Is it the voice of pride to acknowledge that they who differ from me may possibly be in the right, or if they mistake may do it without ruine, or to say, Whosoever is not of my opinion is in the wrong, and whosoever is in the wrong is eternally to perish for his errour?
Martin Clifford, A Treatise of Humane Reason, London, 1674, pp. 44-45
1. Writing about history is by its very nature a revisionist process. Nevertheless, in relation to Stuart and Hanoverian Britain the term came to be applied to specific historiographic paths of enquiry pursued in British, Canadian and American universities during the 1970s. In a fine recent synthesis of instances of historiographic debate in the English language that have undermined some of the age-old interpretative orthodoxies of early-modern British history, Ronald Hutton explained the interpretative boldness and liveliness of these practices as the result of various converging factors. Foremost amongst these was the increasingly free access to university education and the academic career system that took place in the 1950s and 60s. “Not only did this make more likely a multiplicity of differing viewpoints, but it reduced the hitherto marked influence of a small number of distinguished scholars over the disposal of posts, and thus arguably encouraged independence amongst their juniors.” Another important factor was ‘the archival revolution’ in Great Britain; county record offices containing thousands of private and public archive collections were opened up after 1950, making a mass of sources and documents much more accessible than had previously been the case. Finally, a cultural climate strongly critical of traditional values developed in Western Europe and North America during the 60s; this was concomitant to the crumbling of the colonial empires, a pervasive secularization of private customs and social ethics, an acceleration in the mechanisms of production, consumption and social mobility, and a new awareness of collective and global responsibility for the conservation of the ecosystem. “In the 1970s and 1980s”, Alan Houston and Steve Pincus added in their introduction to A Nation Transformed: England after the Restoration (2001), “at the exact high point of revisionist scholarship in early-modern English historiography, modernization theory came under fierce attack throughout the social sciences. Modernization was seen as an overly schematic, universalist, teleological and potential imperialist schematization. Modernity was shown to have significant costs as well as benefits. In the context of the Cold War these claims naturally assumed a powerful ideological charge. Modernization theorists were seen as imposing a particularly Western – and often peculiarly American – model of capitalist development on the rest of the world.”
2. The historiographic orthodoxy with regard to early-modern British history had long been associated with the interpretation of Samuel Rawson Gardiner. In a series of volumes (1856–1901) about the history of the British Isles from 1603 to 1656, which were supported by an extraordinary amount of archive research, Gardiner traced the origins of three characteristic features of English ‘identity’ – English hegemony over the British Isles, a monarchy reined in by parliamentary control and a national Church that coexisted with freedom of worship for dissenters – to the growing conflict between the first two Stuart sovereigns and the ‘spirit of the nation’ represented and embodied by Parliament. In America, from 1924 onwards, Wallace Notestein consolidated Gardiner’s view of a House of Commons inexorably more independent from the power of the monarchy and more receptive to the demands of the people. Starting in 1910, English historians with leanings towards or a background in Marxism set about tracing the socio-economic process that had brought about the political evolution described by Gardiner and his followers. This line of research was still being pursued in the 70s by Christopher Hill in England and Lawrence Stone in America; they published a prolific number of fascinating and influential studies in which the rise of the Commons was linked to the declining economic fortunes of the Crown and aristocracy and the progressive enrichment of more modest landowners. Since then, however, it has been ascertained that the Royalists and Parliamentarians who lined up against each other in the Civil War actually had a broadly similar social and economic status. Furthermore, a number of pioneering local studies (by Alan Everitt in the 60s and John Morrill in the 70s) carried out in county record offices have suggested that local communities were generally disinterested in national events and that there was no recognizable or politically significant ideological polarization (though see the revised edition of Morrill’s Revolt in the Provinces).
