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The Enlightenments

The famous 18th Century Enlightenment was actually different things in different places. Toni Vogel Carey on a tale of several cities.

The Enlightenment, we have been taught, was the Age of Reason, with a capital R. And it was “primarily a French phenomenon,” to quote a typical source. Voltaire, Diderot, Condorcet, Rousseau – these were the star players on the eighteenth-century stage. And while an occasional scholar might swim against the tide, it is only now that the tide itself shows signs of turning. A wave of recent scholarship, by Roy Porter, Emma Rothschild, Jonathan Israel, Gertrude Himmelfarb and others, is stripping the received word of its near-mythic status, and revealing it to be more like a near-myth.