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s/t: A history of civilization in western europe from 1715 to 1756, with special emphasis on the conflict between religion & philosophy Volume 9 in THE STORY OF CIVILIZATION, THE AGE OF VOLTAIRE, is the biography of a great man as well as the story of ideas & events that culminated in the French Revolution. But the revolution turned inward & set the stage for Napoleon, a di s/t: A history of civilization in western europe from 1715 to 1756, with special emphasis on the conflict between religion & philosophy Volume 9 in THE STORY OF CIVILIZATION, THE AGE OF VOLTAIRE, is the biography of a great man as well as the story of ideas & events that culminated in the French Revolution. But the revolution turned inward & set the stage for Napoleon, a disaster for Europe in general & for the French in particular. Of notable interest to the general reader is the Durants' conclusion that it was English ideas of skepticism, scientific experiment, "natural rights", constitutional government & individual liberty that started the French on their road to ruin. "A fine work of popularization...the Durants show an acute appreciation of the quality of this particular period."--The New Yorker


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s/t: A history of civilization in western europe from 1715 to 1756, with special emphasis on the conflict between religion & philosophy Volume 9 in THE STORY OF CIVILIZATION, THE AGE OF VOLTAIRE, is the biography of a great man as well as the story of ideas & events that culminated in the French Revolution. But the revolution turned inward & set the stage for Napoleon, a di s/t: A history of civilization in western europe from 1715 to 1756, with special emphasis on the conflict between religion & philosophy Volume 9 in THE STORY OF CIVILIZATION, THE AGE OF VOLTAIRE, is the biography of a great man as well as the story of ideas & events that culminated in the French Revolution. But the revolution turned inward & set the stage for Napoleon, a disaster for Europe in general & for the French in particular. Of notable interest to the general reader is the Durants' conclusion that it was English ideas of skepticism, scientific experiment, "natural rights", constitutional government & individual liberty that started the French on their road to ruin. "A fine work of popularization...the Durants show an acute appreciation of the quality of this particular period."--The New Yorker

30 review for The Age of Voltaire: A History of Civlization in Western Europe from 1715 to 1756, with Special Emphasis on the Conflict between Religion and Philosophy

  1. 4 out of 5

    Darwin8u

    "Of all the audacities of science the most daring is the attempt to fling its measuring rods around the stars, to subject those scintillating beauties to nocturnal spying, to analyze their constituents across a billion miles, and to confine their motions to man-made logic and laws. Mind and the heavens are the poles of our wonder and study, and the greatest wonder is mind legislating for the firmament." - Will Durant, The Age of Voltaire Volume 9 of Durant's Story of Civilization focuses on the p "Of all the audacities of science the most daring is the attempt to fling its measuring rods around the stars, to subject those scintillating beauties to nocturnal spying, to analyze their constituents across a billion miles, and to confine their motions to man-made logic and laws. Mind and the heavens are the poles of our wonder and study, and the greatest wonder is mind legislating for the firmament." - Will Durant, The Age of Voltaire Volume 9 of Durant's Story of Civilization focuses on the period of the Age of Enlightenment surrounding Voltaire. It primarily deals with the philosophy, religion, arts, wars, science and politics of the period between 1715 and 1756 in France, Britain, and Germany. I gave it five stars because so many interesting people, philosophy, and ideas can be found in this period. One difficulty with this volume was it lead me to buy, in reverse order: 1. Rameau's Nephew / D'Alembert's Dream 2. Diderot and the Art of Thinking Freely 3. Voltaire: A Very Short Introduction 4. Joseph Andrews / Shamela 5. The History of Tom Jones, a Foundling 6. Selected Letters by Mary Montagu 7. Selected Letters by Horace Walpole 8. Lord Chesterfield's Letters 9. Memoirs of Duc de Saint-Simon, 1691-1709: Presented to the King 10. Memoirs of Duc de Saint-Simon, 1710-1715: The Bastards Triumphant 11. Memoirs of Duc de Saint-Simon, 1715-1723: Fatal Weakness 12. Political Writings by Pierre Bayle 13. Various Thoughts on Occasion of a Comet by Pierre Bayle So, I guess this is a new way for me to judge a history book. How many new books does it directly inspire me to worm into my library? I also now own some French coins of Pierre Bayle, Roger Bacon, Voltaire, and Montaigne, but that is a whole other French rabbit hole caused primarily by my last couple weeks floating in Volume 9. Anyway, I enjoyed the book. Durant still doesn't appear tired of his subject. This is his third book related to the enlightenment and the only soft part of it (and it's probably more experimental than soft) is the last chapter's dialogue between Voltaire and Pope Benedict. It was good, but a bit too abstract for a Universal History. But I love it, so like all my loves, I will overlook its small faults because I hope for my own to disappear in time.

