- Bayle, Jurieu, and the Dictionnaire Historique et Critique by Mara van der Lugt
Scholars in history and philosophy know the extraordinary difficulty of producing original research that is simultaneously creative, well-documented, and methodologically rigorous. But this is exactly what Mara van der Lugt manages in her recent book, a comprehensive treatment of Pierre Bayle's magnum opus. Reading Bayle is not for the faint of heart; he is a complex thinker with a controversial legacy. Van der Lugt exhibits appropriate caution, and though other interpreters have professed similar caution (see Thomas M. Lennon, Reading Bayle, 1999), van der Lugt's methodological commitments necessitate it. Her approach imitates Bayle's own by suspending judgment on his intentions as author; attending meticulously to the function and structure of the formal apparatuses of the text such as remarks, footnotes, and cross-references; and considering the personæ, politics, and controversies of the historical context, particularly Bayle's relationship with Pierre Jurieu, his friend-turned-enemy. Executing the method requires patience, but the payoff is a coherent picture of both the Dictionnaire and its author: a carefully designed, deliberately multilayered labyrinth.
Van der Lugt's methodological orientation requires enormous attention to detail; she notes that she is one of the few scholars to have read the Dictionnaire cover to cover, and the evidence of this feat is inescapable. The creativity and originality of this approach is most obvious in the "webs" that she constructs: she traces cross-references between the most significant entries in the Dictionnaire, uncovering connections between seemingly unrelated articles that shed light on the intractable interpretive disputes characteristic of the secondary literature on Bayle. The central web of the Dictionnaire is the "Manichean" web, a thicket of articles and remarks with the articles "Manicheans," "Paulicians," and "Marcionites" at its center. While the importance of these articles to Bayle's construction of the problem of evil is well-known, van der Lugt uncovers further connections to the articles "Xenophanes" and "Pericles" (in the first edition of the Dictionnaire), as well as "Zoroaster" and "Origen" (in the second). Not only does this discovery untangle Bayle's thinking on the problem of evil in the first edition but, by tracing the added cross-references in the second edition, van der Lugt demonstrates the subtle shift in Bayle's construction of the problem from the first edition to the second.
The fruits of this approach are prodigious, and the Manichean web is only one of several that van der Lugt reconstructs. She organizes her results according to the topics of debate between Bayle and Jurieu: freedom of speech; the Protestant revolt against Catholic monarchs; fanaticism and toleration; faith and reason; and the problem of evil. A benefit of her methodology is that it unifies these various strands of Bayle's thought while respecting internal contradictions. Bayle recommends broad freedom of speech within the Republic of Letters and supports the tolerationists of the Huguenot Refuge, but aligns himself with Jurieu, whom he elsewhere calls fanatical, on the issue of "faith versus reason." Bayle questions the coexistence of evil with a God who foresees human suffering, but then counsels silence and faithful submission to God.
Given the above juxtapositions, those looking for a definitive answer to the question of "the real Bayle" will not find it here. Unlike previous interpreters, however, van der Lugt's suspension of judgment is not merely pro forma but principled: for her, the very structure of Bayle's text and arguments is designed to preclude any definitive statement of his "sincere" views. This provides a ready-made explanation for interpretive intractability: Bayle wrote the Dictionnaire so that each reader could find her views represented. She wisely refuses, however, to go the further step of positing a distinction between an "exoteric" and "esoteric" Bayle, noting that to do so would reify the subversive reading of Bayle, doing violence to the many assertions of "faithful silence" in the Dictionnaire. In van der Lugt's reading of Bayle, there is no "reading between the...