion since the Cromwellian rev­o­lu­tion until the rad­i­cals of the end of the 18th and begin­ning of the 19th cen­tu­ry.64 The reproach­es to this his­to­ri­og­ra­phy focused prin­ci­pal­ly on two points. Can we use the term rad­i­cal before its entry into polit­i­cal vocab­u­lary in the 1790s and its suc­cess in the 1820s? Must we define rad­i­cal­ism as a coher­ent polit­i­cal lan­guage (notably that of repub­li­can­ism) or as a func­tion­al posi­tion (that of the cri­tique of the estab­lished order)? What­ev­er the response, it empha­sizes that the usage of the term “rad­i­cal” more or less explic­it­ly asso­ciates two ele­ments: a dis­course, found­ed on a strong cri­tique of the monar­chi­cal order and social inequal­i­ty, and polit­i­cal action, aim­ing at trans­form­ing this order. Now with Israel, it is exact­ly this line between philo­soph­i­cal rad­i­cal­i­ty, sociopo­lit­i­cal cri­tique, and rev­o­lu­tion­ary action which is the implic­it hori­zon of the demon­stra­tion, but which is nev­er demon­strat­ed. The reifi­ca­tion of diverse forms of het­ero­dox thought into the move­ment of the “Rad­i­cal Enlight­en­ment” thus autho­rizes the demon­stra­tion.

Anoth­er way of think­ing what could be rad­i­cal about the pro­duc­tion of texts or ideas in the 18th cen­tu­ry would be to exam­ine the prac­ti­cal rela­tion of these authors to the estab­lished order, that is, their choic­es of writ­ing and pub­li­ca­tion. Put oth­er­wise, is one rad­i­cal when one writes man­u­scripts that no one will read or which only cir­cu­late in very lim­it­ed cir­cles? This ques­tion, raised notably by Pim den Boer regard­ing Hol­land of the 17th cen­tu­ry, can appear provoca­tive:65 Could one not be rad­i­cal in the secre­cy of one’s office? It appears to me, how­ev­er, extreme­ly impor­tant for think­ing the form of rad­i­cal­i­ty of the Enlight­en­ment, since it stress­es the stakes of a pub­lic use of phi­los­o­phy, which at that time took on an unprece­dent­ed rel­e­vance. One can indeed advance the hypoth­e­sis that the true nov­el­ty of the Enlight­en­ment, in terms of free-thought, is not doc­tri­nal but con­sists rather of assum­ing the pub­lic use of het­ero­dox ideas beyond the schol­ar­ly space.66 It is not so much the con­tent of free-thought that is new, but rather the fact of think­ing as a strug­gle, not only an intel­lec­tu­al effort, and there­fore of reflect­ing on the con­di­tions of its pub­li­ca­tion. By pub­li­ca­tion, we have to under­stand at the same time dis­clo­sure, in the sense that a dis­course reserved for a small elite of strong and free spir­its now cir­cu­lates more wide­ly, and the con­sti­tu­tion of a pub­lic, which takes form exact­ly through the new uses of cri­tique.

Pos­ing the ques­tion of rad­i­cal­ism in these terms allows us to remain to shed a dif­fer­ent light the his­tor­i­cal impor­tance of the cir­cle of Dutch authors linked to Spin­oza in the 1670s. Not that Spin­oza him­self, who pru­dent­ly refused to allow his works to be trans­lat­ed into Dutch or for the Ethics to be pub­lished in his life­time, could real­ly be con­sid­ered a rad­i­cal from this angle.67 But, on the oth­er hand, some of his close asso­ciates assured­ly were, such as the Koerbagh broth­ers, who paid with their lives for their will to divulge more wide­ly the ratio­nal­ist cri­tique of the Bible, and who after Spinoza’s death has­tened to pub­lish his Opera posthu­ma in his name (or at least his ini­tials), in a par­tic­u­lar­ly dif­fi­cult polit­i­cal con­text. Par­tic­i­pat­ing in this project, which was simul­ta­ne­ous­ly an intel­lec­tu­al con­cern and a reflec­tive sense of provo­ca­tion, they pow­er­ful­ly con­tributed to the con­struc­tion of Spin­ozist phi­los­o­phy of a scan­dal and rekin­dled the dynam­ic of pub­lic polemics that the The­o­log­i­cal-Polit­i­cal Trea­tise had already stim­u­lat­ed. The rad­i­cal­ism of these Dutch cir­cles, which are often cat­e­go­rized as “Spin­ozist” and appear to have been active until the begin­ning of the 18th cen­tu­ry, lies per­haps as much in this will to pro­mote the work of Spin­oza among broad­er lay­ers of the pop­u­la­tion as to a hypo­thet­i­cal philo­soph­i­cal coher­ence, divid­ed as they were between the deep­en­ing of Carte­sian­ism, the inter­est aroused by Spinoza’s propo­si­tions, and the emer­gence of new sci­en­tif­ic prac­tices.

In its con­tem­po­rary usages, the term “rad­i­cal” is often trapped in a form of anachro­nism, which projects onto the intel­lec­tu­al space of the 18th cen­tu­ry a polit­i­cal rep­re­sen­ta­tion where one can sit­u­ate authors as being more or less rad­i­cal, which implic­it­ly means more or less left-wing,68 in the name of a homol­o­gy between philo­soph­i­cal posi­tions and polit­i­cal posi­tions. Hence the use of terms like “avant-garde.”69 This anachro­nism is aggra­vat­ed by the iden­ti­fi­ca­tion of this rad­i­cal­i­ty with a sci­en­tis­tic mate­ri­al­ism which is noth­ing more than one of the forms that polit­i­cal rad­i­cal­i­ty has been able to take for three cen­turies. But to this uncon­trolled anachro­nism, one could oppose a more con­trolled prac­tice of anachro­nism, which explic­it­ly pos­es the ques­tion of what being “rad­i­cal” could mean at the time of the Enlight­en­ment, once it is estab­lished that the term did not exist. It would be nec­es­sary then to see in it a form of risk-tak­ing, a man­ner of invest­ing one­self polit­i­cal­ly, of assum­ing a respon­si­bil­i­ty, of think­ing pre­cise­ly the writ­ing of phi­los­o­phy as a risk. What is at stake is simul­ta­ne­ous­ly what might be called strate­gies of writ­ing, but also the very con­cep­tion of philo­soph­i­cal dis­course as the audac­i­ty and free­dom of speech, as par­rhe­sia: this impor­tant notion of ancient thought which des­ig­nates the irrup­tion of a “truth-telling,” this virtue of a free act of speech which engages the one who makes it in the name of truth and leads to a drama­ti­za­tion of philo­soph­i­cal dis­course.70 From this point of view we could defend Voltaire, an emblem­at­ic fig­ure of the mod­er­ate Enlight­en­ment in the eyes of Israel, as ulti­mate­ly more rad­i­cal than cer­tain of the authors evoked by the lat­ter, in his way of putting into play his philo­soph­i­cal strug­gle and his call to “crush the infa­mous.”71 But the case which is the most inter­est­ing on this point is with­out doubt that of Jean-Jacques Rousseau.

Israel is bare­ly com­fort­able with Rousseau. In the con­clu­sion of the first vol­ume, he claims that, despite cer­tain mod­er­ate ele­ments, his “dele­git­imiz­ing of the social and polit­i­cal struc­tures of the day” and his repub­li­can the­o­ry of the gen­er­al will link up in an evi­dent fash­ion with the rad­i­cal philo­soph­i­cal tra­di­tion born in the mid­dle of the 17th cen­tu­ry (RE, 720). In the sec­ond vol­ume, he con­sid­ers hence­forth that Rousseau, ini­tial­ly allied with the rad­i­cal cur­rent, broke with the Enlight­en­ment start­ing in 1754 to become a “moral prophet” of the anti-Enlight­en­ment (EC, 11), a fair­ly strange for­mu­la which is aligned with the high­ly debat­able book of Graeme Gar­rard.72 This dis­com­fort reveals in real­i­ty the fair­ly arti­fi­cial and in any case not very pro­duc­tive char­ac­ter of this genre of cat­e­gories, a for­tiori when one tries to apply them to an author like Rousseau, whose work is marked by ambi­gu­i­ty and shows, in a daz­zling fash­ion, that rad­i­cal thought is not a coher­ent whole.73 Rousseau’s repub­li­can­ism and his denun­ci­a­tion of inequal­i­ty by no means rest on a Spin­ozist mate­ri­al­ism. Is Rousseau rad­i­cal, mod­er­ate, con­ser­v­a­tive? Posed in doc­tri­nal terms, the ques­tion bare­ly has mean­ing. On the oth­er hand, if we refor­mu­late the ques­tion of rad­i­cal­i­ty in rela­tion to the per­son­al engage­ment of the author, to his way of artic­u­lat­ing his per­son­al expe­ri­ence and his work, to the very con­cep­tion of writ­ing as a pub­lic ges­ture, Rousseau’s spe­cif­ic rad­i­cal­ism appears much more clear­ly.

The lib­er­tine authors of the 17th cen­tu­ry and the major­i­ty of free­thinkers of the 18th cen­tu­ry prac­ticed all forms of con­ceal­ment, first of all the use of anonymi­ty or pseu­do­nyms, but also prac­tices of ambigu­ous writ­ing.74 Anonymi­ty could be total, even if his­to­ri­ans always dis­cuss the attri­bu­tion of cer­tain clan­des­tine man­u­scripts. Baron d’Holbach, with­out doubt the great­est fig­ure of Enlight­en­ment mate­ri­al­ism and athe­ism, nev­er pub­lished under his name and, with the excep­tion of a hand­ful of friends, no one in his life­time knew that he was the author of the Sys­tem of Nature and his oth­er works. All the same, his styl­is­tic choic­es, in accor­dance with an athe­ist pros­e­lytism more per­sua­sive than com­bat­ive, aimed exact­ly at down­play­ing athe­ism in order to make it into pre­cise­ly a non-rad­i­cal posi­tion, far from the whole cul­ture of scan­dal.75 There also exist­ed more ludic forms of anonymi­ty, such as those favored by Voltaire, mas­ter in the art of mul­ti­ply­ing pseu­do­nyms and pre­tend­ing to dis­avow his own books. On the whole, a cer­tain art of eva­sion which came at the same time from pru­dence and dis­tinc­tion was the norm among those who attacked the ortho­doxy.