  2. 4 out of 5

    Roy Lotz

    I do not wish to belittle reason, but it should be the servant of love, not of pride With this volume we reach the third chapter in the Age of Reason, culminating in the figure of Voltaire, who died a decade before the French Revolution. The Age of Voltaire is somewhat different from the preceding volumes in that it isn’t simply a narrative history of Europe during a given time period, divided by country and topic, but instead structures itself around the life of one man: Voltaire. This prove I do not wish to belittle reason, but it should be the servant of love, not of pride With this volume we reach the third chapter in the Age of Reason, culminating in the figure of Voltaire, who died a decade before the French Revolution. The Age of Voltaire is somewhat different from the preceding volumes in that it isn’t simply a narrative history of Europe during a given time period, divided by country and topic, but instead structures itself around the life of one man: Voltaire. This proves to be an excellent organizational principle, since Voltaire touched nearly every aspect of life during that busy age. Voltaire grows up during the regency, after the death of Louis XIV but when Louis XIV was too young to govern, a time of economic boom and bust. Voltaire writes some plays, poems, and satires, all with much wit and little wisdom, and ends up in the Bastille. Though shut up, he doesn’t shut up. Eventually the French authorities tire of the impish scribbler and banish him to England. There, Voltaire learns the language and explores the little island. He has mixed feelings about Shakespeare but idolizes English liberties. While in England, Durant introduces us to Alexander Pope, who thinks that all partial evil is universal good, despite his curved spine; Henry Fielding, who writes of picaresque foundlings and founds the London police; and Handel, whose hallelujah still brings us good tidings of great joy. We also meet David Hume, who proves that nothing causes anything and that nobody exists; but despite these limitations, people have an innate moral sense that causes them to act virtuously. After that, Voltaire moves back to France. As usual, he writes satires with too much fire, and flees from Paris to settle down with his famous paramour, Émilie du Châtelet, who translates Newton while Voltaire attempts to be a scientist. The translation succeeds, the experiments in both science and love fail, and Voltaire eventually moves on to Prussia on the invitation of Frederick the Great. Durant takes this opportunity to cover the life and music of Johann Sebastian Bach, who is neither witty nor fashionable, and consequently not famous during his lifetime, but whose works will nevertheless survive long after Voltaire’s vanish. Johann Sebastian's son Carl Philipp Emanuel has more success, and finds his way to the court of Frederick the Great, who plays at playing the flute. Frederick, for his part, is philosopher enough to be a skeptic, skeptical enough to be a cynic, and cynical enough to be an effective king. Voltaire, like always, writes more sharply than he thinks, and loses his welcome at Frederick’s court. He eventually decides to move to Geneva and cultivate his garden. Durant here pauses the narrative to give us an overview of the advances in science and mathematics during this time. Three people claim to “discover” oxygen, Scheele, Priestley, and Lavoisier, although it seems unfair that they get the credit, since our bodies discovered oxygen long before our minds caught up. Euler, Lagrange, and d’Alembert analyze, formulate, and discombobulate, and Laplace describes the system of the world while helping to develop the metric system. Volta and Benjamin Franklin make some shocking discoveries, Lamark solves the mystery of the giraffe’s neck, and Linnaeus helps with Voltaire’s garden by giving flowers their Latin names. From there, Durant leads us to the philosophes. These are the French intellectuals, not necessarily philosophers in the strict sense, who attempt to reform the world with reason. They are not academics but public intellectuals, who write with grace and charm. Many write against Christianity; most philosophes are deists or atheists. The outstanding work of the philosophes is the Encyclopédie, a massive attempt to systematize and rationalize our understanding of the world. Diderot, the editor of this project, is the most important of this crowd after Voltaire, although there are many others: d’Holbach, d’Alembert, Helvétius, Grimm, and La Mettrie, who thinks men are just fancy machines. Durant is particularly drawn to the conflict between reason and religion; he thinks it is the defining struggle of our age. He rehearses the arguments for and against religion to exhaustion, and even appends an imaginary dialogue between Pope Benedict XIV and Voltaire to examine the argument once more. As usual, Durant shows himself a sloppy and unoriginal thinker when he ventures to put forward his own theories. He seems to know this, which is probably why he hides his opinions in side-remarks and an imaginary dialogue. As far as can be gleaned from these comments and this dialogue, Durant thinks that the most compelling case for religion is its ability to scare the populace into acting morally and accepting the social order. Personally I have serious doubts that religion improves morals; and besides it seems tremendously condescending to believe that most people need supernatural terrors in order to do the right thing. In any case, as a history of Voltaire’s life and his times, this book is excellent, one of the strongest books in the series. Durant may not be much of a thinker, but he can certainly write.

  3. 4 out of 5

    Margitte

    Voltaire, oh Voltaire, how I love thee, let me count the ways... Quotes: " Proboty and honesty are chimeras with which people deck themselves, but which have no existence. ... "Those who can make you believe absurdities can make you commit atrocities."... In satirizing the Royal Regent: "When Philippe reduced by a half the horses in the royal stables, Arouet(Voltaire) quipped that he would have done better to dismiss half the asses that crowded his Highness’s court." Rebel, yes; Satirist, for sure; Voltaire, oh Voltaire, how I love thee, let me count the ways... Quotes: " Proboty and honesty are chimeras with which people deck themselves, but which have no existence. ... "Those who can make you believe absurdities can make you commit atrocities."... In satirizing the Royal Regent: "When Philippe reduced by a half the horses in the royal stables, Arouet(Voltaire) quipped that he would have done better to dismiss half the asses that crowded his Highness’s court." Rebel, yes; Satirist, for sure; Social justice warrior, supreme; Theist, surprisingly! Actually, he regarded himself as a Deist. “I may not believe that noses were made as convenient bridges for spectacles, but I am convinced that they were made to smell with". ... When a young author knocked at the door of Les Délices (1757), and introduced himself to Voltaire as “a young atheist ready to serve” him, Voltaire replied, “And I have the honor to be a deist employer; but though our professions are so opposed, I will give you supper today and work tomorrow; I can make use of your arms, though not of your head." Quote: In conclusion the poet invites Uranie to make up her own mind on religion, in full trust that God, who “has placed natural religion in your heart, will not resent a simple and candid spirit. Believe that before his throne, in all times, in all places, the soul of the just man is precious; believe that the modest Buddhist monk, the kindly Moslem dervish, find more grace in his eyes than a pitiless [predestinarian] Jansenist or an ambitious pope.” If you haven't visited Wikipedia yet, here it is: François-Marie Arouet(1694 - 1778), known by his nom de plume Voltaire, was a French Enlightenment writer, historian and philosopher famous for his wit, his criticism of Christianity, especially the Roman Catholic Church, , to be replaced byand his advocacy of freedom of religion, freedom of speech, and separation of church and state. In fact, like Hume and Gibbon, Voltaire believed in exposing superstition, rejecting supernatural explanations, and identifying progress with the development of knowledge, manners, and arts. That's not all he had to say about the 17th century churches and plutocracy. Aristocracy was on its way out. Money replaced birth as a title to power. The vultures moved in. The rest of France suffered. Voltaire was in vogue. He understood. The European society was as vibrant as it was volatile at the time. Thanks to Martin Luther(1483 - 1546), an unusual birth rate existed. A German jurist thought that the increase in northern Europe was largely due to the transfer of monks and nuns from celibacy to parentage by the Protestant Reformation, and urged that “a statue be erected to Luther as the preserver of the species”. Seriously, there was more to it than that: improvements in agriculture and transport, augmenting the supply and distribution of food, and advances in sanitation and medical treatment reducing the death rate in infants and adults. Nevertheless, Voltaire, as we already know, was a tour de force. Mmmm, really? His opponents thought "he was a scroundel, wallowing in 'the dirtiest sink of freethinking." Jacob Nicolas Moreau’s satire, Nouveau Mémoire pour servir à l’histoire des cacouacs (1757). The Cacouacs, said Moreau, were a species of barely human animals who carried a pouch of poison under their tongues; when they spoke, this venom mingled with their words and polluted all the surrounding air. He called them atheists, anarchists, immoralists, egoists; but it was the term cacouac that pained them most keenly; it suggested the cacophony of quacking ducks, the bedlam of insane prattlers, sometimes (as the word intended) the odor of latrines. Voltaire struggled to reply, but who can refute a smell? He was a relatively peaceful rebellion until the age of 57, when, lo and behold, an earthquake hit Portugal and North Africa. Thirty thousand people died. Thirty churches and numerous homes were destroyed.A Portuguese Jesuit, Malagrida, explained that the quake, and the calamitous tidal wave that had followed it, were God's punishment for the vice that had prospored in Lisbon... Why had so many holy priests and dedicated nuns perished in the quake and confligration? The Moslems would have hailed the catastrophe as Allah's revenge upon the Portugues Inquisition, but the quake had destroyed Mosque of Al-Mansur in Rabat. Some Protestant dominees in London ascribed the disaster to divine reprobation of Catholic crimes against humanity; but in the same year, November 19, an earthquake damaged fifteen hundred houses in Boston, Massachusetts, home of the Pilgrims and the Puritans. William Warburton announced that the massacre in Lisbon 'displayed God's Glory in its fairest colors'. John Wesley preached a sermon on 'The Cause and Cure of Earthquakes'; 'sin' he said, 'is the moral cause of earthquakes, whatever their natural causes may be;... they are the effect of that curse which was brought upon the earth by the original transgression of Adam and Eve'. You will have to read this unbelievably well-researched and meticulously detailed work to experience Voltaire's lividness. Voltaire's war was on. Candide was eventually the big result. His most perfect production, the world thought, although Voltaire denied authorship. He had better occupations than write a pack of nonsense like that he declared. Well, he did use more than 100 speudonyms to get his message out. His followers and admirers, most of France, and soon the rest of the world, thought differently. "Here was that deceptively simple, smoothly flowing, lightly prancing, impishly ironic prose that only he could write; here and there a little obscenity, a little scatology; everywhere a playful, darting, lethal irreverence; if the style is the man, this had to be Voltaire." Voltaire had managed to put into small compass, within the frame of a story of adventure and love, a telling satire of Leibniz’ theodicy, Pope’s optimism, religious abuses, monastic amours, class prejudices, political corruption, legal chicanery, judicial venality, the barbarity of the penal code, the injustice of slavery, and the destructiveness of war; Candide was composed while the Seven Years’ War dragged through its hither and thither of victory, devastation, and death. Flaubert called Voltaire’s masterpiece “le” résumé de toutes ses oeuvres,” the summary of all his works. It had the defect of most satires, absurd exaggeration; but Voltaire knew quite well that few men ever encounter so bitter a concatenation of catastrophes as Candide’s. Voltaire is without question the most brilliant writer that ever lived. Was he second in every field, as Diderot charged? Second in philosophy to Diderot, yes, and in drama to Corneille and Racine; but he was first and best in his time in his conception and writing of history, in the grace of his poetry, in the charm and wit of his prose, in the range of his thought and his influence. His spirit moved like a flame over the continent and the century, and stirs a million souls in every generation. ... Perhaps he hated too much, but we must remember the provocation; we must imagine ourselves back in an age when men were burned at the stake, or broken on the wheel, for deviating from orthodoxy... ...Jean Calas was one of a small group of Huguenots—Calvinist Protestants—left in Toulouse after a century of persecution, confiscation of property, and compulsory conversion to Catholicism The law of France not only excluded Protestants from public office, it declared them ineligible to be lawyers, or physicians, or apothecaries, or midwives, or booksellers, or goldsmiths, or grocers. If they had not been baptized they had no civil rights whatever. If they had not been married by a Catholic priest they were held to be living in concubinage, and their children were accounted illegitimate. ... Suffice to say, this ninth volume of author and sociologist, Will Durant's "(The Story of Civilization) " - series, was one of the best books I have ever read on Voltaire's life and times. It was THIS VIDEO that had me find the author's writings, and in particular his immaculate research on Voltaire. There is much of Voltaire in Christopher Hitchens, and probably a large dollop in Mark Twain's rebellion against the establishment. Needless to say, I LOVE LOVE LOVE their work. Ok, I confess, I not only adore their work, I'm a free speech rebel myself. And satire is my beat. Sarcastic satire is even better :-) And yes, Voltaire, actually DID say: "I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it" - just a little bit differently. You get the drift though. I rest my case. I hope I provided enough reasons for you to love Voltaire as well. This book is an absolute MUST-READ for all Voltaire groupies :-) Oh yes, and for those who don't know where freedom of speech originated from.