Meanwhile in America, in a work published in 1965, Geoffrey Elton caused a great stir by attacking Notestein’s position. Elton argued that the Civil War was not the result of epochal structural changes but of short-term political events, essentially the ineptitude of the Stuarts. Subsequent studies by Paul Christianson; two collections of essays by different authors that appeared in the late 70s (JMH, Dec 1977 and Faction and Parliament, ed. by Kevin Sharpe); and above all the elegant, finely wrought synthesis produced by Conrad Russell in 1979 (Parliament and English Politics, 1621-1629) marked the consolidation of a new historiographic awareness with regard to the enduring hegemony of the Lords, the substantially similar or complementary interests in the two Houses under the first Stuart kings and the importance of contingent and concrete events in determining the conflict. It was Russell himself, in a seminar held in London in 1977–78, who dubbed himself and those who shared his interpretation as ‘revisionists’.
The advance of the revisionists described above, albeit briefly, produced a variety of reactions. For the most part they sought to tread a path between a reading of the conflict as the result of pressing structural upheavals and one that stressed contingent pretexts within a context of substantial continuity. In 1986, Derek Hirst concluded that the Civil War should be seen as the outcome of short-term political difficulties arising, however, in a context of deep-rooted iniquities and inefficiencies in the tax system and enduring tensions regarding the formal and institutional definition of the national Church. In 1989 Richard Cust and Ann Hughes, both admirers of the work of Christopher Hill, emphasized, in what they themselves described as a ‘post-revisionist collection’ (Conflict in Early Stuart England), the existence of long-term political and cultural divisions at a local level.
The debate continued with an authoritative contribution from Mark Kishlansky (Parliamentary Selection: Social and Political Choice in Early Modern England) and ambitious new works by Conrad Russell (1990–1), who above all extended the scope of their analysis to include Scotland and Ireland. After such intense historiographic debate, the Civil War appeared increasingly to have been a less inevitable event than had previously been thought. The addition of new pieces to the puzzle had enabled a new historic synthesis. Above all, this process of synthesis had drawn in a more appropriate and systematic fashion on available documentary and archival evidence, and it was no longer possible to adequately piece together the history of that complex period without giving due consideration to the British Isles as a whole and to the role not only of the Commons but also of the House of Lords.
Finally, it is worth considering the work of Nicholas McDowell, who pointed out in a recent book that the leading figures in the Puritan revolution were not only, indeed were not prevalently, members of the lower and illiterate classes (“the bottom 50 per cent of the population, who were ‘the labourers, cottagers, paupers’”), but rather the “‘middling sort’ of population, who accounted for at least thirty per cent of the population. The middling sort were able to read, buy, and, increasingly, write books and pamphlets. [...] They were independent craftsmen and small tradesmen ... husbandmen and yeoman ... the less illiterate sections of the population”. It was part of republican rhetoric (and, years later, that of the deists as well), to use learned sources in such a way that their usual meanings were undermined; culture, in other words, was useful not to contain and lock the boundaries of knowledge but to open them up, to extend horizons and make knowledge more accessible. As regards the more generic role of printing, historians have sometimes praised it as a factor both of modernization and of the production of new content (Elizabeth Eisenstein) and have sometimes complained about a deplorable transition “from ‘humanism’ to ‘humanities’”, in other words from a profound knowledge of texts to a merely instrumental use of them (Anthony Grafton, Lisa Jardine).
3. The tide of revisionism soon spread to other areas of historical investigation, especially the English Reformation, which has also traditionally been viewed as a sudden but inevitable event of profound transformation in common religious sentiment and as a constituent element in the mentality and culture of the English-speaking world. In The English Reformation (1964), which is still essential reading on this topic today, A. G. Dickens expressed the widespread persuasion that the Reformed Faith rapidly replaced the rites and precepts of a late-medieval Church in inexorable decline, and that by the time of Edward VII’s death England was already a pre-eminently and proudly Protestant nation. By the end of the 70s, this black and white picture of events was being constantly undermined. This was due to the transfer of massive quantities of diocesan documents to the new public record offices, to the diligence with which a group of Elton’s students at Cambridge devoted themselves to the study of Tudor politics, and finally, to the general decline of Christianity in the English-speaking world, which resulted in a less sympathetic and more detached approach to the topic. Despite the emergence of ‘counter-revisionist’ positions in this field as well (Glyn Redworth, Diarmaid MacCulloch, John Guy and others), the work of Christopher Haigh, which evolved from a study of the exemplary case of Lancashire, the most resolutely and enduringly Catholic county in the nation, to a broader national perspective, J. J. Scarisbrick (the Catholic biographer of Henry VIII) and others finally yielded a consensus that the Reformed Faith took root in a successive and much more gradual manner than has long been thought to be the case, and that a number of entirely contingent events contributed to it (the precocious death without heirs of Mary and the exceptionally long reign of Elisabeth).
