Introduction II:

D. Social Factors

In England especially, at the time of the Civil War (1642–6),  the ruling classes were threatened by the new philosophies and felt trapped between the twin threats of atheism and sectarian "enthusiasm."  On the one hand, atheism undermined the divine sanction of the nobility and the threat of divine retribution for rebellion.  On the other hand, radical sects, inspired by new religious and philosophical ideas, such as those of Paracelsus and the Rosicrucians, were promoting, on the basis of divine inspiration ("enthusiasm"), new, subversive social movements, typically democratic or socialist in orientation, and therefore a threat to the privileged classes. 

Further, although Hermetic philosophy was not atheistic, it was more heretical than Cartesian philosophy, was allied to the folk beliefs of the poor and uneducated, and had subversive connotations.  For example, Paracelsus was a social dissenter who supported the peasantry and advocated the redistribution of wealth; he was criticized for curing the poor for free but charging members of the privileged classes large fees.  The Rosicrucian Manifestos (1614–16), which proclaimed a new, utopian society based on Hermetic and alchemical principles, were indebted to Paracelsus' ideas.  Also, Thomas Campanella had promoted insurrection against the Spanish rulers of Naples in order to establish a utopian state based on Hermetic principles.  Therefore some intellectuals abandoned the magical philosophy not for philosophical reasons, but because they did not want to be associated with many of its adherents, who were socially embarrassing outsiders.  The mechanical philosophy was welcomed as a way between Scylla and Charybdis of atheism and enthusiasm, which also sanctioned the appropriation of nature by the (male) ruling class.

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