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ENLIGHTENMENT. The term "Enlightenment" refers to a loosely organized intellectual movement, secular, rationalist, liberal, and egalitarian in outlook and values, which flourished in the middle decades of the eighteenth century. The name was self-bestowed, and the terminology of darkness and light was identical in the major European languages"Enlightenment" for English speakers, siècle des lumières in France, illuminismo in Italy, Aufklärung for Germans and Austrians. Although it was international in scope, the center of gravity of the movement was in France, which assumed an unprecedented leadership in European intellectual life. Emblematically, the single most famous publication of the Enlightenment was the French Encyclopédie, ou, Dictionnaire raisoné des sciences, des arts, et des métiers (17511772; Encyclopedia, or, Rational dictionary of the sciences, arts, and professions), a massive compendium of theoretical and practical knowledge edited in Paris by Jean Le Rond d'Alembert and Denis Diderot. The cosmopolitanism of the Enlightenment was genuine, however. It was a German admirer of d'Alembert and Diderot, Immanuel Kant, who produced the most enduring definition of the movement. In a famous essay of 1784, Kant defined enlightenment as "emancipation from self-incurred tutelage" and declared that its motto should be sapere aude "dare to know." Writers and thinkers associated with the Enlightenment were certainly capable of profound disagreement among themselves. But the common aspiration defined by Kantknowledge as liberationis what permits us to see a unified movement amid much diversity.


In a long-term perspective, the Enlightenment can be regarded as the third and last phase of the cumulative process by which European thought and intellectual life was "modernized" in the course of the early modern period. Its relation to the two earlier stages in this processRenaissance and Reformationwas paradoxical. In a sense, the Enlightenment represented both their fulfillment and their cancellation. As the neoclassical architecture and republican politics of the late eighteenth century remind us, respect and admiration for classical antiquity persisted throughout the period. Yet the Enlightenment was clearly the moment at which the spell of the Renaissancethe conviction of the absolute superiority of ancient over modern civilizationwas broken once and for all in the West. The Enlightenment revolt against the intellectual and cultural authority of Christianity was even more dramatic. In effect, the Protestant critique of the Catholic churchcondemned for exploitation of its charges by means of ideological delusionwas extended to Christianity, even religion itself. At the deepest level, this is what Kant meant by "emancipation from self-incurred tutelage": the Enlightenment marked the moment at which the two most powerful sources of intellectual authority in Europe, Greco-Roman and Judeo-Christian, were decisively overthrown, at least for a vanguard of educated Europeans.

What made this intellectual liberation possible? The major thinkers of the Enlightenment were in fact very clear about the proximate origins of their own ideas, which they almost invariably traced to the works of a set of pioneers or founders from the mid-seventeenth century. First and foremost among these were figures now associated with the "scientific revolution"above all, the English physicist Isaac Newton, who became the object of a great cult of veneration in the eighteenth century. Hardly less important were thinkers who are more typically classified as "philosophers" today, including the major figures of both the rationalist and the empiricist traditionsRené Descartes, Baruch Spinoza, and Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz on the one hand, Francis Bacon, Thomas Hobbes, and John Locke on the other. Similarly honored were the founders of modern "natural rights" theory in political thoughtHugo Grotius, Hobbes, Locke, and Samuel Pufendorf. These thinkers did not see themselves as engaged in a common enterprise as did their successors in the Enlightenment. What they did share, however, was the sheer novelty of their ideasthe willingness to depart from tradition in one domain of thought after another. Nor is it an accident that this roster is dominated by Dutch and English names or careers. For the United Provinces and England were the two major states in which divine-right absolutism had been successfully defeated or overthrown in Europe. If the ideological idiom of the Dutch Revolt (15681648) and the English Revolutions (16401660, 1688) remained primarily religious, their success made possible a degree of freedom of thought and expression enjoyed nowhere else in Europe. The result was to lay the intellectual foundations for the Enlightenment, which can be defined as the process by which the most advanced thought of the seventeenth century was popularized and disseminated in the course of the eighteenth.


Logically enough, having supplied the great pioneers and precursors in the seventeenth century, neither the United Provinces nor England were to play a dominant role in the Enlightenment itself. What these countries did provide, however, was the indispensable staging ground for the central practical business of the movement, the publication of books. For most of the century, Amsterdam and Londontogether with the city-states of another zone of relative freedom, Switzerlandwere home to the chief publishers of the Enlightenment, many of whom specialized in the printing of books for clandestine circulation in France.

For France was the leading producer and consumer of "enlightened" literature in the eighteenth century, occupying a dominant position in the movement comparable to that of Italy in the Renaissance or Germany in the Reformation. The reasons for this centrality lie in the unique position of France within the larger set of European nations at the end of the seventeenth century. At the end of the long reign of Louis XIV in 1715, Catholic France remained by far the most powerful absolute monarchy in Europeyet one whose geopolitical ambitions had clearly been thwarted by the rise of two smaller, post-absolutist Protestant states, the United Provinces and Great Britain. The remote origins of the French Enlightenment can be traced precisely to the moment that the sense of having been overtaken by Dutch and English rivals became palpable. The key transitional work, the French Protestant Pierre Bayle's Dictionnaire historique et critique (Critical and historical dictionary), was published from Dutch exile in 1697. As the Enlightenment unfolded in France, the promptings of international rivalry remained central. The major texts of its early phase, Charles-Louis de Secondat de Montesquieu's Lettres persanes (1721; Persian letters) and Voltaire's Lettres philosophiques (1734; Philosophical letters) both held up a critical mirror to what was now theorized as "despotism" in Francean imaginary Muslim one in the case of the first, a very real English mirror in the second. The critical edge of the Encyclopédie, the collective enterprise that defined and dominated the French Enlightenment at its peak, came from a still more urgent sense that intellectual modernization was a matter of national prioritydemonstrated dramatically, indeed, by the magnitude of French defeat in the Seven Years' War (17561763). The last years of the French Enlightenment saw the emergence of a distinctive school of political economy, whose conscious purpose was to find means of restoring the economic and political fortunes of France, in the face of British competition.

By this point, the example of the French Enlightenment had long since inspired or provoked a sequence of other national "enlightenments," according to a similar dynamic of international rivalry and influence. Second only to France in terms of its contribution to the Enlightenment was its perennial ally in political and cultural contention with England: Scotlandwhich, in fact, had been absorbed into political union with England in 1707. The first major thinker of the Scottish Enlightenment was David Hume, whose precocious Treatise of Human Nature was published in 1740. Hume's subsequent turn to history and politics paved the way for the works of Adam Smith, Adam Ferguson, and John Millar in the 1760s and 1770s, which gave birth to modern economics and historical sociologyand whose common focus was precisely the issue of economic and social development across time. Italy, not surprisingly, as another zone of French influence, produced not a "national" but a great flowering of local "enlightenments," the most important being the Milanese and the Neapolitan, both specializing in juridical thought and reform.

Beyond this western European core, the Enlightenment spread, in the second half of the century, to the western and eastern peripheries of European civilization. French and Scottish ideas were enthusiastically embraced in the English colonies of North America, and, with a slight lag, in the Spanish and Portuguese colonies in the South. As in France and Scotland, this was largely a spontaneous process, the work of an independent intelligentsiaeven if some of the key figures of colonial "enlightenments" soon became statesmen themselves. In eastern Europe, by contrast, where the major absolute monarchies now reached their maturity, the Enlightenment tended to arrive with royal sponsorship: Frederick the Great's engagement of the services of Voltaire and Catherine the Great's of Diderotor, for that matter, the Polish nobility's solicitation of advice from Jean-Jacques Rousseauare the most famous gestures of what came to be known as "enlightened despotism." In any case, the last flowering of the Enlightenment as a whole came in Germany, where it found a philosophical consummation in Kant's mature philosophy, completed during the years that the French monarchy fell victim to the revolution that ended the European Old Regime as a whole.


What were the key ideas of the Enlightenment, beyond the challenge to inherited intellectual authority noted by Kant? The Enlightenment never presented itself as a single theoretical system or unitary ideological doctrineif nothing else, the necessities of adaptation to different national contexts made unity of that kind unlikely. But the variety of its ideas was not infinite. The best way to approach them is perhaps in terms of a sequence of domains of thought or "problem-areas," in which a certain general consensusoften negativecan be discerned, together with a significant spectrum of differences of opinion.

Religion. No idea is more commonly associated with the Enlightenment than hostility toward established forms of religionindeed, at least one major interpreter has characterized the movement in terms of "the rise of modern paganism" (Gay, 1966). It is certainly the case that the majority of adherents to the Enlightenment shared an intellectual aversion to theism in its inherited forms: specific objects of criticism included belief in miracles and other forms of divine intervention, the status accorded "holy" Scripture, and claims about the divinity of Jesus. At the same time, most Enlightenment thinkers regarded traditional churches, Catholic and Protestant, as engines of institutional exploitation and oppression. Hostility toward theism and a general anticlericalism did not, however, preclude an enormous variety of attitudes toward the supernatural and the "sacred" among followers of the Enlightenment. Forthright atheism did indeed make its public debut in Europe during the eighteenth century, in the works of figures such as Hume, Julien Offroy de La Mettrie, and Paul Thiry, baron d'Holbach. But this was a minority position. The bulk of Enlightened opinion opted for the compromise of "deism" or "natural religion," which had the stamp of approval of Newton himself and which continued to attract a good deal of sincere devotion, in a wide variety of forms.

