Jonathan Irvine Israel
26 January 1946
|Awards||Wolfson History Prize|
Fellow of the British Academy
Leo Gershoy Award
Order of the Netherlands Lion
Dr A.H. Heineken Prize
Benjamin Franklin Medal
|Alma mater||Queens’ College, Cambridge|
University of Oxford
|Institutions||Newcastle University (1970-1972)|
University of Hull (1972-1974)
University College London (1974-2001)
Institute for Advanced Study, Princeton (2001-present)
University of Amsterdam (2007)
|Main interests||Dutch history|
Age of Enlightenment
Jonathan Irvine Israel(born 26 January 1946) is a British writer and academic specialising in Dutch history, the Age of Enlightenment and European Jews. Israel was appointed as Andrew W. Mellon Professor in the School of Historical Studies at the Institute for Advanced Study, Princeton, New Jersey, in January 2001. He was previously Professor of Dutch History and Institutions at the University College London.
In recent years, Israel has focused his attention on a multi-volume history of the Age of Enlightenment. He contrasts two camps. The "radical Enlightenment" was founded on a rationalist materialism first articulated by Spinoza. Standing in opposition was a "moderate Enlightenment" which he sees as weakened by its belief in God. In Israel's controversial interpretation, the radical Enlightenment is the main source of the modern idea of freedom. He contends that the moderate Enlightenment, including Locke, Voltaire, and Montesquieu, made no real contribution to the campaign against superstition and ignorance.
Israel's career until 2001 unfolded in British academia. He attended Kilburn Grammar School, and like his school peer and future fellow historian Robert Wistrich went on to study History as an undergraduate at Queens' College, Cambridge, graduating with a first-class degree in Part II of the Tripos in 1967. His graduate work took place at the University of Oxford and the El Colegio de México, Mexico City, leading to his D.Phil. from Oxford in 1972. He was named Sir James Knott Research Fellow at the University of Newcastle upon Tyne in 1970, and in 1972 he moved to the University of Hull where he was first an assistant lecturer then a lecturer in Early Modern Europe. In 1974 he became a lecturer in Early Modern European History at University College London, progressing to become a reader in Modern History in 1981, and then to Professor of Dutch History and Institutions in 1984. In January 2001, Israel became a professor of modern European history in the School of Historical Studies at the Institute for Advanced Study, Princeton, New Jersey. In 2007, the 375th anniversary of the birth of Spinoza, he held the Spinoza Chair of Philosophy at the University of Amsterdam.
Israel has defined what he considers to be the "Radical Enlightenment," arguing it originated with Spinoza. He argues in great detail that Spinoza "and Spinozism were in fact the intellectual backbone of the European Radical Enlightenment everywhere, not only in the Netherlands, Germany, France, Italy, and Scandinavia but also Britain and Ireland", and that the Radical Enlightenment, leaning towards religious skepticism and republican government, leads on to the modern liberal-democratic state.
Israel is sharply critical of Jean-Paul Marat and Maximilien de Robespierre for repudiating the true values of the Radical Enlightenment and grossly distorting the French Revolution. He argues, "Jacobin ideology and culture under Robespierre was an obsessive Rousseauiste moral Puritanism steeped in authoritarianism, anti-intellectualism, and xenophobia, "and it repudiated free expression, basic human rights, and democracy."
He was made a Fellow of the British Academy in 1992, Corresponding Fellow of the Koninklijke Nederlandse Akademie van Wetenschappen (Royal Netherlands Academy of Arts and Sciences) in 1994, won the American Historical Association’s Leo Gershoy Award in 2001, and was made Knight of the Order of the Netherlands Lion in 2004. In 2008, he won the Dr A.H. Heineken Prize for history, medicine, environmental studies and cognitive science.
In 2010 he was awarded the Benjamin Franklin Medal by the Royal Society for the Encouragement of Arts, Manufactures and Commerce (RSA) for his outstanding contribution to Enlightenment scholarship.
In response to Israel's series on the Enlightenment, writes Johnson Kent Wright, there appeared ...
A Marxist defense of Israel against one critic (Professor Samuel Moyn) appeared in 2010 on the World Socialist Web Site, particularly in the article The Nation, Jonathan Israel, and the Enlightenment. The two defenders also criticize Israel, saying:
In 2004, in response to a Historisch Nieuwsblad survey, which asked members of the Royal Netherlands Historical Society what were the classic works about Dutch history, The Dutch Republic: Its Rise, Greatness and Fall, 1477–1806 came in second place.
(Radical Enlightenment (2001), Enlightenment Contested (2006), and Democratic Enlightenment (2011) constitute a monumental trilogy on the history of the Radical Enlightenment and the intellectual origins of modern democracy. A Revolution of the Mind (2009) is a shorter work on the same theme.)