  4. 4 out of 5

    W.D. Clarke

    A stunning achievement of erudition, intellectual sympathy, and skepticism (the latter always tempered by unparalleled moderation). I cannot recommend this more heartily, and am only sad that I will not be reading its sequel (Rousseau and Revolution) for a while, as I want to fill in some of the gaps that this book has raised in my 1715-56 reading life (which is pretty much everything from 1715-56, tbh)... While reading, I had the distinct impression that he favoured the history of music somewhat A stunning achievement of erudition, intellectual sympathy, and skepticism (the latter always tempered by unparalleled moderation). I cannot recommend this more heartily, and am only sad that I will not be reading its sequel (Rousseau and Revolution) for a while, as I want to fill in some of the gaps that this book has raised in my 1715-56 reading life (which is pretty much everything from 1715-56, tbh)... While reading, I had the distinct impression that he favoured the history of music somewhat over the history of the novel, and in terms of pages this was true enough, but my feeling that he focused much more on France than on England is a false one if you extract the 200 or so pages that close the volume which focus upon the attack upon Christianity by the French Philosophes (Voltaire, Diderot, et al), which the subtitle to this volume does warn us is a "special emphasis" here. Again, to be honest, I find that military history (you know, those endless battles and interchangeable Seventy-times-nine-years Wars of the Blah-blah Succession...) to be both wearisome and vertiginous, and Durant, concerned with Civilization in all that that term implies, only gives us small doses of the battlefield, for which I am eternally grateful. But seriously, if there is one book to rule them all in terms of panoptic/synoptic history, this might be it. Each section (be that on the novel, the life of the salons, or even geodesy [no, I did not know what that meant before, and have almost forgotten it now as I type this]) leaves you wanting more*, and that can never be a bad thing. *If you know me at all, then you know that I always want more political economy, and the sections on the South Sea Bubble (England, 1720) and the collapse of Lord's Systeme in France (also 1720?) amounted to no more than petits amuse-bouches (sp?) for me, alas!

  5. 5 out of 5

    Ron

    A terrific find at a used book sale. I have seen this at antique markets but the seller usually wants to unload a full set. This is old school history, as opposed to the revisionism peddled today. The section about Georgian London with all its highs and lows is especially compelling. Absolutely first rate, it's a shame that we don't see these great volumes in ePub format. Written in 1965. Just 13 reviews here while pure junk gets tens of thousands...oh well...UPDATE - I found this series on the A terrific find at a used book sale. I have seen this at antique markets but the seller usually wants to unload a full set. This is old school history, as opposed to the revisionism peddled today. The section about Georgian London with all its highs and lows is especially compelling. Absolutely first rate, it's a shame that we don't see these great volumes in ePub format. Written in 1965. Just 13 reviews here while pure junk gets tens of thousands...oh well...UPDATE - I found this series on the Kobo site in Epub format, now reading the Louis XIV volume.

