A Catholic-Enlightenment Hybrid

Francois Fénelon is a very interesting figure of the late 17th and early 18th centuries marking the transition between Catholic and Enlightenment world views in Europe. Fénelon was at one time Archbishop of Cambrai, and so in a position of high authority in the Church. And yet his writing, particularly as respects the French monarchy (as in his Adventures of Telemachus), offer a kind of proto-Enlightenment critique.

Here is a new book translating some of Fénelon’s major work into English and discussing the thought of this important hybrid figure: Fénelon: Moral and Political Writings (Oxford University Press), by Ryan Patrick Hanley.

“Fénelon is arguably one of the most neglected major philosophers of early modernity. His political masterwork was the most-read book in eighteenth-century France after the Bible, and yet today even specialists rarely engage his work directly. This problem is particularly acute in the Anglophone world, where only a small fraction of Fénelon’s vast and influential corpus has appeared in modern English translation.

This collection of new translations of Fénelon’s moral and political writings renders one of the leading voices of early modern philosophy accessible to English-language audiences. Reflecting the impressive breadth of Fenelon’s thought, the volume includes work on topics ranging from education to literature to religion and statecraft. In the realm of political philosophy and ethics, Fénelon was an uncompromising critic of Louis XIV and absolutism, committed to reforming France’s social, political and economic institutions. In the Enlightenment, he came to be celebrated as a pioneering theorist of education and rhetoric, a prescient student of economics and international relations, and a key voice in the philosophical debates among the heirs of Descartes – not to mention his fame as one of the seventeenth-century’s most preeminent theologians and spiritualists and masters of French prose. With an extensive introduction to Fénelon’s life and work, this volume is a critical resource for students and scholars of French history, political philosophy, economics, education, literature, and religion.”