4. In the last thirty or forty years there has also been a profound reconsideration of the ‘history of ideas’. Generations of historians, at least until Arthur O. Lovejoy, focused more on the ‘great texts’ of Western culture than on the ideas, for the most part removing them from the context in which they were written. On the one hand they attributed an unrealistic internal coherence to the systems of thought of individual authors, and on the other an imaginary (‘Whiggish’, anachronistic, teleological and hence unhistorical) continuity between different thinkers. The crucial contributions of J. G. A. Pocock and Quentin Skinner helped to redress this by stressing the need to study the classics of political thought as literary and linguistic constructs closely bound up with the specific contexts in which they were produced – which shaped them and which they in turn influenced – and the intentions of their authors. The importance attributed to linguistic contexts is something the two authors have in common, despite their differing interpretations of English republicanism in the early-modern period. In what have now become classic works, Pocock argued that there is a theoretical continuity between Aristotelian zoon politikon, Florentine humanism (especially the work of Machiavelli), the theorizations of the Interregnum years (Harrington in particular) and the thought of the American revolutionaries. Skinner, on the other hand, claimed that the language of the early-modern republican tradition owes more to Roman philosophical and historical thinking (Cicero and Sallust) than to Aristotelianism. In Machiavelli, and in the republicans that were influenced by him, Skinner argues, man is not presented as an animal politicum et sociale but as a being exposed to corruption and prone to neglect his obligations towards the community. The liberty theorized by the republicans, according to Skinner, is not a positive liberty, but a particular form of negative liberty: individuals participate in political life not because that is their natural destiny, but to prevent it from degenerating into a loathsome tyranny in the hands of others, which would put their own safety and property at risk. Furthermore, in the ‘neo-Roman’ theory of liberty, “it is only possible to be free in a free state”. Liberty is not just an ‘absence of interference’ but also an ‘absence of dependence’. However, for both Pocock and Skinner, “if there was a new political ideology, a new worldview, which entered Britain in the later seventeenth century, then it was backward-looking not modernizing”.
Reflecting on recent studies by Markku Peltonen (Classical Humanism and Republicanism in English Political Thought, 1570-1640) and Tony Claydon (William III and the Godly Revolution), Steve Pincus noted: “Early modern British historians since the 1970s have been engaged in a process of criticizing, refining, and in many cases rejecting the Whig/liberal/marxist paradigms of interpretation and explanation that they inherited from their historiographical predecessors. Two independent, but in many ways overlapping, modes of interpretation have replaced narrative accounts of the rise of parliamentary democracy or the revolutionary triumph of bourgeois society. For an entire scholarly generation much of the exciting and innovative work in early modern history has sought to recover in Britain classical republican rather than liberal languages of politics on the one hand and to represent their object of study as an ancien régime rather than as a modernizing polity on the other. [...] Both modes tend to minimize the European and international dimension of Early modern England. This might, at first glance, seem an odd claim to level at the classical republican mode. However, while practitioners of that mode are quick to point out that they are recovering a Machiavellian and hence European language, they only rarely examine the foreign policy and imperial implications of that language. This is particularly unfortunate in an era in which one of the primary functions of states was to fight wars”.
5. In his introduction to The Politics of Religion in Restoration England (1990), Tim Harris complained about the lack of studies about Restoration England in comparison to the abundant crop of works devoted to the possible roots of the Civil War, the conflict itself and the experiment with republicanism. There seemed to be a substantial convergence of views regarding the interpretation of the period following 1660, based on the admirable research of J. R. Jones (1961) and then on the authoritative studies of K. H. D. Haley and J. P. Kenyon. The picture they painted was of a new and already secularized reality characterized by a clear delineation of influential and distinct political parties and limited political awareness on the part of local populations.