  6. 4 out of 5

    Erik Graff

    Will and Ariel Durants' Story of Civilization series is unlike most histories in that they pay considerable attention to the lives of ordinary persons, and women, in addition to describing the political, cultural and scientific 'accomplishments' of great men. Will Durant is especially good in explicating the history of ideas as this volume demonstrates, primarily in the field of political philosophy. Will and Ariel Durants' Story of Civilization series is unlike most histories in that they pay considerable attention to the lives of ordinary persons, and women, in addition to describing the political, cultural and scientific 'accomplishments' of great men. Will Durant is especially good in explicating the history of ideas as this volume demonstrates, primarily in the field of political philosophy.

  7. 5 out of 5

    Bev

    I love this series: however I've read so much history that I skipped things that are familiar, concentrating on the historical characters and their interaction. It is the story of western European history from the early 1700's to about 1750. Interesting to see how all the countries connected and what issues resulted in immigrating to America and other countries, especially I didn't know much about the smaller countries. Why was this called the age of Voltaire? He was a philosopher and the Durran I love this series: however I've read so much history that I skipped things that are familiar, concentrating on the historical characters and their interaction. It is the story of western European history from the early 1700's to about 1750. Interesting to see how all the countries connected and what issues resulted in immigrating to America and other countries, especially I didn't know much about the smaller countries. Why was this called the age of Voltaire? He was a philosopher and the Durrants see this as a period when these countries threw off their religious beliefs and that Voltaire was a great influence in that. Previously countries picked one religion and governed by that. With so many beliefs governments expelled the ones they didn't like and ignored others. I love the detail. The books pack a lot of excitement in telling the stories.

  8. 4 out of 5

    Bruce Knotts

    Wonderful book that does much to explain the age we live in now. The book ends with an interesting discussion of the Age of Reason and the reasons for faith. As a Unitarian Universalist, it is fascinating to me how much Unitarianism weaves into Will Durant's later volumes of his History of Civilization. I also adore Will Durant's use of language which is full of humor and interest, which adds so much life and vitality to his topic. Can't wait to read his remaining two volumes. However, I will gi Wonderful book that does much to explain the age we live in now. The book ends with an interesting discussion of the Age of Reason and the reasons for faith. As a Unitarian Universalist, it is fascinating to me how much Unitarianism weaves into Will Durant's later volumes of his History of Civilization. I also adore Will Durant's use of language which is full of humor and interest, which adds so much life and vitality to his topic. Can't wait to read his remaining two volumes. However, I will give them a break for a while, but will definitely return to read the final volumes.

  9. 4 out of 5

    Keeko

    The authors bring the 18th Century to life. It seems very much like our time because there are financial scandals and incredible scientific progress in the midst of wars and extreme poverty, and there's a lot of energy by people who are trying to make the world a better place. What I like best about the Durant books is the gentle humor and feeling of kindness. You can feel that they loved writing the books. The authors bring the 18th Century to life. It seems very much like our time because there are financial scandals and incredible scientific progress in the midst of wars and extreme poverty, and there's a lot of energy by people who are trying to make the world a better place. What I like best about the Durant books is the gentle humor and feeling of kindness. You can feel that they loved writing the books.

  10. 5 out of 5

    James Violand

    This review applies to all Durant's History of Civilization. The author does not follow a strictly chronological approach, but emphasizes those events/personages that have developed our Western civilization. He tends to emphasize certain personalities - some of whom I take exception to - but he stresses those things which make Western man unique. The arts have a prominent place in developing our culture and Durant convinces the reader how important they are. This review applies to all Durant's History of Civilization. The author does not follow a strictly chronological approach, but emphasizes those events/personages that have developed our Western civilization. He tends to emphasize certain personalities - some of whom I take exception to - but he stresses those things which make Western man unique. The arts have a prominent place in developing our culture and Durant convinces the reader how important they are.

  11. 5 out of 5

    Dovofthegalilee

    After the past several volumes this one went down a lot smoother for me. Perhaps I'm getting giddy at the idea of getting near finishing this bohemeath! After this it will be Gibbon's Rise and Fall of the Roman Empire. After the past several volumes this one went down a lot smoother for me. Perhaps I'm getting giddy at the idea of getting near finishing this bohemeath! After this it will be Gibbon's Rise and Fall of the Roman Empire.

  12. 5 out of 5

    Lou Chiaramonte, Jr.

    The Durants do it (did it) again! Volume 9 of 11 in the 10,000 some-odd page Story of Civilization. If it wasn't for the audiobook format, I might still be on the first volume! The myopic focus on France, Britain, and Germany in this volume is both a pity and a necessity. There simply wouldn't have been time for the Durants to focus on the development of philosophy and economics in these countries in any shorter space. That said, it is still a pity. All 'mainstream of history' studies run into th The Durants do it (did it) again! Volume 9 of 11 in the 10,000 some-odd page Story of Civilization. If it wasn't for the audiobook format, I might still be on the first volume! The myopic focus on France, Britain, and Germany in this volume is both a pity and a necessity. There simply wouldn't have been time for the Durants to focus on the development of philosophy and economics in these countries in any shorter space. That said, it is still a pity. All 'mainstream of history' studies run into this problem. At least the Durants acknowledged it as such. --A more complete review to follow, if I ever get the time!

