He is widely known for defending natural right, especially in its classical form, against the challenges of relativism and historicism, reopening the quarrel between the ancients and the moderns in political philosophy, emphasizing philosophy as a way of life, sharply criticizing value-free social science, stressing the centrality of the theological-political problem, and distinguishing between the exoteric and esoteric teachings of writers of the past.
The Salvatori Center offers a one-week fellowship for 15 exceptional undergraduates and recent graduates to study the thought of Leo Strauss with faculty from Claremont McKenna College and visiting scholars. Both students familiar and unfamiliar with the writings of Leo Strauss are encouraged to apply.
The program will meet for 2 three-hour sessions each day from June 10th — June 14th, A historian of Spanish imperialism, Dutch republicanism and Jewish commercialism, Jonathan Israel has entered the study of the Enlightenment in an uncommonly bold way. Radical Enlightenment , the first installment of a projected three-volume history, ran to more than pages; the second volume, Enlightenment Contested , was even longer; the third, which aims to take the story through the French Revolution, is in preparation.
Did you know that Spinoza caused the French Revolution? On second glance, however, the gnats seem more like vultures. What was the Enlightenment, and what is its relevance today? For Israel, the answers are simple. They are, Israel writes, "democracy, racial and sexual equality; individual liberty of lifestyle; full freedom of thought, expression, and the press; eradication of religious authority from the legislative process and education; and full separation of church and state. Spinoza was born into a community founded mainly by former Marranos, the Iberian Jews who had pretended to convert to Catholicism to escape persecution and, after , expulsion.
Some of them moved to Amsterdam, where they could practice Judaism openly. Born in , Spinoza was excommunicated in , almost certainly for his libertine beliefs and failure to follow Jewish law. While vilified from the beginning of his career as a philosopher, Spinoza has attracted followers in every century.
Israel inherits the view of Spinoza as the founder of liberal secularism; by casting God aside in favor of a philosophy of naturalism, Spinoza paved the way for responsible politics today. The universe, he insisted, is composed of one material "substance"; there is no God, no human soul. If miracles appear to have occurred, it is simply because their observers do not understand how to interpret the laws of nature.
In turn, his politics are based on natural rights that, in a departure from the social contract tradition, are preserved by individuals rather than surrendered to a sovereign. Spinoza hoped for a democratic republic in which untrammeled freedom of thought—what he called libertas philosophandi —would be preserved for those gifted and learned enough to make use of it.
It was composed, for most observers, of considerable variegation, with national and denominational differences. Some observers, notably Gertrude Himmelfarb, J. Pocock and the late Roy Porter, emphasized that each country had its own Enlightenment; while the pioneering historian David Sorkin has recently suggested that alongside the better-known atheistic or deist Enlightenments there were powerful, and even dominant, attempts by the religious to make faith and reason compatible. Despite this emphasis on variation, however, most persist in casting the Enlightenment as a single movement.
Wrong, Israel says. In truth, he writes, there were only two kinds of Enlightenment that really mattered, the true and the treasonous, and one must still choose between them. With delight in unmasking rival claimants to Enlightenment as frauds or fence-straddlers, Israel insists that only a small coterie of "radical" figures really cared about the core values. Meanwhile, those typically considered the luminaries of the age—from John Locke through Voltaire, and from Jean-Jacques Rousseau through Immanuel Kant—sought only "marginal reform" and cravenly sacrificed the core values to their misbegotten flattery of existing clerical and political authorities.
You could choose some halfway house that left the old order standing—notably the romance of American liberty twinned with black slavery or English liberties which fell in with social and religious conservatism. Or you could embrace Enlightenment freedom in its unadulterated form, even if that entailed demolishing the corrupt old order and starting anew.
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Allegiance to the true gospel of Spinoza left no other viable choice, either intellectually or politically. Every historian has to begin somewhere, but the fact that Israel begins with Spinoza, and then reduces most of what follows the philosopher to a footnote, leaves his account of the Enlightenment founded on something like immaculate conception. In any case, it strains credulity to organize what was a massive and century-long cultural phenomenon around the philosophical breakthrough of a single thinker.
If Israel thinks otherwise, it is because he mixes his own sense of philosophical superiority with the very different problem of historical effects. He is on firm ground, for example, when he insists that his hero defended a much more robust version of freedom of thought than that of Locke and others, who were most interested in enabling a compromise of Christian denominations to avoid the specter of religious war.
Locke, for example, drew the line of tolerance at atheism, which he was happy to see suppressed violently by the state.
