Wicked Company: Freethinkers and Friendship in Pre-Revolutionary France, By Philipp Blom
Off to the salon for a radical makeover
Sunday 25 March 2012
It's hard for us to appreciate just how dangerous having an idea could once be – especially if that idea were voiced in the company of others. Philipp Blom's account of the friendship between two radicals of the Enlightenment era, Denis Diderot and Baron D'Holbach, reminds us of the courage of individuals facing imprisonment, torture or even death for the simple expression of a thought.
Even Enlightenment radicals did not have endless pools of courage to draw on, however. One reason, Blom suggests, that Diderot never produced a "substantial philosophical work" was his terrifying imprisonment upon publishing "Letter on the Blind", an attack on the notion of an invisible Creator. He was made to promise never to publish anything blasphemous again, on pain of imprisonment without hope of release. It didn't stop him working on his encyclopedia, but that was banned on publication – an act that "came close to crushing the voice of the radical Enlightenment".
Holbach, who ran dangerous salons in Paris attracting free-thinkers such as Jean-Jacques Rousseau and David Hume, was also a close friend of the radical John Wilkes, who supported US independence. Blom writes about the frisson these meetings caused, and likes to speculate that Diderot, Holbach and Benjamin Franklin met in the salons of the rue Royale – but, with no paper trail, we can only imagine what conversation between them gave birth to a new nation.
Review: Imaginative storytelling returns with vigourfilm
Bannatyne leaves Dragon's DenTV
Arts & Ents blogs
- 1 Game of Thrones author George RR Martin says 'f*** you' to fans who fear he will die before finishing Westeros saga
- 2 Question Time's 'passionate highlander' is the William Wallace of the Better Together campaign
- 3 PornHub begs users to stop uploading video clips of Brazil getting beaten 7-1
- 4 Tony Abbott embarrasses Australia by praising Japanese WWII military, ‘getting on the sake’ and posing for ‘crotch-shot’ photo opportunity
- 5 The true Gaza back-story that the Israelis aren’t telling this week
Sustained immigration has not harmed Britons' employment, say government advisers
Australia facing international condemnation after turning around Sri Lankans at sea
7/7 memorial defaced on anniversary of 2005 attacks with ‘Blair lied thousands died’ graffiti
Socialist Worker called to apologise over ‘vile’ article saying Eton schoolboy Horatio Chapple's death is ‘reason to save the polar bears’
Even when it brutalises one of its own teenage citizens, America is helpless against Israel
There’s a nasty smell in the political air – and it’s coming from the Tories