Rousseau on the oth­er hand made it a point of hon­or to sign his books under his own name. It was a mat­ter of both a social state­ment, affirm­ing writ­ing as a voca­tion against aris­to­crat­ic or bour­geois pru­dence, and a gen­uine polit­i­cal state­ment of intel­lec­tu­al and juridi­cal respon­si­bil­i­ty.76 There was here a cer­tain defi­ance that caused him con­sid­er­able legal trou­bles, stim­u­lat­ing the sever­i­ty of the author­i­ties. That Rousseau pub­lished the Social Con­tract and Emile under his own name was at the heart of the scan­dal caused by their pub­li­ca­tion, in the eyes of the Arch­bish­op of Paris, the Par­lia­ment, but also of Voltaire. After the Social Con­tract was con­demned by the Small Coun­cil of Gene­va, Rousseau revealed him­self, demand­ing to be judged because he was open­ly the author.77 In the qua­si-rev­o­lu­tion­ary con­text of Gene­va in the years 1764-1765, this demand, pub­lished in a pam­phlet aimed at the author­i­ties of the city, was a posi­tion that we can cer­tain­ly describe as rad­i­cal. It assumed the author bore polit­i­cal respon­si­bil­i­ty for the texts that he pub­lish­es, and more broad­ly the indis­so­cia­ble char­ac­ter of the author and the work, affirm­ing that the truth-val­ue of a philo­soph­i­cal utter­ance was insep­a­ra­ble from the exem­plary life of the philoso­pher. Rousseau summed this up in a strong for­mu­la: “If Socrates had died in his bed, one might now won­der whether he was any­thing more than a skill­ful sophist.” Such a pos­ture, of course, can tend towards forms of moral exhi­bi­tion­ism, which Rousseau’s adver­saries were not afraid to reproach him for, and which led him to turn his iso­la­tion and the mis­un­der­stand­ings he elicit­ed into the very sub­ject of his last writ­ings.78 But it irrefutably con­tains a form of rad­i­cal­ism, because it is inscribed in a rup­ture with the best-shared codes of het­ero­dox writ­ing, and because it makes the pub­lic use of phi­los­o­phy into an essen­tial stake of the Enlight­en­ment.

In focus­ing on the case of Rousseau, it is obvi­ous that it is not a mat­ter of replac­ing one def­i­n­i­tion of the Rad­i­cal Enlight­en­ment with anoth­er, even less of propos­ing an alter­na­tive canon of rad­i­cal authors, but rather of inter­ro­gat­ing the lim­its of a pure­ly ide­o­log­i­cal def­i­n­i­tion of the rad­i­cal­i­ty of the Enlight­en­ment. Rather than seek­ing to pro­pose a coher­ent read­ing of the works to resi­t­u­ate them in key philo­soph­i­cal tra­di­tions and clas­si­fy­ing them on a moderate/radical axis, the case of Rousseau invites us to exam­ine on the con­trary the line of flight of cer­tain works, whose rad­i­cal­ism relies not on their the­o­ret­i­cal coher­ence but rather the con­tra­dic­tions which they bring into play and the way they reveal the ten­sions that run through a peri­od. Here the rad­i­cal­i­ty of Rousseau is that he invents a new fig­ure of the writer who accepts the dan­ger inher­ent in pub­li­ca­tion and per­ma­nent­ly offers his sin­cer­i­ty and his pri­vate life as guar­an­tees of the val­ue of his speech, but finds him­self con­front­ed with the sus­pi­cion of inau­then­tic­i­ty. If Rousseau is rad­i­cal, it is because he rad­i­cal­ly inter­ro­gates one of the foun­da­tions of the Enlight­en­ment: the belief in the very effects of philo­soph­i­cal speech.79

What Geography of the Enlightenment?

Since its pub­li­ca­tion, the first vol­ume of Rad­i­cal Enlight­en­ment has been pre­sent­ed as com­plete­ly recast­ing the geog­ra­phy of the Enlight­en­ment, in sev­er­al ways. First of all, the work speaks strong­ly against the nation­al inter­pre­ta­tions of the Enlight­en­ment in favor of a pan-Euro­pean approach. This way of break­ing overt­ly with the over­es­ti­ma­tion of nation­al con­texts and of pre­sent­ing the Enlight­en­ment as a uni­fied move­ment on the Euro­pean scale is with­out a doubt one of the most seduc­tive aspects of the book. Many times Israel shows in effect that the debates cir­cu­late through­out Europe, like the case of the ora­cles from the 1680s (RE, 359-74). All the same, cer­tain biogra­phies of rad­i­cal authors, in the his­to­ry of the Enlight­en­ment, high­light the Euro­pean cir­cu­la­tion. Thus Alber­to Rad­i­cati of Passer­a­no, Pied­mon­tese aris­to­crat exiled to France then to Lon­don, where he pub­lish­es and is con­demned, then fin­ish­es his life in The Hague. For that mat­ter, by study­ing the mar­gins of Enlight­en­ment Europe, beyond Eng­land, France, and Ger­many, Israel’s efforts con­tribute in decen­ter­ing the tra­di­tion­al nar­ra­tive of Enlight­en­ment. We find in fact pages which deal with Greece, Scan­di­navia, and Rus­sia. But it is above all in reeval­u­at­ing the essen­tial role of Hol­land, Israel’s priv­i­leged area of exper­tise, that Rad­i­cal Enlight­en­ment seeks to mod­i­fy the geog­ra­phy of Enlight­en­ment and nuance the ten­den­cy of his­to­ri­og­ra­phy to priv­i­lege the Parisian philoso­phers. This part of the work is undoubt­ed­ly its most inter­est­ing and least ques­tion­able con­tri­bu­tion. Yet, with this excep­tion, brought to the fore­front by all com­men­ta­tors, the geog­ra­phy of the Enlight­en­ment pro­posed by Israel is ulti­mate­ly fair­ly con­ven­tion­al, bare­ly dif­fer­ent from that of Paul Haz­ard in the 1930s. France and Ger­many play a great role in it, just as Italy plays a less­er role. South­ern and East­ern Europe are con­fined to a few rapid chap­ters. The prin­ci­pal sur­prise is the weak place of the British world, mean­ing Eng­land and Scot­land. In large part, Israel’s book can be read as an attack in good stand­ing against the works that, from John Pocock to Roy Porter, high­light­ed, with nev­er­the­less very dif­fer­ent pre­sup­po­si­tions, the role of the Eng­lish Enlight­en­ment.80 Hence, this bla­tant under­es­ti­ma­tion of the role played by Hobbes, the impact of the Eng­lish Rev­o­lu­tions, the neo-repub­li­can­ism of Har­ring­ton, and reli­gious rad­i­cal­ism. The Scot­tish Enlight­en­ment receives no bet­ter treat­ment from Israel.

Above all, Israel adopts a very homo­ge­neous vision of Euro­pean space. The Rad­i­cal Enlight­en­ment is not pluri­cen­tric: it is a bloc, whose cen­ter is dis­placed from the Dutch Repub­lic to France after the con­ser­v­a­tive reac­tion which touch­es the Dutch Repub­lic at the begin­ning of the 18th cen­tu­ry. An ini­tial flour­ish­ing of rad­i­cal French authors in the first two decades of the cen­tu­ry (d’Argens, Boulainvil­liers, Tys­sot…) is con­test­ed by the mod­er­ate reac­tion asso­ci­at­ed with Voltaire, but, start­ing in the 1750s, the reuni­fi­ca­tion of the Enlight­en­ment hap­pens under the guid­ance of the rad­i­cal, and in par­tic­u­lar by the prin­ci­pal among them, Diderot, around the Ency­clo­pe­dia. Con­se­quent­ly, in Enlight­en­ment Con­test­ed, the major­i­ty of authors cit­ed and stud­ied are French authors, some of them cer­tain­ly lit­tle known, oth­ers on the con­trary per­fect­ly inte­grat­ed into the philo­soph­i­cal canon. If Spin­oza was the hero of the first vol­ume, Bayle is clear­ly the hero of the sec­ond. He is the one whose philo­soph­i­cal and reli­gious rad­i­cal­ism serves, via the Huguenot refuge, as a relay between the Dutch Enlight­en­ment of the 17th and the French Enlight­en­ment of the 18th cen­turies. Thus, the his­to­ry of the Rad­i­cal Enlight­en­ment would be one, we might say, of a trans­fer of rad­i­cal­i­ty, on the mod­el of the trans­la­tio imperii: “the cen­tre of grav­i­ty was first locat­ed in the Nether­lands and lat­er shift­ed to France” (EC, 27), or again “the main line here trans­ferred from the late sev­en­teenth- and ear­ly eigh­teenth-cen­tu­ry Dutch Repub­lic to France, which con­se­quent­ly was the Enlightenment’s true epi­cen­tre for most of the eigh­teenth cen­tu­ry” (EC, 864).

The key to this aston­ish­ing recen­ter­ing is with­out doubt, here also, Israel’s desire to estab­lish a direct line between the Rad­i­cal Enlight­en­ment and the French Rev­o­lu­tion. In recast­ing the intel­lec­tu­al ori­gins of the French Rev­o­lu­tion with this genealog­i­cal approach, Israel is con­demned to retreat from his Euro­pean geog­ra­phy of the Rad­i­cal Enlight­en­ment to a specif­i­cal­ly French focus. The rad­i­cal Enlight­en­ment allows thus the force­ful return of the myth of French Europe: start­ing from 1720, Israel writes, “French lan­guage and cul­ture eclipsed all the rest as the medi­um for dif­fus­ing rad­i­cal ideas in Europe and the Atlantic world more gen­er­al­ly” (EC, 27). This return to a Fran­co­cen­tric approach is ulti­mate­ly accom­pa­nied with an absence of reflec­tion on the geog­ra­phy of Enlight­en­ment, on the local­iza­tion of knowl­edges and their cir­cu­la­tion, on the role of the metrop­o­les and the net­works of socia­bil­i­ty, and on the view that the rad­i­cal authors them­selves had on this geog­ra­phy, all ques­tions cur­rent­ly wide­ly debat­ed but which oblige us to leave the strict domain of the his­to­ry of ideas.81 The map of Europe in mind in the first vol­ume is fair­ly reveal­ing of an approach which is con­tent with local­iz­ing the “cul­tur­al cen­ters” and the “places of pub­li­ca­tion” with­out inter­ro­gat­ing the prop­er­ly spa­tial dynam­ics of philo­soph­i­cal knowl­edges, nor their capac­i­ty to trans­form the very rep­re­sen­ta­tion of Europe as a his­tor­i­cal and cul­tur­al enti­ty. Did the authors con­sid­ered most rad­i­cal con­tribute to think­ing Europe as the space of the Enlight­en­ment?

