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Introduction

Designing and Turbulent Epicureans
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Part of the Recovering Political Philosophy book series (REPOPH)

Abstract

In his Thoughts on French Affairs , Edmund Burke draws attention to the “old Epicureans” to highlight the radicalism of French revolutionary thinking. The atheism of the French revolutionaries, Burke remarks, represents a departure from the atheism of old. Unlike the “old Epicureans” who, Burke says, were “an unenterprizing race,” Enlightenment atheists—whom Burke implicitly identifies as adopting a new Epicureanism—have “grown active, designing, turbulent, and seditious.”1 The quest of the French revolutionaries, those “pettifoggers run mad in Paris,” for “abstract and unlimited perfection of power” does not comprehend that a sound constitution is an “elaborate contrivance of a fabric fitted to unite private and public liberty with public force, with order, with peace, with justice, and above all, with institutions formed for bestowing permanence and stability through ages.”2 The fanaticism of revolutionary fervor to “go beyond the barrier” of sound constitutional equilibrium of liberty and order is the necessary outgrowth of theoretical abstraction unhinged from the practicalities of political life. Ultimately for Burke, an “untempered spirit of madness, blindness, immorality, and impiety” defines the revolutionary project.3 The radicalism of the new atheists is a consequence of the two predominant principles of the revolutionary ethos: the fundamental equality of all men and the sovereignty of the people.

Keywords

Political Life Philosophic Life Sound Constitution Theoretical Abstraction Turbulent Epicurean 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.

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Notes

  1. 1.
    Edmund Burke, Further Reflections on the Revolution in France, ed. Daniel E. Ritchie (Indianapolis: Liberty Fund, 1992), 237.Google Scholar
  2. 4.
    See, Catherine Wilson’s wonderful study, Epicureanism at the Origins of Modernity (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 2008);CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. Alison Brown, The Return of Lucretius to Renaissance Florence (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2010);Google Scholar
  4. W. R. Johnson, Lucretius and the Modern World (London: Gerald Duckworth & Co., 2000). See also, “Part III: Reception” in The Cambridge Companion to Lucretius, ed. Gillespie and Hardie (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2007), 205–324.Google Scholar
  5. Stephen Greenblatt, The Swerve (New York: W. W. Norton & Co. 2011).Google Scholar
  6. 5.
    René Descartes, Discourse on Method, trans. Donald A. Cross (Indianapolis: Hackett Publishing Co., 1980), 33.Google Scholar
  7. See also, Leo Strauss, Philosophy and Law, trans. Eve Adler (Albany: SUNY Press, 1995), 36.Google Scholar
  8. 6.
    All references to Lucretius’s poem are by book and line number. I have relied upon W. H. D. Rouse’s translation De Rerum Natura (Cambridge: Loeb Classical Library, Harvard University Press, 1992)Google Scholar
  9. and occasionally Walter Englert, Lucretius On the Nature of Things (Newburyport: Focus Philosophical Library, 2003), with infrequent minor alterations.Google Scholar
  10. 7.
    Helvétius, De L’Espri t (London, Dodsley and Co., 1759). The original reads “unde animi constet natura videndum, qau fiant ratione et qua via quaeque gerantur in terries.” Translation my own.Google Scholar
  11. 10.
    Paul-Henry Baron d’Holbach. The System of Nature, trans. H. D. Robinson (New York: G.W. & A.J. Matsell, 1835).Google Scholar
  12. 11.
    See Jonathan Israel, Democratic Enlightenment (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2011), 34.Google Scholar
  13. 12.
    Paul-Henry Baron d’Holbach, Good Sense (Whitef ish, Montana: Kessinger Publishing, 2004), 96–97.Google Scholar
  14. 16.
    Pierre Bayle, Philosophical Commentary on These Words of the Gospel, Luke 14:23 “Compel Them to Come In, That My House May Be Full,” ed. John Kilcullen and Chandran Kukathas (Indianapolis: Liberty Fund, 2005), 67–68.Google Scholar
  15. 18.
    Pierre Bayle, The Dictionary of Historical and Critical of Mr. Peter Bayle, trans. Pierre Des Maizeaux, vol. 3 (London: J.J. and P. Knapton, 1735), 923.Google Scholar
  16. 19.
    See Robert Bartlett’s excellent treatment of Bayle’s project “On the Politics of Faith and Reason: The Project of Enlightenment in Pierre Bayle and Montesquieu,” Journal of Politics 63, no. 1 (Feb. 2001): 1–28.Google Scholar
  17. 20.
    Pierre Bayle, Various Thoughts on the Occasion of a Comet, trans. Robert Bartlett (Albany: SUNY Press, 2000), 221–222.Google Scholar

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© John Colman 2012

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