However, a fresh generation of scholars had begun to pose new questions. Above all, they questioned whether 1660 was really a political, cultural and institutional watershed in English history (besides, unfortunately, being a historiographic one). John Morrill introduced his book After the Civil Wars (2000) by noting that “one unfortunate side-effect of decades of searching for the holy grail of ‘the causes of the civil war’ in the century before 1640, and the assumption that nothing could be the same afterwards, has been to create an almost impermeable barrier between the periods before and after 1660. [...] Jonathan Scott has argued forcefully that it is impossible to understand Restoration politics without understanding the civil wars. Not only did the civil wars scar the English psyche, but the issues which they raised – the nature of the English monarchy, the divisions within Protestantism – were to be raised again under Charles II and indeed after 1688.” Above all, it can be inferred from Jonathan Scott’s works that he is of the view that “the crisis of popery of 1678-83 was little more than a re-run of the similar crisis of 1637-42”. Gary De Crey and Mark Goldie have in turn emphasized a significant similarity between many of the radicals of the Interregnum and the protagonists of the tensions of the 1670s: “There was a more significant survival of commonwealth ideas after 1660 than is usually recognized.” Even though Jones and J. H. Plumb, who held that ‘the fear of popery’ was more of a political than a religious question, had both relegated the issue of religious dissent to the list of ‘minor problems’ facing governments after 1660, by no means did religious tensions dissolve following the restoration of the Stuarts. England was consumed with the fear of an imminent Papist re-conversion. Although apparently unfounded, as the small size of the English Catholic community and its internal divisions would suggest, such fear was fuelled by alarming continental events. Besieged by the powerful Catholic nations, Protestantism in Western Europe appeared to be in retreat at the end of the seventeenth century. To the west of the Baltic, England and Holland remained its principal outposts. Also facing pressure from the turbulent Irish Catholic community, England felt its mission was to prevent Rome overwhelming “all Christian nations with a universal inundation of tyranny and superstition”. However, King Charles II’s leaning towards theological indifferentism, libertinism and a kind of crypto-Catholicism allowed a natural convergence of his politics of religion with the aims of dissenters and free-thinkers. Even though the 1672 ‘Declaration of Indulgence’, issued a few days before the declaration of the third war against Holland, appears part of a simple strategy to prevent domestic tensions distracting forces from military commitments, Charles II repeatedly attempted to weaken persecutory legislation against religious minorities, including Catholics. Nevertheless the March 1661 election of a Parliament with a very high Royalist and Anglican majority, the ‘Cavalier House of Commons’, had rapidly dissolved the expectations of a pluralist and tolerant religious disposition. The repeated appeal for local officers to commit themselves to an unrelenting repression of religious dissent, testifies to the way the efficacy of the laws essentially depended on the zeal of local magistrates, often internally torn between a reluctance to intervene against neighbours, friends or clients, and the prospect of being made responsible personally by default. In numerous cases, the local communities allowed a peaceful coexistence of Anglicans and Non-conformists, but in those places where zealous officers acted strictly according to the law, whole families were ruined. Furthermore, “it should not be assumed that anglicanism was primarily a gentleman’s religion; as with dissenters, anglicans could be found at all levels of English society”. The credit for an extensive rereading of the enduring influence of Anglicanism and its devotional practices in Restoration England must go to the meticulously documented work of John Spurr. “For too long, historians have tended to see the religious tensions of the Restoration through the eyes of the nonconformists, partly because of the richness of sources on dissent, and partly because of the long historiographical tradition of nonconformist martyrology, leaving a somewhat jaundiced impression of Restoration anglicanism. Spurr offers a much more vital and credible picture of anglicanism, a belief system which historians are increasingly beginning to realize exercised a powerful attraction for the majority of English people during this period and well into the eighteenth century” (Harris). However, we will return shortly to the possibly non-univocal meanings attributed to the terms ‘majorities’ and ‘minorities’ in historical analysis.
