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Radical Enlightenment and the Making of the French Revolution (1750-1800)

Seminar Center for Global Humanities Lecture/Seminar Series

Jonathan Israel

Jonathan Israel

Modern European History Professor, Institute for Advanced Study

Practically all contemporaries at the end of the eighteenth century thought that the main cause of the French Revolution was something called "modern philosophy." Very few modern historians have taken their explanation very seriously. But are we right to dismiss it without really considering it? What, in any case, did contemporaries mean when they said that "la philosophie moderne" was the principal cause of the Revolution? Obviously, their view was closely connected with the issue of Human Rights and public declarations of Human Rights such as that promulgated by the French National Assembly in August 1789. Do we have anything to learn about Human Rights, Philosophy or Modern History from this strange historiographical paradox?


Jonathan Israel has written on Dutch and Spanish history, the Age of Enlightenment and European Jewry. He was appointed Professor of Modern European History in the School of Historical Studies at the Institute for Advanced Study, Princeton in January 2001.He was previously Professor of Dutch History and Institutions at the University of London (1984-2000). His books include European Jewry in the Age of Mercantilism, 1550–1750 (1985); The Dutch Republic: Its Rise, Greatness and Fall, 1477–1806 (1995); Radical Enlightenment: Philosophy and the Making of Modernity, 1650–1750 (2001); Enlightenment Contested: Philosophy, Modernity, and the Emancipation of Man 1670–1752 (2006); In strijd met Spinoza, Het failliet van de Nederlandse Verlichting (1670-1800) (2007); A Revolution of the Mind: Radical Enlightenment and the Intellectual Origins of Modern Democracy (2010); Democratic Enlightenment: Philosophy, Revolution, and Human Rights (1750-1790) (2011). His recent work focuses on the impact of radical thought (especially Spinoza, Bayle, Diderot and the eighteenth century French materialists), and on the Enlightenment and emergence of modern ideas of democracy, equality, toleration, freedom of the press and individual freedom.

Assigned Reading

J. I. Israel, A Revolution of the Mind: Radical Enlightenment and the Intellectual Origins of Modern Democracy (Princeton University Press, 2009)


A reception will be held at 5pm at the UNE Art Gallery


Center for Global Humanities


(207) 221-4335

6:00 PM
WCHP Lecture Hall

Portland Campus

Free and open to the public