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In this talk, intellectual historian Jonathan Israel will discuss his recent book, “Revolutionary Jews from Spinoza to Marx” — part of the Stroum Lectures in Jewish Studies series — and the idea that revolutionary movements of the 18th and 19th centuries were deeply rooted in Enlightenment philosophy, particularly the works of Jewish thinkers like Baruch Spinoza.

About this talk

"Revolutonary Jews from Spinoza to Marx" book coverIn the 18th and early 19th centuries, a small but conspicuous fringe of the Jewish population became the world’s most resolute, most intellectually driven, and most philosophical revolutionaries, among them the pre-Marxist Karl Marx. Yet the roots of their alienation from existing society, and their determination to change it, extend back to the very heart of the Enlightenment, when Spinoza and others living in a rigid, hierarchical society first developed a modern revolutionary consciousness.

Drawing on his recent book, “Revolutionary Jews from Spinoza to Marx: The Fight for a Secular World of Universal and Equal Rights,” part of the University of Washington Press’s Stroum Lectures in Jewish Studies series, leading intellectual historian Jonathan Israel will show how the radical ideas of Marx’s early writings were influenced by this legacy.

Israel will also consider how writers of the “Radical Enlightenment” understood Jewish marginalization and ghetto-ization — and the forces of superstition, prejudice, and ignorance that sustained these structures — and how the quest for Jewish emancipation led “revolutionary” thinkers to formulate theories of social and legal reform, paving the way for later revolutionary actions that helped to change the world from the French Revolution onwards — though perhaps not in the ways these thinkers intended.

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About the speaker

Jonathan IsraelJonathan Israel is professor emeritus in the School of Historical Studies at the Institute for Advanced Study, Princeton. His many books include “European Jewry in the Age of Mercantilism, 1550–1750” and “Radical Enlightenment: Philosophy and the Making of Modernity, 1650–1750.” He delivered the 2017 Stroum Lectures in Jewish Studies, which focused on Spinoza as a revolutionary thinker and the idea of the “Radical Enlightenment” and the Jewish Emancipation.