6. Reflecting, then, in 1990 on the tendency of scholars of one phase of the Stuart age to be rather prickly about examining the other, even though they were divided by what increasingly appeared to be merely a tenuous division, Tim Harris pointed out that, of the historians that had generally concerned themselves with the origins of the ‘English Revolution’, one of the first to venture beyond 1660 was Christopher Hill, especially in his works after 1980. “But some would say that Hill’s work has had the effect of downplaying the significance of the Restoration period, since he sees the Glorious Revolution as a mere footnote to the more important structural revolution of the mid-century, with the years after 1660 being for the radicals a period of disillusionment and introspection brought on by the experience of defeat.” Fifteen years later, in a major and fascinating study of the Restoration, Harris once again asked: “Why should a revolt that failed be thought to have had a greater impact on Britain’s subsequent historical evolution than one which succeeded? [...] It would be foolish to deny that the 1640s and ’50s had any long-standing significance at all. [...] Yet the work of Stuart historians increasingly seems to indicate that the mid-century crisis did little to deflect the course of historical development of the Stuart monarchy or to redress or resolve some of the basic problems that had bedevilled the Stuart polity. Charles II and James II, like James I and Charles I before them, suffered from inadequate finances, an ill-defined constitutional relationship with parliament, a contentious domestic religious situation and an unstable multiple-kingdom inheritance. A solution to all these problems was found – for better or for worse – as a result of the revolutions of 1688-91”. Furthermore, James II had “learned the hard way that ‘Elizabethan-type techniques for the manipulation of public opinion’ were no longer effective. [...] Preferring the stimulant of coffee to the stupefaction of strong drink, men (and women) met in coffee houses to trade gossip, share ideas, and learn the latest news from the continent. Behind all these conversations was a growing acceptance of the legitimacy of public discussion of affairs of state” (Houston and Pincus).
In 1690 the Unitarian William Popple wrote, anonymously, A Discourse of Humane Reason with Relation to Matters of Religion, which was printed by Locke’s publisher, Awnsham Churchill. The book was simply a translation, albeit reworked and extended, of the preface to Traité de la raison humaine, the somewhat toned-down French version of Martin Clifford’s Treatise of Humane Reason (1674), which had been published in Amsterdam in 1682. The Traité de la raison humaine was a shrewd attempt to mediate between the irrepressible deistic overtones of Clifford’s text and the irenic aspirations of a Christian rationalist anxious above all to ensure that the propulsive role of the Christian message about the adoption of morally upright individual and social behaviour should not be lost. The English publication also responded to a need to encourage the faint yet significant signals discernible in England of a new attitude and, finally, of a more tolerant policy. Tony Claydon has recently claimed that the Glorious Revolution “was not part of a secularizing enlightenment [but] still enmeshed in the spiritual thoughts and concerns of an earlier period”. Yet although the so-called Toleration Act of 1689 had formally excluded the possibility that anti-Trinitarians, deists, Catholics and Jews, like all non-Christians and non-believers, could ever be exempted from the application of legal sanctions regarding religious uniformity, William III encouraged a bland application of the act from the very outset. His general de facto tolerance can be seen in the lack of opposition to many new places of worship and preaching, something which was formally forbidden by the law, and in the proliferation of openly Unitarian texts. In one of the most emblematic essays in A Nation Transformed (a miscellany of studies explicitly antithetical to those who, like Scott and Lionel Glassey, had concluded that the Revolution of 1688–89 “has something of the character of a counter-revolution”), Mark Knights stressed that James II’s declarations of indulgence, which were much bolder than William’s subsequent legislation, although politically and constitutionally reckless, had shattered “the equation of dissent with disloyalty”. In the same volume, Blair Worden commented: “If there is one religious change above all characterized by the later seventeenth century, it is the retreat of theology, and the concomitant shift of Protestantism from a religion of faith towards a religion of works. [...] Before the later seventeenth century arguments for liberty of conscience had been couched almost exclusively in theological terms, [...] by the later seventeenth century more worldly arguments had come to the fore. Not least there was the argument, which in mid century had been voiced, if at all, only as an aside, that toleration would be good for trade.”
