Published online by Cambridge University Press: 10 January 2011
THE EARLY EUROPEAN IMPACT
The old historographical and philosophical idée fixe that during the century or so after his death Spinoza remained a scarcely studied and largely ignored figure whose philosophy played no substantial part in Enlightenment discussion down to the 1780s, dies hard. One scholar claimed in 1997 that Spinoza's position in the history of philosophy was a “strange one” since he was the “proponent of views which had no real effects in their time because they were overshadowed by the influence of Descartes and his successors.” Another historian of philosophy affirmed, in 2002, that the fact that Spinoza “in the two, even three generations that followed him had no historical-theoretical impact” [in den zwei, ja drei Generationen, die auf ihn folgten, keine theoriegeschichtlich relevante Wirkung hatte] was no accident as he was admired only by a tiny radical underground banished from respectable society and because his philosophy of religion is “incompatible with the programme of those enlighteners seeking to rationalize revealed religion or striving to reduce the latter to ‘natural religion’” [unvereinbar mit dem Programm derjenigen Aufklärer, die an einer Rationalisierung der Offenbarungsreligion arbeiteten oder ihre Reduktion auf eine “naturliche Religion” anstrebten].
One might ask whether anything could be more totally at variance with the facts than such still widely prevalent notions as these. For, in fact, it is impossible to name another philosopher whose impact on the entire range of intellectual debates of the Enlightenment was deeper or more far-reaching than Spinoza's or whose Bible criticism and theory of religion was more widely or obsessively wrestled with, philosophically, throughout Europe during the century after his death.