Science. It is a commonplace that the demotion of religion by the Enlightenment went hand in hand with the promotion of scienceindeed, the very notion of a generic "science," as a sphere of cognition distinct from religious "belief," was undoubtedly a gift of the eighteenth century. The Enlightenment discovery or construction of science, in this sense, owed everything to the idea of a heroic age of scientific achievement just behind it, in the development of modern astronomy and physics from Nicolaus Copernicus to Newton. For all of the prestige that now attached to science, however, it would be a mistake to exaggerate agreement during the Enlightenment with regard to either its methods or findings. The philosophical heritage from the seventeenth century was far too various for that. Looking back at the eighteenth century, the last great philosopher of the Enlightenment, Kant, described an anarchic battlefield, divided ontologically between materialism and idealism and epistemologically between rationalism and empiricism. Moreover, there was also profound disagreement as to the social consequences of scientific advance, however defined. For every Condorcet, celebrating the beneficent effects of cognitive "progress" for liberty and prosperity, there was a Rousseau, decrying the contribution that science made to technological violence and social inequality.

Politics. The seventeenth century had seen a profound revolution in political thought, with the emergence of the modern "natural rights" tradition of Grotius, Hobbes, Locke, and Pufendorf. One of the major achievements of the early Enlightenment was to popularize and disseminate this tradition, via an endless array of translations, summaries, and commentaries. By the mid-eighteenth century, the basic conceptual vocabulary of the natural rights tradition"natural rights," "state of nature," "civil society," "social contract"had entered the mainstream of Enlightenment political thought, which embraced, nearly unanimously, the belief that the only legitimate basis of political authority was consent. The path toward the vindication of "inalienable natural rights" in the founding documents of the American and French Revolutions lay open. Still, beyond this basic agreement about legitimacy, the practical substance of Enlightenment political thought was extraordinarily various. Only one major thinker, Rousseau, actually produced a theory of republican legitimacybut in a form so radically democratic as to preclude its widespread acceptance prior to the era of the French Revolution. In terms of practical politics, the majority of Enlightenment thinkers accepted a pragmatic accommodation with monarchyoverwhelmingly still the dominant state-form in Europeand instead pursued what might be termed a program of "proto-liberalism," concentrating on securing civil liberties of one kind or anotherfreedoms of religion, self-expression, and trade.

Social science. Meanwhile, the most influential work of political theory of the Enlightenment turned its back on natural rights theory altogether. In De l'esprit des lois (1748; The spirit of the laws), Montesquieu set forth a global taxonomy of state-forms, dividing the world into a West that had seen a transition from the martial republics of antiquity to the commercial monarchies of modern Europe, and an East dominated by unchanging "despotism." A succeeding generation of French and Scottish thinkers then developed Montesquieu's legacy in two different directions. One was the genre of "conjectural" or "stadial" history, which traced the historical development of societies through specific socioeconomic stageshuntergatherer, nomadic, agricultural, and commercial in the most famous of these, known retrospectively as the "four stages" theory. The other direction was toward an entirely new social science, that of economics or "political economy"probably the most important single intellectual innovation of the Enlightenment. Within the ranks of "conjectural" historians and political economists, however, there was significant disagreement about the political and moral upshot of their findings. Thinkers as close in outlook as Adam Smith and Adam Ferguson could disagree profoundly about the effects of economic progress on political life. The field of political economy itself was sharply divided between two quite different theoretical schools, French Physiocracy and the "system of liberty" set forth in Smith's Inquiry into the Nature and Causes of the Wealth of Nations (1776). Finally, more conventional narrative historiography, which underwent a great flowering in the Enlightenment in the work of practitioners such as Voltaire, Hume, and Edward Gibbon, showed a not dissimilar variety. In the face of every legend about the shallow optimism of the Enlightenment, it is worth noting that its historiographical masterpiece, Gibbon's Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire (17761788), recounted a tragedy of almost unimaginable proportions: the destruction of the classical world at the hands of "barbarism and religion."

Imaginative literature. From the start, poetry, fiction, and plays provided natural vehicles for the expression of Enlightenment ideas. Here, above all, the watchword is variety. It is very striking that the two most enduring works of imaginative literature of the French Enlightenment should be so dark in outlook. Its earliest work, Montesquieu's Persian Letters, is a stark parable about the lethal dangers of the pursuit of knowledge and freedom. Voltaire's philosophical novella Candide (1759)doubtless the most widely read eighteenth-century work todayis a caustic satire on the "optimism" of philosophical rationalism. At the other end of this spectrum, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart's late operas, scarcely less popular with contemporary audiences, convey an infinitely sunnier sense of basic Enlightenment ideasfrom the raucous celebration of social and gender egalitarianism in Le nozze di Figaro (1785; The marriage of Figaro), to the stately presentation of a stylized Freemasonry in Die Zauberflöte (1791; The magic flute). In fact, The Marriage of Figaro can be regarded as an emblem of Enlightenment cosmopolitanismthe incendiary play on which it is based the work of a French Protestant admirer of the American Revolution, its libretto furnished by an Italian Jew, its composer an Austrian Freemason.


Ideas naturally remain the primary focus of scholarly study of the Enlightenment. However, recent scholarship has devoted a steadily increasing amount of attention to what might be termed the "social history" of the Enlightenmentthe form in which its ideas were expressed, the institutions by means of which they circulated, and the identities of the people who produced and consumed them. The theoretical inspiration for much of this research has come from the German philosopher Jürgen Habermas's early book, Der Strukturwandel der Öffentlichkeit (1962; The structural transformation of the public sphere), which traced the development of a "bourgeois public sphere" for the exchange of ideas and information, which reached its climax in the eighteenth centuryindeed, was at one with the Enlightenment (Habermas, 1989; Melton, 2001).

Habermas's analysis laid special stress on the socioeconomic developments in the early modern period that made the "public sphere" in this sense possible. The most crucial development of all, he suggested, was a revolution in reading and writing in the eighteenth century to match the original "print revolution" of the sixteenth. The suggestion has been amply confirmed by subsequent scholarship, which has focused on three specific changes in the "print culture" of the Enlightenment. One is simply a tremendous leap forward not just in literacy rates, but in the very meaning of literacy, as "reading" itself deepened and widened and as large numbers of women joined the ranks of the literate for the first time. Secondly, the Enlightenment saw a vast expansion not just in the volume of printed matter in Europe, but also in its variety: different genres of books, multiplying in every direction, were joined by a wide range of periodicals, as well as weekly and even daily newspapers. Finally, authorship itself finally started to be modernized during the Enlightenment, as first the idea and then the reality of literary property began to take holdtraceable in the careers of such major writers as Voltaire, Hume, and Rousseau.

Beyond this transformation of the literate "public," Habermas also suggested that the eighteenth-century "public sphere" depended on certain characteristic social institutions, which shared a kind of family resemblance as sites for the expression of a specifically Enlightenment "sociability." Most striking of all was the Enlightenment salonperiodic social gatherings of writers and intellectuals for the exchange of ideas, presentation of written material, and display of works of art, typically under female leadership and direction. The salons of eighteenth-century Paris are the most famous, but those of London, Berlin, or Vienna contributed no less to the local circulation of Enlightened ideas. Secondly, there was a set of slightly more "public," and certainly more masculine, establishments, part of whose allure depended on the consumption of intoxicants of one kind or anotherthe tavern, wine shop, and coffeehouse, pioneered in the United Provinces and Britain in the late seventeenth century and then widely imitated across Europe in the eighteenth. Finally, the propagation of Enlightenment ideas was a special concern of the network of Masonic lodges, again deriving from British origins, which then proliferated across the continent in the eighteenth centurythe first secular, voluntary associations in modern Europe.

What was the social profile of those who attended Enlightenment salons, frequented eighteenth-century coffee shops, and joined Masonic lodges? In line with his Marxism, Habermas himself stressed the "bourgeois" or even capitalist origins and character of the "public sphere" of the Enlightenment. In fact, at its upper reaches, the movement was thoroughly mixed in social terms: the roster of its leading figures suggests a kind of united front between aristocratsMontesquieu, Condorcetand an emergent middle-class intelligentsia, typified by the careers of Voltaire or Diderot. Below this level, however, there is no doubt about the fundamentally bourgeois character of the Enlightenment, in the broadest sense of the term. In fact, one of the most important achievements of scholarship over the past thirty years has been the patient reconstruction of what the historian Robert Darnton called the "business of Enlightenment"the commodification of Enlightenment ideas, in the book trade above all. Darnton has also been a pioneer in uncovering the diffusion of Enlightenment ideas down the social scale, far below the cosmopolitan elite of famous names, to what he termed the "Grub Street" journalism of an emergent popular culture (Darnton, 1979 and 1982).

