Enlightenment Contested: Philosophy, Modernity, and the Emancipation of Man, 1670-1752

By Jonathan I. Israel | Go to book overview

14

Anglomania, Anglicisme,
and the 'British Model'

1. ENGLISH DEISM AND THE RECOIL FROM RADICALISM

Once ensconced on the three thrones of England, Scotland, and Ireland from 1689, William III's political priorities soon led him and his entourage to distance themselves from the more far-reaching republican principles associated with 1688–9. Despite being the most committed to upholding the revolutionary settlement, 'the Toleration', and exclusion of the Stuarts, radical Whigs, republicans, and freethinkers rapidly became a liability to the new regime. Their ideas clearly enjoyed only minimal support in the country; for with the rapid growth of Jacobitism, in England as well as Scotland and Ireland, from the summer of 1689, and the new monarch's deepening unpopularity among broad sections of English and Scottish opinion, it became abundantly evident that most greatly preferred traditional and religious criteria of legitimacy to radical modes of thought. Nevertheless, the lasting constitutional and libertarian successes of the Glorious Revolution of 1688–91 were, undoubtedly, in themselves a major reason for Britain's cultural pre-eminence, as well as rapid political, economic, and military expansion, during the early Enlightenment. The triumph of mixed monarchy, the moderate mainstream, and the ideas of Locke and Newton rendered England the anti-absolutist and tolerationist model par excellence.

Indeed, the Glorious Revolution of 1688–91 proved in many ways a severe, even irreversible setback to absolutist ideologies everywhere, fatally wounding divine right monarchy and the 'Anglican Counter-Enlightenment' in the English-speaking world and damaging all forms of ancien régime beyond.1 While prudently keeping remarks about the dethroning of a legitimate dynasty to a minimum, Voltaire, in his Lettres philosophiques (1734), proclaimed the Glorious Revolution the very foundation of the spectacularly successful new Britain which had emerged since the late seventeenth century, the grounding of its constitutionality, toleration, free press, financial and military power, and stable rule of law. The English nation was the only one on earth, he argued, much like Boulainvilliers earlier and Montesquieu subsequently, which

1 Israel, Anglo-Dutch Moment, 1–43.

-344-

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