Instead of cat­e­gor­i­cal­ly reject­ing the con­tri­bu­tions of stud­ies of nation­al con­texts, a more fruit­ful path would be to pur­sue togeth­er a Euro­pean approach to the Enlight­en­ment and the recog­ni­tion of dif­fer­ent con­texts, in order to study the diverse forms of cir­cu­la­tion and recep­tion of the Rad­i­cal Enlight­en­ment. Indeed, it would be para­dox­i­cal for these to escape what is undoubt­ed­ly a major phe­nom­e­non of the 18th cen­tu­ry: the pro­gres­sive nation­al­iza­tion of cul­tur­al fields, that is, at the same time the grow­ing role of nation­al insti­tu­tions, but also the major temp­ta­tion for elites to use cul­tur­al debates in the frame­work of nation­al projects. We will take only two exam­ples, both in the Fran­co-Ger­man frame­work. The recep­tion of Diderot in Ger­many, well stud­ied, reveals that it was not so much the neo-Spin­ozist thinker of the Let­ter on the Blind or D’Alembert’s Dream that were read and known, but much more the author of The Father of the Fam­i­ly and the the­o­rist of the­ater, adopt­ed as tute­lary fig­ure of the con­struc­tion of a nation­al Ger­man the­ater.82 Can we study the career of La Met­trie, author of Man a Machine and one of the most influ­en­tial pro­mot­ers of rad­i­cal mate­ri­al­ism, with­out inter­ro­gat­ing the cul­tur­al pol­i­tics of Fred­er­ick II who wel­comed him to Berlin, imposed him on the Pruss­ian Acad­e­my and pro­tect­ed him? More gen­er­al­ly, the debate between nation­al and Euro­pean Enlight­en­ments is bad­ly posed since the true chal­lenge is to artic­u­late pre­cise­ly the cir­cu­la­tion of peo­ple, texts, and ideas and the real­i­ty, dif­fi­cult to con­test, of the increas­ing­ly nation­al func­tion­ing of intel­lec­tu­al debates. In a pinch, it’s pos­si­ble to think that the transna­tion­al dimen­sion of cer­tain debates stud­ied by Israel, like those already cit­ed on the ora­cles at the end of the 17th cen­tu­ry, is much more a her­itage of the tra­di­tion of the Repub­lic of Let­ters of the 16th and 17th cen­turies than a nov­el­ty of the Enlight­en­ment, these char­ac­ter­ized rather by an ini­tial auton­o­miza­tion of nation­al cul­tur­al fields, due among oth­er things to the pro­gres­sion of pub­li­ca­tions into ver­nac­u­lar lan­guages, the estab­lish­ing of schol­ar­ly insti­tu­tions linked to the state, and the emer­gence of nation­al projects sup­port­ed at the same time by monar­chi­cal states and, some­times, by their oppo­nents.

In this capac­i­ty, it is unde­ni­able that, dur­ing the entire reign of Louis XIV but with­out doubt beyond it, the rejec­tion of French abso­lutism, of its intran­si­gent Catholi­cism, of its mil­i­tary and cul­tur­al impe­ri­al­ism, was a dom­i­nant trait of Euro­pean rad­i­cals, par­tic­u­lar­ly in the Dutch Repub­lic. Now this dimen­sion leads us to exam­ine the polit­i­cal and nation­al resources of philo­soph­i­cal con­tro­ver­sies. If Dutch rad­i­cal phi­los­o­phy played a cru­cial role as pre­cur­sor, it would be nec­es­sary to under­stand its emer­gence in terms of nation­al or at least local con­text, which Israel does not do. This implies putting into ques­tion the pre­co­cious suc­cess of Carte­sian­ism, the motor role of the Uni­ver­si­ty of Lei­den, the impor­tance of the revo­ca­tion of the Edict of Nantes, the import­ing from the end of the 17th cen­tu­ry of the exper­i­men­tal method around Willem ‘s Gravesande.83 In fact, the Dutch debates of the 17th cen­tu­ry, includ­ing the pub­li­ca­tions of rad­i­cal authors, were pro­found­ly inscribed in the his­tor­i­cal and polit­i­cal real­i­ty of the young Dutch Repub­lic: they tried above all else to resolve the ques­tions posed with­in the Dutch con­text, par­tic­u­lar­ly reli­gious coex­is­tence and the ques­tion of sov­er­eign­ty. What’s more, it is the Dutch con­text, notably the war with France, which explains why, from 1672 on, the rad­i­cals were most­ly on the defen­sive, faced with the mod­er­ate, more accept­able cur­rent, before being prop­er­ly exclud­ed from the nation­al mem­o­ry until the 1980s. It is in the end a prop­er­ly Dutch agen­da which explains why the Dutch Enlight­en­ment had lit­tle influ­ence in the rest of Europe, with the excep­tion of Spin­oza, but even he is pre­cise­ly cut off from his Dutch roots and in some sense “uni­ver­sal­ized” for the require­ments of the con­tro­ver­sy. Bayle, for exam­ple, cites no oth­er Dutch authors in his Dic­tio­nary and gives no place ot the great con­tro­ver­sies of the Dutch Enlight­en­ment. Even if in the 18th cen­tu­ry the Low Coun­tries appeared in the eyes of the prin­ci­pal pro­tag­o­nists of the philo­soph­i­cal scene as not shar­ing at the same lev­el the Euro­pean space of the Enlight­en­ment, if not as a site of pub­li­ca­tion, then as the ware­house of intel­lec­tu­al wealth pro­duced else­where. Diderot could then write: “The nation is super­sti­tious, ene­my of phi­los­o­phy and free­dom of think­ing in mat­ters of reli­gion.”84 In fact, from the end of the 17th cen­tu­ry, the Dutch Rad­i­cal Enlight­en­ment had been exclud­ed from the inter­na­tion­al intel­lec­tu­al scene, for polit­i­cal rea­sons but also above all because of the pro­found­ly Dutch char­ac­ter of the debates that they had raised.85

The pan-Euro­pean approach, because it is con­struct­ed on the refusal of all nation­al con­tex­tu­al­iza­tion, eras­es there­fore a whole lev­el of the analy­sis of intel­lec­tu­al dynam­ics and for­bids us from think­ing cir­cu­la­tion by the mar­gins.86 What’s more, it leads us to present a strict­ly con­ti­nen­tal Enlight­en­ment, in which the non-Euro­pean world is only present through the view of Euro­pean thinkers. Israel exam­ines thus the way that French Spin­ozists con­struct­ed a geneal­o­gy, part­ly myth­i­cal, of a rad­i­cal thought with­in Islam, mak­ing Aver­roes a pre-Spin­ozist, but he does not tell us whether (and how) Spin­oza or Bayle were read out­side Europe. More gen­er­al­ly, the idea that the Enlight­en­ment could be some­thing oth­er than Euro­pean thought seems total­ly for­eign to its approach: colo­nial spaces, for exam­ple, are nev­er present. Now numer­ous recent works have cor­rect­ly argued for a plur­al approach to the Enlight­en­ment insist­ing on the orig­i­nal­i­ty and impor­tance of knowl­edges pro­duced in the colo­nial con­text from the Indi­an Ocean to the Atlantic.87

In the absence of an inter­est in non-Euro­pean spaces them­selves, Israel nev­er­the­less devotes a chap­ter to the way that the Rad­i­cal Enlight­en­ment con­struct­ed a coher­ent anti-impe­ri­al­ist and anti-slav­ery posi­tion (EC, 590-615). Now this chap­ter cru­el­ly illu­mi­nates the lim­its of the enter­prise. On the one hand, the Israel’s whole effort tends to show that only a monist and mate­ri­al­ist con­cep­tion of human nature would per­mit the devel­op­ment of an egal­i­tar­i­an and anti-impe­ri­al­ist thought (EC, 594) and he argues for this through the ambi­gu­i­ties of mod­er­ate authors like Locke, Hume, or Mon­tesquieu, cul­pa­ble in his eyes of com­plic­i­ty with colo­nial­ism and slav­ery. This may be, but his argu­ment rests on a prin­ci­ple of asym­met­ri­cal read­ing,88 and oth­er­wise eras­es the whole com­plex­i­ty of the anti-impe­ri­al­ist thought of the Enlight­en­ment. Para­dox­i­cal­ly, Israel deploys Sankar Muthu’s book, Enlight­en­ment Against Empire, sev­er­al times as a weapon against the post­mod­ern cri­tique of the Enlight­en­ment; how­ev­er, Muthu’s con­clu­sions are quite dif­fer­ent. He essen­tial­ly shows that the authors who devel­oped a coher­ent cri­tique of Euro­pean impe­ri­al­ism did so on very dif­fer­ent philo­soph­i­cal bases (Diderot rubs shoul­ders with Herder and Kant), and that what they had in com­mon was not a Spin­ozist anthro­pol­o­gy, but on the con­trary a con­cep­tion of human nature as fun­da­men­tal­ly cul­tur­al, which allowed them – even and above all Diderot – to artic­u­late a uni­ver­sal­ist goal and the recog­ni­tion of the incom­men­su­ra­bil­i­ty of cul­tures and soci­eties.89 Con­verse­ly, we could also recall that mate­ri­al­ist ratio­nal­ism which is, accord­ing to Israel, at the foun­da­tion of Rad­i­cal Enlight­en­ment, was not always, notably in the 19th cen­tu­ry, indif­fer­ent to the biol­o­giza­tion of racial inequal­i­ties. Final­ly, we can doubt that it would be rea­son­able to study the way the Enlight­en­ment thought non-Euro­pean peo­ples only on the basis of some works pro­duced by authors who nev­er left Paris.The knowl­edges of trav­el­ers, colo­nial admin­is­tra­tors, and sci­en­tif­ic explor­ers should be stud­ied to the same extent if we want to under­stand the ten­sions at work in the colo­nial­ism of the Enlight­en­ment, between the recog­ni­tion of the Oth­er and the dynam­ics of dom­i­na­tion.90

The Enlight­en­ment is again the object of debate. We can only rejoice that nar­row­ly nation­al inter­pre­ta­tions, the clas­si­cal canons of texts and authors, tra­di­tion­al inter­pre­ta­tions, have been ques­tioned. The vital­i­ty of the het­ero­dox thought at the turn of the 17th and 18th cen­turies, the impor­tance of the ref­er­ence to Spin­oza, or again the place of the Dutch Repub­lic in the Euro­pean geog­ra­phy of the first Enlight­en­ment are hence­forth gained. For all that, it is not nec­es­sary that the return of the his­to­ry of ideas, if it must take place, dis­pense with a reflec­tion on the way it con­structs the object of intel­lec­tu­al his­to­ry. It would be above all regret­table to replace one doxa with anoth­er by arti­fi­cial­ly con­struct­ing a homo­ge­neous philo­soph­i­cal tra­di­tion and a tele­ol­o­gy of philo­soph­i­cal rad­i­cal­ism, link­ing Spin­oza and the French Rev­o­lu­tion and, doubt­less fur­ther, the con­tem­po­rary rad­i­cal left.

