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  • Radical Thinking and the Dialogic Mode in Karl Philipp Moritz’s Andreas-Hartknopf-Novels
  • Carl Niekerk

The following essay wants to contribute to a discussion on the origins of the German novel in the context of late-eighteenth-century German and European intellectual history. It does so by examining two novels by Karl Philip Moritz, Andreas Hartknopf. Eine Allegorie and Andreas Hartknopfs Predigerjahre (first published 1786 and 1790), in the context of Jonathan Israel’s reconceptualization of Enlightenment thinking. First in Radical Enlightenment (2001), and subsequently in Enlightenment contested (2006), A Revolution of the Mind (2009), and Democratic Enlightenment (2011) Jonathan Israel proposed a new way of looking at the Enlightenment, the premises of which have major consequences for our current view of eighteenth-century intellectual history. While many eighteenth-century scholars until Israel had worked explicitly or implicitly with a dual system – the Enlightenment vs. the Counter-Enlightenment – Israel proposed a more complex triadic structure consisting of Radical Enlightenment, Moderate Enlightenment, and Counter-Enlightenment.

The term “Radical Enlightenment” stands in Israel’s view first and foremost for an epistemic program that is, at least to a large extent, based on Spinoza’s thinking and in particular in the second half of the seventeenth and the first half of the eighteenth centuries also associated with Spinoza’s name. The term stands for a rejection of tradition, in particular when it manifests itself in the form of institutional hierarchies such as nobility and the church and the traditional ways of thinking that they promote. Radical thinking is closely linked to secularization and modernity. It sees organized religion as “nothing but a political device contrived to discipline and control the people through utilizing their ignorance and credulity” (Radical Enlightenment 176). Instead, radical thinking emphasizes the principal historicity – one could call this the first epistemological principle of the Radical Enlightenment – and thereby relative nature of any knowledge of the world, including attempts to define a value system (see for instance Radical Enlightenment 162 and 237; Enlightenment contested 46) or to read a telos or final cause into history (Radical Enlightenment 233; Enlightenment contested 45). Radical Enlightenment thinking is, second, monistic: “there is only one substance” (Radical Enlightenment 162; see also 230–235). It conceives of the body [End Page 191] as the key to understanding the world. Motion is inherent to matter; the mind is a function of the body; knowledge is based on sensation. Increasingly, in particular in the later eighteenth century, the Radical Enlightenment seeks material explanations for human behaviour through scientific means. Finally, the Radical Enlightenment stresses the political nature of all knowledge. In addition to anticlericalism, the Radical Enlightenment promotes egalitarianism and democracy. Its political ambitions envision “a republic which sees the common good and provides freedom for all” (Radical Enlightenment 180), including the common man and not just the political or intellectual elite. The term “Radical” in “Radical Enlightenment” has a double connotation: it refers both to an epistemological position – a certain way of investigating the world around us – and to a political position – the belief that this epistemological position can and must be translated into (progressive) political action.

Jonathan Israel’s attempts to re-sketch the eighteenth century’s intellectual history have received a critical and at times hostile reception. In part this criticism concerns the descriptive dimension – or factual accuracy – of Israel’s observations: is it for instance indeed possible to distinguish between moderate and radical factions within Enlightenment discourse with clearly distinct sets of ideas? Another target is the prescriptive agenda – or the ideological investments – underlying Israel’s project (see McMahon for a review that makes both of these points, but also summarizes trends in earlier reviews). To some extent Israel wants to save (part of) the normative project of the Enlightenment by distinguishing between good (radical) and bad (moderate) versions of Enlightenment. The real problem with the Enlightenment’s reception history, as he sees it, is that the Radical Enlightenment has been blamed for the mistakes and compromises that were made by the Moderate Enlightenment, while in reality the problem was that the Moderate Enlightenment had forsaken the Enlightenment’s original radical agenda. In spite of my respect for Israel’s work, his detailed...


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pp. 191-208
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