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Lectures from the Allen Room and the Wertheim Study: Modern Utopianism: the 18th-Century Background

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May 23, 2013

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The 18th century is often known as the Age of Reason, for it initiates the era when men began to imagine that society's institutions could be rationally reformed and citizens enlightened through proper education.  This movement is characterized by the names of such philosophes as Voltaire and Diderot.  The 18th century, however, also witnessed a reaction against such rationalism and, indeed, against the progress of knowledge and of civilization.  A leading figure of this reaction was Rousseau.

What both movements had in common were an animus against the traditional order of society represented by church and crown and the desire to found a society of free and equal men and women.

The presentation will discuss these two strands and the communistic settlements that they produced in the U.S. in the 19th century, when tens of thousands of Europeans, propelled by visions of utopia, left the Old World for the New. 

Elizabeth Powers, a writer in residence in the Library's Wertheim Study, is the editor of Freeom of Speech : The History of an Idea (Bucknell UP).  Her primary area of scholarhip is 18th century German literature, in particular Goethe and the subject of world literature.

For more lectures from the Wertheim Study, click here