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05 Jun

Toland: Irishman abroad

In any case, there was undeniably a pervasive and powerful continental influence in the forming of Toland’s deism. Crucial to his development as a thinker were his long sojourns in the Netherlands and Germany; starting with his stay in Leiden in 1692-3. Still more pivotally formative were the years 1699-1702, when he spent much time, in part as a diplomatic messenger, in both those countries[…]

Toland was not as facile and unoriginal as many detractors alleged. Indeed his more significant writings, such as his “Letters to Serena”, “Adeisdaemon”, “Origines Judicae”, and his astounding quasi-theological project, the “Nazarenus” (1718), in which he seeks to dechristianize Christianity and remodel it as a republican civic religion designed only to teach the common people morality, demonstrate his original, creative side and some depth. Moreover, he had an exceptionally strong consciousness of the public sphere and the need, on republican grounds, not just for an ‘entire library of conscience’ but a robustly constructed civic religion based on a ‘purified Christianity’ (i.e. dechristianized civic religion) which would provide political society with ‘rules for virtue and religion’. His contribution to the development of the Radical Enlightenment was in fact rather substantial.

From Radical Enlightenment: Philosophy and the Making of Modernity, by Jonathan I. Israel. The first paragraph is taken from page 610, the second from page 613. Double quotes replace the italics in the original text.

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