It is not insignif­i­cant that the notion of moder­ni­ty is so cen­tral to Israel’s work, fig­ur­ing not only in the titles of two vol­umes but also at the heart of the demon­stra­tion. The aim is cer­tain­ly to show that the Spin­ozism of the Rad­i­cal Enlight­en­ment is at the foun­da­tion of sec­u­lar, egal­i­tar­i­an, and demo­c­ra­t­ic “moder­ni­ty” in Europe, to the point that at times the con­tem­po­rary stakes end up cov­er­ing the his­tor­i­cal dis­course. When Israel thus describes one of the essen­tial val­ues of the rad­i­cal Enlight­en­ment: “per­son­al lib­er­ty of lifestyle and sex­u­al con­duct between con­sent­ing adults, safe­guard­ing the dig­ni­ty and free­dom of the unmar­ried and homo­sex­u­als” (EC, 866), we can doubt that such a for­mu­la could come from the pen of a philoso­pher of the Enlight­en­ment, be he Spin­ozist or not. But, more broad­ly, it is the very def­i­n­i­tion of moder­ni­ty that pos­es a prob­lem. Must it real­ly be defined in such reduc­tive terms, as a defin­i­tive repu­di­a­tion of all forms of reli­gios­i­ty, indeed belief, open­ing the path to the – cer­tain­ly incom­plete – com­ing of an egal­i­tar­i­an, tol­er­ant, and peace­ful soci­ety? Such a moder­ni­ty, sure of itself and the supe­ri­or­i­ty of its ratio­nal­ist and uni­ver­sal­ist val­ues, appears already sin­gu­lar­ly dat­ed.

In the domain of intel­lec­tu­al his­to­ry, oth­er recent propo­si­tions char­ac­ter­ize this link between the Enlight­en­ment and moder­ni­ty in an entire­ly dif­fer­ent fash­ion. For John Robert­son, the moder­ni­ty of the Enlight­en­ment lies in the capac­i­ty to think this new enti­ty which is soci­ety, and sub­se­quent­ly the emer­gence on the philo­soph­i­cal agen­da of ques­tions like polit­i­cal econ­o­my. Here it is much more a mix of Epi­cure­anism and Augus­tin­ism which are at the foun­da­tion of such an intel­lec­tu­al renew­al.91 We find here the pre­oc­cu­pa­tions of his­to­ri­ans of polit­i­cal econ­o­my, at least since Jean-Claude Perrot’s major book.92 To fol­low J.G.A Pocock, on the oth­er hand, the moder­ni­ty of the Enlight­en­ment is less a mate­ri­al­ist cri­tique of reli­gion than the capac­i­ty to trans­form the­ol­o­gy into a his­to­ry of Chris­tian­i­ty. The great resource of Euro­pean sec­u­lar­iza­tion is not found out­side Chris­t­ian thought, but with­in it.93 Moder­ni­ty is not the most daz­zling ges­ture of rad­i­cal rup­ture, but a patient labor of tra­di­tion against itself. What is strik­ing is how, like Israel, these two authors make the Huguenot exo­dus and Bayle’s entourage one of the essen­tial sources of this philo­soph­i­cal moder­ni­ty which they define in such dif­fer­ent terms. More­over, these approach­es are sit­u­at­ed in a frame­work – a per­fect­ly legit­i­mate one – which is that of a his­to­ry of philo­soph­i­cal and intel­lec­tu­al tra­di­tions, artic­u­lat­ed around the trans­mis­sion of their con­tents.94

But there are indeed yet oth­er ways of con­sid­er­ing the moder­ni­ty of the Enlight­en­ment, par­tic­u­lar­ly through the rela­tion that phi­los­o­phy main­tains with its his­toric­i­ty, with its own present. One thinks of course of the les­son of Michel Fou­cault, who defined the Enlight­en­ment not as a step in the long his­to­ry of human­ism, but rather as “a set of events and com­plex his­tor­i­cal process­es,” at once insti­tu­tion­al, social, tech­no­log­i­cal, and cog­ni­tive; and above all as a new rela­tion of phi­los­o­phy “to the present as a philo­soph­i­cal event to which phi­los­o­phy belongs,” and thus as the emer­gence of a new way of pos­ing the ques­tion of moder­ni­ty in the “rela­tion of dis­course to its own present real­i­ty.”95 That Foucault’s reflec­tions, based on a com­men­tary on Kant’s “What is Enlight­en­ment,” were pre­sent­ed in a first ver­sion to the audi­ence at the Col­lège de France at the open­ing of his 1982 course on par­rhe­sia, is intrigu­ing and invites us to study con­joint­ly this reflex­iv­i­ty of the phi­los­o­phy of the Enlight­en­ment and the social dra­matur­gy of its forms of expres­sion. The whole ques­tion of the rad­i­cal­i­ty of the Enlight­en­ment and its moder­ni­ty could then be con­sid­ered in a new light.

– Trans­lat­ed by Asad Haider and Patrick King

This is a trans­la­tion of an arti­cle that first appeared in the jour­nal Annales: Antoine Lilti, « Com­ment écrit-on l’histoire intel­lectuelle des Lumières ? Spin­ozisme, rad­i­cal­isme et philoso­phie » Annales HSS, 64-1, 2009, p. 171-206, © Éd. de l’Ehess, Paris.


  1. Lumières! Un héritage pour demain, exhi­bi­tion cat­a­logue, Paris, BNF, 2006; Tzve­tan Todor­ov, In Defence of the Enlight­en­ment, trans. Gila Walk­er (New York: Atlantic Books, 2009); Régis Debray, Aveuglantes Lumières, jour­nal en clair-obscur (Paris: Gal­li­mard, 2006). 

  2. Mar­garet C. Jacob, The Rad­i­cal Enlight­en­ment: Pan­the­ists, Freema­sons, and Repub­li­cans (Metairie: Cor­ner­stone Book Pub­lish­ers, 2006 [1981]). 

  3. Jonathan I. Israel, Rad­i­cal Enlight­en­ment: Phi­los­o­phy and the Mak­ing of Moder­ni­ty, 1650-1750 (Oxford: Oxford Uni­ver­si­ty Press, 2001). Hence­forth cit­ed as RE

  4. Jonathan I. Israel, Enlight­en­ment Con­test­ed: Phi­los­o­phy, Moder­ni­ty, and the Eman­ci­pa­tion of Man, 1670-1752 (Oxford: Oxford Uni­ver­si­ty Press, 2006). Hence­forth cit­ed as EC

  5. “A demo­c­ra­t­ic civ­i­liza­tion, avowed­ly based on equal­i­ty, needs to know its ori­gins cor­rect­ly” (EC, 60); “The social val­ues of the Rad­i­cal Enlight­en­ment, in short, have an absolute qual­i­ty in terms of rea­son which places them above any pos­si­ble alter­na­tive” (EC, 869). 

  6. For exam­ple: “Locke and Hume, like Voltaire and the great Amer­i­can Deist Ben­jamin Franklin were polit­i­cal­ly, social­ly, moral­ly, and in some respects, reli­gious­ly – and in their views on philosophy’s prop­er scope – essen­tial­ly con­ser­v­a­tive thinkers who opposed many or most of the rad­i­cal and demo­c­ra­t­ic ideas of their age and, as such, were, in the main, oppo­nents of the Rad­i­cal Enlight­en­ment” (EC, 58). 

  7. Dar­rin McMa­hon, “What are Enlight­en­ments?,” Mod­ern Intel­lec­tu­al His­to­ry, 4.3, (2007), 601-616, 609. 

  8. Spinoza’s thought began to become known in a small Dutch cir­cle at the onset of the 1660s, as well as in cer­tain net­works of the Repub­lic of Let­ters, espe­cial­ly through the fig­ure of Hen­ry Old­en­burg, who had vis­it­ed Spin­oza in Ams­ter­dam in 1661 and sub­se­quent­ly main­tained an ample cor­re­spon­dence. But it is above all the appear­ance of the Trac­ta­tus the­o­logi­co-politi­cus in 1670, the scan­dal it pro­voked, and its siz­able dif­fu­sion through­out Europe that pro­vid­ed Spin­oza with recog­ni­tion. On the oth­er hand, the Ethics was only pub­lished after his death (com­ing in 1677) in the Opera posthu­ma, which also con­tained unfin­ished works and let­ters, and was clan­des­tine­ly pub­lished dur­ing the win­ter of 1677-78. These works were imme­di­ate­ly con­demned by civ­il and reli­gious author­i­ties. 

  9. RE, 7. 

  10. Cf. The Ear­ly Enlight­en­ment in the Dutch Repub­lic, 1650-1750, ed. Wiep Van Bunge (Lei­den: Brill, 2003). 

  11. This return to Spin­oza doubt­less traces back to, on the one hand, the reread­ings inspired by Marx­ist thought in the work of Louis Althuss­er, and then in the work of Pierre Macherey or Éti­enne Bal­ibar; and, on the oth­er hand, to the work of Gilles Deleuze. The lat­ter is no doubt cru­cial for the mul­ti­ple con­tem­po­rary ref­er­ence points of neo-Spin­ozism. More recent­ly, the Spin­ozist ref­er­ence is explic­it and impor­tant in the works of Anto­nio Negri and Michael Hardt, Frédéric Lor­don, and Chris­t­ian Lazzeri. For a recent bal­ance-sheet, see Spin­oza et les sci­ences sociales: De la puis­sance de la mul­ti­tude à l’économie des affects, ed. Yves Cit­ton and Frédéric Lor­don (Paris: Édi­tions Ams­ter­dam, 2008); Céline Spec­tor, “Le spin­ozisme poli­tique aujourd’hui: Toni Negri, Éti­enne Bal­ibar..,” Esprit, May 2007, 27-45. The turn to Spin­oza is today one of the major ele­ments of the the­o­ret­i­cal arse­nal of this anti-author­i­tar­i­an and alter-glob­al­iza­tion intel­lec­tu­al left that can be open­ly qual­i­fied as…radical. 

  12. Gilles Deleuze, Spin­oza: Prac­ti­cal Phi­los­o­phy, Paris, trans. Robert Hur­ley (San Fran­cis­co: City Lights, 1986); Anto­nio Negri, The Sav­age Anom­aly: The Pow­er of Spinoza’s Meta­physics and Pol­i­tics, trans. Michael Hardt (Min­neapo­lis: Uni­ver­si­ty of Min­neso­ta Press, 1991); Michael Hardt and Anto­nio Negri, Mul­ti­tude: War and Democ­ra­cy in the Age of Empire (New York: Pen­guin, 2004). 

