This book explores the life, thought and political commitments of the free-thinker John Toland (1670–1722). Studying both his private archive and published works, it illustrates how he moved in both subversive and elite political circles in England and abroad. The book explores the connections between Toland's republican political thought and his irreligious belief about Christian doctrine, the ecclesiastical establishment and divine revelation, arguing that far from being a marginal and insignificant figure, he counted queens, princes and government ministers as his friends and political associates. In particular, Toland's intimate relationship with the Electress Sophia of Hanover saw him act as a court philosopher, but also as a powerful publicist for the Hanoverian succession. The book argues that he shaped the republican tradition after the Glorious Revolution into a practical and politically viable programme, focused not on destroying the monarchy but on reforming public religion and the Church of England. It also examines how Toland used his social intimacy with a wide circle of men and women (ranging from Prince Eugene of Savoy to Robert Harley) to distribute his ideas in private. The book explores the connections between his erudition and print culture, arguing that his intellectual project was aimed at compromising the authority of Christian ‘knowledge’ as much as the political power of the Church. Overall, it illustrates how Toland's ideas and influence impacted upon English political life between the 1690s and the 1720s.
This introductory chapter discusses the theme of this book, which is about the republican political thought of free-thinker John Toland. The first part deals with what we might call the material and social infrastructure for Toland's ‘life of the mind’. The second part of the book explores the dimensions of Toland's political arguments and examines how he used printed work to communicate with a public audience in an attempt to convince them of the best strategy for compromising the tyranny of clerical politics.
This chapter sums up the key findings of this study on the republican political thought of free-thinker John Toland, which has shown that the challenges which he posed to religious commonplaces were not simply philosophical issues, but were fundamentally linked to the power of contemporary civic and ecclesiastical institutions. His cultural significance was determined not simply by the intelligence and acuity of his ideas, but by the fact that they were circulated in concert amongst the political elite and a wider public audience. Toland's affinity with people in power illustrates the role his ideas played in the elite circles of early eighteenth-century European politics, and indicates how receptive political and intellectual culture in the period was to the cultural intent of such ideas.
claim, then, is that an essential dimension of republicanpoliticalthought
is the difficult but necessary task of developing a theory of collective agency
that is consistent with individual self-rule. Thus for Spinoza some form
of political association was an inescapable consequence of our need for
mutual protection and our desire for friendship or amicitia – an ‘affective’
interdependence that we cannot break but which, by means of our rational
powers, we can at least comprehend and so master. In 1670 he wrote that
‘in a state or kingdom where the weal of the whole