As it happens, however, the liveliest sector of the current social history of the Enlightenment is concerned not with social rank but with gender. What was the role of women in the Enlightenment? The leading part taken by women in organizing and hosting salons, as well as the rising rate of female literacy, points to one kind of answerthat the Enlightenment indeed marked a watershed in the history of female participation at the highest reaches of European intellectual life (Goodman, 1994). At the same time, the absence of feminine names from the canon of the major writers of the epoch also suggests some of the limits of this emancipation. Early feminist ideas were in circulation in Europe from the late-seventeenth century onward: the works of Mary Astell (16661731) are a major reference point today. But Astell, a deeply devoted Anglican, was far from an Enlightenment thinker. On the whole, the actual record of eighteenth-century thought on women and gender suggests a kind of confused collision between competing values: the egalitarianism of Enlightenment social sensibilities was counterbalanced by a robust naturalism emphasizing the biological differences between the sexes. Not a few of the most famous writers of the eraRousseau is the most notoriousadopted positions that can only be described as antifeminist. It very striking that the first great classic of feminist philosophy, Mary Wollstonecraft's Vindication of the Rights of Woman (1792), was written by an English radical who, while she identified very closely with the French Enlightenment and admired Rousseau, owed the publication of her work to a very different political contextthat of the French Revolution.


This brings us in fact to an initial question about the place of the Enlightenment in the wider currents of European history. Its maturity as an intellectual movement coincided with the start of a cycle of political revolutions that ended, after a half-century of social convulsion and warfare, with the destruction of the Old Regime of early modern Europe. What was the relation between the Enlightenment and what the American historian R. R. Palmer called "the age of the democratic revolution"? For conservative critics of the French Revolution such as Edmund Burke or Joseph de Maistre, the answer was simple and dramatic: the Enlightenment caused the RevolutionVoltaire and Rousseau sketched a scenario for political transformation that was then willfully enacted by the Abbé Siéyès and Maximilien Robespierre. The idea is easy to dismiss in its hyperbolic or conspiratorial forms. But how in fact should we conceive of the relation between the intellectual movement of the Enlightenment and the political revolutions that overthrew the Old Regime?

Many scholars have stressed the practical thrust of the Enlightenment critique of political, social, and religious institutions, which certainly appeared to express a desire not merely to analyze but to change the world. At the same time, it also seems clear that the basic orientation of this criticism was reformist and not revolutionary. No major Enlightenment thinker ever advocated "revolution," in the sense of a conscious change of political regime, even by peaceful meansthe memory of the last serious example of such a project, the failed Commonwealth that issued out of the English Civil War, was a potent warning against such presumption. On the whole, the practical political energies of the Enlightenment were devoted to a far more modest set of ends, the securing of a set of basic civil libertiesfreedom of religion, self-expression, tradenor did many thinkers contemplate the extension of these liberties beyond an elite minority of white male property owners. It is perfectly appropriate that the most celebrated examples of Enlightenment activism should be the one-man campaigns mounted by Voltaire to "crush the infamy," as his motto put it, of anachronistic religious persecution. Of course, Voltaire was not the only Enlightenment thinker to become more directly involved with affairs of state, on occasion. But the oxymoron of "enlightened despotism" suggests the limits of such episodes. In eastern Europe, this was largely a matter of rendering the rule of divine-right absolutism more rational and efficient. In the West, experiments in the practical application of Enlightenment ideasfor example, efforts to deregulate the grain trade in France, inspired by Physiocracytended to be short-lived fiascoes.

The immediate origins of both the American and the French Revolutions can be traced, not to the conscious plans of revolutionaries dreaming of overthrowing regimes, but to fiscal crises brought on by debts incurred in international warfaredisputes over the escalating costs of imperial defense in the case of the first, state bankruptcy brought on by bankrolling the American revolt itself, in the case of the second. The Enlightenment cannot be said to have "caused" either, in any plausible sense of the term. This is not to deny any relation between them, however. On the contrary, if the Enlightenment played a minimal role in the originslargely spontaneous and contingentof the American and French Revolutions, it was absolutely central to the processes of political and social reconstruction undertaken by both, once old regimes had collapsed. The various declarations of "natural rights" that accompanied every step of this saga, from Thomas Jefferson's Declaration of Independence (1776) and the American state constitutions to the French Declaration of the Rights of Man and Citizen (1789) and the American Bill of Rights (1791) and beyond, tell their own storyso many variations on the basic civil libertarianism of the Enlightenment. Politically, the Age of Revolutions afforded opportunities for state construction beyond what any Enlightenment thinker had envisaged. But the ensuing experiments in republican constitution making were all conducted in self-conscious continuity with eighteenth-century political thought. The one great success story here, the American constitution of 1787, with its antidemocratic machinery of "checks and balances," is notoriously a creature of the Enlightenment. Neither the French Revolution nor the wars of liberation in Latin America succeeded in creating comparably durable state structures, of course. But by far the most significant sociopolitical accomplishment of the former, the Napoleonic Civil Code (1804), was itself a straightforward expression of the egalitarian and rationalizing designs of the Enlightenment. Moreover, the fact that the restoration of monarchy that followed the overthrow of Napoleon was so unstable and short-lived is a testament to the long-term impact of the Enlightenment in altering the social and political expectations of Europeans. When the dust settled after another cycle of political revolutions a half-century laterunifying and modernizing Italy, Germany, the United States, and Japan by means of revolution "from above"the social and political landscape to be seen in Europe and North America was very much in line with the hopes and aspirations of the Enlightenment.


In the long run, then, the Enlightenment can be said to have succeeded in changing the world, much as the Renaissance and the Reformation had before itthrough a complicated interweaving of intended and unintended consequences. There is, however, one important difference between the first two and the last of these episodes of intellectual "modernization." On the whole, the great issues and passions of the Renaissance and the Reformation have long since receded into history, their very success having also canceled their actuality. There is no sign yet that the Enlightenment is "over" in the same sense. Despite the claims once made on behalf of Marxism or psychoanalysis in their heydays, the Enlightenment has yet to be coopted or surpassed by any later intellectual movement, in the way it did the Renaissance and Reformation.

There is no surer sign of this than its fate in twentieth-century scholarship. For alongside a massive professional literature on its thought, probably exceeding that devoted to the Renaissance, the Reformation, or the "scientific revolution," the Enlightenment has inspired a polemical and philosophical commentary on it that is unprecedented in modern intellectual history. On the one hand, the movement has attracted a powerful series of advocates, concerned to defend its intellectual and political legacy, typically by straightforward identification with it. These include Ernst Cassirer, whose Philosophie der Aufklärung (Philosophy of the enlightenment), published on the eve of his exile from Nazi Germany in 1932, launched the serious academic study of its subject, and, above all, Peter Gay, whose two-volume study, The Enlightenment: An Interpretation (1966, 1969)which ended with a ringing vindication of Enlightenment liberal humanism, still incarnated today in the American constitutionremains the most authoritative single synthesis of the field. On the other hand, the Enlightenment has also been the object of an endless series of polemical attacks in the twentieth century. What is perhaps most striking is that the greatest of these have not come from the right of the political spectrum, as in the tradition descending from Burke and Maistre to Friedrich Nietzsche and Martin Heidegger, but from its centerCarl Becker's perennially popular The Heavenly City of the Eighteenth-Century Philosophers as well as its far leftMax Horkheimer and Theodor Adorno's classic of Western Marxism, Dialektik der Aufklärung (1947; Dialectic of enlightenment) and virtually the entire early oeuvre of the French historian Michel Foucault. For Becker, the fatal flaw of the Enlightenment was its naive utopianism, modeled on that of its ostensible Christian opponents. Both Horkheimer and Adorno and Foucault regarded Enlightenment rationalism less as utopian than as inherently authoritarian in nature, its fundamental will to power plainly visible in twentieth-century fascism, Stalinism, and consumer capitalism alike.

Today this field remains divided between contemporary representatives of these positions. The descendents of Becker, Horkheimer and Adorno, and Foucault can be found among the major theorists of postmodernism, who continue to attack the Enlightenment both for its utopianismits supposed addiction to "grand narratives" of progress and emancipationand its intellectual authoritarianism, embodied in its various philosophical "essentialisms" or "foundationalisms." If successors to Cassirer and Gay are somewhat less vocal today, it is perhaps precisely because the Enlightenment might not seem to require such strenuous advocacy, in a world dominated by a triumphant neoliberalism claiming direct descent from it. The contemporary politics of the Enlightenment remain unpredictable, however. Paradoxically, by far the most visible promoter of its values today is in fact the most famous living representative of the tradition of Horkheimer and AdornoJürgen Habermas, who has long urged the Left to embrace what he terms the "unfinished project" of the Enlightenment. The note of modesty, acknowledging the gap between goal and accomplishment, in fact captures the self-definition of the Enlightenment far better than any kind of self-congratulation. It was Kant himself who answered the question, "Do we now live in an enlightened age?" by saying: "No, but we live in an age of enlightenment"a judgment that perhaps remains as true today as when it was first rendered.

