Lecture 5 - The Enlightenment and the Public Sphere

author: John Merriman, Department of History, Yale University
recorded by: Yale University
published: April 16, 2010,   recorded: September 2008,   views: 622
released under terms of: Creative Commons Attribution No Derivatives (CC-BY-ND)
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Description

While the major philosophical projects of the Enlightenment are associated with the names of individual thinkers such as Montesquieu, Rousseau, and Voltaire, the cultural transformation in France in the years leading up to the Revolution should also be understood in the context of the public sphere and popular press. Alongside such luminaries as those associated with Diderot's Encyclopédie were a host of lesser pamphleteers and libellists eager for fame and some degree of fortune. If the writings of this latter group were typically vulgar and bereft of literary merit, they nonetheless contributed to the "desacralization" of monarchy in the eyes of the growing literate public. Lawyers' briefs, scandal sheets and pornographic novels all played a role in robbing the monarchy of its claim to sacred authority at the same time as they helped advance the critique of despotism that would serve as a major impetus for the Revolution.

Reading assignment:

Charles Louis Baron de Montesquieu. Persian Letters

Merriman, John. A History of Modern Europe: From the Renaissance to the Present, pp. 335-375

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