Jonathan Israel to Discuss Rise of Democracy in the West

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Alexandra Altman
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Jonathan Israel, Professor Emeritus in the School of Historical Studies at the Institute for Advanced Study, will a give a public lecture, “Contesting American Values: The Bumpy Rise of Democracy in the West (1776-1850), on Friday, October 28, which will take place at 5:30 p.m. in Wolfensohn Hall on the Institute campus.

The American Revolution had an enormous, but bitterly divisive impact on European, Canadian and Latin American political thought and attitudes. From 1776 began a furious ideological war within the USA over the question of democracy that helped precipitate an even more ferocious conflict between democratic and aristocratic forms of government in Europe. By the 1820s, it seemed that the aristocratic-monarchical system, led by Britain, had finally extinguished “Americanism” everywhere outside the USA. In this lecture, Israel will discuss how modern representative democracy, as we know it, managed to survive.

Israel’s research examines European and European colonial history from the Renaissance to the eighteenth century. His recent work focuses on the impact of radical thought (especially Spinoza, Bayle, Diderot and the eighteenth-century French materialists) on the Enlightenment and on the emergence of modern ideas of democracy, equality, toleration, freedom of the press and individual freedom. Israel’s many books include European Jewry in the Age of Mercantilism, 1550–1750 (1985); The Dutch Republic: Its Rise, Greatness, and Fall, 1477–1806 (1995); Radical Enlightenment: Philosophy and the Making of Modernity, 1650–1750 (2001); Enlightenment Contested: Philosophy, Modernity, and the Emancipation of Man 1670–1752 (2006); A Revolution of the Mind: Radical Enlightenment and the Intellectual Origins of Modern Democracy (2009); and The Expanding Blaze: The Global Impact of the American Revolution (1775­–1850), forthcoming in 2017 with Princeton University Press.

A member of both the British Academy and Royal Netherlands Academy of Arts and Sciences, Israel obtained his doctorate from the University of Oxford (1972). He began his career at the University of Hull as an Assistant Lecturer in 1972 before becoming a Lecturer in 1973. Israel worked at the University College London from 1974–2000, where he was a Lecturer (1974–81), Reader (1981–85), and Professor (1985–2000). He joined the Faculty of the Institute in 2001 and became Emeritus in 2016.

Israel has received many honors for his work, including the Dr. A. H. Heineken Prize in History (2008), the Knight of the Order of the Dutch Lion (2004) and the Leo Gershoy Award (2001). Most recently, Israel was awarded the 2015 PROSE Award in European and World History for his book Revolutionary Ideas: An Intellectual History of the French Revolution from The Rights of Man to Robespierre (Princeton University Press 2014).

This event is free and open to the public. To register for this lecture visit, For more information on other events at the Institute, visit