Radical Enlightenment: Philosophy and the Making of Modernity, 1650-1750

By Jonathan I. Israel | Go to book overview

9

VAN DEN ENDEN:
PHILOSOPHY, DEMOCRACY,
AND EGALITARIANISM

i. Democratic Republicanism

Van den Enden, Borch noted in his journal in April 1662, was a Cartesian and 'atheist' who denied the sacred mysteries and whose 'religion, indeed, is nothing other than sound reason, nor does he believe Christ to be God'; he added that Van den Enden had been forbidden by the city government to dispute any longer publicly in Amsterdam, since his discourse smacked of 'atheismum'.1 Borch's jottings also reveal that, by the early 1660s, Van den Enden was accustomed to propagate his doctrines clandestinely, circulating his manuscript writings among trusted followers and sympathizers. His subsequent contribution to the growth of the radical tradition, moreover, was altogether remarkable.

His chief work, the Free Political Institutions (Vrye Politijke Stellingen), published in 1665, was mostly written between 1662 and 1664.2 This uncompromising, muscular book is noteworthy for its egalitarianism, emphatic democratic tendency, and vitriolic anticlericalism. It is less a work of original thought, though, than an adept mélange of ingredients borrowed from Machiavelli, Johan and Pieter de la Court, Aitzema, Pieter Cornelisz Plockhoy, Spinoza, whose Korte Verhandeling he certainly knew and used, and possibly Van Velthuysen, but strikingly not Hobbes.3 All his material, except Machiavelli, had only very recently been published or circulated in manuscript. He himself remarks that in championing democratic republicanism, the quest for a true and just commonwealth based on equality, he had been preceded, to his knowledge, by two writers in the Dutch language, an allusion doubtless to Johan de la Court,4 in

1 Klever, 'Spinoza and Van den Enden', 318–19.

2 Bedjaï, 'Métaphysique', 296; Bedjaï, 'Franciscus… maïtre spirituel', 300.

3 Mertens, 'Franciscus van den Enden', 720–1.

4 Johan de la Court (1622–60), brother of the more famous Pieter de la Court (1618–85), a businessman
active as a supplier of raw materials to the Leiden cloth industry, was an important source for the rise of the
Dutch radical tradition, having developed a vigorous republican theory (much influenced by Machiavelli)
in the 1650s and being the first Dutch writer to advocate a popular commonwealth, or democratic republic,
as the best form of state. His democratic ideas were publicized in the Consideratien van staat which first

-175-

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