Casimir Liszinski, executed for atheism

The Casimir Liszinski Foundation re-enacts his execution in Warsaw

I became fascinated by Casimir Liszinski, the 17th-century Polish philosopher who was executed for atheism in 1689, after I attended several of the annual commemorations of his death in Warsaw. This is an overview of his life and death, and the Enlightenment era during which he lived.

1. Introduction to Casimir Liszinski
2. European Politics in the Early 1600s
3. Science and Philosophy in the Early 1600s
4. Casimir Liszinski’s Birth and Early Life
5. European Politics in the Late 1600s
6. Science and Philosophy in the Late 1600s
7. Casimir Liszinski’s Philosophy and Treatise
8. Casimir Liszinski’s Trial and Execution
9. The Ideals of the Enlightenment in Poland
10. Conclusion: Casimir Liszinski and the Enlightenment

1. Introduction to Casimir Liszinski

On 4 March 1634, seventy-year-old Galileo Galilei was settling into his first year under house arrest near Florence in Italy. He had been convicted of heresy for arguing that the earth orbits around the sun. A thousand miles away, Casimir Liszinski was born in Brest, which was then part of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth. On 30 March 1689, shortly after his fifty-fifth birthday, the nobleman Liszinski was executed in the Old Town Market Place of Warsaw in Poland. He had been convicted of atheism and blasphemy for arguing that God does not exist.

Mainstream historians have paid little attention to Liszinski, but modern Poland has an atheist foundation in his name. Every year since 2013, atheists from around the world commemorate him, by parading through Warsaw from the Copernicus Statue to the Old Town Market Place, where they re-enact his trial and execution. I’ve taken part in several of these events, which coincide with the annual Polish Days of Atheism and are hosted by the Casimir Liszinski Foundation.

In this article, I want to put Liszinski’s life and philosophy in the context of the eventful century in which he lived. The British philosopher AC Grayling has described the 1600s as the epoch in human affairs that produced the modern world. It was a time of devastating European wars leading to the early stages of modern diplomacy. Alongside this, the late Renaissance and Scientific Revolution segued into the early Enlightenment.

Why did the Enlightenment ideals only reach Poland in the mid-to-late 1700s, much later than they reached Western Europe? Some writers have speculated that this was because the Western Enlightenment challenged oppressive Kings, while Poland’s Kings were elected and did not have as much power. Also, some writers argue that many Western reformers were from the bourgeoisie, while most of Poland’s reformers were from the nobility.

But there is another partial answer, which is that Casimir Liszinski had already introduced Enlightenment ideals to Poland in the late 1600s, and he had been executed for doing so. He was executed by an oppressive Church rather than an oppressive King. But his thinking fitted in with Enlightenment ideals, and it was ruthlessly shut down instead of being encouraged.

The ideals of the Enlightenment were mostly curated by later historians, then retrospectively described as being the Enlightenment. But Liszinski used language explicitly reflecting those ideals. He argued that theologians extinguish the light of reason when they attribute impossible and contradictory characteristics and attributes to God. He also promoted such Enlightenment ideals as reason, science, individual liberty, and social progress.

Enlightenment thinkers promoted religious tolerance, but they did not always extend that tolerance to atheists. Liszinski went beyond seeking tolerance towards atheists, by overtly arguing for an atheistic worldview. Indeed, the Polish historian of philosophy, the late Professor Andrzej Nowicki, argued that Liszinski was the first philosopher to refer to atheists as ‘we’ rather than ‘they’.

Liszinski used reason to argue that man is the creator of God, and that God exists only within the mind of man. He used science to evaluate the world and saw no place for any miracles or supernatural phenomena. He promoted liberty and progress by challenging the class function not only of religion but also of law and royal power.

Compared to other thinkers of his century, Liszinski was free of the religious shackles of Rene Descartes, and the superstitious distractions of Isaac Newton. His atheism challenged the authority of religion more directly than the scientific approaches of Galileo Galilei and Francis Bacon, and the linguistic compromises of Baruch Spinoza. He promoted a utopia of individual liberty and social progress that was more optimistic than that of Thomas Hobbes and John Locke.

