Jacob, Margaret C. 2006. The Radical Enlightenment: Panetheists, Freemasons, and Republicans, 2nd edition. Lafayette: Cornerstone Book Publishers.
Jacob, Margaret C. 2019. The Secular Enlightenment. Princeton.
Opposed Enlightenments in England: The Reactionary Moderate v. Radical
English-language scholarship identifies the roots of the Western Enlightenment in two antecedents: The Renaissance and the English Revolution and the millenialist Puritan reformism of the 1640s. The Renaissance bestowed a tradition of naturalism which was unevenly merged in the Enlightenment with an embrace of mechanistic philosophy and science.
Via naturalism, systemic organicist science fertilized the mechanist seeds of what was to become social science. This was the consensual point of the Enlightenment:
Mechanism provided social democratic radicals with a basis for dispensing with the authoritarian, inegalitarian institutions of church and aristocracy. Similarly but distinctively, mechanism provided reactionary English and Continental reformers–the “moderate Enlightenment”– with a basis for checking the powers of church and king while at the same time suppressing radical egaliberte and reducing radical social democratic reform to elite-governed social utility. At the same time, Renaissance naturalism–AKA “paganism” or classical philosophical materialism, particularly through the Epicurean tradition– kept alive a link between mechanistic science (method) and organicist science, crucial to democratic social reform.
[Research agenda (This may be available through Jacobs’ works): Review Bacon, Newton, Boyle and the “moderate Enlightenment” for Counterenlightenment network connections and ideas. Are there connections between what McMahon characterizes as brute Catholic Counterenlightenment jeremiads and the “moderate Enlightenment”? Was the “moderate Enlightenment” simply inspired by the radical Enlightenment while turned toward elite goals? Or was it co-opting radical ideas to a conservative agenda? Little of Column A, little of Column B? How did the economic requirement for patrons (differentially?) influence the development of the moderate and radical Enlightenments?]
From the 1640s (at least) on then, the elite-driven “moderate Enlightenment” fought to suppress the radical Enlightenment, which however extended its influence through publication, including clandestine publication, sometimes in association with secret organizations like the historical Freemasons (not to be confused with the derivative Northern Irish Orangemen, whose fundamental commitment to British imperialism leaves them uninterested in Enlightenment, nor the eventual devolution of the Freemasons to a business fraternity). One radical strategy was to encode organicist science in a new religion, the worship of nature. I think that is Jacobs’ interest, as the Freemasons archives are an important part of her data. However, she acknowledges that the radical Enlightenment was feared not only, and fundamentally, for its egaliberte agenda, but more publicly, for the “heresy”–the philosophical materialism and atheism that justify egaliberte.
While mechanism is a proud, central part of the Anglosphere capitalist cosmology and has received much attention thanks to its amenability to elite governance and capacity to build commercializable instrumental knowledge fortifying capitalist hierarchy, it is “naturalism” (per Jacobs) that was essential to the Enlightenment, as the animating impulse for Enlightenment was to better understand and improve society, and organicism–not mechanistic epistemology or method–is the completion of the scientific approach, is geared to the collaborative, scientific systemic analysis required for effective, substantial social reform. In other words, social democratic radicals propelled both the Enlightenment and the development of the mechanistic science that was incorporated into building capitalist inequality and meritocratic inegalitarianism, contra the radicals and social democracy.
While she focuses heavily upon her archives and thus the Anglo-Dutch roots of the Enlightenment, Jacobs has a wonderful dialectical read on the development of ideas through history and across regions. Through Jacobs, we can see that Enlightenment is a tradition, a fight over the good society. Enlightenment does not have a continuous, unopposed history, but rather flows and braids over time and across regions.
[Research Agenda: Recuperate the Classical Materialist Tradition in the Radical Enlightenment. (Perhaps Jacobs avoids because of the non-Anglocentric connections with Marxism, opposed 20th century motley-crew socialist revolutions, and egaliberte revolutions prior to the English Revolution, such as the German Peasant revolt, and the role Enlightenment Sweden played in the downfall of the Holy Roman Empire). This is the tradition that capitalist Cold War scholarship buries. Yet Stoicism is resurgent in the patrimonial capitalist restoration, and even in Moderate Enlightenment-Counterenlightenment Canada, for example, it is difficult to look away from the prolonged and extreme suffering inflicted by the Catholic church on behalf of the extractive state.]
Yet by eschewing investigation into the classical materialist tradition as it was recovered by Renaissance scholars and informed the Enlightenment orientation to social reform, Jacobs will mute the ways in which the Anglo-based “moderate Enlightenment” is already a hybrid product of Enlightenment–comparative, organicist science (including mechanist methods) for social reform–and the Counterenlightenment commitment to inequality and inegalitarianism that McMahon (2001) documents so well. It is because of this sine-qua-non Counterenlightenment cause, inequality and inegalitarianism, that scientifically-informed social reform, in the hands of the “moderate Enlightenment,” will reduce to social utility for elites: “modernizations,” efficient management of worker populations, tending toward surveillance, population mobilizations and immobilizations on behalf of capital and empire, and periodic hygienic sterilizations. Further, once capitalist Cold War US strategists strip organicist science off mechanist method, egaliberte social reform is in for a beat-down. (Mechanist) lab “scientists” are enlisted in the resurgent army of religion-mystified imperialism, the restoration and expansion of expropriative political-economy, the restoration of patrimonial capitalism.
Radical Enlightenment has always struggled against exclusion from the polity, has always struggled for sufficient patronage for its adherents to survive in societies built on violent and ongoing expropriation and exploitation. Radical Enlightenment has been violently opposed by Counterenlightenment exponents as well as Moderate Enlightenment adherents ensconced in the polity and enjoying patronage. Radical Enlightenment has been coopted by the imperial Moderate Enlightenment, and it has been tactically routed.
