The Crisis of the European Mind: 1680-1715 (New York Review Books Classics)

The Crisis of the European Mind: 1680-1715 (New York Review Books Classics) - Paul Hazard, Anthony Grafton, J. Lewis May This book looks at the ground work that was necessary for Western Europeans, principally British, French and Germans to shake the neo-classical thought and make the West ready for the Enlightenment. To me, there is just something magical about reading a book from the 1930s which explains the beginnings which will lead to enlightened thought, the rejection of authority as the final say in any question about the world, the tolerance of ideas over dogmatism and the full blossoming of thought over tradition.

The author seems to have read all the books and such from the time period and puts them into the story. He writes the book mostly thematically but does tie them together with some main characters. In particular, Pierre Bayle, Richard Simon, and John Locke become recurring characters.

Richard Simon (pronounce with the French accent since he is French) opens a large crack by his exegeses on the Old and New Testaments. Moses could not have possibly written the Pentateuch since he writes about his own death. Simon writes because he is a true believer and wants everyone to know the truth. Once a crack is put into the facade the wall starts to open up.

Pierre Bayle (my most favorite character from the Enlightenment) knows how to write a footnote in his Dictionary. A twenty three page footnote on King David and he shows what it means to be chosen by God, and which leads to the only possible conclusion that free will must be an illusion and the Calvinistic thought must be right. Atheist can be moral, comets do not happen because God is angry at man, and all awhile he keeps within the orthodoxy.

Also, the author mentions repeatedly that the heart of protestant thought is that the individual is empowered by Grace to understand for himself. That argument allows for everyone to learn by rational thought, reason, and empirical methods or even by introspection. The change comes slowly but comes and lays the foundation for the thinkers to follow.

Travel books, poetry, histories (G. Vico and his new way of thinking about history), even the Monads of Leibnitz are covered. Everything that teaches one to drop the walls that separates us from the other. Let us not build walls to separate us but lets understand what others have to give.

Spinoza and to a lesser degree Hobbes are written about and thought about and are expanded upon and refuted by the thinkers mentioned in this book.

Overall, I love books about the Enlightenment. The modern ones (what few there seems to be) don't really seem to capture the spirit as well as this book written from 1935 does. One warning about this book, it really helps to speak French because a lot of the titles cited won't be translated.