To be clear, I am not arguing that Liszinski was the greatest thinker of the Enlightenment. I do not think that anybody merits that distinction. But he was an important thinker of the early Enlightenment, and most historians have denied him that recognition.

2. European Politics in the Early 1600s

During the early 1600s, wars engulfed Europe. The century started halfway through the Eighty Years War, during which what is now Netherlands, Belgium, and Luxembourg rebelled against their Spanish rulers. From 1602 the Dutch and Portuguese battled to control colonies from America to Africa and China, and the English and French competed to colonise the Caribbean islands. Since the Protestant Reformation of the previous century, different territories within the Holy Roman Empire were ruled by either Catholic or Protestant princes. In 1608, these princes formed the rival Evangelical Union and Catholic League.

In 1618 in Bohemia, which is today the Czech Republic, the new Catholic King Ferdinand II suppressed local Protestant estates and dissolved their assembly. Protestant assemblymen in Prague retaliated by throwing two Catholic Lord Regents from a third-floor window. They survived because they landed in a rubbish dump, but Catholics said that angels had saved them. This event popularised the word defenestration, from the Latin word fenestra meaning window, to describe the process of throwing someone out of a window.

It also triggered the Thirty Years War. The Bohemian rebels established a provisional government and invaded Austria. King Ferdinand was a member of the Austrian Royal House of Habsburg, which ruled the Holy Roman Empire. He became Emperor in 1619, and tried to impose Catholicism throughout the entire Empire. The conflict soon spread outside the Empire. Denmark and powerful Sweden took the side of the Protestant princes. So did Catholic France, who were rivals with the Habsburg family who also ruled Spain.

The war killed eight million Europeans through a mix of battles, famine, and plague, along with the superstitious executions of witches who were blamed for all of the trouble. In 1635 Ferdinand negotiated a peace treaty at Prague with the Protestant princes, ending the civil war part of the conflict. But the Holy Roman Empire was still at war with Sweden and France, while being supported by Spain, in battles that mostly took place in today’s Germany. Ferdinand died in 1637 and his son Ferdinand III became Emperor. An increasingly bloody stalemate ended in 1648 with the Treaty of Westphalia in today’s northwestern Germany.

The Thirty Years War helped to shape modern Europe. The Treaty of Westphalia neutered the Holy Roman Empire. Its territories gained more autonomy, and the Pope’s rejection of the Treaty had no impact. This led to the modern idea of diplomatic relations between independent sovereign States. Also, the devastation of the conflict led scholars to formulate rules for determining just causes for war, and for protecting civilians during war. The most prominent was On the Law of War and Peace, published by the Dutch humanist Hugo Grotius in 1624.

Meanwhile in Britain, the English and Scottish crowns merged in 1603 under the Protestant King James I. After the Catholic Guy Fawkes failed in a gunpowder plot to assassinate him, James retaliated by passing laws against Catholics. In 1611 he published the first edition of his authorised King James Bible. King Charles I replaced James in 1625. He clashed with parliament about the divine right of Kings, culminating in the English Civil War, until he was executed for treason in 1649. This established the modern principle that an English King needed the consent of parliament to govern.

3. Science and Philosophy in the Early 1600s

The early 1600s were important years for science, despite the word scientist not being used. Instead, people who engaged in what we today call science were called natural philosophers. Some of them were also engaged in such occult superstitions as astrology, alchemy, and magic. The first half of the century included overlaps with the late Renaissance of the 1300s to the 1600s, and the Scientific Revolution of the 1500s and 1600s.

Galileo Galilei was born in Pisa in Italy, and switched his university studies from the more lucrative medicine to the mathematics that he found more interesting. He was either a Catholic or an atheist pretending to be Catholic. In 1610, he was the first astronomer to observe the moons of Jupiter through his newly invented telescope. The Polish astronomer Nicolas Copernicus had previously argued that the earth and other planets orbited around the sun, rather than the sun and other planets orbiting around the earth. Galileo’s discovery of moons orbiting a planet other than the earth helped him to support the Copernican theory.

