Enlightenment Underground

Radical Germany, 1680-1720
November, 2015
University of Virginia Press

From the publisher's page:

Martin Mulsow’s seismic reinterpretation of the origins of the Enlightenment in Germany won awards and renown in its original German edition, and now H. C. Erik Midelfort's translation makes this sensational book available to English-speaking readers. InEnlightenment Underground, Mulsow shows that even in the late seventeenth century some thinkers in Germany ventured to express extremely dangerous ideas, but did so as part of a secret underground. Scouring manuscript collections across northern Europe, Mulsow studied the writings of countless hitherto unknown radical jurists, theologians, historians, and dissident students who pushed for the secularization of legal, political, social, and religious knowledge. Often their works circulated in manuscript, anonymously, or as clandestinely published books.

Working as a philosophical microhistorian, Mulsow has discovered the identities of several covert radicals and linked them to circles of young German scholars, many of whom were connected with the vibrant radical cultures of the Netherlands, England, and Denmark. The author reveals how radical ideas and contributions to intellectual doubt came from Socinians and Jews, church historians and biblical scholars, political theorists, and unemployed university students. He shows that misreadings of humorous or ironic works sometimes gave rise to unintended skeptical thoughts or corrosively political interpretations of Christianity. This landmark book overturns stereotypical views of the early Enlightenment in Germany as cautious, conservative, and moderate, and replaces them with a new portrait that reveals a movement far more radical, unintended, and puzzling than previously suspected.

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