  13. Anto­nio Negri, “Spinoza’s Anti-Moder­ni­ty,” trans. Charles T. Wolfe, in Sub­ver­sive Spin­oza: (Un)Contemporary Vari­a­tion, ed. Tim­o­thy S. Mur­phy (Man­ches­ter: Man­ches­ter Uni­ver­si­ty Press, 2004), 79-93; Yves Cit­ton et Frédéric Lor­don, “Un devenir spin­oziste des sci­ences sociales,” in Spin­oza et les sci­ences sociales: De la puis­sance de la mul­ti­tude à l’économie des affects, 19. 

  14. Qu’est-ce que les Lumières « rad­i­cales » ? Lib­erti­nage, athéisme et spin­ozisme dans le tour­nant philosophique de l’âge clas­sique, eds. Cather­ine Sec­re­tan, Tris­tan Dagron et Lau­rent Bove (Paris, Édi­tions Ams­ter­dam, 2007). 

  15. Israel’s body of work is con­sid­er­able. See espe­cial­ly Race, Class and Pol­i­tics in Colo­nial Mex­i­co, 1610-1670 (Oxford: Oxford Uni­ver­si­ty Press, 1975); Empires and Entre­pots: The Dutch, the Span­ish Monar­chy and the Jews, 1585-1713 (Lon­don, The Ham­ble­don Press, 1990); The Dutch Repub­lic: Its Rise, Great­ness, and Fall, 1477-1806, (Oxford: Claren­don Press, 1995); Dias­po­ras With­in a Dias­po­ra: Jews, Cryp­to-Jews and the World Mar­itime Empires (1540-1740) (Leiden/Boston, Brill, 2002). 

  16. We might lament pre­cise­ly this way of treat­ing con­text (urban devel­op­ment, pub­lic space, libraries, the role of cen­sor­ship, women, or even the press) as a pre­lim­i­nary so as to not have to return to it. On Haz­ard and Gay, see Paul Haz­ard Cri­sis of the Euro­pean Mind: 1680-1715, trans. J. Lewis May (New York: New York Review of Books, 2013 [1935]); Peter Gay, The Enlight­en­ment: An inter­pre­ta­tion, 2 vols. (Lon­don, Wild­wood House, 1966-1973). 

  17. Israel reduces the social his­to­ry of cul­ture to a sim­ple exten­sion of the his­to­ry of men­tal­i­ties, and crit­i­cizes it for a struc­tural­ist deter­min­ism, which he seems to mark as a “lega­cy of the Annales School.” This obvi­ous­ly fails to take into account the last thir­ty years of method­olog­i­cal reflec­tions and empir­i­cal stud­ies, which have been aid­ed, among oth­ers things, by a cri­tique of the notion of men­tal­i­ties, the devel­op­ments of his­to­ries of the book, reflec­tions on the notion of rep­re­sen­ta­tions, stud­ies on intel­lec­tu­al socia­bil­i­ties, or even the his­to­ry and anthro­polo­gies of the sci­ences. All of these points are bla­tant­ly ignored. One should hope that Israel reads 18th cen­tu­ry rad­i­cals more scrupu­lous­ly than he does his own col­leagues. 

  18. Dominick LaCapra, Rethink­ing Intel­lec­tu­al His­to­ry: Texts, Con­texts, Lan­guage (Itha­ca: Cor­nell Uni­ver­si­ty Press, 1983); see espe­cial­ly his method­olog­i­cal remarks in His­to­ry and Read­ing: Toc­queville, Fou­cault, French Stud­ies (Toron­to: Uni­ver­si­ty of Toron­to Press, 2000), 21-72. 

  19. Fran­co Ven­turi, Utopia and Reform in the Enlight­en­ment (Cam­bridge: Cam­bridge Uni­ver­si­ty Press, 1971), 2. 

  20. This ambi­gu­i­ty is par­tic­u­lar­ly promi­nent in the con­clu­sion to the sec­ond vol­ume, which plays on both the his­tor­i­cal and philo­soph­i­cal sense of the term, “impor­tance” (EC, 865-66). 

  21. One can take the strik­ing exam­ple of the Count of Boulainvil­liers, to whom Israel devotes an entire chap­ter and sev­er­al pas­sages of com­men­tary. While his works on the his­to­ry of polit­i­cal insti­tu­tions and the nobil­i­ty – in which he defends the inter­ests of the nobil­i­ty – were pub­lished and reprint­ed in his life­time and found great suc­cess, his works inspired by Deism and Spin­ozism remained more pri­vate. His abridged Uni­ver­sal His­to­ry was only cir­cu­lat­ed among a small cir­cle of inti­mate friends and was nev­er pub­lished. L’Essai de Meta­physique was only pub­lished – clan­des­tine­ly – after his death. Final­ly, his trans­la­tion of the Ethics remained large­ly unknown until the nine­teenth-cen­tu­ry, and we are still debat­ing whether it is writ­ten by his hand, On this ques­tion of the pub­li­ca­tion and recep­tion of rad­i­cal works, see Har­vey Chisick, “Inter­pret­ing the Enlight­en­ment,” The Euro­pean Lega­cy, Vol. 13, No. 1 (2008): 35-57. 

  22. Israel con­cludes the sec­ond vol­ume by defin­ing the rad­i­cal Enlight­en­ment as “a pack­age of basic con­cepts and val­ues” that can be sum­ma­rized in eight car­di­nal points: rea­son as the sole cri­te­ri­on of the true, the rejec­tion of super­nat­ur­al expla­na­tions, racial and sex­u­al equal­i­ty, a sec­u­lar and uni­ver­sal ethics, tol­er­a­tion and free­dom of thought, accep­tance of the lib­er­ty of sex­u­al con­duct, free­dom of pub­lic expres­sion, and demo­c­ra­t­ic repub­li­can­ism (EC, 866). Against the objec­tion that cer­tain authors were rad­i­cal in some domains but not in oth­ers, Israel responds that “it was assured­ly not pos­si­ble to be so coher­ent­ly” (Ibid.) and that the object of intel­lec­tu­al his­to­ry is to recon­struct coher­ent forms of thought. The oppo­si­tion with socio­cul­tur­al his­to­ry is explic­it, which is more inter­est­ed accord­ing to him in “periph­er­al top­ics, under­ground asso­ci­a­tions, and forms of socia­bil­i­ty rather than on intel­lec­tu­al argu­ments and pat­terns of thought and con­tro­ver­sy” (EC, 867). 

  23. Paul Vernière, Spin­oza et la pen­sée française avant la Révo­lu­tion (Paris: PUF, 1954); Dis­guised and Overt Spin­ozism Around 1700, ed. Wiep van Bunge and Wim Klever (Lei­den: Brill, 1996); Spin­oza au XVI­I­Ie siè­cle, ed. Olivi­er Bloch (Paris: Méri­di­ens Klinck­sieck, 1990); Syl­vain Zac, Spin­oza en Alle­magne. Mendelssohn, Less­ing et Jaco­bi (Paris: Méri­di­ens Klinck­sieck, 1989); David Bell, Spin­oza in Ger­many from 1670 to the Age of Goethe (Lon­don: Insti­tute of Ger­man­ic Stud­ies, 1984); Win­fried Schröder, Spin­oza in der deutschen Frühaufk­lärung (Würzburg: Königshausen und Neu­mann, 1987). 

  24. Sil­via Berti, “At the Roots of Unbe­lief,” Jour­nal of the His­to­ry of Ideas, Vol. 56, No. 4 (1995): 555-575. 

  25. Léo Strauss: art d’écrire, poli­tique, philoso­phie. La per­sé­cu­tion et l’art d’écrire, ed. Lau­rent Jaf­fro et al. (Paris: J. Vrin, 2001). 

  26. Gian­lu­ca Mori, Bayle philosophe, (Paris: H. Cham­pi­on, 1999), 181. For a nuanced pre­sen­ta­tion of cur­rent debates on Bayle, see also Pierre Bayle dans la République des Let­tres: philoso­phie, reli­gion, cri­tique, ed. Antony McKen­na and Gian­ni Pagani­ni (Paris: H. Cham­pi­on, 2004). 

  27. In the same man­ner, and an even more sur­pris­ing fash­ion, Israel ranks anoth­er Neapoli­tan, Pao­lo Mat­tia Doria, with the rad­i­cal authors, although Doria was a patri­cian hos­tile to mate­ri­al­ism. The bib­li­og­ra­phy on these authors is too large to be cit­ed here. We will return to the recent syn­the­sis by John Robert­son, The Case for the Enlight­en­ment: Scot­land and Naples, 1680-1760 (Cam­bridge: Cam­bridge Uni­ver­si­ty Press, 2006). In a recent review of The Rad­i­cal Enlight­en­ment, which is fair­ly favor­able towards Israel’s book, Giuseppe Ricu­perati, undoubt­ed­ly the top spe­cial­ist of Ital­ian Enlight­en­ment rad­i­cal­ism, express­es strong reser­va­tions on the pres­ence of Doria and Vico as rad­i­cal authors: Giuseppe Ricu­perati, “In mar­gine al Rad­i­cal Enlight­en­ment di Jonathan I. Israel,” Riv­ista stor­i­ca ital­iana, Vol. 115, No. 1 (2003): 285-329. 

  28. Gus­tave Lan­son, “Ques­tions divers­es sur l’histoire de l’esprit philosophique en France avant 1750,” Revue d’histoire lit­téraire de la France, XIX (1912): 1-29 and 293- 317; Ira O. Wade, Clan­des­tine Orga­ni­za­tion and Dif­fu­sion of Philo­soph­ic Ideas in France from 1700 to 1750 (Prince­ton: Prince­ton Uni­ver­si­ty Press, 1938). 

