George Bernard Shaw makes the amusing reference to English as the native language of Milton, Shakespeare and the Bible and while he might have delighted in the debaucheries of the salon – intellectual and otherwise – his comment betrays a profound truth. England, despite of the continuing royal none such of a monarchy that – if was not losing its head at the Tower of London – was losing it in the bedchambers of Buckingham palace, was still intellectually a profoundly Christian state. The likes of Pitt and Burke kept it so and it is to this intellectual tradition that America owes its Constitution.
At the same time that Adams, Washington, Madison and Jay are helping to create a Christian Republic Jefferson – and to a lesser extent Franklin – are trying to push us to at best a Deist democracy and, at worst, to something like the democracy we labor under today. This tension has been a constant in American history and its origins need to be understood since the definitions of liberal and conservative are practically useless to categorize politicians today and it is only by understanding the underlying values that you can determine which – if any – are worthy of your support.
Wicked company : freethinkers and friendship in pre-revolutionary Paris Philipp Blom London : Weidenfeld & Nicolson, 2011 Hardcover. 1st ed. and printing. xx, 361 p. : ill., ports. ; 24 cm. Includes bibliographical references and index. Clean, tight and strong binding with clean dust jacket. No highlighting, underlining or marginalia in text. VG/VG
The decade-long flourishing, in the 1760s, of friendship and radical philosophy in Baron Holbach‘s Paris salon is a seminal moment in Western history, a moment of astonishing radicalism in European thought, so uncompromising and bold that its vision has still not be fully realised.
Frequented by a group of men and women who were united by their contempt for the conventional and often by the danger of persecution into which they put themselves, Holbach’s house became the epicentre of freethinking, a place like no other in eighteenth-century Europe. The guests would talk until deep into the night, dreaming up a bold, new way of doing things, of thinking about the world and about society.
The book focuses on the early life of four young men, two philosophers (Hume and Rousseau) and two philosophes (Diderot and Holbach) as they set out with a mixture of desperation and optimism to travel and study. Also included are Denis Diderot, Laurence Sterne, Adam Smith, Ferdinando Galiani, Horace Walpole, Benjamin Franklin and Guillaume Raynal.In A Wicked Company, Blom retraces the fortunes of this group of friends and how their thinking created a different and radical French Enlightenment based on atheism and passion rather than right reason, and truly humanist thinking. A startlingly relevant work of narrative history, A Wicked Company forces us to confront with new eyes the foundational debates about modern society and its future.