See also Academies, Learned ; Alembert, Jean Le Rond d' ; American Independence, War of ; Anticlericalism ; Atheism ; Bayle, Pierre ; Burke, Edmund ; Catherine II (Russia) ; Deism ; Dictionaries and Encyclopedias ; Diderot, Denis ; Education ; Empiricism ; Encyclopédie ; Enlightened Despotism ; Equality and Inequality ; Feminism ; Frederick II (Prussia) ; Freemasonry ; Gibbon, Edward ; Holbach, Paul Thiry, baron d' ; Hume, David ; Journalism, Newspapers, and Newssheets ; Journals, Literary ; Kant, Immanuel ; La Mettrie, Julien Offroy de ; Leibniz, Gottfried Wilhelm ; Liberty ; Literacy and Reading ; Montesquieu, Charles-Louis de Secondat de ; Mozart, Wolfgang Amadeus ; Natural Law ; Newton, Isaac ; Physiocrats and Physiocracy ; Political Philosophy ; Printing and Publishing ; Public Opinion ; Reason ; Republic of Letters ; Revolutions, Age of ; Rights, Natural ; Rousseau, Jean-Jacques ; Salons ; Scientific Revolution ; Smith, Adam ; Voltaire .


Primary Sources

Bayle, Pierre. Historical and Critical Dictionary: Selections. Translated by Richard H. Popkin. Indianapolis, 1991.

Ferguson, Adam. An Essay on the History of Civil Society. Translated by Fania Oz-Salzburger. Cambridge, U.K., and New York, 1995.

Kant, Immanuel. Political Writings. Translated by H. B. Nisbet. Cambridge, U.K., 1996.

Kramnick, Isaac, ed. The Portable Enlightenment Reader. New York, 1995. An excellent anthology of short selections from primary sources.

Montesquieu, Charles-Louis de Secondat de. Persian Letters. Translated by C. J. Betts. Harmondsworth, U.K., 1973. Translation of Lettres persanes (1721).

. The Spirit of the Laws. Translated and edited by Anne M. Cohler, Basia Carolyn Miller, and Harold Samuel Stone. Cambridge, U.K., and New York, 1989. Translation of De l'esprit des lois (1748).

Smith, Adam. An Inquiry into the Nature and the Causes of the Wealth of Nations. Edited by R. H. Campbell and A. S. Skinner. 2 vols. Indianapolis, 1981.

Voltaire. Candide and Related Texts. Translated by David Wootton. Indianapolis, 2000.

Williams, David, ed. The Enlightenment. Cambridge, U.K., and New York, 1999. An anthology of longer selections from primary sources, oriented toward political and social thought.

Secondary Sources

Becker, Carl. The Heavenly City of the Eighteenth-Century Philosophers. New Haven, 1932.

Cassirer, Ernst. The Philosophy of the Enlightenment. Translated by Fritz C. A. Koelln and James P. Pettegrove. Princeton, 1951.

Darnton, Robert. The Business of Enlightenment: A Publishing History of the Encyclopédie, 17751800. Cambridge, Mass., 1979.

. The Literary Underground of the Old Regime. Cambridge, Mass., 1982.

The Eighteenth Century: A Current Bibliography. Published annually by the American Society for Eighteenth-Century Studies: essential guide to the literature. Philadelphia, 1975.

Gay, Peter. The Enlightenment: An Interpretation. 2 vols. New York, 1966, 1969.

Goodman, Dena. The Republic of Letters: A Cultural History of the French Enlightenment. Ithaca, N.Y., 1994.

Habermas, Jürgen. The Structural Transformation of the Public Sphere: An Enquiry into a Category of Bourgeois Society. Translated by Thomas Burger and Frederick Lawrence. Cambridge, Mass., 1989.

Hampson, Norman. The Enlightenment. Harmondsworth, U.K., 1968. The finest single-volume interpretation in English.

Kors, Alan Charles, ed. Encyclopedia of the Enlightenment. 4 vols. Oxford, 2002. Now the authoritative multivolume guide.

Melton, James Van Horn. The Rise of the Public in Enlightenment Europe. Cambridge, U.K., and New York, 2001.

Outram, Dorinda. The Enlightenment. Cambridge, U.K., and New York, 1995.

Porter, Roy. The Enlightenment. 2nd ed. Harmondsworth, U.K., and New York, 2001. This and the Outram text are intelligent, up-to-date brief surveys of the field.

Studies on Voltaire and the Eighteenth Century. The Voltaire Foundation has published several volumesbooks, essays, proceedings of conferencesevery year for nearly four decades; essential for all scholars of the Enlightenment.

Venturi, Franco. Utopia and Reform in the Enlightenment. Cambridge, U.K., 1971.

Yolton, John W., editor. The Blackwell Companion to the Enlightenment. Oxford and Cambridge, Mass., 1992. The best one-volume handbook.

Johnson Kent Wright

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In the years since the publication of the first Dictionary of the History of Ideas, the Enlightenment has become an increasingly fragmented and decreasingly coherent historical rubric. In fact that fragmentation began in the Dictionary of the History of Ideas itself, in an article titled "Counter-Enlightenment," written by Isaiah Berlin and categorized out of alphabetical order, appearing as an appendix to the main entry on "Enlightenment," written by H. O. Pappe.

Pappe defined the Enlightenment as a historical period extending from the late seventeenth century (the Glorious Revolution, the era of John Locke [16321704] or Pierre Bayle [16471706]) to the late eighteenth or early nineteenth century (American Revolution, French Revolution, or the defeat of Napoleon and the Romantic reaction against the Enlightenment). The Enlightenment was also a mood emphasizing individualism, toleration, and cosmopolitanism. The Enlightenment was a social philosophy with common basic conceptions about humanity and society and a common methodological approach involving the search for laws that govern nature and society and commonly held values directed toward social reform. By this definition the Enlightenment was monolithic, but it was not all-encompassing. It was an avant-garde "movement" involving a relatively small number of thinkers. The movement began in England and reached its climax in mid-eighteenth-century Paris and Scotland, while the "Italian and German Enlightenment, though distinguished by outstanding contributors, was derivative."


Berlin's counterargument focused specifically on those "derivative" countries, offering Giambattista Vico (16681744), Johann Georg Hamann (17301788), Johann Gottfried von Herder (17441803), and Immanuel Kant (17241804) as the bearers of a genuine, indigenous, and innovative agenda alternative to the mainstream Enlightenment of France and Britain. Vico rejected the existence of a timeless, universal natural law that could be explained by mathematics or logic. Mathematics was certain only because it was a human invention; it did not correspond to an objective structure of reality. Mathematics was a method only, not a body of truth, and while it could explain what happened in the world, it could not explain why or to what end. Human beings had no access to the final causes or purposes of nature. What they could know were human truths, human behavior, and human motives. These human truths were particular, not universalthat is, each nation developed its own standards of beauty, truth, and goodness. Because different nations asked different questions of the universe, they came up with different answers.

Hamann represented the distinctly antirational strain of Berlin's Counter-Enlightenment. For Hamann too truth was particular, never general. As a human invention, reason was a tool for the arrangement and classification of data to which nothing in reality corresponded. The true language was divine: Nature, plants, animals, and society were the symbols by which God communicated with his creatures. To understand was to be communicated with, either by people or by God. True knowledge was direct perceptionexperiencenot logical proof. Only love, the most intimate form of direct experience, could demonstrate anything. Through the medium of Herder, Berlin placed a hermeneutic of empathy at the center of his Counter-Enlightenment. To understand something was to understand its individuality and unique development. Only by entering into the experience of another, through the imagination and rigorous scholarship, could one understand the organic structure of society. Berlin emphasized what he (not Herder) called the "incommensurability of cultures" that "should flourish side by side like so many flowers in the great human garden."

Kant's autonomy of the will represented the fourth aspect of Berlin's antirational Counter-Enlightenment. Figures of the Counter-Enlightenment recognized that the model of the universe espoused by Cartesianism, rationalism, and natural law was inherently deterministic (in that all motion was caused by previous action and conformed to specific natural laws) and fatalistic (no action could violate those natural laws). Applied to society, such a view divested human actors of their moral responsibility. If all action was regulated by nature, then an individual could blame the system of the universe for any evil perpetrated by himself. In response, Kant held that only as independent actorsnot acted upon by previous or external forcescould human beings be considered moral agents.

All of this amounted to a tacit apology for hermeneutics: the emphasis on language as the defining characteristic of a nation; cultural particularism and the uniqueness of each; the attempt to understand by entering the experience of another in an act of empathy. Even if the methods and assumptions of the Counter-Enlightenment differed from the mainstream rationalists, the goals and values described by Berlin nevertheless sound distinctly similar to those described by Pappe: cosmopolitanism, pluralism, tolerance, and social reform. Indeed to those who championed the Enlightenment from the end of World War II to the 1970s, eighteenth-century social thought was a convenient platform from which to display their own liberal sensibilities.

