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A Revolution of the MindA Revolution of the Mind

Radical Enlightenment and the Intellectual Origins of Modern Democracy

Jonathan Israel

Narrated by James Adams

Available from Audible

Book published by Princeton University Press

Democracy, free thought and expression, religious tolerance, individual liberty, political self-determination of peoples, sexual and racial equality—these values have firmly entered the mainstream in the decades since they were enshrined in the 1948 U.N. Declaration of Human Rights. But if these ideals no longer seem radical today, their origin was very radical indeed—far more so than most historians have been willing to recognize. In A Revolution of the Mind, Jonathan Israel, one of the world's leading historians of the Enlightenment, traces the philosophical roots of these ideas to what were the least respectable strata of Enlightenment thought—what he calls the Radical Enlightenment.

Originating as a clandestine movement of ideas that was almost entirely hidden from public view during its earliest phase, the Radical Enlightenment matured in opposition to the moderate mainstream Enlightenment dominant in Europe and America in the eighteenth century. During the revolutionary decades of the 1770s, 1780s, and 1790s, the Radical Enlightenment burst into the open, only to provoke a long and bitter backlash. A Revolution of the Mind shows that this vigorous opposition was mainly due to the powerful impulses in society to defend the principles of monarchy, aristocracy, empire, and racial hierarchy—principles linked to the upholding of censorship, church authority, social inequality, racial segregation, religious discrimination, and far-reaching privilege for ruling groups.

In telling this fascinating history, A Revolution of the Mind reveals the surprising origin of our most cherished values—and helps explain why in certain circles they are frequently disapproved of and attacked even today.

Jonathan Israel is professor of modern history at the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton. He is in the process of finishing a monumental three-volume history of the Radical Enlightenment, the first two volumes of which, Radical Enlightenment and Enlightenment Contested, have already been published.


“This book succeeds beautifully. Written with confidence and concision, it lays out Jonathan Israel's central ideas about the Radical Enlightenment and its fundamental importance in shaping the values of democratic modernity. Those who already know his work will find a clear and bold statement of his principal arguments, as well as important elaborations and expansions. Those unfamiliar with his scholarship will get a masterful introduction to the work of one of the leading Enlightenment scholars in the world today.”

—Darrin M. McMahon, Florida State University

“Interesting, erudite, and provocative, this book provides readers with a succinct and clear introduction to Jonathan Israel's wide-ranging work on the Radical Enlightenment. It should command a broad readership.”

—James Schmidt, Boston University

“We are lucky that a historian of Israel's caliber has taken these subjects on and lucky, too, that he has now produced a readable introduction to them.”

—Benjamin Moser, Harper's Magazine


Preface vii

CHAPTER I: Progress and the Enlightenment's Two Conflicting Ways of Improving the World

CHAPTER II: Democracy or Social Hierarchy? The Political Rift

CHAPTER III: The Problem of Equality and Inequality: The Rise of Economics

CHAPTER IV: The Enlightenment's Critique of War and the Quest for "Perpetual Peace"

CHAPTER V: Two Kinds of Moral Philosophy in Conflict

CHAPTER VI: Voltaire versus Spinoza: The Enlightenment as a Basic Duality of Philosophical Systems

CHAPTER VII: Conclusion

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