Critics have long treated the most important intellectual movement of modern history--the Enlightenment--as if it took shape in the absence of opposition. In this groundbreaking new study, Darrin McMahon demonstrates that, on the contrary, contemporary resistance to the Enlightenment was a major cultural force, shaping and defining the Enlightenment itself from the momentCritics have long treated the most important intellectual movement of modern history--the Enlightenment--as if it took shape in the absence of opposition. In this groundbreaking new study, Darrin McMahon demonstrates that, on the contrary, contemporary resistance to the Enlightenment was a major cultural force, shaping and defining the Enlightenment itself from the moment of inception, while giving rise to an entirely new ideological phenomenon-what we have come to think of as the "Right." McMahon skillfully examines the Counter-Enlightenment, showing that it was an extensive, international, and thoroughly modern affair....
|Title||:||Enemies of the Enlightenment: The French Counter-Enlightenment and the Making of Modernity|
|Number of Pages||:||288 Pages|
|Status||:||Available For Download|
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Enemies of the Enlightenment: The French Counter-Enlightenment and the Making of Modernity Reviews
My initial impression of this book was slightly negative. It appears to be a dissertation turned into a tenure book, and it has, as such, the flaws of the genre: too many examples, a bit stilted, a certain superficiality and glibness. All that remains, and it costs the book a star. But that said, this is still a valuable and interesting piece of work.McMahon traces the origins of the modern European Right to its roots in the Counter-Enlightenment (defined and analyzed), and this (the Counter-Enlightenment) is then traced not to the German Romantics (as is usually done), but to the French Catholic reaction against the Enlightenment and the ‘les philosophes’ in the period prior to the French Revolution (c. 1760) – that is, in the reaction to Voltaire and the encyclopedists. (The Counter-Enlightenment, as McMahon shows, spread from France to the rest of Europe only after it had been fully formed in France.). The rhetoric of these ‘anti-philosophes’ was developed largely as a *religious* reaction against the desacralization of the state and of society. It lay, in other words, not in a social or political critique, but in an idealistic/religious one. The Revolution, itself, was then seen by these writers as confirmation of their worst fears – of what would happen if the world adopted the (godless) values of the Enlightenment; and these Counter-Enlightenment views then formed the basis of the Ultra-Royalist reaction of the Restoration (1815-1830). By then, ‘les philosophes’ had been replaced (as target) with “liberals” – which was the term used to describe the Independents -- that is, the moderates around Lafayette during the reign of Louis XVIII. But while the target was ‘modernized’, the rhetoric and critique was essentially unchanged. This rhetoric was laced, moreover, with an astounding vitriol (quelle surprise!!), derived from an essentially Manichean worldview that saw the forces of tradition arrayed in a good vs. evil ‘struggle unto death’ against the forces of secularization – an apocalyptic struggle that would brook no compromise – by a vitriol that survives on the Right into the modern era. But as the tradition they defended, though clearly a form of “integral absolutism” (the indivisible unity of throne and altar) was a thoroughly *idealized* tradition, a tradition that never actually existed, McMahon argues, convincingly (in my opinion), that these ‘traditionalists’ were, in fact, revolutionaries (not conservatives), idealists (see above), and radicals (not real traditionalists). That is, the origins of the European Right, the contemporary European Right, lie not in some medieval or early modern conservatism (Burke), but in a very modern reaction or rebellion, aggressive and revolutionary, against the rationalism and secularism of the equally modern Enlightenment.All this, moreover, backed with copious examples from contemporary sources and with abundant references to the secondary literature. So the author makes quite an impressive case for his position. It is a position, indeed, with which I have much sympathy, and which is also broadly consonant with the views of Zeev Sternhell, who likewise argued (in a controversial series of books, the best of which imo is this one: http://www.goodreads.com/book/show/10...) that the ideological and intellectual roots of fascism lay not in Germany or in Italy, but in the integral and increasingly nationalist Right of 19th cen. France.But there is still a bit more here, because McMahon is ultimately offering up a defense of the Enlightenment as such -- and not only against the reactionary critics of the Right (18th cen. and later), but also (in brief asides found in the introduction and conclusion) against leftwing postmodernist critics, from Horkheimer to Lyotard to Foucault. It is a defense of the rational, secular, individualism of the Enlightenment, offered from a historical vantage point, that is broadly consonant (to use that phrase again) with that offered (on more philosophical grounds, or rather, from the vantage point of the *history* of ideas) by Richard Wolin in his very interesting The Seduction of Unreason -- another book, not entirely flawless, but well worth the read:http://www.goodreads.com/book/show/34...McMahon’s book, finally, can be read fairly quickly because one can, for the most part, simply read the first sentence of every paragraph and thus skim along like a rock over a pond.