  13. 5 out of 5

    Alex

    “Can there be anything more splendid than to put the whole world into commotion by a few arguments?” In what was originally meant to be the penultimate volume in the series, Durant seems to be struggling with a glut of sources, and for the first time an era, the Enlightenment, will get two volumes. Continuing an already existing trend, the Age of Voltaire also mostly focused on Great Britain and France, but this fits in rather neatly with the motif of following Voltaire's life as a framing device “Can there be anything more splendid than to put the whole world into commotion by a few arguments?” In what was originally meant to be the penultimate volume in the series, Durant seems to be struggling with a glut of sources, and for the first time an era, the Enlightenment, will get two volumes. Continuing an already existing trend, the Age of Voltaire also mostly focused on Great Britain and France, but this fits in rather neatly with the motif of following Voltaire's life as a framing device for the whole book, since Voltaire spend some years in Britain early in his life, and so the book really starts off there. The main and most interesting theme was the struggle between religion and secularism. “There is no religion in England” writes Montesquieu in 1731. Lord Hervey, in 1728, observes that “this fable of Christianity... was now so exploded in England that any man of fashion...would have been almost as much ashamed to own himself a Christian as formerly he would have been to profess himself none.” When Queen Caroline is dying, Prime Minister Robert Walpole sends for the Archbishop of Canterbury, “let this farce be played,” Walpole sneers, “...it will satisfy all the wise and good fools, who call us atheists if we don't pretend to be as great fools as they are” And yet the aristocracy, with their eternal tendency to forget about anyone but themselves, is probably not the most unbiased source as to the general state of religion in the country. Durant notes the countless rebuttals that each work of irreligion invited, and notes that this was also the time of John Wesley, his powerful preaching, and his establishment of Methodism. Religious belief kept fragmenting into different sects, and Voltaire is enchanted by the resulting toleration, praising a London Stock Exchange where a Jew, a Muslim, and a Christian are free to do business together. British Catholicism was dormant in this era, and yet there is a picturesque episode, in which “Bonnie Prince Charlie” the Catholic, Stuart pretender lands in Scotland in 1745 and with the help of his followers, the Jacobites, attempts to reclaim the throne taken from his family by the Glorious Revolution. The attempt is extraordinarily bold, and gains some Scottish sympathy, but England fights back and the attempt fails. Voltaire, reflects on the heroism of the expedition that “could not be expected to succeed in an age when military discipline, artillery, and, above all money, in the end determine everything” The decay of European religion may have begun in Great Britain, but nowhere did it reach such an intensity as in France. The freethinkers of the time are all denoted philosophes, meaning not philosopher, but a very specific type of progressive, irreligious philosopher. Durant begins coverage of the campaign with a priest Abbe Jean Meslier, hardly the only atheist priest of the time, whom upon his death in 1733, leaves behind a testament, confessing to have lost his faith in the seminary, attacking the Bible, attacking the person of Christ, cursing a God who would condemn any person to eternal hellfire, disavowing all belief in God, and then arguing for communism. Durant summarizes Meslier's idea of a better society: “let the nation appropriate all property; let every man be put to moderate work; let the product be equally shared. Let men and women mate as they wish and part when they please; let their children be brought up together in communal schools. There would then be an end to domestic strife, to class war, and poverty.” These ideas apparently shocked even Voltaire, but were enthusiastically promoted by Baron D'Holbach, the German born financier, who had hosted one of the most prominent salons of the Enlightenment, inviting the leading men of the time, and calling itself the Synagogue. D'Holbach republished Meslier, and yet also made his own hefty contribution to the anti-religious campaign. The System of Nature, as his great work was called, was not so much directly atheistic, as it was materialist, from which then followed atheism. There is nothing in existence but matter, there is no God, soul, or free will, and he completely accepts the fatalism which that implies. To those who would reply that such a fatalistic worldview invites despair, he remarks that heredity and environment have already determined whether they will despair or persevere, and yet he calls for a program of social reform taking into account this new materialistic paradigm, treating crime as a doctor treats disease. The materialistic theme was also promoted by the physician, La Mettrie, who traced man's origin in a crude theory of evolution, and embraced a hedonistic ethic in which pleasure is the highest good, and there is no hierarchy between intellectual or sensual pleasures. “Let no man repent his indulgence in sensual delights if these involved no harm to others.” Voltaire,the most famous freethinker of the era, had a complex and seemingly evolving position about religion, hostile to the Catholic Church, to Christianity; crush the infamy, was his slogan against Christianity. However, Voltaire never let go of a belief in God, despite struggles over the problem of suffering, most notably in response to the Lisbon Earthquake of 1755. 'If God did not exist, he would have to be invented' goes one of his other slogans 'but all nature cries out to us that he does exist' is the rest of the line. He even attempted a refutation of D'Holbach, and at times he even seems out of touch with the times, getting called a bigot by the Paris atheists. He never sought to destroy religion but to turn it into something more tolerant. The most ambitious work of the era was the Encyclopedia originally a Paris publisher's attempted translation of a British work. One of his collaborators Diderot kept adding to it until it became its own project. The series attacked religious and political orthodoxy, but helping it along was the fact that the government censor Malesherbes, was a skeptic himself. A serious government crackdown on the effort nonetheless came in response to an assassination attempt on the king in 1757 and the Encyclopedia was even banned in Paris in 1759 as a danger to public morals. Diderot continued it, and the apparently lukewarm authorities didn't seem to care, and eventually allowed it to be published in Paris anyways. The whole endeavor showed how much authority religion had lost. The government, seemingly filled with unbelievers anyways, didn't really have its heart in the effort to suppress the Encyclopedia or the wider anti-religious campaign. Diderot apparently contributed with multiple atheist authors to books besides the Encyclopedia, but he wrote his own as well, and his independent works were rather unique. The strangest was the Dream of D'Alembert, starring a real person, for D'Alembert was one of Diderot's colleagues on the Encyclopedia. The eponymous character mutters philosophical dialogues in his sleep, and two of Diderot's other friends comment on them, occasionally with the interruption of the half asleep D'Alembert. Another book, The Nun was an anticlerical work which came about as a hoax. Diderot wrote to the Marquis de Croixmare, pretending to be a miserable nun, and out of the correspondence emerged an epistolary novel. His most famous work was The Nephew of Rameau, featuring another real person portrayed as a libertine arguing with Diderot himself on the nature of morality. None of these three were ever published in his lifetime and its also noted that Diderot's famous slogan about strangling kings with the entrails of priests is not quite exactly found in any of his works, typical of many famous quotes. Durant notes that religion fought back. “Some nine hundred works in defense of Christianity were published in France between 1715 and 1789,” a rather good barometer on the rapidly diminishing faith of the population. Seemingly every major work of irreligion had its multiple refutations, and Voltaire admitted that Abbe Guenee's defense of the Bible “bites to the blood.” There was a Catholic Encylopedia, “vaster even than Diderot's and attacking every weak point in that citadel of doubt.” Abbe Nicolas Bergier, already a prominent clergyman writes so able an attack on materialism, that the Church pays him to write apologetics full time. “The finest figure among the clerical defenders of Catholicism in eighteenth century France was Guillaume Francois Berthier” the editor of a Jesuit journal, “a man universally admired by scholars for his vast knowledge, and by all Europe for his modest virtues,” but of course the Jesuits were expelled from France in another triumph for the atheists. There were non-clerical Catholic apologists as well, most notably Elie Freron, the conservative journalist, historian, and poet who managed to produce thirty volumes. Jacob Moreau and Charles Palissot wrote satire, making fun trends such as “the return to nature” or “the altruism of egoism.” “Against the brilliant Galiani, the learned Bergier, the courteous Berthier, the industrious Freron...the tantalizing Palissot, and the cackling Moreau, the philosophes used every weapon of intellectual war” The philosophes also applied themselves to the problem of politics, most famous of all being the case of Rousseau, but he awaits the next volume. Every progressive has his utopia, or else what is he progressing to? Often they're imaginary hypotheticals, like Abbe Saint Pierre's 1729 proposal for a European Union, including Turkey, mutually guaranteeing each others territorial integrity, and forever renouncing war. It would have an assembly and an army. Many thinkers of the time considered themselves “good Europeans” before their own nationality, but the time was not ready for such a project. What is curious however, is how many political philosophers of the time found their utopia across the world in China. “Chinese influence was keenest in France, where the espirits fots seized upon it as another weapon against Christianity. In China they found a paradise, enlightened in religion and in government, which France did not live up to, and the moderate Montesquieu “stood his ground against the Oriental tide, called the Chinese emperors despots, denounced dishonest Chinese merchants, exposed the poverty of the Chinese masses...” which of course invited refutation from zealous philosophes. “Turgot, skeptical of the Chinese utopia” actually commissioned an investigation in China to critically examine all the hype. This was a time of growing global consciousness with Chinese, Arab, Persian, and Sanskrit works being translated into French. The first French anti-colonial book was produced by Guillame Raynal, perhaps in collaboration with Diderot, in which he “denounced the greed, treachery, and violence of the Europeans in dealing with the natives of the East and West Indies and warned the white man of the terrible revenge that the colored races might take if ever they came to power” Yet the book, was not only anti-colonial, but wide enough in scope to serve as a blueprint for the Revolution. He condemned religion and argued for democracy and freedom of thought. The book ends with a fictional discussion between Voltaire and Pope Benedict XIV, whom Voltaire had once dedicated his book Mahomet to. Durant's own views shine through, and its clear that he's a moderate, as skeptical of utopia and endless progress as he is of any supernatural heaven, but the dialogue is amicable. What a shame that I cannot cover the politics of Robert Walpole and William Pitt, of Frederick II and Louis XV, the writings of Alexander Pope, of Samuel Richardson, Marivaux, the music of Bach and Handel, the discoveries of Lagrange, Laplace, Lavoisier, Linneus, and Buffon, but Durant did, extensively, and on much more. This was the era of rising industrialization, the war of the Austrian Succession, and the colonial rivalry of France and Britain, and yet there's more revolution here in thought than in politics. The philosophes, often a part of the aristocracy themselves, generally would not wish to violently overthrow the enlightened monarchs who often sympathized with and helped them. It remains for that eccentric romantic Rousseau, actually born into poverty, to dominate the second half of the 18th century, star in the next volume of the series and pave the way for Revolution.