Galileo further supported the Copernican theory in 1616, by arguing that the tides were caused by the earth rotating on its axis as it revolved around the sun. The German astronomer Johannes Kepler added that the orbits of the planets were elliptical not circular, and that the moon caused the tides. The Catholic Church opposed Galileo’s writings, both because they contradicted the Bible and because they seemed to mock Pope Urban VIII. In 1633 the Inquisition convicted the 69-year-old Galileo of heresy, having heard evidence only from theologians but not from scientists. He was sentenced to house arrest for the rest of his life.

Francis Bacon was an English parliamentarian, Attorney General, and Lord Chancellor. As a philosopher, he challenged the authority of religion over science, by separating them into two different spheres of study. In 1620 he published the New Method of Science. This explained his new system of logic, which involved creating experiments based on different variations of whatever he was examining, then using inductive reasoning to conclude what was in common and different in the outcomes of the experiments. It was an early version of today’s scientific method.

As the midpoint of the century approached, the French philosopher Rene Descartes published two books, Discourse on the Method in 1637 and Meditations on First Philosophy in 1641. He tried to build a new philosophy from the ground up, starting by doubting everything, which he hoped would vindicate Catholic theology. He concluded that his only firm ground was ‘I think therefore I am.’ He went on to argue that the idea of God is so perfect that only a being as perfect as God could have created it, therefore God also exists. He believed that our minds are distinct from our bodies but closely joined, which he called dualism, and he argued that God is similarly distinct from us as humans.

4. Casimir Liszinski’s Birth and Early Life

On 4 March 1634, seventy-year-old Galileo Galilei was settling into his first year under house arrest near Florence in Italy. A thousand miles away, Casimir Liszinski was born in Brest, which is now in Belarus on the border with Poland. Brest was then in the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth that lasted from 1569 to 1795. It extended into the Ukraine and at its peak was three times the size of Poland today. It was a complicated mix of mostly Catholic Poles, Lithuanians, and Latvians; settlements of separatist Jews; mostly Orthodox Byelorussians and Ukrainians in the east; and mostly Protestant Germans in the west.

The Polish historian of philosophy, the late Professor Andrzej Nowicki, has recorded much of Casimir’s life. His father, Hieronim Liszinski, was a wealthy nobleman in his early fifties who owned several estates and gardens. Casimir’s mother was born Zofia Bałynska, and the young nobleman had three brothers, Mateusz, Piotr and Wincentego. Casimir was fourteen when the Treaty of Westphalia ended the Thirty Years War in 1648, and he was eighteen when his father became a town magistrate of Brest in 1652.

Also that year, the Polish parliament became paralysed by the Liberum Veto. Because there were so many noblemen, one in ten Poles could vote, which was the largest percentage voting population in Europe. But the country contained about fifty semi-sovereign mini-states. In 1652 the nobility protected their individual interests with a crippling convention: they agreed that the parliament would not pass any vote if a single nobleman objected to it.

When Casimir was in his early twenties, three armies invaded Poland in four years: the Russians under Tsar Alexis in 1654, the Swedes under King Charles X Gustav in 1655, and the Hungarians under George II Rakoczy in 1657. Poland repelled the invaders, but at considerable cost to its cities and its economy. Casimir took part in these wars, fighting in the ranks of the Sapieha family. Archive documents say that he risked his life and did not spare his possessions.

When he was 24, Casimir trained as a Jesuit in Krakow and Kalisz. He studied rhetoric under John Kwiatkiewicz, a theologian and poet whose books on Church history criticised the Italian philosopher Lucilio Vanini, an early proponent of evolution who had been executed in France in 1619 for atheism and blasphemy. Casimir also studied logic, physics, and metaphysics under John Morawski, an eclectic philosopher who reflected on being existing only in the mind.

Casimir left the Jesuits in 1666 and married Jadwiga Zelichowska at the age of 32. He then became active in politics, taking part in the national parliament in Warsaw. In 1674, at the age of forty, he took part in the parliament that elected John III Sobieski King of Poland, after three rival candidates had brought their armies with them to Warsaw. John was a strong military leader who was supportive of Liszinski.

