In a 2007 lecture , Margaret Jacob describes the series of dominoes whose toppling helped produce the European Enlightenment.

The roles of England, France, and the Netherlands are crucial. The Netherlands provided the seedbed because of lax censorship restrictions on any book not in Dutch and its hospitality to devotees of all religions and none.

France was the enemy, especially after the revocation of the Edict of Nantes in 1685 and the renewal of the persecutions that had produced the Bartholomew’s Day massacre a century earlier. French Protestants fled France in huge numbers, understandably embittered against the altar-and-throne system of France. Many found their way to the Netherlands, where they were able to write and publish any virulent anti-Catholic literature they wished. Pornography had its role, since much early porn was set in monasteries and convents and was as anti-Catholic as it was titillating.

England provided an alternative model. English Deist John Tolland was a conduit of English ideas, including scientific ones, to the Netherlands. English free thinkers had imagined a democratic, secular polity that was the mirror image of the French establishment.

Add all these ingredients together, shake well, and you have an early Enlightenment cocktail.

Articles by Peter J. Leithart

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