  14. 5 out of 5

    Alberto

    Excellent as usual. The epilogue (a dialogue between Voltaire and Pope Benedict) is one of the best written and most even-handed debates between conservatism and liberalism (what Thomas Sowell has dubbed the conflict between the constrained and unconstrained visions) I've ever read. Excellent as usual. The epilogue (a dialogue between Voltaire and Pope Benedict) is one of the best written and most even-handed debates between conservatism and liberalism (what Thomas Sowell has dubbed the conflict between the constrained and unconstrained visions) I've ever read.

  15. 5 out of 5

    Buddy Don

    Wow. I have two volumes remaining in the eleven-volume "The Story of Civilization," after which I'll review the set. Meanwhile I'll simply note that this has been one of the great reads of my life so far. Wow. I have two volumes remaining in the eleven-volume "The Story of Civilization," after which I'll review the set. Meanwhile I'll simply note that this has been one of the great reads of my life so far.

  16. 5 out of 5

    Eric

    This was a great leap forward in my understanding of the Age of Reason. Some of their asides are downright captivating. I'd recommend this to anyone with an interest in understanding how the modern world was created,as long as they had an awful lot of free time on their hands. This was a great leap forward in my understanding of the Age of Reason. Some of their asides are downright captivating. I'd recommend this to anyone with an interest in understanding how the modern world was created,as long as they had an awful lot of free time on their hands.

  17. 4 out of 5

    David

    Durant has combined impressive research with good writing and insightful perspective to document an era that is not fully appreciated by the great grandchildren of the age of Voltaire. Truly we owe the pioneers of that generation a debt of eternal gratitude. Those pioneers lived in an age when men were burned at the stake or broken on the wheel for deviating from orthodoxy, and yet they succeeded in laying the foundations of science and philosophy, of reason and conscience, of tolerance and just Durant has combined impressive research with good writing and insightful perspective to document an era that is not fully appreciated by the great grandchildren of the age of Voltaire. Truly we owe the pioneers of that generation a debt of eternal gratitude. Those pioneers lived in an age when men were burned at the stake or broken on the wheel for deviating from orthodoxy, and yet they succeeded in laying the foundations of science and philosophy, of reason and conscience, of tolerance and justice, which was largely absent in the thousand years preceding. Durant summed it up in the final pages: “To the 18th century thinkers, and perhaps the profounder philosophers of the 17th century, we owe the relative freedom that we enjoy in our thought, our speech, and our creeds. We owe the multiplication of libraries, schools, and universities. We owe a hundred human reforms in law and government, in the treatment of crime, sickness, and insanity. To them and the followers of Rousseau, we owe the immense stimulation of mind that produced the literature, science, philosophy, and statesmanship of the 19th century. Because of them, our religions can free themselves more and more from a dulling superstition and a sadistic theology, can turn their backs on obscurantism and persecution, and can recognize the need for mutual sympathy in the diverse tentatives of our ignorance and our hope. Because of those men, we—here and now—can write without fear, though not without reproach. When we cease to honor Voltaire, we shall be unworthy of freedom.” But there was one other fine thought expressed by Diderot, true to me today, that expresses the infinite human condition at the apex of honest humility and tender nobility: “I do not condemn the pleasure of the senses. I, too, have a palate that relishes delicate dishes and delicious wines. I have a heart and eyes, and I like to see a beautiful woman. I like to feel under my hand the firmness and roundness of her gorge, to press her lips to mine, to draw pleasure from her eyes, and to expire in her arms. Sometimes with my friends a little debauch, even a bit tumultuous, does not displease me. But, I will not conceal it from you, it seems to me infinitely sweeter to have helped the unfortunate, to have given salutary counsel, to have read an agreeable book, to take a walk with a man or woman dear to me, to have given some instructive hours to my children, to have written a good page, to fulfill the duties of my place, to say to my beloved tender and sweet words that bring her arms around my neck.”