  29. Two col­lec­tive works are the start­ing point for this redis­cov­ery, Ricerche su let­ter­atu­ra lib­erti­na et let­ter­atu­ra clan­des­ti­na nel Sei­cen­to, ed. Tul­lio Gre­go­ry et al. (Flo­rence: La Nuo­va Italia, 1981); and Le matéri­al­isme du XVI­I­Ie siè­cle et la lit­téra­ture clan­des­tine, op. cit. Since 1992, an annu­al jour­nal, La let­tre clan­des­tine, has pre­sent­ed work on these top­ics. The bib­li­og­ra­phy is con­sid­er­able. See in par­tic­u­lar, besides the titles cit­ed in oth­er notes, Miguel Ben­itez, La face cachée des lumières: recherch­es sur les man­u­scrits philosophiques clan­des­tins de l’âge clas­sique (Paris/Oxford: Universitas/The Voltaire Foun­da­tion, 1996); Geneviève Arti­gas­menant, Du secret des clan­des­tins à la pro­pa­gande voltairi­enne (Paris: H. Cham­pi­on, 2001); Alan C. Kors, Athe­ism in France, 1650-1729, Vol­ume 1: The Ortho­dox Sources of Dis­be­lief (Prince­ton: Prince­ton Uni­ver­si­ty Press, 1990); Scep­ti­cisme, clan­des­tinité et libre-pen­sée, eds. Gian­ni Pagani­ni, Miguel Ben­itez et James Dybikows­ki (Paris: H. Cham­pi­on, 2002). For a com­plete anno­tat­ed bib­li­og­ra­phy, see Jean-Pierre Cavail­lé, “Lib­erti­nage, irréli­gion, incroy­ance, athéisme dans l’Europe de la pre­mière moder­nité (XVIe-XVI­Ie siè­cles). Une approche cri­tique des ten­dances actuelles de la recherche (1998-2002),” Les Dossiers du Grihl (2007). 

  30. Gian­ni Pagani­ni, “Avant la prom­e­nade du scep­tique: Pyrrhon­isme et clan­des­tinité de Bayle à Diderot,” in Scep­ti­cisme, clan­des­tinité et libre-pen­sée, 17-46. 

  31. See for exam­ple Tris­tan Dagron, “Néo-spin­ozisme ou anti­spinozisme: le cas Toland,” in Qu’est-ce que les Lumières « rad­i­cales » ?. Lib­erti­nage, athéisme et spin­ozisme dans le tour­nant philosophique de l’âge clas­sique, 325-41. 

  32. Ann Thom­son, Bod­ies of Thought: Sci­ence, Reli­gion, and the Soul in the Ear­ly Enlight­en­ment (Oxford: Oxford Uni­ver­si­ty Press, 2008). 

  33. Mar­tin Mul­sow, Enlight­en­ment Under­ground: Rad­i­cal Ger­many, 1680-1720, trans. H.C. Erik Midelfort (Char­lottesville, VA: Uni­ver­si­ty of Vir­ginia Press, 2015); Schröder, Spin­oza in der deutschen Frühaufk­lärung

  34. See espe­cial­ly Het­ero­doxy, Spin­ozism and Free Thought in Ear­ly-Eigh­teenth-Cen­tu­ry Europe: Stud­ies on the Traité des trois impos­teurs, eds. Sylvia Berti, Françoise Charles-Daubert, and Richard Pop­kin (Dordrecht/Boston: Kluw­er Aca­d­e­m­ic Pub­lish­ers, 1996); Le Traité des trois impos­teurs et L’Esprit de Spin­osa: philoso­phie clan­des­tine entre 1678 et 1768, ed. Françoise Charles-Daubert (Oxford: Voltaire Foun­da­tion, 1999). 

  35. We owe Mar­garet Jacob for dis­cov­er­ing the Knights of Jubi­la­tion (The Rad­i­cal Enlight­en­ment: Pan­the­ists, Freema­sons and Repub­li­cans). The nature and func­tion of their meet­ings remain top­ics of debate: for an dis­sent­ing opin­ion, see Chris­tiane Berkvens-Stevelinck, “Les Cheva­liers de la Jubi­la­tion: maçon­ner­ie ou lib­erti­nage? A pro­pos de quelques pub­li­ca­tions de Mar­garet C. Jacob,” Quaeren­do, Vol. 13, No. 1 (1983): 50-73, and Vol. 13, No. 2 (1983): 124-148. 

  36. One finds the same kind of philo­soph­i­cal syn­cretism in anoth­er impor­tant text of this tra­di­tion, the Sym­bol­um sapi­en­tae, whose dif­fu­sion was impor­tant in clan­des­tine Ger­man milieus at the begin­ning of the 18th cen­tu­ry, and which Gian­ni Pagani­ni char­ac­ter­izes as an alliance of lib­er­tine thought and Spin­ozism as revised by the Kabal­ists, but draw­ing on it in a res­olute­ly skep­ti­cal direc­tion. See Gian­ni Pagani­ni, Les philoso­phies clan­des­tines à l’âge clas­sique (Paris: PUF, 2005), 79-94. 

  37. Jacob, The Rad­i­cal Enlight­en­ment: Pan­the­ists, Freema­sons and Repub­li­cans

  38. Sim­i­lar­ly, the treat­ment of the famous Memoir of the Thoughts and Feel­ings of Jean Mes­li­er, by the French priest of the same name and which so marked the anti-reli­gious thought of the Enlight­en­ment, is quite curi­ous. While it is list­ed as num­ber four in the table pre­sent­ing the major clan­des­tine philo­soph­i­cal man­u­scripts of the Ear­ly Enlight­en­ment (RE, 690), Israel does not dis­cuss it at all. It is true that Mes­li­er had not read Spin­oza, whom he only knew through the refu­ta­tion of Father Tourne­m­ine. In the sec­ond vol­ume, how­ev­er, Mes­li­er is pro­mot­ed to “the most coher­ent­ly and sys­tem­at­i­cal­ly rad­i­cal thinker of the French ear­ly Enlight­en­ment” (EC, 716 and 724-28) on the basis of his athe­ism, but his rela­tion to Spin­oza is hard­ly elu­ci­dat­ed. On the oth­er hand, we know that Voltaire first pub­lished Meslier’s text, in a ver­sion that was cer­tain­ly redact­ed. The intel­lec­tu­al and pub­lish­ing genealo­gies are thus infi­nite­ly more com­plex than the author sug­gests. 

  39. Mar­tin Mul­sow, “Free­think­ing in Ear­ly 18th-cen­tu­ry Ger­many », in Het­ero­doxy, Spin­ozism and Free Thought, 193-237. It will be not­ed in pass­ing that Peter Friedrich Arpe great­ly praised Bod­in’ Col­lo­qui­um, which he pos­sessed a copy of… 

  40. Mar­tin Mul­sow, Enlight­en­ment Under­ground: Rad­i­cal Ger­many, 1680-1720, Chap­ter 4. 

  41. This is a point empha­sized by Mar­tin Mul­sow in an unpub­lished text, “The Rad­i­cal Enlight­en­ment: Prob­lems and per­spec­tives.” I thank him for hav­ing sent it to me. 

  42. Van den Enden in fact par­tic­i­pat­ed in the 1674 Rohan con­spir­a­cy against Louis XIV, which led him straight to the gal­lows. Can we real­ly say that Van den Enden “had plot­ted to over­throw [Louis XIV’s] monar­chy with phi­los­o­phy” (RE, 183) when he par­tic­i­pat­ed (in the con­text of a war between France and Hol­land) in an aris­to­crat­ic plot which is locat­ed in the mem­o­ry of the Fronde? See Anette Smed­ley-Weill, “Un con­spir­a­teur au temps de Louis XIV: le cheva­lier de Rohan,” in L’État clas­sique. Regards sur la pen­sée poli­tique de la France dans le sec­ond XVI­Ie siè­cle, ed. Hen­ry Méchoulan and Joël Cor­nette (Paris: J. Vrin, 1996), 373-85. 

  43. Pierre-François More­au, “Spin­oza était-il spin­oziste?,” in Qu’est-ce que les Lumières « rad­i­cales »? Lib­erti­nage, athéisme et spin­ozisme dans le tour­nant philosophique de l’âge clas­sique, 289-97. 

  44. The study of the “Spin­oza cir­cle” traces back to Koen­raad O. Meinsma’s clas­sic text, Spin­oza et son cer­cle: Étude cri­tique his­torique sur les hétéro­dox­es hol­landais (Paris: J. Vrin, [1896] 1983), which broke with the image of a soli­tary and reclu­sive Spin­oza in order to show his place in an intel­lec­tu­al milieu. 

  45. Wiep Van Bunge, From Stevin to Spin­oza: An Essay on Phi­los­o­phy in the Sev­en­teenth-Cen­tu­ry Dutch Repub­lic, (Leiden/Boston: Brill, 2001). 

  46. This rein­ven­tion of Spin­oza at the end of the 18th cen­tu­ry was at the cen­ter of the Pan­the­ism con­tro­ver­sy. Mendelssohn, defend­ing Less­ing who Jaco­bi accused of being a Spin­ozist, pro­posed a revised Spin­ozism, com­pat­i­ble with nat­ur­al reli­gion. See Pierre-Hen­ri Tavoil­lot, Le cré­pus­cule des Lumières: Les doc­u­ments « de la querelle » du Pan­théisme (1780- 1789) (Paris: Édi­tions du Cerf, 1995). Israel says a few works about the Pan­the­is­musstre­it con­tro­ver­sy in “The Ear­ly Dutch Enlight­en­ment as a Fac­tor in the Wider Euro­pean Enlight­en­ment,” in The Ear­ly Enlight­en­ment in the Dutch Repub­lic, 1650-1750, 215-230. But curi­ous­ly, he sees it as the legit­i­ma­tion of Spin­oza and Spin­ozism by the major Ger­man thinkers of the end of the 18th cen­tu­ry (Less­ing, Mendelssohn, Goethe…) and thus as a con­fir­ma­tion of his analy­sis of the influ­ence of the Rad­i­cal Enlight­en­ment; the cru­cial aspect, how­ev­er, is the inven­tion of a very dif­fer­ent Spin­ozism than that of the begin­ning of the 18th cen­tu­ry. 

  47. Pierre Macherey, Avec Spin­oza: Études sur la doc­trine et l’histoire du spin­ozisme (Paris: PUF, 1992), 7. 

  48. RE, 199, among oth­er places. This ongo­ing recourse to the tes­ti­mo­ny of the anti-Enlight­en­ment is not sur­pris­ing; the glo­ri­fi­ca­tion of a rad­i­cal tra­di­tion, adorned with all the virtues of a cri­tique of the estab­lished order, and the denun­ci­a­tion of a blas­phe­mous sub­ver­sion are only two sides of the same intel­lec­tu­al oper­a­tion. 

  49. For a clar­i­fi­ca­tion of the stakes of the analy­sis of con­tro­ver­sies as applied to intel­lec­tu­al his­to­ry, see espe­cial­ly Jean-Louis Fabi­ani, “Con­tro­ver­s­es sci­en­tifiques, con­tro­ver­s­es philosophiques: Fig­ures, posi­tions, tra­jets,” Enquête No. 5 (1997): 11-34; Christophe Pro­chas­son and Anne Ras­mussen (eds.), “Com­ment on se dis­pute: Les formes de la con­tro­verse,” Mil neuf cent: revue d’histoire intel­lectuelle, No. 25 (2007). 