Fractured Enlightenment

In 1973, then, we see the Enlightenment divided in two parts: a western European rationalist Enlightenment and a negatively defined central European antirational Counter-Enlightenment. In fact defining the Enlightenment, even in 1973, was not as easy as creating a binary opposition. Beginning in the 1960s Franco Venturi also divided Continental Europe into two distinct political traditions, with multiethnic empires in central and eastern Europe and "great states" in western Europe. He emphasized concurrent developments in republican Mediterranean Europe (Italy, Iberia, France) and monarchical eastern Europe, but he excluded England from the equation, saying that "in England the rhythm was different." Venturi defined the Enlightenment by the presence or absence of philosophes, self-appointed secular intellectuals who critiqued society and presented themselves as its guides toward modernity and reform. Although they were present in Scotland in the mid-eighteenth century, intellectuals of the stature of Voltaire, Jean Le Rond d'Alembert, Denis Diderot, and so on did not emerge in England until the 1780s and 1790s with Thomas Paine, Richard Price, William Godwin, and Jeremy Bentham. Venturi acknowledged a problem in his definition given the Englishness of Edward Gibbon (17371794), whom he considered "a giant of the Enlightenment": either Gibbon was no philosophe or he was a lonely figure in England in the 1760s and 1770s.

In fact the French philosophes were great admirers of the English in the 1760s, wrote Roy Porter in The Enlightenment in National Context (1981): "Certainly England produced no Critique of Pure Reason. But why should systematic theorizing be the touchstone of Enlightenment?" Voltaire noted that the English were "the only people upon the earth who have been able to prescribe limits to the power of Kings by resisting them." That resistance was galvanized in institutions of sociabilitygentlemen's clubs, Masonic lodges, colleges, coffee houseswhere private individuals might gather in public discourse to discuss and debate matters of law, politics, religion, and culture. Gibbon might have been a lonely giant among enlightened Lilliputians, but E. P. Thompson pointed to scores of minor "intellectual enclaves" throughout the United Kingdom where individuals exercised their rational and critical faculties.

The very title of Porter and Teich's volume, The Enlightenment in National Context, indicates the direction of Enlightenment historiography in the late 1970s and 1980s. That volume still took the Enlightenment to be monolithic ("a cultural movement," p. xi) and headed in a specific direction, although the constituent parts of that movement expressed enlightened values in terms of their indigenous and traditional concerns. Thirteen separate national expressions of the Enlightenment were identified by the contributors, and the editors acknowledged that even that number was not adequate.

Should the Swiss Enlightenment have been considered a unit, or were there distinct traditions in the French and German cantons? Contemporaries of the eighteenth century expressly believed the latter. Germany was divided into two Enlightenments, Catholic and Protestant, but among the Protestant at least three distinct movements can be identified based on divisions within German Lutheranism: an Orthodox Lutheran Enlightenment centered at Leipzig and Dresden in Saxony; a Pietist Enlightenment centered at Berlin and Halle, where a university was founded in 1690 specifically as a platform for an intellectual movement that saw itself as separate from the Orthodox; and a post-Pietist Enlightenment centered at Göttingen, which defined itself in opposition to both Saxony and the Brandenburg of Frederick the Great. Were the Württemberg Protestants allied with the Hanoverians? Can the Danish and Swedish Lutherans be taken as a unit, and how should their relationships with the Germans be defined? The possibilities for a rigorous classification of cultural movements in the eighteenth century boggle the mind.

The attempt to rescue the Gulliverian Gibbon continues into the twenty-first century. In the first installment of a study of Gibbon that is well on its way toward rivaling the length of Gibbon's own Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, J. G. A. Pocock invented an Enlightenment in which Gibbon did participate. Pocock started by pluralizing Enlightenments, declaring it "a premise of this book that we can no longer write satisfactorily of 'The Enlightenment' as a unified and universal intellectual movement" (The Enlightenments of Edward Gibbon, 1999, p. 12; notice the plural in the title). Pocock accepted Venturi's thesis that there was no Enlightenment in England, and he showed that Gibbon did not participate in a separate French Enlightenment either. Instead he placed Gibbon in an "Arminian Enlightenment," referring to the heretical movement within Calvinism and defining an area that extended from Lake Geneva down the Rhine to the Netherlands and across the Channel to Oxford. Pocock presented the Arminian Enlightenment as a unit that unified intellectuals from a variety of backgrounds, and by his participation in the movement, Gibbon could move easily across national, linguistic, and regional boundaries and still find intellectual continuity.

For Pocock this solution had the advantage of retaining "the philosophes and their enterprises, Venturi's settecento riformatore and perhaps even 'the Enlightenment Project,' as cosmopolitan and Europe-wide phenomena, while denying them the privilege of defining 'Enlightenment,' or 'Europe,' by formulae from which either Gibbon or England must be excluded" (p. 295). On the other hand, one wonders whether a series of regional Enlightenments that do not even conform to national or linguistic boundaries, each presented as more or less autonomous from the others, dooms the Enlightenment to an increasingly fractured existence and perhaps renders the rubric altogether useless.

The New Cultural History

One result of Enlightenment historiography in the past thirty years, then, has been to carve the movement into different geographic, confessional, and linguistic groupings. And even within these groupings, further fragmentation has taken place. In the original "Enlightenment" article in the Dictionary of the History of Ideas, Pappe explicitly declared the Enlightenment to be an elite movement. In a parenthetical digression he acknowledged that:

Side-by-side with these productions, the period witnessed the growth of a new cheap entertainment literature as well as a greater diffusion of writings in the old tradition, which aimed at the new enlarged reading public. Although popular reading habits and crowd behavior have come to fascinate some modern historians, such publications are ignored here, as they hardly contributed to the march of ideas, that is to the incivilimento due to man's creative liberty.

Indeed it is precisely the study of reading habits and crowd behavior that have fueled the redefinition of the Enlightenment in the past thirty years. In the mid-1970s Peter Burke pointed out the rediscovery of "the People," by which he meant a renewed interest in folklore, festivals, and the early Germanic and Celtic oral tradition that swept across Europe beginning in about the 1760s, spurring the Romantic movement. Working initially in the Kulturgeschichte mode of Jacob Grimm, Jacob Burckhardt, Aby Warburg, and Johan Huizinga but augmenting that totalizing method with anthropological and literary techniques, scholars such as Natalie Davis, Carlo Ginzburg, and Keith Thomas began to study the social function of myth, ritual, and behavior in early modern Europe itself.

Robert Darnton examined not just the ideas of the Enlightenment but the "business" of it as well in a publishing history of the Encyclopédie in the last quarter of the eighteenth century. In The Literary Underground of the Old Regime he looked beyond the successes of Voltaire, d'Alembert, Étienne Bonnot de Condillac, and Jean-Jacques Rousseau to the failure of a host of would-be philosophes who lacked the patronage, money, and access to presses enjoyed by the Encyclopedists and members of learned academies. This too in effect split the Enlightenment into two parts, high and lowor those who got published by presses on Fleet Street and the Strand versus hacks living on Grub Street who were lucky if they got published at all. Darnton showed how the world of those lesser authors functionedtheir pirating of copyrighted texts, sale of pornographic and censored books and serials, and the fortune of their original satires and social critiques that never acquired the reputation of Voltaire's.

Darnton called his method the "social history of ideas" (as Peter Gay had done years before). While it lacked a grand narrative of social and intellectual development, the microhistorical approach of scholars such as Darnton was important because if the Enlightenment and French Revolution were the products of new ideas (or of old ideas newly interpreted), then the logistical process of how those ideas were conveyed to the public sphere was just as important as the content of the ideas in themselves. Which texts were circulated? What were the motives of the authors, publishers, and booksellers? Which texts were intended to be circulated but never reached the market due to silly logistical failures? To what extent were authors, publishers, and booksellers motivated by their economic and social circumstances? That is, how business was conducted influenced what kinds of ideas were circulated in the public sphere.

Rather than taking "popular culture" to be monolithic, Roger Chartier emphasized the different uses of print by different segments of society. These segments frequently overlapped, and a single member might perform several roles depending on the context in which he or she acted. Chartier worked to abolish some of the presumptive categories such as high and low Enlightenment, philosophe and Grub Street hack, even printed text and oral tradition. Whereas the historiography of popular culture of the 1960s and 1970s used techniques of historical anthropology appropriate to understanding forms of expression and communication in preliterate societies, Chartier's cultural history focused on the production, circulation, and function of printed texts. Early modern society was thoroughly dependent on writing, even those who could not read or who grasped a text only when it was read aloud to them. In reconstructing social practice, Chartier found that advice manuals, mandates, and slogans were appropriated by the audience (or, better, plural "audiences," because he emphasized that different overlapping groups read, understood, and acted upon a given text in their own ways). A text might be creatively interpreted, its message adjusted or diverted to purposes not intended by the author or even resisted. Chartier was interested chiefly in action: the act of reading; followed by behavior inspired by the text. He was less interested in the creation of ideas than the reception of ideas once those ideas left the author's desk, or how ideas walked, as it were, around in society.

