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Enlightenment Underground

Radical Germany, 1680-1720
Martin Mulsow. Translated by H. C. Erik Midelfort

BUY Cloth · 464 pp. · 6.125 × 9.25 · ISBN 9780813938158 · $45.00 · Nov 2015
BUY Ebook · 464 pp. · ISBN 9780813938165 · $45.00 · Nov 2015

Online supplement, "Mulsow: Additions to Notes drawn from the 2002 edition of Moderne aus dem Untergrund": full versions of nearly 300 notes that were truncated in the print edition. Hosted on H. C. Erik Midelfort's website.

Martin Mulsow’s seismic reinterpretation of the origins of the Enlightenment in Germany won awards and renown in its original German edition, and now H. C. Erik Midelfort's translation makes this sensational book available to English-speaking readers. In Enlightenment Underground, Mulsow shows that even in the late seventeenth century some thinkers in Germany ventured to express extremely dangerous ideas, but did so as part of a secret underground. Scouring manuscript collections across northern Europe, Mulsow studied the writings of countless hitherto unknown radical jurists, theologians, historians, and dissident students who pushed for the secularization of legal, political, social, and religious knowledge. Often their works circulated in manuscript, anonymously, or as clandestinely published books.

Working as a philosophical microhistorian, Mulsow has discovered the identities of several covert radicals and linked them to circles of young German scholars, many of whom were connected with the vibrant radical cultures of the Netherlands, England, and Denmark. The author reveals how radical ideas and contributions to intellectual doubt came from Socinians and Jews, church historians and biblical scholars, political theorists, and unemployed university students. He shows that misreadings of humorous or ironic works sometimes gave rise to unintended skeptical thoughts or corrosively political interpretations of Christianity. This landmark book overturns stereotypical views of the early Enlightenment in Germany as cautious, conservative, and moderate, and replaces them with a new portrait that reveals a movement far more radical, unintended, and puzzling than previously suspected.


There can be no question that the German-speaking world figured prominently in the early stages of the clandestine Radical Enlightenment as it did also later. Martin Mulsow's Enlightenment Underground is pathbreaking for its research and arguably the most important study we have on German radical thought between 1650 and 1750, covering the era from Matthias Knutzen down to Lessing. It is also one of the most lively and fascinating.

Jonathan Israel, Institute for Advanced Study, author of A Revolution of the Mind: Radical Enlightenment and the Intellectual Origins of Modern Democracy

Enlightenment Underground is a work of striking originality and rigor—substantively and methodologically—that opens unexpected windows onto the intellectual ferment, networks, sources, and often unintended consequences of speculation and debate about religion and faith in the 'early' German Enlightenment. It changes the entire debate about both the content and the transmission of early modern ideas, and it integrates the worlds of German mentalities into a broader history of deep conceptual change in early modern Europe.

Alan Charles Kors, University of Pennsylvania, editor in chief of the Encyclopedia of the Enlightenment

For readers of German, Mulsow’s  Moderne aus dem Untergrund. Radikale Frühaufklärung in Deutschland 1680–1720 (2002) has become a standard in early Enlightenment studies. Mulsow’s study of the radical Enlightenment has established one of the ruling understandings of the movement. Now, English readers can benefit from this work.

For the past twenty years Martin Mulsow has been one of the leading historians making sense of the world of learning of 17th and 18th century Europe. While several of his articles have appeared in English and Italian the majority of his voluminous writings are only accessible in German. For this reason, this translated edition of Mulsow’s Enlightenment Underground: Radical Germany, 1680-1720, which appeared in German in 2002, is a significant event.

Cromohs (Cyber Review of Modern Historiography)

Historical research on the European Enlightenment is no longer limited to a narrow canon of often-anthologized philosophers.... Martin Mulsow has been a part of this conversation and made significant contributions through edited volumes and critical editions. Enlightenment Underground is the translation of his 2002 Habilitationsschrift, and his first monographic study available to Anglophone readers.

Reading Religion

"Mulsow’s book weaves an incredibly dense and rich web, deftly covering a range of topics in ancient and modern philosophy and theology. Determined readers will find much profit from this fascinating book."

Michael Printy, Yale University · Journal of Modern History

This study is a superb example of historical scholarship. Martin Mulsow unearths an impressive range of mostly unknown German clandestine literature of the late seventeenth and early eighteenth centuries.... The principal merit of this book is the way in which Mulsow manages to decode these different conversations, which in turn allows him to contextualise these often forgotten texts within the broader early Enlightenment.

Journal of Ecclesiastical History

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