By Philipp Blom

A depraved Company tells the outstanding tale of Baron Thierry Holbach’s Parisian salon, an epicenter of freethinking that introduced jointly the best minds of the 18th century. Over wine-soaked dinner events, the best intellectuals of the Western world—figures equivalent to Denis Diderot, Jean-Jacques Rousseau, David Hume, Adam Smith, Horace Walpole, and Benjamin Franklin—matched wits and scandalized each other with their very own ever-more-provocative rules. Writers of genius all, filled with wit and braveness (but additionally own contradictions, doubts, conflicts of moral sense, and their justifiable share of open arguments and love affairs), this workforce of buddies embodied an incredible radicalism in eu inspiration, so uncompromising and impressive that its bracing, releasing, humanist imaginative and prescient has nonetheless no longer been totally learned. As acclaimed historian Philipp Blom exhibits, those thinkers’ research of our tradition continues to be as legitimate because it was once then, and has misplaced little of its power to shock—or to strength us to confront with new eyes debates approximately our society and its destiny.

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Extra info for A Wicked Company: The Forgotten Radicalism of the European Enlightenment

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When Frederick William IV, the newly crowned monarch of Prussia, invited Schelling to Berlin in 1841 to take over Hegel’s chair in philosophy and become a part of the apparatus of the state as a privy councilor, Engels could still confidently report: If you ask any man in Berlin who has any idea at all about the power of the spirit over the world, where the battle site for control over German Public Opinion in politics and religion, thus over Germany itself, lies, he would answer that this battle site is at the University, and specifically in Auditorium Number 6, where Schelling is lecturing on Philosophy of Revelation.

The emergence of the technical and material forms of “modern spectrality,” which does not in any sense exhaust the meaning of hauntology, becomes more clearly visible throughout the nineteenth century with its experience of literature, the death of the Spirit of the Absolute, railroads, telegraphy, combustion engines, the development of both the social and the natural sciences, psychoanalysis, and philosophy. Then, in addition to those genres, it emerges from the implications for human beings of the technologies of reproduction such as photography, film, digitization, cloning, genetic engineering, and the development of artificial intelligence.

One can already begin to feel the enormous strains bearing down on such a structure, such a system of thought, and these strains will finally cause the architecture of absolute reason to fracture, crash, and re-sound down to the (post)modern period. Schelling posits both immutability and a “living science,” an instinct (or, later, a “will”) that expresses itself in both philosophy and art in ever new forms. Hegel, Marx, Schopenhauer, Kierkegaard, and Nietzsche all attempted “solutions” to these difficulties, which then continued through Husserl, Benjamin, Heidegger, Adorno, Foucault, Derrida, and Deleuze.

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