The most glaring example of how ideas walked around in eighteenth-century society was the French Revolution. Were ideas responsible for the collapse of the Old Regime? Was there a necessary and causal connection between the Enlightenment and the French Revolution? Were ideas really that effective in producing constitutional change and touching off events like the Terror? Assuming that Daniel Mornet was at least partially correct in Les origines intellectual de la Révolution Française (1933) that ideas bore at least some responsibility for the Revolution, Chartier wanted to know: How, exactly? "Is it certain that the Enlightenment must be characterized exclusively or principally as a corpus of self-contained, transparent ideas or as a set of clear and distinct propositions?" Chartier asked. "Should not the century's novelty be read elsewherein the multiple practices guided by an interest in utility and service that aimed at the management of spaces and populations and whose mechanisms (intellectual or institutional) imposed a profound reorganization of the systems of perception and of the order of the social world?"

In the 1990s, then, the connection between ideas and practice moved to center stage in eighteenth-century historiography. The inquiry into practices of "sociability" was assisted by the translation into English of Jürgen Habermas's Structural Transformation of the Public Sphere (1989, originally 1956). Dena Goodman, Daniel Gordon, and others explored institutions and practices of sociability in prerevolutionary France and the movement of ideas from the closed intellectual circles of salons to the active realm of political reform. Margaret Jacob explored the Enlightenment's direct relationship to "lived political experience," particularly through the window of Freemasonry, emphasizing international trends such as the republicanism described by Franco Venturi. And Daniel Gordon has edited a volume on "Postmodernism and the Enlightenment."

Given the many directions of Enlightenment research, it is no wonder James Schmidt reopened the question of the 1780s: "What is Enlightenment?" Yet even that question was limited to Protestant Germany, taken for granted (or, rather, not formulated at all) in the rest of Europe. If the 1780s had answers, the 1990s had only questions, and it is unlikely that any time soon there will be an answer as definitive as the one offered in the first Dictionary of the History of Ideas.

See also Deism ; Historiography ; Renaissance ; Revolution ; Romanticism in Literature and Politics .


Burke, Peter. Popular Culture in Early Modern Europe. New York: Harper and Row, 1978.

Chartier, Roger. The Cultural Origins of the French Revolution. Translated by Lydia G. Cochrane. Durham, N.C.: Duke University Press, 1991.

. The Cultural Uses of Print in Early Modern France. Translated by Lydia G. Cochrane. Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1987.

Darnton, Robert. The Business of Enlightenment: A Publishing History of the Encyclopédie, 17751800. Cambridge, Mass.: Belknap Press, 1979.

. The Literary Underground of the Old Regime. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1982.

Goodman, Dena. The Republic of Letters: A Cultural History of the French Enlightenment. Ithaca, N.Y.: Cornell University Press, 1994.

Gordon, Daniel. Citizens without Sovereignty: Equality and Sociability in French Thought, 16701789. Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1994.

Habermas, Jürgen. Structural Transformation of the Public Sphere: An Inquiry into a Category of Bourgeois Society. Translated by Thomas Burger with the assistance of Frederick Lawrence. Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press, 1989.

Jacob, Margaret C. Living the Enlightenment: Freemasonry and Politics in Eighteenth-Century Europe. New York: Oxford University Press, 1991.

Pocock, J. G. A. Barbarism and Religion. Vols. 13. Cambridge, U.K., 19992003.

Porter, Roy, and Mikulás Teich. The Enlightenment in National Context. Cambridge, U.K.: Cambridge University Press, 1981.

Schmidt, James, ed. What Is Enlightenment? Eighteenth-Century Answers and Twentieth-Century Questions. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1996.

Venturi, Franco. Settecento Riformatore. 4 vols. Turin: Einaudi, 19691984. Vols. 3 and 4 have been translated into English by R. Burr Litchfield as The End of the Old Regime in Europe (17681776) and The End of the Old Regime in Europe (17761789). Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1989, 1991.

. Utopia and Reform in the Enlightenment. Cambridge, U.K.: Cambridge University Press, 1971.

Michael C. Carhart

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It was the common presupposition of all thinkers of the Enlightenment that the being of man is implied in and subordinated to the being of nature and that it must accordingly be explained by the same universal laws (vol. 5, p. 548). So wrote Ernst Cassirer (18741945) in the entry on Enlightenment in the original Encyclopedia of the Social Sciences (1931). To the Dutch philosopher Baruch Spinoza (16321677), Cassirer attributed the idea that the stirrings and movements of the will on which the world of man is founded are subject to rules just as universal as the movements within the world of physical bodies. There is a mechanics of human inclinations and urges. This analogy was emphasized so severely by the philosophy of the Enlightenment that it became finally a complete logical identity (vol. 5, p. 548).

A generation later Hayden White wrote, It follows that the Enlightenment was altogether misguided in its attempt to construct a science of human nature on the basis of a study of physical nature: understanding cultural phenomena, which are creations of man alone, in terms of incompletely understood natural principles is doomed from the start (White 1968, vol. 16, p. 314). This passage appeared in the entry on Giambattista Vico in the first edition of the International Encyclopedia of the Social Sciences (1968), published in an age in which the Enlightenment had fallen on such hard times that it did not even rate a separate entry in that Encyclopedia. The inclusion of the present entry in this second edition is indicative of the rising fortune of the Enlightenment not only in its own right but also with respect to the social sciences specifically.

From the 1970s to the 1990s, there were several attempts to place the origins of the social sciences in the eighteenth century. Yet, although the term la science sociale was first used around the time of the French Revolution (17891799), a consensus has emerged that, whatever was invented by eighteenth-century social theorists, it was not modern social science. When the editor of History of the Human Sciences devoted an issue (6 [1] 1993) of that journal to the Enlightenment origins of the social sciences, he received a set of articles that called that very premise into question. Christopher Fox wrote that we cannot visit the eighteenth century with a modern campus map (Fox et al. 1995, pp. 34). Claude Blanckaert asserted that to name the Comte de Buffon (17071788) as the founder of modern anthropology is really to say that Buffon is the earliest author read by modern anthropologists. Roger Smith contended that it is no longer tenable to trace modern disciplines like sociology, psychology, anthropology, and economics back to Enlightenment precursors, as was the practice in many histories of the disciplines throughout the twentieth century. With the expansion of the eighteenth-century canon since the 1970s, historians of the social sciences have found that the configurations of eighteenth-century science, politics, and social theory were much more complicated than indicated by the tidy narratives of Enlightenment and revolution that characterized much of twentieth-century scholarship.

It was against those narratives of individual liberty, limited government, and toleration of religious practice that continental historians in the mid-twentieth century set up an alternative narrative of Enlightenment social science: one that emphasized efficiency in government, technical bureaucracy, and the assimilation of populations into a centrally administered territorial nation-state, all of which converged for one purposedomination.

Max Horkheimer (18951973) wondered how the liberal project of the Enlightenment could have culminated in the authoritarian regimes, death camps, and armed conflict of the twentieth century. Where Vico saw the project of a mathematical, laws-based social science as doomed from the start, Horkheimer found that, in historical terms, that project was only too successful. As enlightened science played out in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, all particulars came to be understood as mere representatives of universals. All qualities were reduced to quantities, and all things ultimately became identical, including people. The Enlightenment, wrote Horkheimer, represented the triumph of oppressive equality. Quantitative methods became so pervasive that the human and natural sciences, initially intended to eradicate irrational appeals to myth, magic, and religion, became mythic in their own right.

Under the old regime, domination was clearly visible in political and ecclesiastical hierarchies and in the dogmas by which they were legitimized. The Enlightenment produced new forms of domination that were even more insidious because they were not only vindicated by critical reason but were also applied by reason itself. Michel Foucault (19261984) characterized every victory of enlightenment as a step further into the darkness of domination. Biology and medicine exposed to light the hidden recesses of the body in search of life, but found only disease and death. Psychology penetrated the rational mind only to discover irrationality and insanity. Prisoners were freed from dungeons only to be captured all the more securely in the light that flooded Jeremy Benthams (17481832) Panopticon prison, and, not only for criminals, the entire world became a prison that subjected the individual to every form of manipulation and control. Language itself was appropriated by reason (and later by positivism), so that every attempt to resist enlightenment only served the cause of enlightenment. Theory was rendered irrelevant. Critique, once the hallmark of the Enlightenment, came to be dismissed as mere belief or ideology, or worse, as art. In place of the human spirit and critical inquiry was the commodification of all things science and language as well as material cultureand Horkheimer proposed a theorem that the pliability of the masses increased as the quantity of commodities offered to them increased. Even the individuals own self became alienated and objectified through technologies of psychology.

Against the poststructuralist attack on the Enlightenment, several studies have highlighted the intellectual and social network of the international republic of letters that enabled individuals and texts to cross national boundaries and find common ground in ideologies of republicanism, universal human rights, toleration of beliefs and practices, and freedom of thought, all of which went under the heading of cosmopolitanism.

