Jonathan Israel

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Jonathan Israel

Jonathan Irvine Israel

26 January 1946
Occupation(s)Academic, historian
AwardsWolfson History Prize
Fellow of the British Academy
Leo Gershoy Award
Order of the Netherlands Lion
Dr A.H. Heineken Prize
Benjamin Franklin Medal
Academic background
Alma materQueens' College, Cambridge
University of Oxford
Academic work
InstitutionsNewcastle 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 interestsDutch history
Age of Enlightenment
European Jews

Jonathan Irvine Israel FBA (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 and retired in July 2016.[1] 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.


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.[2] 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.[3] In 2007, the 375th anniversary of the birth of Spinoza, he held the Spinoza Chair of Philosophy at the University of Amsterdam.[4]


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.[5][6]

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."[7]

In response to Israel's series on the Enlightenment, writes Johnson Kent Wright, there appeared —

a series of in-depth critiques, from leading practitioners of every stripe, including Theo Verbeek, Harvey Chisick, Anthony La Vopa, Antoine Lilti, Samuel Moyn, and Dan Edelstein. Though all expressed admiration for the breadth of Israel's reading and display of sheer scholarly stamina, they also reached a strikingly unanimous verdict. In the eyes of his critics, Israel's interpretation of the Enlightenment is a kind of academic juggernaut, careening destructively through the discipline, in the service of a false idol—Spinoza, supposed demiurge of modernity—and an unsustainable principle—the idea of an umbilical connection between metaphysical monism and political radicalism.[8]

A Marxist defense of Israel against one critic (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:

There are problems in his argument. The dichotomy between a radical and moderate Enlightenment, however suggestive and stimulating, tends at times to overly simplify complex and contradictory processes in the development of philosophical thought. It is not always the case, as Professor Israel seems to suggest, that the most significant advances in philosophical thought were made by individuals who held the most politically radical views.[9]

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.[10]

Honors and awards[edit]

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,[11] 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.[12]

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.[13]


  • Race, Class and Politics in Colonial Mexico, 1610–70. Oxford Historical Monographs. 1975. ISBN 0-19-821860-5 HB.
  • The Dutch Republic and the Hispanic World, 1606–61. 1982. ISBN 0-19-826534-4 HB; ISBN 0-19-821998-9 PB.
  • European Jewry in the Age of Mercantilism, 1550–1750. 1985. ISBN 0-19-821928-8 HB; ISBN 1-874774-42-0 PB.
  • Dutch Primacy in World Trade, 1585–1740. 1989. ISBN 0-19-821139-2 PB.
  • Empires and Entrepots: The Dutch, the Spanish Monarchy and the Jews, 1585–1713. 1990. ISBN 1-85285-022-1 HB.
  • The Anglo-Dutch Moment: Essays on the Glorious Revolution and Its World Impact. 1991. (editor). ISBN 0-521-39075-3 HB; ISBN 0-521-54406-8 PB.
  • From Persecution to Toleration: Glorious Revolution and Religion in England. 1991. (co-editor) ISBN 0-19-820196-6 HB.
  • The Dutch Republic: Its Rise, Greatness and Fall, 1477–1806. Oxford History of Early Modern Europe. 1995. ISBN 0-19-873072-1 HB; ISBN 0-198-20734-4 PB. Documents the golden age of the United Provinces of the Netherlands and its historical context.
  • Conflicts of Empires: Spain, the Low Countries and the Struggle for World Supremacy, 1585–1713. 1997. ISBN 1-85285-161-9 HB.
  • Radical Enlightenment: Philosophy and the Making of Modernity, 1650–1750. 2001. ISBN 0-19-820608-9 HB; ISBN 0-199-25456-7 PB. Emphasizes the role of 17th century Holland, and Spinoza in particular, in the Enlightenment.
  • Diasporas Within a Diaspora: Jews, Crypto-Jews and the World of Maritime Empires (1540–1740). Brill's Series in Jewish Studies. 2002. ISBN 90-04-12765-8 HB.
  • Dutch Jewry: Its History and Secular Culture (1500–2000). Brill's Series in Jewish Studies. 2002. (co-editor) ISBN 90-04-12436-5 HB.
  • Enlightenment Contested: Philosophy, Modernity, and the Emancipation of Man, 1670–1752. 2006. ISBN 0-19-927922-5 HB.[14][15]
  • A Revolution of the Mind: Radical Enlightenment and the Intellectual Origins of Modern Democracy. 2009. ISBN 978-0-691-14200-5 HB.
  • Democratic Enlightenment: Philosophy, Revolution, and Human Rights 1750–1790. 2011. ISBN 978-0-199-54820-0 HB.[16]
  • Revolutionary Ideas: An Intellectual History of the French Revolution from The Rights of Man to Robespierre. 2014. ISBN 978-0-691-15172-4 HB.
  • The Expanding Blaze: How the American Revolution Ignited the World, 1775-1848. 2017. ISBN 978-0-691-17660-4 HB.
  • The Enlightenment That Failed: Ideas, Revolution, and Democratic Defeat, 1748-1830. 2019. ISBN 978-0-198-73840-4 HB.

