Jean Meslier: the exemplar of radical Enlightenment political thought

Devellennes, Charles (2016) Jean Meslier: the exemplar of radical Enlightenment political thought. In: Ducheyne, Steffen, ed. Ashgate Companion on the Radical Enlightenment. Ashgate. (The full text of this publication is not currently available from this repository. You may be able to access a copy if URLs are provided)

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Abstract

The radical Enlightenment is the left wing of political thought emerging from the second half of the seventeenth century. Who better to symbolise this movement than Jean Meslier, an atheist priest born in 1664 in the Champagne region, and often interpreted as one of the earliest advocates for communism? Of course, there are important nuances to draw within Jonathan Israel’s ‘Radical Enlightenment’ thesis and the thought of this particular curé, and questions to be raised about the ‘communist hypothesis’ raised by Meslier’s commentators. In the first instance, this chapter will discuss Israel’s thesis of the ‘radical Enlightenment’, in particular what it says about the political dimension of the radicals of the period. We will see that the radicals represent the left wing of political thought in their time, and that Meslier clearly fits this description. Because he remains little known, we will introduce Meslier and his work briefly, and the importance of Bayle’s influence on the curé, as well as Voltaire’s distortion of his work in his editions of Meslier’s works. Then we will discuss Meslier’s political thought per se, showing the importance of atheism as a critical tool in his philosophy, and the development of his utilitarian ethic. Finally, we will see that Meslier’s supposed ‘communism’ has more to do with French intellectual debates of the 1960s, and that his radical politics is best understood in terms of radical republicanism, for which Israel’s framework proves most helpful.

Item Type: Book section
Subjects: B Philosophy. Psychology. Religion
J Political Science > JC Political theory
Divisions: Faculties > Social Sciences > School of Politics and International Relations
Depositing User: Charles Devellennes
Date Deposited: 22 Nov 2015 21:21 UTC
Last Modified: 13 Dec 2017 16:09 UTC
Resource URI: https://kar.kent.ac.uk/id/eprint/52152 (The current URI for this page, for reference purposes)
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