Introduction: How Radical was the German Enlightenment?

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Abstract

In recent years, Jonathan Israel has argued for the existence of a progressive and emancipatory Radical Enlightenment with roots in the writings of a group of international, heterodox, and often societally marginalized eighteenth-century thinkers who questioned the power structures and orthodoxies of their time. The following essay discusses and engages with some frequent criticisms of Jonathan Israel’s theory of the Enlightenment by proposing a dynamic, relational, and situational interpretation of the key terms ‘Radical’ and ‘Moderate’ in his work. Considering in particular the German contexts of Israel’s theories, the essay first looks at the reshuffling of different national Enlightenment traditions proposed in his work, while simultaneously pointing to the trans-national elements present in Israel’s concept of Enlightenment. As a next step, the essay looks at both the Moderate and Radical Enlightenment as forms of interplay between theory and practice. Finally, the essay asks what the consequences of Israel’s theoretical framework are for the study of literature and culture, focusing in particular on late-eighteenth-century German literary history.
Original languageEnglish (US)
Title of host publicationThe Radical Enlightenment in Germany
Subtitle of host publicationA Cultural Perspective
EditorsCarl Niekerk
PublisherBrill
Pages1-45
ISBN (Electronic)9789004362215
DOIs
StatePublished - Jul 12 2018

Publication series

NameInternationale Forschungen zur Allgemeinen und Vergleichenden Literaturwissenschaft
Volume195

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Niekerk, C. (2018). Introduction: How Radical was the German Enlightenment? In C. Niekerk (Ed.), The Radical Enlightenment in Germany: A Cultural Perspective (pp. 1-45). (Internationale Forschungen zur Allgemeinen und Vergleichenden Literaturwissenschaft; Vol. 195). Brill. https://doi.org/10.1163/9789004362215_002