Beyond Enlightenment: Occultism and Politics in Modern France

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The occult sciences have attracted followers and fascinated observers since the Middle Ages. Beyond Enlightenment examines the social, political, and metaphysical doctrines of Martinism, a French occultist movement and offshoot of Freemasonry that flourished from the late eighteenth century to the dawn of the twentieth century. The Martinists were closely engaged in the political events of their times, and, rightly or wrongly, they earned a reputation for secret intrigue and, ubiquitous hidden influence. The French Revolution and the disorder that followed it convinced Martinists that modern society was on the wrong path. For guidance they looked back not to the corrupt Old Regime but rather to a lost golden age of mankind. David Allen Harvey focuses on the Martinists themselves, recreating their own social and political views. He traces the birth of Martinism during the Enlightenment, its revival in the fin de siecle, and the late nineteenth-century formation of a distinctly Martinist project - the synarchy - aimed at the social and political renewal of France and the greater world. The Martinist doctrines formed a unique synthesis of Enlightenment and counter-Enlightenment thought, Harvey maintains. Despite their reputation for political intrigue, the Martinists were a peaceful, esoteric society that rejected both secular materialism and dogmatic Catholicism, seeking to reveal the hand of Providence in history, discover divinely inspired laws of social and political organizations, and enact the kingdom of heaven on earth. Seeking to explore and analyze the irrational side of the Age of Reason, Beyond Enlightenment is a welcome addition to recent studies of esoteric movements. Historians of culture, religion, and politics in post-Revolutionary France, as well as historians of esotericism and alternative religions will be interested in this engaging and revealing study.