  18. 4 out of 5

    Antonio Nunez

    Having just finished volume 9 of the Durants' Story of Civilization I again conclude, as in preceding tomes, that this must be the best one. The decision of telling the story of the Age of Reason by following Voltaire on his travels, correspondence and quarrels works very well, for it allows coverage of the great personages of the time: Louis XIV, the Hanoverian kings of Britain, Frederick the Great, Maria Theresa. This volume is more a story of ideas than of political or military events, and be Having just finished volume 9 of the Durants' Story of Civilization I again conclude, as in preceding tomes, that this must be the best one. The decision of telling the story of the Age of Reason by following Voltaire on his travels, correspondence and quarrels works very well, for it allows coverage of the great personages of the time: Louis XIV, the Hanoverian kings of Britain, Frederick the Great, Maria Theresa. This volume is more a story of ideas than of political or military events, and being less wide-ranging geographically than its predecessors, it is more focused and satisfying. I came away from the book with greater respect for figures like Haendel and Diderot. I must confess I never was too much in love with Les Philosophes. I never did particularly appreciate their continual feuds, their debauched morals, their total contempt for traditions and character, their frequent obscenities. Mostly I resented their myopic trust in human reason, when such reason gave us the Jacobin Terror and the Napoleonic Wars, not to mention Bolshevism and Nazism, responsible for killing and maiming in less than two centuries many more millions that ever suffered under the Inquisition and ecclesiastical censure. In this book I found that some philosophes like Holbach lived exemplary lives. That even old rogues like Diderot where in fact brilliant polymaths and superb writers. That Voltaire built a church in Ferney, that he requested a relic from Rome and received a hairshirt that had been Saint Francis of Assisi's, that he went to weekly mass and sometimes received communion and that he was a lay Franciscan. This increased complexity helped me see much that was good in these men's work that I hadn't seen before. I particularly liked that the authors, without condoning religious persecution and censorship, also show the great value that religious faith usually has for most of its believers. A fine performance indeed.

  19. 4 out of 5

    Jerry M

    This is volume 9 of the 11 volume 'A Story of Civilization'. It covers the history of Europe from the death of Louis XIV to the death of Voltaire. Given the range, it is really the history France and England with a little bit of Prussia and the rest thrown in. This a history painted by the personalities of the era. The Durants do a good job with most people but some shine. Madame Pompadour comes out very favorably, as long as you understand how she got her power. Émilie du Châtelet, was someone This is volume 9 of the 11 volume 'A Story of Civilization'. It covers the history of Europe from the death of Louis XIV to the death of Voltaire. Given the range, it is really the history France and England with a little bit of Prussia and the rest thrown in. This a history painted by the personalities of the era. The Durants do a good job with most people but some shine. Madame Pompadour comes out very favorably, as long as you understand how she got her power. Émilie du Châtelet, was someone I was not familiar with, a great scientist for her era. Frederick the Great of Prussia comes off as a sad figure, abused as a child, a truly intelligent leader, the times make the man and the times made him a military genius. Voltaire is a volatile personality, not my favorite person, scheming for every last dollar. At least he was entertaining. The best sections of the book are those on musicians. The Durants must have loved music and their do a wonderful job bringing the elder Back and Handel to life. If this book has a weakness, it is that accounts of Voltaire divided into multiple sections so that one doesn't get a clear idea of the man until late in the book.

  20. 5 out of 5

    David Glad

    Will Durant is incredible as always. This one was the best book yet. It really talks economic issues of the time, such as Britain's South Sea Bubble (it even snared Sir Isaac Newton, who lost many thousands of pounds sterling; investment texts of past decades would cite him as proof you do not necessarily need to be a genius to be a superior investor, even if investing had not evolved from speculation back then) along with John Law's infamous Mississippi Company. (Apparently skilled enough as an Will Durant is incredible as always. This one was the best book yet. It really talks economic issues of the time, such as Britain's South Sea Bubble (it even snared Sir Isaac Newton, who lost many thousands of pounds sterling; investment texts of past decades would cite him as proof you do not necessarily need to be a genius to be a superior investor, even if investing had not evolved from speculation back then) along with John Law's infamous Mississippi Company. (Apparently skilled enough as an economist that Russia wanted him to be their finance minister after he fled the mobs of France.) These definitely were exciting and enlightened times and I did find it a nice touch a hypothetical conversation between Pope Benedict and Voltaire postmortem where they wanted various subjects at the very end of the book.

  21. 5 out of 5

    Graychin

    A re-read, though I only skimmed it this time. It’s a sturdily written, enlightening (no pun intended) book. Durant’s summaries (see his overview of Hume, for example) and biographical snapshots are terrific. The flavor and sweep of the Enlightenment era is captured wonderfully.

  22. 5 out of 5

    Tom

    I am surely, but slowwwwly, working my way through the Durant's truly magisterial "Civilization" series and the effort of the 17th Century matches its predecessors in both its scope and breadth. You all know the honours this brilliant series earned. Trust me, each was well deserved. I am surely, but slowwwwly, working my way through the Durant's truly magisterial "Civilization" series and the effort of the 17th Century matches its predecessors in both its scope and breadth. You all know the honours this brilliant series earned. Trust me, each was well deserved.

  23. 4 out of 5

    Ruth

    Civilization in Western Europe from 1715 to 1756 ... Emphasis on the Conflict Between Religion and Philosophy. 898 pages. Donated to the library 2010 March.

  24. 4 out of 5

    Kerwin

    One of Durant's best-chock-full-of-nuts! One of Durant's best-chock-full-of-nuts!

  25. 5 out of 5

    Blake Brownrigg

    This felt like a more representative work of Durant's, as it dealt with one of his central concerns: the interplay of religion (feeling) and philosophy (reason). This felt like a more representative work of Durant's, as it dealt with one of his central concerns: the interplay of religion (feeling) and philosophy (reason).

  26. 4 out of 5

    Kenneth

    So here I am at Volume IX, and at this point I must admit that it is simply not possible for me to write an objective review of anything by Durant. So much of what I know of the world and how I understand it has been crafted by this man, that now that I have arrived at what is likely his favorite volume, I cannot help but love reading the work as much as he loved writing it. The structure is a little unusual, it is built around the life of Voltaire but it is also a political and intellectual his So here I am at Volume IX, and at this point I must admit that it is simply not possible for me to write an objective review of anything by Durant. So much of what I know of the world and how I understand it has been crafted by this man, that now that I have arrived at what is likely his favorite volume, I cannot help but love reading the work as much as he loved writing it. The structure is a little unusual, it is built around the life of Voltaire but it is also a political and intellectual history of the middle decades of the eighteenth century. Voltaire, born in France, exiled in England, a member of the court in Prussia and retired to Switzerland makes a survey of the political and economic life of central and western Europe easy to pair with his travels to each of these. The political history is interesting and historically it has been one of my favorite elements of the series. Having read a fair bit of and about Voltaire however, I feel as though his life gets short shrift by being broken up into the political histories of the places he lived and their political histories are a little disjointed in order to accommodate him. There were major wars with significant consequences right down to our own day which are barely acknowledged and Frederick the Great I think it not given enough space. Still, Durant achieves much and does so with a highly readable combination of loquacious economy that combines character sketches, grand politics and scenes of everyday life. It's excellent. As with Volume VIII "The Age of Reason Begins," though on a much grander scale, in its second half Volume IX leaves the political realm behind and launches into the intellectual history of the age beginning with the advance of knowledge and finishing with the assault on Christianity led by Voltaire, and pursued with significantly greater levels of aggression (and success) by his contemporaries and his successors. This is worthwhile and Durant himself makes the point that the movement of ideas in this age was far more consequential than the movement of borders and the ideas that Voltaire championed, secularism and tolerance, are those on which the United States itself was founded. These ideals are under attack today by a different kind of fundamentalism, and so reading about their origins is a tonic. I highly recommend this book.

