Secularisation in the Dutch Republic: The Irrelevance of Philosophy
Wiep Van Bunge (Erasmus University Rotterdam)

November 5, 2020, 11:00am - 1:00pm

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Jagiellonian University
Jagiellonian University

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Secularisation in the Dutch Republic: The Irrelevance of Philosophy


The eighteenth century witnessed the complete confessionalisation of the Dutch population. As a consequence, it remains to be seen what secularisation actually might mean in the context of the Dutch Enlightenment and which part was played by Dutch philosophers. In this paper/lecture it will be argued that in the Dutch Republic philosophy hardly contributed to the abandonment of Christian views and practices. The early Radical Enlightenment, spearheaded by Spinoza, soon petered out during the first half of the eighteenth century. In sharp contrast to their seventeenth-century predecessors, most Dutch eighteenth-century philosophers, including those who belonged to the powerful school of thought expounding Newtonianism, as a rule were hesitant to address theological and political issues. During the 1770s and 1780s Dutch Wolffians played an active part in the furious debates inspired by the disintegration of the Dutch Republic, but they were careful not to question the main tenets of Dutch Reformed orthodoxy. Frans Hemsterhuis was the only Dutch philosopher from the second half of the century who drew an audience beyond the Republic, most notably in Germany. A high ranking civil servant in The Hague, he was a close witness to the crisis engulfing the Republic, but he preferred to concentrate on aesthetics and went out of his way not to get involved in any theological disputes. The lack of interest among Dutch philosophers for Kant’s “Copernican Revolution” appears to confirm they were largely in agreement with the rise of a new, widely shared nationalism, in which the recognition of the essentially Protestant nature of the Dutch nation played a crucial part. By the same token, Hemsterhuis’ Philhellenism appears to suggest that to the extent that Dutch elite culture during the early modern age was ready to abandon Christianity, this was not so much due to the impact of any particular philosophy as to the continuing attraction exerted by the example set by Antiquity. Ever since the late sixteenth century Dutch classicists had been suspected to be no longer genuinely committed to Christianity and it seems no coincidence that the leading early nineteenth-century Dutch philosopher, the Utrecht professor Philip Willem van Heusde, was mainly concerned to elaborate the Protestant character of his own, “Socratic” philosophy.

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November 3, 2020, 7:00pm CET

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#Philosophy of religion, #Spinoza, #Secularization, #Hemsterhuis, #Plato