In turn Steve Pincus (enlarging on arguments expressed years previously in Culture and Society in the Stuart Restoration, a somewhat mixed bag of essays edited by Gerard MacLean) emphasized that the economic interests of the nation and a careful demographic policy had become the principal driving force of English politics in the course of the 18th century, as demonstrated by the conflicts with Protestant Holland in the late seventeenth century. “Economics had indeed become a reason of state. This was because the economic and political dislocations of the mid seventeenth century – the Thirty Years War and the English Revolution – had compelled a reconceptualization of politics, both a retreat from universalism (religious and political) and a realization that wars were won by economic preponderance rather than martial virtue. The new scepticism resulting from the failure to conclude wars of religion had opened the ideological space necessary to import notions of population as a central object of statecraft”.
Reviewing A Nation Transformed in The English Historical Review (2002), Ronald Hutton concluded by acknowledging, with some irritation, that the work provided confirmation that much of the academic culture of scholars of Stuart England was still infused with warlike and ‘Whiggish’ attitudes: “This may seem a curious comment on a profession in which the term ‘Whig’ has been one of the fiercest terms of opprobrium during the past thirty years, but it is true in the simplest and crudest sense. When Royalist, Tory or Anglican writers feature in this collection at all, they do so mainly as foils for opponents: the focus is still, constantly, on Milton, Ludlow, Sidney, Locke, the Dissenters and the London radicals as the most expressive and interesting voices of their time. As historians at the present we seem to operate within a mental world in many ways less diverse and elastic than the late Stuart one.” A similar note is struck in the introduction to Religious Identities in Britain, 1660-1832 (edited by William Gibson and Robert G. Ingram): “The centrality of religion to the nation’s political, cultural, and social life fits uneasily into the prevailing grand narratives of the period, which stubbornly continue to understand the eighteenth century as a jumping-off point for the modern (hence, secular) world”. It hardly needs recalling that in 1941 Sir Herbert Butterfield applied the term ‘Whig’ to those historians who had gone too far in sustaining the evident causality between the events and processes of the early-modern age and contemporary institutions and culture.
7. One of the obvious and explicitly declared polemical targets of A Nation Transformed was Jonathan C. Clark, once profiled in a national newspaper as ‘The Don Who is Rewriting History’. As is well known, in 1985, in English Society 1688-1832 (but see also the 2000 revised edition published as English Society 1660-1832. Religion, Ideology and Politics during the Ancient Regime), Clark ruffled the feathers of the entire academic community, principally with his irreverent (to put it mildly) if not ferocious attack on the historiographic tradition deriving from the work of Sir John Plumb, but also for having argued that the society of the ancient regime lasted in England at least until 1828–32, preserving unaltered three particular characteristics: ‘It was Anglican, it was aristocratic, and it was monarchical’. “A spectrum of ‘post-revisionist’ opinion materialized almost immediately”, recalls Hutton, “united by the belief that Clark had performed a valuable service in drawing attention to important features of eighteenth-century English society, particularly the religious element, which had hitherto been neglected. Yet it was also accepted by the same writers that he had exaggerated them in turn, at the expenses of elements of radicalism, dissent, commercial culture and social change which had also been present”.
However, on various counts there was now growing suspicion of the equation between modernization and secularization, the second of which had long been celebrated “as the telos of humanity’s intellectual evolution”. B. W. Young (The Historical Journal, 43, 2000) concluded that “it was history writing rather more than any putative triumph of science which helped accomplish the ‘secularization of the European mind’”. James E. Bradley and Dale K. Van Kley, in Religion and Politics in Enlightenment Europe (2001), likewise sustained that “toward the end of the nineteenth century and into the twentieth, the liberal occlusion of the role of religion in eighteenth-century Europe received powerful reinforcement from socialist historiography for which the only possible ideological expression of the ascending bourgeoisie in the eighteenth century was the secularized thought in the enlightened mold, limiting religion’s politically and economically “progressive” phase to the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries and consigning its eighteenth-century manifestations to rearguard defences of the old order”.