Despite the reservations of Europeans regarding the legacy of their own supposed Enlightenment, the traditional narrative of Enlightenment liberalism has been appropriated by social theorists in regions briefly (although brutally) colonized and dominated by the European states in the nineteenth and twentieth century. Post-colonial scholarship is committed, almost by definition, wrote Dipesh Chakrabarty, to engaging the univer-salssuch as the abstract figure of the human or that of Reasonthat were forged in eighteenth-century Europe and that underlie the human sciences (2000, p. 5). He finds that although it is inadequate, the European narrative of Enlightenment and technological advancement is indispensable to understanding the history and future of developing nations. But this was precisely the point made by the poststructuralists: that cosmopolitanism, like all universal systems, was artificially homogenizing. Responding to Immanuel Kants (17241804) history of pure reason at the end of the Critique of Pure Reason (1781), Johann Gottfried Herder (17441803) wrote a Metacritique (1798) that argued that there was no such thing as pure reason. There was only particular reason. That is, there were no universal ideas or truths, no world soul into which all particular souls were tapped. There were only particular, unique, historical communities, and these were easily extinguished by totalizing systems like universal reason and imperialism of all sorts, whether ancient Roman or modern European. Universal reason was a chimera, perpetual peace a pipe dream.

It was not merely the case that the party of humanity, as Peter Gay called the two dozen or so philosophes who comprised the twentieth-century canon of eighteenth-century thought, was shouted down by counter-enlightened conservatives and reactionaries. The tendency toward mass democracy and domination, both physical and psychological, was never a sinister plot of imposters. It was built into the very Enlightenment itselfbuilt, that is, into cosmopolitanism, universal reason, and the instrumental reason aimed at reforming the inefficiencies and abuses of old regime society.

Writing on the twentieth-century culture industry, Theodor Adorno (19031969) augmented Horkheimers penetrating critique of the technological society by showing that even the objects of individual choice were instruments of homogenizing conformity. Production technology, hailed in the eighteenth and nineteenth century as the means by which Europe could finally cultivate the land and meet its needs efficiently so that the individual could cultivate himself or herself, was transformed into the economic logic of standardization and mass consumption. One city, with its gleaming skyscrapers, was essentially the same as the next. Older houses outside the city center decayed into slums, while new suburban houses were thrown up quickly and cheaply, as if designed to be discarded in a short while like empty food cans. Suburban housing projects were intended to perpetuate the rational-critical individual as an independent unit in a small hygienic dwelling, but in fact they made the individual all the more subservient to the absolute power of capitalism. Adorno took the development from telephone to radio as indicative. The telephone was liberal: it allowed the person to play the role of subject. The radio was democratic: it turned all participants into listeners, authoritatively subjecting them to broadcast programs that were all exactly the same. Other mass spectacles performed the same function, including popular music, cinema, and sports, to say nothing of television. Focus groups and market research, employing the techniques of propaganda, ensured that something was provided for all so that none might escape. Even improvisational jazz was a perfected technique that homogenized all particulars into a universal jargon of style, a style that, in Friedrich Nietzsches (18441900) terms, was a system of non-culture, to which one might even concede a certain unity of style if it really made any sense to speak of stylized barbarity (Nietzche 1917, p. 187; Horkheimer and Adorno 1972, p. 128).

Deeply implicated in the movement from liberal Enlightenment to mass deception were the social sciences. Adorno characterized that movement as an inexorable trend built into the Enlightenment itself. But social scientists themselves worried about their own role in social engineering and manipulation.

Both the modernist view of Enlightenment liberalism as an alternative to twentieth-century totalitarianism and the postmodernist view of the Enlightenment as the source of that same totalitarianism depended on selective readings of eighteenth-century social theorists. In fact, few in the eighteenth century were as sanguine about the power of light and reason as they were made out to be in the twentieth century. Edmund Burke (17291797) worried about a world in which power became gentle, obedience became liberal, and all shades of life were harmonized, blandly assimilated, and dissolved. Justus Möser (17201794) asserted that the civil administrator who hoped to reduce everything to an academic theory or a few rules paved the road to despotism and lost the wealth of variety. Whether in local administration or global ethnology, particularist sentiments like these were echoed across the continent by social theorists such as Louis François Jauffret (17701840), Aubin Louis Millin (17591818), Joseph-Marie Degérando (17721842), Johann Jakob Moser (17011785), Ludwig Timotheus Spittler (17521810), Christoph Meiners (17471810), Johann Georg Hamann (17301788), and of course Herder. Historical scholarship since the mid-1970s has also celebrated the variety of eighteenth-century social thought in counter-Enlightenment, radical Enlightenment, Enlightenment in national context, and so forth. Just as social science cannot be taken as monolithic, neither can the Enlightenment.


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Cassirer, Ernst. 19301935. Enlightenment. In Encyclopedia of the Social Sciences. Vol. 5 (1931), 547552. New York: Macmillan.

Chakrabarty, Dipesh. 2000. Provincializing Europe: Postcolonial Thought and Historical Difference. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.

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White, Hayden. Vico, Giambattista. 1968. In International Encyclopedia of the Social Sciences, ed. David L. Sills. New York: Macmillan, Vol. 16, pp. 313316.

Michael C. Carhart

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Enlightenment is a term used in occultism, mysticism, and Eastern religions to denote the awakening to and/or appropriation of the highest and most essential truths of the universe. Enlightenment usually includes an intellectual mastery of the teachings of a particular tradition, the personal mastery of various occult techniques (spiritual disciplines), the direct contact with and embodiment of the highest divine realities, and the social acknowledgment of the enlightened one's accomplishments by at least a small community of students or followers. Enlightened teachers may claim authority from their having studied personally with an enlightened master who transmitted his/her wisdom and acknowledged that transmission more or less publicly. Others may have engaged in a systematic study of a tradition that included both the study of tests and the practice of a guarded set of spiritual disciplines. Acknowledgment of enlightenment in such cases is due not so much to the status of one's teacher but to the passing of a set of standard initiations. In many Western initiatory systems, the highest grades of enlightenment are self-proclaimed and then verified by one's fruits. Of course, new groups often arise when a student reaches the higher levels of accomplishment only to reach a very new or different understanding of the universe.

Most enlightened teachers offer students a system of practice, some form of yoga or meditation being the most popular. It is generally assumed that the teacher has followed this method successfully and that their success offers hope that the student can also attain enlightenment by perpetuating the master's course of action. Having followed the path, the master provides evidence of his/her contact with higher realities and his/her embodiment of them. One of the most obvious examples is the kundalini yoga teacher who offers students the experience of shaktipat, the transfer of energy from the master to the student to initiate the enlightenment process. Others demonstrate their contact with the divine by the aura of sanctity that encompasses them, the wisdom of their words, and/or the austerity of their lives, although it often comes in the demonstration of their ability to speak directly to the immediate situation of a particular student (a sign that they have experienced and already passed that situation).

Enlightened teachers make claims to have perceived occult (that is, hidden) realities. Though ultimately no acknowledgment of that status should be necessary, if they are to become teachers, they generally find confirmation of their status in a social context. Confirmation of an enlightened master's status may be partially based upon outward accomplishments, but also always has an element of subjectivity since the members making the profession do not have access to the levels of reality to which the master has claimed access. Members of most occult, mystical, and Eastern religions will profess a belief in the enlightened status of their leader, while occasionally questioning the enlightenment of the leaders of rival groups. People who leave a group will often justify their action by claiming a loss of belief in the enlightened status of their former teacher.

Underlying any discussion of enlightenment is a belief that our perception of the ordinary world of waking consciousness is distorted, lost in illusion. Matter is less than real, and the avenue to the real world is found in the inner search, through a change in consciousness, through a gaining of a new perception of reality.

British scholar Andrew Rawlinson, who has made the most extensive study of modern teachers considered to be enlightened by their followers, has noted several basic approaches to the topic. One set of teachers generally holds that enlightenment is a state to be attained. To become enlightened requires a lengthy period devoted to spiritual practices, possibly over several lifetimes. The wide variance in the recommended practice (yoga, meditation, occult development, prayer and chanting, magic ) is the major item distinguishing these types of groups. Some of the more advanced practitioners of a spiritual discipline may in fact be picking up their accomplishments from a previous lifetime.

Another set of teachers feels that enlightenment is an inherent quality of human existence. The divine is the only reality and all we have to do is wake up to that fact. As humans are in essence divine, the whole of reality is immediately accessible. In these cases, exemplified by some forms of Advaita Vedanta and Zen Buddhism, the teacher's job is to place the student in situations where they are likely to grasp the truth. Enlightenment comes not from mastering the environment, even if that is an inner environment, but from an act of self-realization.

In the case of the former understanding of enlightenment, the condition under which most occult teachers operate, the world is generally considered to be divided into a complex set of layers, the visible world being but the lowest. These various layers emanate from the divine. Enlightenment comes from accessing the highest levels of spiritual reality. An enlightened teacher would not only have accessed those higher levels, but be capable of communicating some elements of those higher realities to others and of assisting their disciples in their movement upward. In most occult systems, people who have accessed the lower levels may possess various occult abilities, a sign that they have at least begun the pathway to enlightenment, though they would not yet be considered enlightened.