  50. Israel empha­sizes “the Enlightenment’s essen­tial dual­i­ty, that is the inter­nal strug­gle between the oppos­ing ten­den­cies which from begin­ning to end always fun­da­men­tal­ly divid­ed it into irrec­on­cil­ably opposed intel­lec­tu­al blocs.” (EC, X). 

  51. For an excel­lent recent exam­ple show­ing how this simul­ta­ne­ous­ly polit­i­cal, social, and reli­gious con­tro­ver­sy recon­fig­ured the cat­e­go­ry of the “lib­er­tine,” see Stéphane Van Damme, L’épreuve lib­er­tine: Morale, soupçon et pou­voirs dans la France baroque (Paris: Édi­tions du CNRS, 2008). A more trans­ver­sal approach, which is still very atten­tive to the intel­lec­tu­al effects of con­tro­ver­sies and the way in which cat­e­gories are con­struct­ed, can be found in Dar­rin M. McMa­hon, Ene­mies of the Enlight­en­ment: The French Counter-Enlight­en­ment and the Mak­ing of Moder­ni­ty, (New York/Oxford: Oxford Uni­ver­si­ty Press, 2001). 

  52. See the refu­ta­tion writ­ten by René-Joseph de Tournemine’s, pub­lished as the pref­ace to François Fénelon’s The Exis­tence of God in 1713, or Christo­pher Wittich’s Anti-Spin­oza, pub­lished in Ams­ter­dam in 1690. 

  53. In fact, Spin­oza and his work rep­re­sent a very spe­cif­ic con­fig­u­ra­tion, where­by there are not real­ly con­tro­ver­sies in the strict sense, since no one explic­it­ly or pub­licly argues from a Spin­ozist point of view. It is there­fore a mat­ter of con­tro­ver­sies by default, where cap­il­lary Spin­ozist themes pro­duce effects with­out claimed spokesper­sons or polem­i­cal engage­ments, or thus by being graft­ed onto oth­er con­tro­ver­sies. 

  54. Vernière, Spin­oza et la pen­sée française avant la Révo­lu­tion, 528-611. On Diderot, Vernière is more nuanced than Israel, and cor­rect­ly notes that it is unre­al­is­tic to wish to lay down a defin­i­tive inter­pre­ta­tion of this “rhetori­cian capa­ble of mir­ror­ing all argu­ments” (555). 

  55. This is the expres­sion found in the arti­cle on the “Spin­ozist” arti­cle in the Ency­clopédie of Diderot and d’Alembert, which cor­rect­ly dis­tin­guish­es between “ancient” and “mod­ern Spin­ozists.” 

  56. Yves Cit­ton, L’envers de la lib­erté: L’invention d’un imag­i­naire spin­oziste dans la France des Lumières, (Paris: Édi­tions Ams­ter­dam, 2006), 27. 

  57. Israel acknowl­edges this fact sev­er­al times in the details of his analy­sis, but does not draw any gen­er­al con­se­quences from it. La Met­trie is then pre­sent­ed as the “Voltaire of the Rad­i­cal tra­di­tion,” from which he had “dis­tilled the essence”; but Israel rec­og­nizes that “odd though it seems, La Met­trie appar­ent­ly had no direct knowl­edge of Spin­oza at all, and thus the spec­tre of Spin­oza he con­jures up is not the real Spin­oza” (RE, 707-8). The fol­low­ing pas­sages go on to show that in actu­al­i­ty, and unbe­knownst to him, La Met­trie was on many points close to the “real Spin­oza.” 

  58. Accord­ing to Tournemine’s for­mu­la­tion, cit­ed by Cit­ton, L’envers de la lib­erté, 46. 

  59. Johannes Colerus, The Life of Bene­dict de Spin­osa (The Hague: M. Nijhoff, 1906 [1706]). On the impor­tance of bio­graph­i­cal writ­ing in the his­to­ry of Enlight­en­ment-era phi­los­o­phy, see Dinah Rib­ard, Racon­ter, vivre, penser: Histoire(s) de philoso­phies, 1650-1766 (Paris: Vrin/Éditions de l’EHESS, 2002), espe­cial­ly 127-32 on the anec­dotes relat­ing to Spin­oza. 

  60. Macherey, Avec Spin­oza, 19. 

  61. Here again I refer to the sug­ges­tive remarks of Pierre-François More­au, “Spin­oza était-il spin­oziste?.” More broad­ly, the ques­tion of Spinoza’s thought is extreme­ly com­pli­cat­ed, as the The­o­log­i­cal-Polit­i­cal Trea­tise and the Polit­i­cal Trea­tise can be inter­pret­ed in diver­gent ways. It is thus per­fect­ly pos­si­ble, against analy­ses of Spin­oza as the sub­ver­sive prophet of the mul­ti­tudes and rad­i­cal democ­ra­cy, to high­light the apo­r­ias of his the­o­ry of democ­ra­cy, as shaped by the “fear of the mass­es” and the ten­sions of demo­c­ra­t­ic insti­tu­tion­al­iza­tion. See Eti­enne Bal­ibar, Spin­oza and Pol­i­tics, trans. War­ren Mon­tag (New York: Ver­so, 1998), and “Spin­oza, the Anti-Orwell: The Fear of the Mass­es, in Mass­es, Class­es, Ideas, trans. James Swen­son (New York: Rout­ledge, 1994), 1-38. 

  62. François Furet and Mona Ozouf, “Two His­tor­i­cal Legit­i­ma­tions of Eigh­teenth-Cen­tu­ry French Soci­ety: Mably and Boulainvilliers,”in François Furet, In the Work­shop of His­to­ry, trans. Jonathan Man­del­baum, (Chicago/London: Uni­ver­si­ty of Chica­go Press, 1984), 125-39; Diego Ven­turi­no, Le ragioni del­la tradizione: nobiltà e mon­do mod­er­no in Boulainvil­liers, 1658-1722 (Flo­rence: Le Let­tere, 1993); Michel Fou­cault, Soci­ety Must Be Defend­ed: Lec­tures at the Col­lège de France, 1975-1976, ed. Mau­ro Bertani and Alessan­dro Fontana, under the direc­tion of Fran­cois Ewald, Alessan­dro Fontana, and Arnold I. David­son, trans. David Macey (New York: Pic­a­dor, 2003), 115-88. 

  63. When the polit­i­cal trans­la­tion of this philo­soph­i­cal rad­i­cal­ism is elab­o­rat­ed, it is done in a way that is at once clear and unclear [ferme et floue]. For exam­ple, after a dis­cus­sion of nat­ur­al equal­i­ty in Spinoza’s thought, and its incor­po­ra­tion in the thought of Lahon­tan, Rad­i­cati, and Rousseau, Israel abrupt­ly con­cludes: “When in the depths of the French Rev­o­lu­tion the Jacobin clubs all over France reg­u­lar­ly deployed Rousseau when demand­ing rad­i­cal reforms, and espe­cial­ly any­thing such as land redis­tri­b­u­tion designed to enhance equal­i­ty, they were at the same time, albeit most­ly uncon­scious­ly, invok­ing a rad­i­cal tra­di­tion which reached back to the late sev­en­teenth cen­tu­ry” (RE, 274). Almost every term here pos­es a prob­lem: from the exis­tence of a “rad­i­cal tra­di­tion” orig­i­nat­ing with Spin­oza, to its “uncon­scious” influ­ence on Jacobin mil­i­tan­cy and the peas­ant move­ments (which are in any case not the same). 

  64. For a recent devel­op­ment of these debates, Eng­lish Rad­i­cal­ism, 1550-1850, ed. Glenn Burgess and Matthew Fes­ten­stein (Cam­bridge: Cam­bridge Uni­ver­si­ty Press, 2007). 

  65. Pim den Boer, “Le dic­tio­n­naire lib­ertin d’Adriaen Koerbagh,” in Qu’est-ce que les Lumières « rad­i­cales »? Lib­erti­nage, athéisme et spin­ozisme dans le tour­nant philosophique de l’âge clas­sique, 104-30. 

  66. Jean-Pierre Cavail­lé, “Lib­erti­nage ou Lumières rad­i­cales,” in Qu’est-ce que les Lumières « rad­i­cales »? Lib­erti­nage, athéisme et spin­ozisme dans le tour­nant philosophique de l’âge clas­sique, 61-74. 

  67. This is a dif­fi­cult ques­tion. A com­bi­na­tion of pru­dence and elit­ism led Spin­oza to use his writ­ings in a lim­it­ed fash­ion, and at times he deployed a dou­ble lan­guage which some com­men­ta­tors have attrib­uted to the Mar­ra­no tra­di­tion: Yirmyahu Yov­el, Spin­oza and Oth­er Heretics, Vol­ume 1: The Mar­ra­no Tra­di­tion (Prince­ton: Prince­ton Uni­ver­si­ty Press, 1992). How­ev­er, we can­not over­look the fact that Spin­oza nev­er hes­i­tat­ed to pub­licly state his break with the Law of Moses, which forced his excom­mu­ni­ca­tion from the Jew­ish com­mu­ni­ty in Ams­ter­dam in 1656; that he pub­lished the The­o­log­i­cal-Polit­i­cal Trea­tise, a man­i­festo for the free­dom of expres­sion; and that he made sev­er­al attempts at one point to pub­lish the Ethics

  68. And not always implic­it­ly: Israel writes that rad­i­cal authors rebelled “so to speak from the ‘left’” (EC, 43). 

  69. “By the mid 1740s, the rad­i­cal fac­tion, despite the oppos­ing efforts of Voltaire, had large­ly cap­tured the main bloc of the French intel­lec­tu­al avant-garde which it con­tin­ued to dom­i­nate down to the time of Napoleon” (EC, 12). 

  70. Michel Fou­cault, The Gov­ern­ment of Self and Oth­ers: Lec­tures at the Col­lège de France, 1982-1983, ed. Frédéric Gros, under the direc­tion of François Ewald, Alessan­dro Fontana and Arnold I. David­son, trans. Gra­ham Burchell (New York: Pal­grave Macmil­lan, 2010). 