  27. 5 out of 5

    Tom Brennan

    Nine volumes and three years into reading every word of this series and I learned something new with this book. Not about history, I mean. Yes, I learned plenty new about that. No, I mean about Will Durant. After so many thousands of pages of a man's writing you think you know him, and you do, but this volume unveiled something critically important, something I wish I would have known/understood when I began this lengthy series all those years ago. It is this: Will Durant thinks he is Voltaire. It Nine volumes and three years into reading every word of this series and I learned something new with this book. Not about history, I mean. Yes, I learned plenty new about that. No, I mean about Will Durant. After so many thousands of pages of a man's writing you think you know him, and you do, but this volume unveiled something critically important, something I wish I would have known/understood when I began this lengthy series all those years ago. It is this: Will Durant thinks he is Voltaire. It is patently evident to me as I read this work. He exalts Voltaire to inordinate heights, and speaks knowingly of his vain struggle against abandoning the religion of his fathers. But Voltaire is too smart to hold onto that faith. No, Voltaire, a man of letters, a man of influence, a man who has left his mark on an entire age with his writing, that man has been forced by his intellectual honesty and courage to turn his back on God and embrace humanism. ...which is exactly what Durant thinks of himself. I'm not saying this is a bad book or a bad series. I'm saying, I wish I would have understood that when I began this series. That's all. It is a tremendously important point to help you understand what/why/how Durant approaches writing the history of Civilization.

  28. 5 out of 5

    Lauren Hiebner

    This is the 9th volume of the classic series A History of Civilization by the Durants. Here the Durants tell the story of Europe from 1715 to 1756 using the life of Voltaire to introduce us to the economic, social, and political changes taking place just before the Industrial Revolution and the French Revolution. They see Voltaire as the most brilliant writer that ever lived. Special emphasis is on the conflict between philosophers and theologians. This they say was the real battle taking place This is the 9th volume of the classic series A History of Civilization by the Durants. Here the Durants tell the story of Europe from 1715 to 1756 using the life of Voltaire to introduce us to the economic, social, and political changes taking place just before the Industrial Revolution and the French Revolution. They see Voltaire as the most brilliant writer that ever lived. Special emphasis is on the conflict between philosophers and theologians. This they say was the real battle taking place in the 18th century, a struggle for the soul of mankind. The Durants also take an in-depth look at the changes in education and learning. Most of the book takes place in France and England with small segments in other parts of Europe. As usual the Durants are very thorough in citing numerous examples of the literature of the time period. This sentence summarizes the book, “Man could at last liberate himself from medieval dogmas and Oriental myths; he could shrug off that bewildering, terrifying theology, and stand free, free to doubt, to inquire, to think, to gather knowledge and spread it, free to build a new religion around the altar of reason and the service of mankind.” Thus, the foundation for our modern freedoms of speech and religion. A good read.

  29. 5 out of 5

    Joy

    The account of how the philosophes and French Catholicism went to war against each other. You will learn not only about the development of thought and art in Europe during Voltaire’s lifetime, but also about the atrocities of churches in throwback to the Inquisition. Durant makes it clear that the French Revolution was inevitable in the circumstances – and that the terrors of the Revolutionary government were following previous national habits.

  30. 4 out of 5

    Stephen

    The ninth work in Will Durant’s sweeping Story of Civilization, The Age of Voltaire picks up with the death of the Sun King in the dawn of the Enlightenment. It’s an age of tumultuous change; though its survey ends before the French revolution, Europe is already in the throes of the industrial and scientific revolutions. New worlds are opening; not only are new goods flowing in from the recently-discovered parts of the globe, but western man’s entire worldview is shifting. The modern age is dawn The ninth work in Will Durant’s sweeping Story of Civilization, The Age of Voltaire picks up with the death of the Sun King in the dawn of the Enlightenment. It’s an age of tumultuous change; though its survey ends before the French revolution, Europe is already in the throes of the industrial and scientific revolutions. New worlds are opening; not only are new goods flowing in from the recently-discovered parts of the globe, but western man’s entire worldview is shifting. The modern age is dawning. Voltaire follows the titular philosopher as he travels from France to England, Germany, and later Switzerland, though the first three countries are Durant’s focus here. As with the rest of Durant’s integral history, this book carries weight because it examines not only political and military history, but considers in depth the literary, artistic, philosophical, and religious developments of the time. These ideas are not isolated from one another; individualistic philosophy drives changes in both politics and religion, weakening the claims of absolutist monarchy and state churches alike. England grows with the times; her king is superseded by Parliament and the prime minister. France hardens and resists, but the tide of history sweeping Europe will break it as surely as the waves break shorelines. Of course, in this era it's less a gentle tide and more of a water-cannon. The radicals of the era are not content with careful, prudent change; no, things must be set on fire. Christianity is beyond reform for the rising philosophes; the world must be overturned, priests must die, churches must be burned. This is the cradle of the French revolution, the nursery of those who would take a machete to society until their ideals are satisfied. On a more constructive note, science and technological prowess are abounding, and Durant sets aside a large segment of the book to look at it seperately. Durant is a genteel moderate on the religion and philosophy debate; from Our Oriental Heritage on, he has favored religion as an institution offering stability, comfort, beauty, and more to the human race, though he is never blind to its abuses. His conclusion, a dialogue between a pope and Voltaire, makes plain his attitude that the tumultuous era his history is heading into is one of mixed blessings; while Durant is thankful that the rise of the philosophes advanced human liberty, checking the abuses of monarchy and organized religion alike, in their enthusiasm they became arrogant. Benedict: You thought it possible for one mind, in one lifetime, to acquire such scope of knowledge and depth of understanding as to be fit to sit in judgment upon the wisdom of the race --upon traditions and institutions that have taken form out of the experience of the centuries. Tradition is to the group what memory is to the individual; and just as the snapping of memory may bring insanity, so a sudden break with tradition may plunge a whole nation into madness like France and the revolution. [....] We should be allowed to question traditions and institutions, but with care that we do not destroy more than we can build. p. 788 As with his judgment of the impact of the reformation, the entire dialogue puts his tender appreciation for both sides, and the wisdom in appreciating them both, on display. I suspect his criticism will grow a little sharper in the next volume.

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