5. European Politics in the Late 1600s

The Treaty of Westphalia did not stop all wars in Europe. The English and Dutch engaged in repeated naval wars between 1652 and 1674, as they fought to dominate international trade routes. A Cossack rebellion in 1648 led to Russia seizing parts of the Ukraine from Poland. Poland was then invaded by the Russians in 1654, the Swedes in 1655, and the Hungarians in 1657, during which Casimir Liszinski fought for Poland.

Meanwhile the Ottoman Turks tried to expand the Muslim Empire into Europe. They attacked Austria in 1683, but lost the Battle of Vienna to a Christian alliance led by King John III of Poland. Because King John had entrusted his army to the protection of the Virgin Mary, Pope Innocent XI celebrated his victory by extending the Feast of the Holy Name of Mary to the whole Christian church, and moving it to the day the battle was won on 12 September.

The Battle of Vienna began the Great Turkish War which lasted until the end of the century. The new Holy League alliance of the Roman Empire, the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth, the Republic of Venice, Russia, and for a time France, mounted a counter-offensive led by King John of Poland and Prince Eugene of Savoy in Austria. They pushed the Turks back through Hungary, and eventually halted the expansion of the Muslim Empire into Europe.

In Western Europe, as the Treaty of Westphalia was signed in 1648, France faced five years of civil wars known as the Fronde. Queen Anne, ruling as mother of the ten-year-old King Louis XIV, ordered several tax raises, and the parliament and nobility rebelled against the monarch’s right to do so. The Crown emerged victorious in 1653. King Louis took the throne the following year, and took personal control of Government in 1661. He dropped the post of Chief Minister, and ruled directly as God’s representative until his death in 1715. During this time he consolidated the power of absolute monarchy over parliament in France, just as England and other States were moving in the opposite direction.

England also had internal problems. It started the second half of the century as a republic. In 1653 Oliver Cromwell dismissed the parliament and ruled directly as Lord Protector. After Cromwell died, England had three more Kings in quick succession. The Protestant Charles II ruled from 1660 as the merry monarch, then gave the throne to his openly Catholic brother James II in 1685. James extended tolerance to all religions, but ignored or subverted laws passed by parliament. He was overthrown during the Glorious Revolution in 1689, and the Dutch Protestant William III of Orange and Mary II took over as King and Queen for the last decade of the century.

6. Science and Philosophy in the Late 1600s

The late 1600s marked the start of the early Enlightenment, a philosophical movement that went on to dominate European thinking throughout the 1700s. Enlightenment thinkers focused on areas like reason, science, individual liberty, social progress, religious toleration, constitutional government, and separation of Church and State. The late 1600s also marked the culmination of the Scientific Revolution that had started the previous century.

In 1651 the English philosopher Thomas Hobbes published Leviathan, in which he proposed a theory of social contract. He argued that, if individuals act naturally to advance their own self-interest, life will be ‘solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short.’ This was an understandable belief during the wars and plagues of Europe in the 1600s. But he concluded that, if people agree to cede some of their own rights, in return for others ceding some of their rights, then States can emerge to enforce this social contract to keep everybody safe. However, he added, the same problem arises with regard to relationships between different States.

In 1677 Baruch Spinoza’s Ethics was published, shortly after the Dutch Jewish philosopher had died. Spinoza was effectively an atheist who used religious language to describe his worldview. He argued that God and nature are the same thing, that everything in the natural world is a mode of God, and that loving God is understanding nature rather than religious awe and worshipful submission. He disagreed with Rene Descartes about mind-body dualism, arguing instead that the mind and body are the same thing. He believed that what happens in nature is predetermined, and that we are mistaken in thinking that we have free will.

The Scientific Revolution culminated in 1687, with the publication of Isaac Newton’s Principia, or Mathematical Principles. Newton was an unusual man to set the foundations of modern science. His main interests were whether alchemy could turn base metals into gold, and whether there were hidden messages coded into the Bible. But in the Principia, he explained the structure of the visible universe with his laws of motion and of universal gravitation. He said that a moving object will stay moving unless an external force acts on it, for every action there is an equal and opposite reaction, and every particle attracts every other particle with varying forces.