Enemies of the Enlightenment: The French Counter-Enlightenment and the Making of Modernity is certainly a thoroughly interesting and useful study, and Darrin M. McMahon has done well to craft a thought-provoking addition to a fascinating topic. He examines the main arguments and actors found in counter-Enlightenment thought and claims (convincingly, in my opinion) that the roots of the modern Europe right can be found in the reaction by French Catholics to the ideas of the "philosophes". McMahon then traces this Catholic-driven counter-Enlightenment thinking to the Restoration, where the vitriol of the ultra-royalists (whose beliefs were a continuation of the early counter-Enlightenment thinkers) was directed towards the moderate "liberals", who, in their eyes, were just as dangerous as the original philosophes.Where McMahon's argument is at its best, I believe, is when he is examining the claim that, rather than being arch-conservatives fighting for a return to a golden age of absolute rule under throne and altar, these "anti-philosophes" were instead idealistic, radical revolutionaries. Their arguments contain within them a hint of the modernity that would characterise the totalitarianism of the twentieth century, leading McMahon to argue - like Zeev Sternhell - that it is within the counter-Enlightenment that one can find the roots of fascism. The counter-Enlightenment, according to McMahon, was as equally modern as the philosophical movement it so vehemently criticised and despised.The wealth of both primary and second sources included means that parts of Enemies of the Enlightenment: The French Counter-Enlightenment and the Making of Modernity can at times feel slightly repetitive and laborious, but, despite this, one cannot help but be impressed by the in-depth nature of McMahon's work. As such, this is a book that is both fascinating and important in equal measure, and one that offers an interesting insight into counter-Enlightenment thinking and the impact it had on modern right-wing thought and rhetoric.
Read this to find out where the Right came from, the very origin of the term "Right wing" is explained in this book. Also good to balance narratives of modern European history that prioritize "progress," science, and reason as the end-all-be-all of history.
The book read like an extended college thesis paper. It had a point to make--that the Anti-Philosophe faction both arose from and was a cause of the revolution--and the author made it. Though I will concede that Anti-Philosophe authors contributed to the vitriol of the revolutionaries, I don't believe that they caused that vitriol. The author also fails to distinguish between the Catholic Church and the Anti-Philosophe writers. He gives Edmund Burke short-shrift, claiming that he merely borrowed from earlier French writers. It seems that he had never read Edmund Burke. Burke went far beyond what the French writers had said. While they merely predicted bloodshed, Burke specifically predicted that the revolutionaries would kill their king (three years before he was dethroned), and that a general would arise to rule over the nation--foreseeing Napoleon's rise ten years before it began! McMahon's short-sightedness about Burke is symptomatic of the author's overall reductionist tendencies. He reduces the entire Anti-Philosophe movement to an attempt by the Catholic Church to retain its power, though he does concede that many of the writers were men of faith. Nor does he delineate the role of Protestantism during those revolutionary times. I'm certain that a great part of the resistance to crown and church came from Protestant peoples, and not just from secular ones like Voltaire and Rousseau. McMahon does not account for protestant influences at all. He treats the revolution as if it were entirely secular in nature. It is ridiculous to think that while all of Europe had been torn for two centuries by wars between Catholic and Protestant churches that this antipathy played no part in the French Revolution. This subject deserves more from an author.
Great summation of many of the characters and events within the enlightenment. I disagree with a few of his conclusions, but it is incredibly well written and helps to see the enlightenment and the french revolution from two different perspectives, from that of the philosophes and that of the royalists.
Very good. I can see how this is seminal text of Enlightenment/Counter Enlightenment studies, but I can admit that it ran dry a few times. We had to speed through it as the class ran out of days quickly (snow days and sickness) but it still made for an interesting and lively class discussion.Would not sacrifice extra days in Rousseau's _Social Contract_ for this text.
Enemies of the Enlightenment: The French Counter-Enlightenment and the Making of Modernity by Darrin M. McMahon (2002)