Friday, October 17, 2003–Saturday, October 18, 2003
William Andrews Clark Memorial Library
2520 Cimarron Street
—a conference organized by Margaret C. Jacob, University of California, Los Angeles and Wijnand W. Mijnhardt, Universiteit Utrecht
In the last decades two major changes have affected the historiography of the European Enlightenment. First, the French and cosmopolitan vision has been replaced by a series of national interpretations. As a result the Enlightenment has come to be associated no longer simply with a cosmopolitan elite discussing the improbabilities of revealed religion or the impossibilities of absolutism but with the efforts of provincial literati to identify the problems of the various nations and to contribute to their solutions. Secondly, but no less importantly, the chronology of the intellectual development of the Enlightenment has been turned upside down. Central to this novel approach has been Margaret Jacob’s The Radical Enlightenment (1981), in which she identified a republican, materialist, and even pantheist, Enlightenment as a part of the influential exile culture that flourished on Dutch soil in the early 1700s. The intellectual sources for this radical Enlightenment were not Newtonian but distinctly Cartesian and Spinozist. Jacob’s book has solicited a very influential debate and elicited a tremendous amount of new research, especially in the Netherlands, in England, and in Italy. Its recent climax is Jonathan Israel’s major book Radical Enlightenment, which appeared in 2001. As did Jacob, Israel identified the Dutch Republic as the center of Enlightenment radicalism, but he concentrated especially on indigenous Dutch intellectual culture and its influence throughout Europe. The conference is truly international and ends on a contemporary note as the neuroscientist Antonio Damasio and the political scientist James Miller comment on the relevance of the radical Enlightenment to neuro-scientific research and to the discontents voiced by postmodernism.