The author of this book speaks out again in regard to the Enlightenment. His inspiration comes not only from new observations occasioned by own studies, but also from the recently read material as well as opinions and appraisals of the era articulated lately at academic conferences. Although they have not led the author to perform a fundamental revision of his views in regard to the nature of Enlightenment and its crucial contributions to the Western culture, they did afford a better understanding of its complexity. They also made him more aware that his interpretation and presentation of that era depends considerably on what its prominent representatives had to say, as well as on the worldview-based assumptions and methods of appraisal adopted by its later observers and interpreters.
In no culturally significant era has there been a shortage of radicals. The Enlightenment differs from other eras not only in the fact that there were many of them, but also that they formed a group so incredibly varied that it is necessary to place them in one of the countries that made their name through achievements in creating enlightened standards of thought, life, and coexistence with others. Such a country was, without a doubt, 18th-century France. Her contribution to the culture of the Enlightenment was so significant, that one may still encounter the view today that, without the enlightened French, Europe would not be enlightened—or at the very least would not be enlightened in the manner proposed by the French philosophers, the French littérateurs, the French economists, or the French lawyers, and so on. They were admired and emulated in many a country, and people even took instruction in the French language in order to be able to read their works in the original, and—of course—to be able to show off in front of others, not only in knowledge of what was talked about in these works, but also in how the topics were discussed. Putting it concisely: a fashion emerged back in that century for that which came into the world by the Seine, and which became a kind of pass into the circles of those who considered themselves the intellectual elite of society and who created the social elite. Within this...
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