(Radical Enlightenment (2001), Enlightenment Contested (2006), and Democratic Enlightenment (2011) constitute a 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.)

See also[edit]

  • Counter-Enlightenment
  • Comments by Margaret Jacob in "Spinoza Got It", London Review of Books (8 November 2012): 26–27. Israel used the title (but not subtitle) of her book, "The Radical Enlightenment: Pantheists, Freemasons and Republicans", paperback, 2006 (first edition 1981). Also by Jacob: "The Radical Enlightenment and Freemasonry: Where we are now", Philosophica 88 (2013) pp. 13–29.


  1. ^ https://www.ias/edu/hs/israel Jonathan Israel, Institute for Advanced Study accessed 6 September 2022
  2. ^ 'Cambridge University Tripos Results', The Times, 23 June 1967.
  3. ^ "Jonathan Israel Appointed to Faculty of Institute for Advanced Study". Princeton Institute for Advanced Study. 17 January 2001. Retrieved 21 September 2011.
  4. ^ Amsterdam, Universiteit van. "The Spinoza Chair - Philosophy - University of Amsterdam". Retrieved 7 August 2018.
  5. ^ Israel, J. (2001). Radical Enlightenment: Philosophy and the Making of Modernity, 1650-1750. Oxford, England: Oxford University Press. pp. vi. ISBN 0-19-820608-9.
  6. ^ Chamberlain, Lesley (8 December 2006). "When freedom fought faith". The Independent. Archived from the original on 14 June 2022. Retrieved 21 September 2011.
  7. ^ Israel, Jonathan (2014). Revolutionary Ideas: An Intellectual History of the French Revolution from The Rights of Man to Robespierre. Princeton, New Jersey: Princeton University Press. p. 521. ISBN 978-0-691-15172-4.
  8. ^ Wright, Johnson Kent. "Review essay" (PDF). H-France Forum. 9 (1): 1. Retrieved 21 January 2014.
  9. ^ Talbot, Ann; North, David (9 June 2010). "The Nation, Jonathan Israel and the Enlightenment". World Socialist Web Site. International Committee of the Fourth International. Retrieved 15 April 2015.
  10. ^ "De vijftien klassieke werken over de Nederlandse geschiedenis". 12 January 2004. Retrieved 10 June 2015.
  11. ^ "Jonathan Israel" (in Dutch). Royal Netherlands Academy of Arts and Sciences. Retrieved 17 July 2015.
  12. ^ "Jonathan Israel (biographical details)". Princeton Institute for Advanced Study. Archived from the original on 21 September 2009. Retrieved 21 September 2011.
  13. ^ "Jonathan Israel Awarded 2010 Benjamin Franklin Medal". Princeton Institute for Advanced Study. 24 November 2010. Retrieved 21 September 2011.
  14. ^ "Review: Banishing the dark". The Economist. 30 November 2006. Retrieved 21 September 2011.
  15. ^ Moyn, Samuel (12 May 2010). "Review: Mind the Enlightenment". The Nation. Retrieved 21 September 2011.
  16. ^ Bell, David A. (8 February 2012). "Review: Where Do We Come From?". The New Republic. Retrieved 19 February 2012.

External links[edit]