In contrast to Peter Gay’s vision (in The Enlightenment: An Interpretation) of the Enlightenment as a unitary European movement, characterized as ‘the rise of neo-Paganism’ and impatient of any dogmatic restrictions or concession to metaphysics, in a recent book by S. J. Barnett (The Enlightenment and Religion. The Myths of Modernity) “the French experience of Enlightenment (the Gay paradigm) has been proclaimed the European exception rather than the rule and [...] far from being its foe, Christianity was the midwife and sustainer of the siècle des lumières”. Barnett contests the existence of a deist movement and of any significant influence of the texts of a small number of free thinkers on eighteenth century culture. Nigel Aston responded acutely that “if Barnett is anxious for historians to admit that interesting texts are not necessarily influential in their generation, and demands care and caution in measuring influence – what he calls the ‘holy grail’ of scholarship – , the challenge in turn to him might be to concede that intellectual propagandists can occasionally be prodigiously and disproportionately influential in demarcating the culture of their time.”
With the “crisis of the Cassirerian model”, which had dominated until the middle of the 70s and had made possible the last great unitary reconstructions of the Enlightenment, various “sectorial identities” gradually emerged; there was the “radical Enlightenment” of Margaret C. Jacob, “the New Cultural History” (which focused on the margins of society, the deviant and irrational, witchcraft and atheism) and the “conservative Enlightenment” outlined by Pocock in Barbarism and Religion, which revolved around the figure of Gibbon and the notion of English specificity. In 1985, in an essay that appeared in a miscellany of studies in honour of Franco Venturi, Pocock theorized the notion of a necessarily conservative and clerical Enlightenment, promoted by the “latitudinarian theologians” as a bulwark against the fear of retaliation from the “enthusiasts”, defeated with the restoration of the Stuarts. Many scholars now agree that “one misinterprets the Anglican divines of the later seventeenth century if one does not understand that their insistence on the reasonableness of Christianity was an iron grip not on a deistic future but on a traditional past” (Gerard Reedy).
An entirely different line was taken by Jonathan Israel in Radical Enlightenment. Philosophy and the Making of Modernity 1650-1750 (2001). According to Israel, “the Early Enlightenment was an impressively unified process across Europe, indeed a remarkable demonstration of the essential cohesion of European history. Nothing could be more mistaken than to suppose that national arenas evolved in relative isolation from each other or that national contexts were decisive in shaping the broad pattern of intellectual development.” Israel set himself three main aims in his book. The first was to depict the European Enlightenment as a single intellectual and cultural movement interested in the same issues and often the same books, from Portugal to Russia and from Ireland to Sicily. The second was to show that the ‘radical Enlightenment’, far from being a marginal, peripheral development, was actually a vital part of the Enlightenment and indeed perhaps more coherently widespread and cohesive at an international level than the ‘mainstream Enlightenment’ was. His final and most important objective was to demonstrate that the intellectual framework of the European radical Enlightenment, not only in Holland (libertorum Africa, according to Buddeus), Germany, France, Italy and the Scandinavian countries, but also in England and Ireland, was represented by the thinking of Spinoza and by Spinozism. “Conciliatory versions have been establishing themselves for some time now, as if tolerance issued from a kind of self-limitation, the consequence of a spontaneous recognition of the rights of others, rather than as the dramatic result of a process of limitation of the Church’s interference in public affairs, or, to put it in Hegelian terms, the result of a long struggle for illumination in the face of fanaticism and superstition” (Carlo Borghero). The basic essence of the radical intellectual tradition from Spinoza to Diderot, in Israel’s view, lies in its philosophical rejection of a revealed religion and its opposition to an indolent wait for salvation in the life to come, preferring instead the responsible pursuit of the highest good hic et nunc. Diderot, like Spinoza, emphasized the need to inculcate obedience towards the laws of society, defining the veneration of those laws as true religion and obedience to the common good as true pietas. Anthony Collins, in his Discourse of Free-Thinking (1713), intended for a much more extensive readership than just theologians and academics, also identified true religion with virtue (“in the practice whereof the Peace and Happiness of Society consist”) and free thought.
