Lynn Hunt is Distinguished Research Professor in History at the University of California at Los Angeles. Her books include Inventing Human Rights, Writing History in the Global Era, and, most recently, History: Why It Matters. (March 2019)
Catherine and Diderot: The Empress, the Philosopher, and the Fate of the Enlightenment
by Robert Zaretsky
The most radical thinker of the eighteenth century, Denis Diderot (1713–1784), is not exactly a forgotten man, though he has been long overshadowed by his contemporaries Voltaire and Jean-Jacques Rousseau. Voltaire and Rousseau were among the first to be buried in the French Pantheon of the nation’s heroes; Diderot has yet to be, despite a concerted campaign leading up to the three-hundredth anniversary of his birth in 2013. Diderot was simultaneously too much a man of his time and too much ahead of his time.
Humans are animals, but humans have long insisted on their superiority over other animals. In the first systematic effort to explain the relation of humans to other animals, Aristotle established distinctions that have endured for centuries: some animals have memory, but only humans have history; animals have voices, but only …