The Crisis of the European Mind 1680-1715 - Paul Hazard
Paul Hazard was one of the master historians of the twentieth century, and The Crisis of the European Mind is by common consent his masterwork, an ambitious study in intellectual history whose breadth of learning and authority is widely acknowledged to this day.
The period from 1680 to 1715 was a turning point in Western history: the beginning of an intellectual revolution that would lead to the Enlightenment and beyond that to romanticism. With clarity as well as a sharp eye for historical detail, Hazard depicts the progressive erosion of the respect for tradition, stability, proportion, and settled usage that had characterized classicism. He shows how a new awareness of the countries beyond Europe encouraged a fresh critical re-evaluation of European institutions and how the growth of modern science and scientific method threatened the accepted intellectual order, while also prompting prosecution of free inquiry.
Hazard goes on to consider the situation of the new thinkers who confronted this turbulent world, from Locke, who sought the foundations of reality in sensation and so paved the way for Rousseau, to Bayle, the Huguenot exile whose great dictionary taught Voltaire and his generation that morality could be separated from religion. Throughout, Hazard conveys the excitement of a revolution, the impact of which continues to be felt in our own time.
New York Review Books. 2013. 454 pages. Paperback.