New Scholarship on the Enlightenment

Fascinating review of Jonathan Israel’s new scholarship on the European Enlightenment, in particular the influence of philosopher Baruch Spinoza by Robert Leventhal.

In particular, note the definition of the “Radical Enlightenment”:

1) philosophical reason as the criterion of what is true;
2) rejection of supernatural agency (divine providence);
3) equality of all mankind (racial and sexual equality);
4) secular universalism in ethics anchored in equality and stressing equity, justice, and charity;
5) comprehensive toleration and freedom of thought;
6) personal liberty of lifestyle between consenting adults, safeguarding the dignity and freedom of the unmarried and homosexuals;
7) freedom of expression, political criticism, and the press in the public sphere; and
8.) democratic republicanism.

While Leventhal praises Israel’s defense of Spinoza’s influence, he also says that

One can reasonably advocate all of the values and moral precepts Israel attributes to the Radical Enlightenment on pragmatic grounds and not be a metaphysical monist. In other words, we do not need to believe in Spinoza’s metaphysics to believe in democracy, freedom of expression, social justice, equality, fairness, and tolerance. We can, but do not need to, align historical truth with progressive values. We can, but are not required to, adopt a naturalist vision of science and philosophy to be thoughtful and moral citizens.