8. In Judaism and Enlightenment (2003) Adam Sutcliffe (a student of Jonathan Israel) investigates the extraordinary – and ambiguous – influence of Judaism on Enlightenment authors, who were respectful and avid scholars of the rabbinic tradition and prone to recognizing Spinoza – the repudiated Jew – as the “Jesus Christ of Reason” but at the same time intolerant of Jewish legalism and particularism, which contrasted so strongly with the secular and universalistic aspirations of the Enlightenment. Sutcliffe insistently traces the persistence of “allosemitic” feeling in Western culture to the impossibility of reducing Judaism to the Enlightenment canons of rationality, secularity and cosmopolitism. While agreeing with Habermas that “rational thought contains within itself the possibility of overcoming its own limitations”, in the end he reiterates the warning – unoriginal, controversial yet still highly topical – to guard against the risks of a ‘fundamentalism of reason’. “While the tensions between Judaism and Enlightenment were [...] uniquely intense and historically significant, they are closely related to the more general problematics of the relationship of Enlightenment rationality to whatever it cannot readily encompass. [...] The idea of tolerance can only be defined in opposition to a contrasting notion of intolerance. For Bayle, and also for Spinoza and Locke, Judaism filled the rhetorically indispensable role of philosophical negative, in diametric contrast to which the positive contours of toleration could be delineated. In our own era Islam rather than Judaism is much more frequently cast as the inverse of enlightened toleration, in contrast to which ‘western’ values are defined and reinforced. [...] The mythic resilience of Judaism holds within it a unique power to call attention to the limits of Enlightenment, and to provide a bulwark against univocal rationalist arrogance and authoritarianism”.
However, Jonathan Sheehan, in a stimulating survey published in The American Historical Review in 2003 (‘Enlightenment, Religion, and the Enigma of Secularization’), suggested that the Enlightenment should not be identified with “the inevitable (intentional or not, serious or ironic) slide of the pre-modern religious past into the modern secular future”. Rather it predisposes, as Bayle’s Dictionnaire historique et critique exemplifies, modes of communication and of a juxtaposition of mutually irreducible and never sufficiently conclusive meanings, ultimately legitimating the coexistence and sometimes the ‘contamination’ of everyone’s truths. “The media-driven concept of the Enlightenment allows us to concentrate on precisely those places where the social, cultural, and intellectual horizons of religion and the Enlightenment fused. Scholarly media, academies, universities, reading societies, salons, journals, newspapers, translations: these were all places where various entities called religion were investigated and invigorated. Religion and the Enlightenment were wedded together, not because of any intrinsic intellectual affinity between rationalism and mystery but because the media of the Enlightenment were fundamental structures through which new religious cultures and practices were created.”
 Ronald Hutton, Revisionism in Britain, in Companion to Historiography, ed. by Michael Bentley, London & New York, Routledge, 2002 , pp. 377-91
Alan Houston and Steve Pincus (eds.), A Nation Transformed: England After the Restoration, Cambridge, Cambridge University Press, 2001
 Conrad Russell, The Causes of the English Civil War, Oxford, Clarendon, 1990; The Fall of the British Monarchies 1637-1642, Oxford Clarendon, 1991
John Kenyon, ‘Revisionism and Post-Revisionism in Early Stuart History’, in The Journal of Modern History, 64, 1992, pp. 686-699
David Cannadine, ‘Historians in ‘the liberal hour’: Lawrence Stone and J. H. Plumb re-visited’, in Historical Research, 75, 2002, 316-54
Nicholas McDowell, The English Radical Imagination: Culture, Religion, and Revolution, 1630-1660, Oxford, Oxford University Press, 2003
 Arthur Geoffrey Dickens, The English Reformation, London, Batsford, 1964
Christopher Haigh, Reformation and Resistance in Tudor Lancashire, London, Cambridge University Press, 1975
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