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Enlightenment philosophers and the American Revolution

Philosophy, Revolution, and Human

Of his Enlightenment ideas

Jonathan I. Israel, Democratic Enlightenment: Philosophy, Revolution, and Human Privileges 1750-1790, Oxford College Press, 2011, 1066pp., $45.00 (hbk), ISBN 200.

Examined by Omri Boehm, The Brand New School for Social Research

Spinoza wasn't any passionate supporter of revolutions. He argues within the Theological-Political Treatise that they're certain to fail: a people accustomed to illegitimate rule would forever overthrow one tyrant simply to replace him by another (TTP 18, 235). The reason behind this inclination, Spinoza describes, would be that the public are extremely rapidly pleased by novelties - new tyrants - which have "not demonstrated illusory" (TTP Preface, 16). This argument is fond of political revolutions, however the point is applicable as well to 'revolutions from the mind'. Anybody following Spinoza's spirit would need to request whether enlightenment modernity didn't overthrow the tyranny of thought only to replace it all with a novel tyranny - reason's - whose authority had not demonstrated illusory. This is particularly disquieting when Spinoza's own, radical, revolutionary Enlightenment is worried which boosts some doubts concerning the ultimate success of Jonathan Israel's bold, genuinely comprehensive trio - hardly needing an intro - now concluding within the third volume, Democratic Enlightenment: Philosophy, Revolution, and Human Privileges 1750-1790.

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