It is another matter, however, whether Spinoza or his clandestine followers were chiefly responsible for the rise of wider toleration of speech and opinion. The rise of modern democracy is the phenomenon Israel most wants to explain, but his reliance on Spinoza makes him a poor guide. A faulty premise drives these conclusions. Israel is tempted to think that a philosophy of naturalism and liberal-democratic politics are inextricably linked. Spinoza indeed argued that the universe was only one substance—if God did exist, it was not as transcendent creator, extraordinary miracle-worker or authoritative lawgiver but rather simply as nature itself.
This "liberation" from God, Israel seems to think, could not help but topple false principles of social and political organization. Deus sive natura knocked the legs out from under priests and kings alike, and liberalism appears to him as the inevitable outcome of their fall. This stance, however, leads Israel to avoid or excuse figures whose conclusions about naturalism are not identical to his own. Thomas Hobbes, most obviously, declared a politics likewise based on viewing man and the universe as nothing more than matter in motion.
It is thanks to the state alone that peace is available. Can you do that? The story is that we have several Pinkerite atheists around who evangelize their disbelief and The Pinker a bit much for the rest of us who are not fundamentalist materialist humanists. Rather than fight the power, we decided to embrace it in a transformative way. The goal is to get one of the Pinkerites to mention or better yet to quote Steven Pinker as quickly as possible.
My colleague holds the all-time speed record. This article would seem to be terminal proof of what our dearly departed brother we miss you Baggins! Pinker is arguing with an empty chair and getting clicks, because he says in his books what many mediocre minds are thinking, and it tickles them. I had forgotten. That rant by Baggins may have been the best thing every published by Quillette.
Enlightenment Wars: Some Reflections on 'Enlightenment Now,' One Year Later - Quillette
He should have been paid. I still maintain he is was? Poetry, in fact. Just what Pinker and these celebrity intellectuals do.
Enlightenment and Secularism : Essays on the Mobilization of Reason.
Two guys slanging over an unfalsifiable hypothesis. Are people watching us?? No one knows what the Scroto Baggins is. It comes like a shadow to the comments thread, then disappears again, leaving only scratchings of brilliance behind and the charred remains of the verbose ignorant. I have seen them. Lots of us have seen them. If you stick around long enough, you might see them, too. Once his cynicism has touched you, you are forever changed.
And you might see him soon, sooner than you want to. If anything is going to bring Baggins out to terrorize the villagers, this Pinker piece will. Bit of a floating predicate here. All of it! No bother. Not only that, but his definitions of progress are hysterical. People in old folks homes have zero murder rates, too. In so many ways, modernity is a rolling travesty. Mental illnesses like depression, anxiety, and self-perception disorders such as anorexia are skyrocketing among the young in the UK and America.
In countless ways, the soul of man in the West has been hollowed out beyond recognition. That would be as silly as what Pinkerites are trying to do. I think Nassim Taleb is just looking for attention slanging with Pinker. The only thing sillier that someone who puts forward an unfalsifiable hypothesis is the guy like Taleb who tries to falsify an unfalsifiable hypothesis by inventing words and blustering. Pinker is symptomatic of most of the bourgeois Academy. Pinker fancies himself a Big Thinker and a philosopher.
I very much doubt history will be kind to him. Remember: Harvard is now where David Hogg goes to carrege. Sounds about right. So romantic. Enough procrastination. Personally, as a man in the West, I am not fat, not lonely, not childless, not over-medicated, and especially not exhausted, ontologically or otherwise. I am, however, godless. It is a I think I would be depressed and questioning the meaning of life as well if I was putting lipstick on my hand and calling it Sally. While Innominata does win a rank ng for the snark award, it appears that the comment is more about projection and avoidance than with addressing the issues.
I wish Pinkerton had addressed in this essay how academia has monetized —and weaponized- the anti-Enlightenment, focusing especially on the apocalyptic claptrap dressed as research today. Your faith in me is touching, but I must correct you on a coupla two points. Love him.
Steven Pinker saved my life, just like he rehabilitated the Weltanschauung of that teacher quoted at the end of the article—the one that Pinker published for our benefit, in spite of the risk that haters might call him a self-congratulatory narcissist. Before I found Steven Pinker, I lay all day in my bed weeping about global warning and baseless fears about the godless Red Chinese communists, consumed with Jesus-y stuff and irreasonable belief, unable to circumambulate my garret.
I had purchased a table from Ikea, and one leg was shorter than the others. It wobbled, and no matter how hard I prayed to Jesus or Allah for a short time , the table leg never grew. I had given up. My coffee stayed on the table for the first time in ten years. Pinker was right: Jesus or Allah could not fix my table leg, but Enlightenment and reason could.