  71. We will note in pass­ing that Israel is par­tic­u­lar­ly harsh on Voltaire, whom he presents as being a mod­er­ate, even con­ser­v­a­tive, prov­i­den­tial­ist deist. We can read­i­ly agree that Voltaire is not a rev­o­lu­tion­ary in many sens­es, for exam­ple in social or polit­i­cal terms. But in regard to reli­gion, his cri­tique of mir­a­cles and scrip­ture made him a dif­fi­cult author for the eccle­si­as­tic author­i­ties to accept. More­over, as Mar­garet Jacob has argued, the New­to­ni­an­ism vul­gar­ized in France and even the rest of Europe, was large­ly de-Chris­tian­ized, com­pared to its Eng­lish vari­ant. More broad­ly, the cat­e­go­ry of the “mod­er­ate Enlight­en­ment” is hard­ly more con­sis­tent than that of the Rad­i­cal Enlight­en­ment: in the same way, it con­fus­es that which derives from a philo­soph­i­cal mod­er­a­tion and that which cor­re­sponds to a polit­i­cal mod­er­a­tion, with­out say­ing a word about a the­o­ry of mod­er­a­tion, as one finds it in Montesquieu’s work, for exam­ple a the­o­ry that is far from a mere reac­tion to rad­i­cal audac­i­ty, but instead hinges on a the­o­ry of his­to­ry and pow­er. 

  72. Graeme Gar­rard, Rousseau’s Counter-Enlight­en­ment: A Repub­li­can Cri­tique of the Philosophes (Albany: State Uni­ver­si­ty of New York Press, 2003). 

  73. On the link between this ambi­gu­i­ty and the uses of Rousseau dur­ing the French Rev­o­lu­tion, see James Swen­son, On Jean-Jacques Rousseau: Con­sid­ered as One of the First Authors of the Rev­o­lu­tion (Stan­ford: Stan­ford Uni­ver­si­ty Press, 2000). 

  74. Jean-Pierre Cavaillé, Dis­sim­u­la­tions: Jules César Vani­ni, François La Mothe Le Vay­er, Gabriel Naudé, Louis Machon et Torqua­to Accet­to: reli­gion, morale et poli­tique au XVI­Ie siècle (Paris: H. Cham­pi­on, 2002); Sophie Gou­verneur, Pru­dence et sub­ver­sion lib­ertines: la cri­tique de la rai­son d’état chez François de La Mothe Le Vay­er, Gabriel Naudé et Samuel Sorbière (Paris; H. Cham­pi­on, 2005); See also the spe­cial issue of La let­tre clan­des­tine: bul­letin d’information sur la lit­téra­ture philosophique clan­des­tine de l’âge clas­sique, no. 8 (1999), on “anonymi­ty and clan­des­tin­i­ty.” 

  75. Alain San­dri­er, Le style philosophique du baron d’Holbach: con­di­tions et con­traintes du prosé­lytisme athée en France dans la sec­onde moitié du XVI­I­Ie siè­cle (Paris: H. Cham­pi­on, 2004). 

  76. Christo­pher Kel­ly, Rousseau as Author: Con­se­crat­ing One’s Life to the Truth (Chica­go: Uni­ver­si­ty of Chica­go Press, 2005). 

  77. Jean-Jacques Rousseau, “Let­ters Writ­ten from the Moun­tain,” trans. Christo­pher Kel­ly, in The Col­lect­ed Writ­ings of Jean-Jacques Rousseau, Vol. 9, ed. Christo­pher Kel­ly and Eve Grace (Lebanon, NH: Dart­mouth Col­lege Press, 2013), 131-61. 

  78. Antoine Lilti, “The Writ­ing of Para­noia: Jean-Jacques Rousseau and the Para­dox­es of Celebri­ty,” Rep­re­sen­ta­tions 103 (2008): 53-83. 

  79. When Rousseau seeks to denounce the per­se­cu­tion he views him­self to be a vic­tim of because of his writ­ings, he con­trasts his own treat­ment with that of the “Athe­ist Spin­oza,” who “peace­ful­ly taught his doc­trine” and “lived and died in tran­quil­li­ty, and even well respect­ed.” See “Let­ter to Beau­mont,” trans. Judith R. Bush and Christo­pher Kel­ly, Col­lect­ed Writ­ings, Vol. 9, 24. 

  80. Roy Porter, The Enlight­en­ment: Britain and the Cre­ation of the Mod­ern World, (Lon­don: Pen­guin, 2000); J.G.A. Pocock, Bar­barism and Reli­gion, Vol­ume One: The Enlight­en­ments of Edward Gib­bon, (Cam­bridge: Cam­bridge Uni­ver­si­ty Press, 1999). 

  81. Charles W. J. With­ers, Plac­ing the Enlight­en­ment: Think­ing Geo­graph­i­cal­ly About the Age of Rea­son, (Chica­go: Uni­ver­si­ty of Chica­go Press, 2007). 

  82. Anne Saa­da, Inven­ter Diderot: les con­struc­tions d’un auteur dans l’Allemagne des Lumières, (Paris: Édi­tions du CNRS, 2003). 

  83. See Wiep van Bunge’s remarks in his intro­duc­tion to The Ear­ly Enlight­en­ment in the Dutch Repub­lic, 1650-1750, 1016. 

  84. Denis Diderot, Voy­age en Hol­lande, cit­ed in Wij­nand Mijn­hardt, “The Con­struc­tion of Silence: Reli­gious and Polit­i­cal Rad­i­cal­ism in Dutch His­to­ry,” in The Ear­ly Enlight­en­ment in the Dutch Repub­lic, 1650-1750, 233. 

  85. Mijn­hardt, “The Con­struc­tion of Silence: Reli­gious and Polit­i­cal Rad­i­cal­ism in Dutch His­to­ry”; see also Mar­garet C. Jacob and Wij­nand Mijn­hardt (ed.), The Dutch Repub­lic in the Eigh­teenth Cen­tu­ry: Decline, Enlight­en­ment and Rev­o­lu­tion (Itha­ca, Cor­nell Uni­ver­si­ty Press, 1992). 

  86. Includ­ing, for exam­ple, the very rapid dis­sem­i­na­tion of the juridi­cal and con­sti­tu­tion­al argu­ments of the Neapoli­tan jurist Gae­tano Filang­ieri, a the­o­rist of the rights of man and nat­ur­al right, in the His­pano-Amer­i­can world: Anto­nio Tram­pus (ed.), Dirit­ti e cos­ti­tuzione. L’opera di Gae­tano Filang­ieri e la sua for­tu­na euro­pea (Bologna: Il Muli­no, 2005). 

  87. See for exam­ple Jorge Cañizares-Esguerra, How to Write the His­to­ry of the New World: His­to­ries, Epis­te­molo­gies, and Iden­ti­ties in the Eigh­teenth-Cen­tu­ry Atlantic World (Stan­ford: Stan­ford Uni­ver­si­ty Press, 2001), which brings to light the exis­tence of a prop­er­ly cre­ole dynam­ic of crit­i­cal reflec­tion on the sources of the Ameroin­di­an past, a “patri­ot­ic epis­te­mol­o­gy” that could recast our under­stand­ing of the geog­ra­phy of the Enlight­en­ment and Euro­pean intel­lec­tu­al con­tro­ver­sies. 

  88. While Bayle’s “part­ly veiled” think­ing on the colo­nial ques­tion is inter­pret­ed in an anti-impe­r­i­al sense, Montesquieu’s think­ing on slav­ery is judged in light of the para­dox­i­cal use made of it by colonists in Saint-Domingue to pro­vide jus­ti­fi­ca­tion for slav­ery. (EC, 605-6). For a more nuanced approach to Montesquieu’s com­plex posi­tion, see Jean Ehrard, “Audace théorique, pru­dence pra­tique: Mon­tesquieu et l’esclavage colo­nial,” in Abolir l’esclavage: Un réformisme à l’épreuve (France, Por­tu­gal, Suisse, XVI­I­Ie-XIXe siè­cles), ed. Olivi­er Pétré-Grenouilleau (Rennes: PUR, 2008), 27-39. 

  89. Sankar Muthu, Enlight­en­ment Against Empire (Prince­ton: Prince­ton Uni­ver­si­ty Press, 2003). 

  90. Lar­ry Wolff and Mar­co Cipol­loni (ed.), The Anthro­pol­o­gy of the Enlight­en­ment (Stan­ford: Stan­ford Uni­ver­si­ty Press, 2007). 

  91. Robert­son, The Case for the Enlight­en­ment: Scot­land and Naples, 1680-1760

  92. Jean-Claude Per­rot, Une his­toire intel­lectuelle de l’économie poli­tique, XVI­Ie-XVI­I­Ie siè­cle (Paris: Édi­tions de L’EHESS, 1992). Con­verse­ly, we can remark that Israel does not dis­cuss polit­i­cal econ­o­my at all. 

  93. J. G. A. Pocock, Bar­barism and Reli­gion, 4 vols. (Cam­bridge: Cam­bridge Uni­ver­si­ty Press, 1999-2005); see also his “His­to­ri­og­ra­phy and Enlight­en­ment: A view of Their His­to­ry,” Mod­ern Intel­lec­tu­al His­to­ry 5, no. 1 (2008): 83-96. 

  94. In recent years, many oth­er fields or sites of intel­lec­tu­al his­to­ry have been opened, show­ing the com­plex­i­ty of the link­ages between the Enlight­en­ment and moder­ni­ty, what­ev­er our def­i­n­i­tion is of the for­mer, and which seek to inter­pret the “pol­y­semic Enlight­en­ment” in all its diver­si­ty and his­toric­i­ty: Michel Por­ret, “Intro­duc­tion,” in Sens des Lumières, ed. Michel Por­ret (Chêne-Bourg: Georg, 2007), 15. The his­to­ry of sci­ence has espe­cial­ly bro­ken with the grand nar­ra­tive of the inex­orable progress of sci­en­tif­ic ratio­nal­i­ty in order to empha­size con­tra­dic­tions and con­tem­po­rary stakes. See in par­tic­u­lar the panora­ma offered in William Clark, Jan Golinksi, and Simon Schaf­fer (eds.), The Sci­ences in Enlight­ened Europe (Chica­go: Uni­ver­si­ty of Chica­go Press, 1999). 

  95. Michel Fou­cault, “What is Enlight­en­ment?,” trans. Cather­ine Porter, in The Fou­cault Read­er, ed. Paul Rabi­now (New York, Pan­theon Books, 1984), 32-50; also The Gov­ern­ment of Self and Oth­ers, 13-14. See also the dossier “Fou­cault et les Lumières,” Lumières 8 (2006). 

Author of the article

teaches social and cultural history at the École des Hautes Etudes en Sciences Sociales in Paris and is former editor of the Annales journal. He is the author of The World of the Salons: Sociability and Worldliness in Eighteenth-Century Paris, and co-editor of Penser l'Europe au XVIIIe siècle: commerce, civilisation, empire.