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Faces of the Enlightenment

Philosophical sketches

Series:

Zbigniew Drozdowicz

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.

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Opponents of Revolutionary Radicalism

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There has never been a shortage of those whose general views were positive when it came to the events in France known as the Great Revolution (1789–1794). On the other hand, however, no corresponding shortage has ever occurred of those thinking that the revolution brought about losses much more substantial than the gains, and some of them would even go so far as to say that what the revolution destroyed could neither be rebuilt nor repaired enough for it to function as well as it would before 1789. A large part of the latter group comprised persons associated with the Catholic Church. This is understandable, given that the Church belonged to those social institutions that incurred relatively harshest losses during the revolutionary changes—not only material, but also moral and reputational. However, even among those who can be seen as the prime beneficiaries of those events, i.e., the French liberals, there were some individuals with various reservations who would advise against any repeats going forward.203 In my considerations I will only refer to two such critics of the Great Revolution, whose position is well-established in the philosophy of politics, although there were of course many more of them. Those two individuals can be considered standard-bearers of what was at the time known as “traditionalism” and came to be called “conservatism” in the 19th century.

Edmund Burke’s Critique

Edmund Burke’s (1729–1797) enjoys special standing among the critics of the French Revolution, as not...

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