This article explores the relationship of religion, universal histories of philosophy, and eighteenth-century French vitalism in the work of Abbé Claude Yvon. Yvon, while in exile in the Netherlands, was a high-ranking associate of the Masonic societies of The Hague and close to radical publishers. He was also heralded as a materialist and radical Enlightenment partisan. Upon his return to France in 1762, his significant role in the Prades Affair (1752) led to mistrust and scorn on the part of the French clerical establishment, but he also spent the bulk of his later years writing anti-philosophe apologetics for the Catholic Church. This unlikely collision of seemingly inimical career trajectories makes Yvon a figure that transcends common understandings of Catholic Enlightenment, as well as recent scholarly taxonomies of “radical” and “moderate” Enlightenment introduced by Jonathan Israel's controversial synthesis of the age. Yvon's awkward adherence to a kind of “vitalistic materialism” is but one such aspect of his ambivalent position on the peripheries of radical and Catholic Enlightenment currents.
An Overdue Tribute
Dale K. Van Kley
Robert R. Palmer wrote his first book, Catholics and Unbelievers in Eighteenth Century France, under the influence of his mentor at Cornell University, Carl L. Becker. Whereas Becker had claimed that the "enlightened" French philosophes were more indebted to Christianity than they recognized, Palmer argued that French Catholic apologists in the eighteenth century were also more "enlightened" than they knew. The two theses are complementary sides of Becker's wider point that beneath an intellectual debate in the public sphere there lay certain shared assumptions that make discussion possible, or what Alfred Whitehead had called a common "climate of opinion." Devoted to the subsequent historiography of Palmer's subject, this article argues that although research has since vindicated aspects of Palmer's portrait of French "enlightened" Jesuits, it has also altered Palmer's picture of French Jansenists as being globally unenlightened. This development in historiography enlarges Palmer's own notion of a "climate of opinion," while challenging the coherence of recent notions of a single "Catholic Enlightenment."