Rawlinson has made important observations concerning the unique situation in the modern West in which a variety of enlightened teachers are available to the average seeker, who may compare and contrast their personal suitability.


Cohen, Andrew. Enlightenment Is a Secret. Corte Madera, Calif.: Moksha Foundation, 1991.

Enomiya-Lassalle, Hugo. Zen: Way to Enlightenment. Marlboro, N.J.: Taplinger Publishing Co., 1968.

Hixon, Len. Coming Home: The Experience of Enlightenment in Sacred Traditions. Burdett, N.Y.: Larson Publications, 1995.

Ichazo, Oscar. The Human Process for Enlightenment and Freedom: A Series of Five Lectures. New York: Arica Institute Press, 1972.

Lozowick, Leo. The Book of Unenlightenment/The Yoga of Enlightenment. Prescott Valley, Ariz.: Hohm Press, 1980.

Melton, J. Gordon. Finding Enlightenment: Ramtha's Ancient School of Wisdom. Hillsboro, Ore.: Beyond Words, 1998.

Millman, Dan. Everyday Enlightenment. New York: Warner Books, 1998.

Rawlinson, Andrew. The Book of Enlightened Masters. Chicago: Open Court Publishing, 1997.

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Enlightenment, term applied to the mainstream of thought of 18th-century Europe and America.

Background and Basic Tenets

The scientific and intellectual developments of the 17th cent.—the discoveries of Isaac Newton, the rationalism of Réné Descartes, the skepticism of Pierre Bayle, the pantheism of Benedict de Spinoza, and the empiricism of Francis Bacon and John Locke—fostered the belief in natural law and universal order and the confidence in human reason that spread to influence all of 18th-century society. Currents of thought were many and varied, but certain ideas may be characterized as pervading and dominant. A rational and scientific approach to religious, social, political, and economic issues promoted a secular view of the world and a general sense of progress and perfectibility.

The major champions of these concepts were the philosophes, who popularized and promulgated the new ideas for the general reading public. These proponents of the Enlightenment shared certain basic attitudes. With supreme faith in rationality, they sought to discover and to act upon universally valid principles governing humanity, nature, and society. They variously attacked spiritual and scientific authority, dogmatism, intolerance, censorship, and economic and social restraints. They considered the state the proper and rational instrument of progress. The extreme rationalism and skepticism of the age led naturally to deism; the same qualities played a part in bringing the later reaction of romanticism. The Encyclopédie of Denis Diderot epitomized the spirit of the Age of Enlightenment, or Age of Reason, as it is also called.

An International System of Thought

Centered in Paris, the movement gained international character at cosmopolitan salons. Masonic lodges played an important role in disseminating the new ideas throughout Europe. Foremost in France among proponents of the Enlightenment were baron de Montesquieu, Voltaire, and comte de Buffon; Baron Turgot and other physiocrats; and Jean Jacques Rousseau, who greatly influenced romanticism. Many opposed the extreme materialism of Julien de La Mettrie, baron d' Holbach, and Claude Helvétius.

In England the coffeehouses and the newly flourishing press stimulated social and political criticism, such as the urbane commentary of Joseph Addison and Sir Richard Steele. Jonathan Swift and Alexander Pope were influential Tory satirists. Lockean theories of learning by sense perception were further developed by David Hume. The philosophical view of human rationality as being in harmony with the universe created a hospitable climate for the laissez-faire economics of Adam Smith and for the utilitarianism of Jeremy Bentham. Historical writing gained secular detachment in the work of Edward Gibbon.

In Germany the universities became centers of the Enlightenment (Ger. Aufklärung). Moses Mendelssohn set forth a doctrine of rational progress; G. E. Lessing advanced a natural religion of morality; Johann Herder developed a philosophy of cultural nationalism. The supreme importance of the individual formed the basis of the ethics of Immanuel Kant. Italian representatives of the age included Cesare Beccaria and Giambattista Vico. From America, Thomas Paine, Thomas Jefferson, and Benjamin Franklin exerted vast international influence.

Some philosophers at first proposed that their theories be implemented by "enlightened despots" —rulers who would impose reform by authoritarian means. Czar Peter I of Russia anticipated the trend, and Holy Roman Emperor Joseph II was the prototype of the enlightened despot; others were Frederick II of Prussia, Catherine II of Russia, and Charles III of Spain. The proponents of the Enlightenment have often been held responsible for the French Revolution. Certainly the Age of Enlightenment can be seen as a major demarcation in the emergence of the modern world.


See E. Cassirer, The Philosophy of the Enlightenment (tr. 1951, repr. 1955); P. Hazard, The European Mind: The Critical Years, 1690–1715 (tr. 1953, repr. 1963) and European Thought in the Eighteenth Century (tr. 1954, repr. 1963); F. E. Manuel, The Eighteenth Century Confronts the Gods (1959, repr. 1967); P. Gay, The Enlightenment: An Interpretation (2 vol., 1966–69); A. Cobban, ed., Europe in the Age of the Enlightenment (1969); L. G. Crocker, ed., The Age of Enlightenment (1969); N. Hampson, The Enlightenment (1970); F. Venturi, Utopia and Reform in the Enlightenment (1971); J. Engell, The Creative Imagination: Enlightenment to Romanticism (1981); W. E. Rex, The Attraction of the Contrary: Essays on the Literature of the French Enlightenment (1987); J. I. Israel, Radical Enlightenment (2001), Enlightenment Contested (2006), and Democratic Enlightenment (2011).

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Enlightenment. C18 French (later European) intellectual climate in which belief in reason as a means to ensure human progress was combined with a questioning of tradition and authority, the systematic collection and categorizing of facts, and the study of nature on a scientific basis. In German-speaking countries it was called the Aufklärung. Its architectural manifestations were a reaction to Baroque and Rococo, the adoption of Rationalism and therefore a return to the principles of Classicism. International Neo-Classicism began to be established in the French Academy in Rome, and led to a growing severity, prompted by writers such as Laugier: it was also sustained by the growth of archaeology, which gave a solid basis upon which it could develop. Winckelmann and others drew attention to the art of Ancient Greece, while French scholars argued for even greater severity which led to the beginnings of Egyptology after 1798. In addition, C18 investigations and explorations encouraged sympathetic appropriations of other than European cultures, made manifest in a growing eclecticism, often expressed in the design of fabriques in landscaped gardens, one of the finest being Wörlitz in Sachsen-Anhalt (late C18), by Erdmannsdorff, Eyserbeck, and others. So the Enlightenment also influenced the design of Picturesque gardens, and the jardin anglo-chinois was more than fashion, for it suggested an admiration for English resistance to Absolutism, and the cultivation of a civilized, ironic detachment, leading to an attempt to give visual expression to a wide range of ideas and themes.


Etlin (1994a);
Picon (1992);
V (1987);
D. Watkin (2004)

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218. Enlightenment

  1. ball and cross symbol of gradual universal evangelism. [Christian Tradition: Jobes, 176]
  2. Bodhisattva the enlightened one deferring Nirvana to help others. [Buddhism: Parrinder, 48]
  3. Buddha a mortal whos achieved Nirvana, particularly Gautama. [Buddhism: Parrinder, 53]
  4. Chloë fearful virgin learns loves delights on wedding night. [Gk. Lit.: Daphnis and Chloe, Magill I, 184]
  5. Gautama sees everything and has eyes on his feet. [Buddhism: Parrinder, 110]
  6. prajna (Sanskrit) wisdom, used in abstract sense or some-times personified as a goddess. [Sanskrit: Parrinder, 222]
  7. Sanātana Dharma, eternal truth. [Hinduism: Parrinder, 122]
  8. scales falling from eyes vision restored, Saul is converted. [N. T.: Acts 9:1719]

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en·light·en·ment / enˈlītnmənt/ • n. 1. the action of enlightening or the state of being enlightened: Robbie looked to me for enlightenment. ∎  the action or state of attaining or having attained spiritual knowledge or insight. 2. (the Enlightenment) a European intellectual movement of the late 17th and 18th centuries emphasizing reason and individualism rather than tradition.

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Enlightenment (Germ. Aufklärung). A period in European thought and art, c.1720–80. It is sometimes also called ‘the Age of Reason’—misleadingly, since it implies that other ‘ages’ are, at least comparatively, irrational. It is thus sometimes a term of conflict, implying an emancipation from ‘the dead hand of dogma’. See also DEISM; HASKALAH (Jewish Enlightenment).

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"Enlightenment." The Concise Oxford Dictionary of World Religions. . 11 Dec. 2017 <>.

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Enlightenment (Age of Reason) Intellectual temper of Western Europe in the 18th century. It developed from the spirit of rational enquiry of the Scientific Revolution and from political theorists of the late 17th-century Age of Reason, such as John Locke. Its leaders thought that all things could be understood or explained by reason. Their emphasis on human reason and perfectibility often brought conflct with the Church.

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