Despite its many disadvantages in the political-economic environment and despite been targeted and beseiged, the brilliant thing is that Radical Enlightenment has been so effective by nonetheless promulgating egaliberte, social-democratic/democratic-socialist ideas through cosmopolitan networks of publication, often clandestine, and secret organizations. Where/when inter-elite solidarity has been low (Revolutionary Era Sweden, for example), Radical Enlightenment ontology, epistemology, cosmology, and ideas have been influential and even very effectively institutionalized.
If the great imperial-capitalist insight of the British, such as Anglo-Irish Moderate (Counterenlightenment hybrid) Enlightenment organizer and chemist Robert Boyle (1627-1691), was that most self-organized societies–including motley crew, collaborative scientists–can be co-opted and subordinated to elite, imperial rule with a combination of carrots and sticks, nonetheless we can survey under what conditions this imperial intervention upon autonomous societies, and their subordination, fails. The history of Sweden (Barton, 1985) shows that elites need to be better organized and more solidaristic than the workers if they are to win the Counterenlightenment utopia, and that Enlightenment ideas can cleave the coalitional elite bloc. Jacobs shows us that Enlightenment ideas thrive and penetrate elite thought where radical-democratic Enlightenment agents can strategize, meet, and publish clandestinely. With the Basque case study, Silvia Federici (1998) also showed that gender solidarity protects societies against imperial intervention, disorganization, and subordinate reorganization.
Such historical studies can provide insight into mapping elite-captured scientific communities (mechanists) as well as raw Counterenlightenment crusaders today, and strategizing to restore the Enlightenment organicist science and materialist philosophy building collective, comparative knowledge for societies capable of fostering universal human development.
Enlightenment in the Dutch Republic
Enlightenment in France
The mid-to-late 18th-century Scottish Enlightenment consisted of Whig-Presbyterian (Calvinist) fraternal (clannish) friendships based in the important institution of the Scottish university system (Jacob 2019: 125-6). Richocheting off the British revolution, the exponents were the sons of elites who rejected and refuted “enthusiasm”–at first monarchical state religious (Episcopalian and Catholic) clerical hierarchy and dogma. Eventually though, the aging Scottish Enlightenment opposed as “enthusiasm” the heat produced by the revolutionary clash between egaliberte democrats and belligerent Antienlightenment loyalists in France, and they reeled at the 1790s development of class-conscious nonelite societies organizing in Scottish towns toward parliamentary reform (Jacobs 2019: 155-156). These were of little use to the Scottish Enlightenment. However they represent a civil, composed, commerce-first Enlightenment ideal, the Scottish fraternity did not prize narrow, Protestant religious toleration as the English did in reaction to their revolution; the Presbyters didn’t mind scuffling with the Episcopalians (Jacob 2019: 128-9).
The Scottish brotherhood found fertile solace in studying how a “philosophy” (generative metaphor) based in Newtonian theological mechanics could be combined with chemical invention to mesh Scottish agricultural rents, expropriation, with labor exploitation, and propel their economy toward the leading British standard (Jacob 2019: 145, 149, 151). The Scottish Enlightenment’s elite brotherhood of bachelors (Jacob 2019: 135, 150) prized the stability they required to study and promote economic development at the foot of a capitalist-slaver empire, England.
To frame their multi-sided efforts to delineate the ingredients for economic growth, exponents of the Scottish Enlightenment developed–and bequeathed to imperial powers–the poorly-aging concepts of stadial history, the notion that societies progress in stages (Jacob 2019: 139, 152), and of the human body as machine (Pitcairne, see Jacob 2019: 130).
The Scottish Enlightenment was thus an elite, fraternal, pragmatic, economically-ambitious intellectual ferment on a semi-periphery of rival world empires. The epitome of “Moderate” Enlightenment to fans in the Anglophonic world, and of Enlightenment tout court to Counterenlightenment and Antienlightenment enemies, it had little truck with equality, democracy, freethinking, philosophical materialism, and individual human development (Jacob 2019: 132, 154-6). It included theorists devoted to anticosmopolitan, inegalitarian prejudice such as Adam Ferguson (Jacob 2019: 142). Instead of recognizing that baroque conventions of politesse emerge from inequality and inegalitarianism, David Hume shifted them into the cultural fault of Goth barbarians (Jacob 2019: 137). The brothers often, with great sexism, discussed the Woman Question (Jacob 2019: 137-8). But depending on their distance from the English Revolution of 1688-89, some even opposed slavery as either an immoral affront to Christian freedom (Hutcheson) or as a misapplication of rentierism (Jacob 2019: 143). Anders Malm (2016) has shown that the real lure of the steam technology embraced by the Scottish industrial philosophes was less a unique physical power to accomplish work and more its severe and mobile capacity to enthrall human labor. I cannot say that it was really a Counterenlightenment, as the British “Enlightenment” was; but the Scottish Enlightenment was at essence a semi-peripheral, rivalristic elite reaction to a disruptive and threatening neighboring economic expansion. For all the cleverness and folly of man’s mind, the Scottish Enlightenment’s philosophical contribution was primarily logistical, metaphors applied to the goal of economic management. However well documented and hegemonic, it was a derivative retreat from the egalitarian drive to understand the world that has propelled Enlightenment.
Still, the Scottish Enlightenment contributed to the development of geology. James Hutton influentially propelled in the Anglosphere a theory reflective of the preceding French Enlightenment theory that the Earth’s heat produced land masses from the ocean floor over millions of years (Jacob 2019: 154). As well, we can, with care and context, harvest bits and bobs from the extensive written production of the Scottish Enlightenment, such as Adam Smith (1776).