Enemies of the Enlightenment: The French Counter-Enlightenment and the Making of Modernity

Enemies of the Enlightenment: The French Counter-Enlightenment and the Making of Modernity

Enemies of the Enlightenment: The French Counter-Enlightenment and the Making of Modernity

Enemies of the Enlightenment: The French Counter-Enlightenment and the Making of Modernity

Synopsis

McMahon demonstrates that resistance to the Enlightenment was an extensive, international and modern cultural force, shaping and defining the Enlightenment itself from the moment of inception, while giving rise to an entirely new ideological phenomenon--what we have come to think of as the "Right."

Excerpt

The amused librarian in Paris who fielded my first, fumbling inquiries in 1994 about the material that would become this book greeted me, in turn, with a question of her own. Vous êtes royaliste, monsieur? Delivered in a tone that only one who has spent time in French libraries will fully appreciate (a distinct blend of candor, civility, and condescension), the question took me somewhat by surprise. Admittedly, I was seeking information on royalists, and what is more, on royalists of a particular kind. Catholics, conservatives, counterrevolutionaries, the first ideologues of the Right, all promised to figure prominently in my proposed study of cultural opposition to the Enlightenment in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. But that this might imply some immediate identification with the subject matter at hand struck me as odd. An undistinguished heir to the Irish peasantry and a native son of California, I had never even known a royalist. Did such a thing actually still exist?

No doubt I took the question a little too seriously. I was, after all, guilty by association, or at least so it seemed. As the historically minded French never failed to observe, my last name bears a damning resemblance to that of the infamous Maréchal MacMahon, a French general implicated in efforts to restore the monarchy during the Third Republic. There is, to my knowledge, no connection, but inquiries of a skeptical, even suspicious nature continued to follow me through France nonetheless—both in and out of the archives. Time and again I was asked to account for my subject, to explain why I had chosen to study what I had. Was I Catholic, a Counter-Revolutionary, an enemy of the Enlightenment, a man of the Right? Just what was I up to? For all the goodnatured teasing in this interrogation, there was genuine suspicion as well. This fact is a subtle reminder of what the heated debates surrounding the revolutionary bicentennial of 1989 and the electoral successes of . . .

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