The Enlightenment was actually the “Endarkenment” right? The supernatural faith was undermined by reliance on human reason. Science supplanted sacraments and “I think therefore I am” replaced the great “I AM”. The dogma of positivism replaced religious dogma and the authority of the church was stripped bare. All this led to the French Revolution, the Reign of Terror, Napoleon and after him one after another of godless, atheistic totalitarian regimes…

That’s the typical conservative Catholic take on the enlightenment, but University of Mary history professor Joseph T. Stuart has written a terrific book that doesn’t exactly turn that narrative upside down, but it does turn it inside out. In Re-Thinking the Enlightenment  Stuart puts the other side, and he does so by setting up three different historical reactions to the Enlightenment. The first is confrontation and conflict. The second is accommodation. The third is ignoring it.

He lays out his case not with abstract argument, socio-political theorizing and academic jargon, but with the fascinating and infuriating individuals who shone radiantly in the eighteenth century. He sets up the Carmelite martyrs of Compeigne as a foil to the charming romantic rationalist Rousseau and the witty, acerbic and amazing Voltaire. The conflict between them (and their comrades Diderot and Robespierre) is highlighted by a Catholic reaction that is often glossed over–the revocation of the Edict of Nantes by King Louis XIV which yanked all religious and civil liberties from the Protestants in France.

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