The Scottish Enlightenment: The invention of modern mind and culture

Approximately 250 years ago, the windswept and unwelcoming capital of a relatively insignificant northern nation became a beacon of intelligence for the world. Edinburgh, which had been ridiculed widely as "Auld Reekie" or "Old Smokey", was suddenly celebrated as the seat of the Scottish Enlightenment — Athens of the North.
The statue of philosopher David Hume on the Royal Mile in Edinburgh, Scotland. (Jeff J Mitchell/Getty Images)
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Approximately 250 years ago, the windswept and unwelcoming capital of a relatively insignificant northern nation became a beacon of intelligence for the entire  world. Edinburgh, which had been widely ridiculed  as "Auld Reekie" or "Old Smokey", was suddenly celebrated as the seat of the Scottish Enlightenment — Athens of the North. No less an authority than Voltaire famously proclaimed, "It is to Scotland that we must look for our idea of civilization."

**This episode originally aired January 25, 2018.

Paul Kennedy walks up and down 'The Royal Mile', and through the planned streets and elegant squares of Edinburgh's 'New Town', in search of places once occupied or visited by the likes of Adam Smith, David Hume, James Boswell and Robert Burns. He visits the places where the Encyclopaedia Britannica was born (the Royal Society of Edinburgh), and where modern surgery was developed (the University of Edinburgh Medical School).

"The Scottish Enlightenment is the intellectual movement that laid the foundation for how all of us think about ourselves in relation to the modern world. Almost everything that shapes the way we think about society, politics, science, culture and history flows from the pens of a small group of men who lived in Edinburgh, Glasgow and Aberdeen, in the mid 18th-century."  – Arthur Herman

"Two hundred years ago, you would have walked along here and bumped into Adam Smith, thinking about his Wealth of Nations…. Joseph Black, the chemist…. James Hutton, walking back home to the Pleasance, just behind us. They were all here, and they were all, no doubt, heading to the tavern for a drink or two."  – Sheila Szatkowski

Sheila Szatkowski — author of Enlightenment Edinburgh: A Guide — provides a walking tour of intellectual hotspots. Arthur Herman — author of How the Scots Invented the Modern World — adds historical and cultural context. On Burns' Night, it seems appropriate for everybody to feel just a little bit Scottish.

(Paul Kennedy is a graduate of the University of Edinburgh, where he wrote a Master's thesis about 'the Scots in Canada'.)


Further reading:

Books by Arthur Herman

  • The Idea Of Decline In Western History, Free Press, 1997.
  • Joseph McCarthy: Reexamining the Life and Legacy of America's Most Hated Senator, Free Press, 1999.
  • How the Scots Invented the Modern World: The True Story of How Western Europe's Poorest Nation Created Our World and Everything in It, Three Rivers Press 2002.
  • To Rule the Waves: How the British Navy Shaped the Modern World, HarperCollins, 2004
  • Gandhi and Churchill:The Epic Rivalry that Destroyed an Empire and Forged Our Age, Bantam, 2008.
  • Freedom's Forge: How American Business produced victory in World War II, 2012.
  • The Cave and the Light: Plato vs. Aristotle and the Struggle for the Soul of Western Civilization, Random House, 2013.
  • Douglas MacArthur: American Warrior, Random House, 2016.

Books by Sheila Szatkowski

  • Enlightenment Edinburgh: A Guide, Birlinn Ltd., 2017,
  • Capital Caricatures: A Selection of Etchings by John Kay, Birlinn, 2007.
     


**This episode was produced by Paul Kennedy.

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