In England, the Glorious Revolution of 1689 overthrew King James II. The liberal John Locke then published his Second Treatise of Government, which set out to justify this revolution. Locke was more optimistic than Hobbes about human nature. He argued that the social contract involved giving up freedoms, and that the State cannot overrule the natural rights to life, liberty, and property. Because King James had acted against the public interest, the public had not only a right but a duty to overthrow him. Locke also disagreed with Rene Descartes about humans being born with innate ideas, arguing instead that our knowledge comes from experience.

7. Casimir Liszinski’s Philosophy and Treatise

According to Professor Andrzej Nowicki, Casimir Liszinski agreed with his Jesuit teachers that the world of names did not exactly correspond to the world of actual beings. Some beings that we can think of and name do not actually exist, but are only thoughts in our minds. One example is the Greek mythological Chimera, a monster with body parts of various different animals.

Liszinski’s Jesuit teachers argued that the real God exists eternally, but that the version of God that we think of in our minds is only ‘chimerical’ like the Greek Chimera. Liszinski took this a step further, and argued that all versions of the Christian God are ‘chimerical’, because the concept is not taken from objective reality but is created in our minds.

About 1674, on turning forty years old, Liszinski began to write the philosophical treatise that would lead to his execution fifteen years later. He had read a book by Henry Alsted titled Theologia Naturalis, which tried to prove the existence of God. Liszinski was unimpressed, and wrote in the margins: ‘ergo non-est Deus’ or ‘therefore God does not exist.’

Liszinski then began to develop his own thoughts in a work titled On the Non-existence of God. It was the first Polish philosophical argument for a natural world that did not involve gods, and he kept it secret during the fifteen years that he was writing it. The main arguments in Liszinski’s treatise included that:

  • Theologians extinguish the light of reason when they attribute impossible and contradictory characteristics and attributes to God.
  • Man is the creator of God, and God is a concept and creation of Man. God is chimeric in nature because it is a being that exists only within the mind.
  • Religion was constituted by people without religion, so they could be worshipped, although the God is not existent. These people also designed piety, fear of God, devotion to God, and false doctrines, to advance their own interests.
  • Simple folk are cheated by the more cunning with the fabrication of God for their own oppression, and these simple folk will resist attempts by wise people to free them by the truth.
  • We don’t experience any imperative of reason that would ensure us of a truth of divine revelation. If we did, everyone would know that truth, and we would have one religion, without any doubts. Instead, we have wise men who deny divine revelation using proper reasoning, thus proving that God does not exist.

8. Casimir Liszinski’s Trial and Execution

In 1682 King John III Sobieski appointed Liszinski governor of the Berekolit region. Remember that, at this time, Liszinski’s writings about God and religion were still being kept secret. Now 48 years old, he took part in a court case against the Jesuits, who were forced to return two gardens that they had illegally taken from deceased Brest townspeople.

In 1686 Bishop Witwicki of the diocese of Luck excommunicated the 52-year-old Liszinski from the Catholic Church. Liszinski’s daughter had married a man who may have been her uncle (the family tree was complicated) and the Bishop demanded that the marriage be annulled. Liszinski responded that church bans do not matter, as marriage is a civil contract, and the Bishop excommunicated him.

Liszinski had a short-term reprieve, as Bishop Witwicki was then promoted to the diocese of Poznam, and his successor did not speak out against Liszinski. But his problems were about to get worse. He had lent a large sum of money to a neighbour named John Brzoska, and in 1687 the money was due to be repaid. But Brzoska found a way to avoid repaying the money. He stole Liszinski’s manuscript on the non-existence of God, and his copy of Theologia Naturalis with his handwritten margin notes.

On the basis of this, Brzoska accused Liszinski of atheism and blasphemy. He informed Bishop Witwicki, now Bishop of Poznam, who had already excommunicated Liszinski. In an atmosphere of outrage, the local governor jailed Liszinski, breaking a legal tradition that a Polish nobleman could not be imprisoned before being found guilty. The governor then transferred the case to the church court, and Liszinski to the church prison.

The trial took place in early 1689, as Liszinski turned fifty-five. Bishop Witwicki of Poznam and Bishop Zaluski of Kiev strongly argued for Liszinski’s guilt, while King John III Sobieski tried to help him by ordering that the trial take place in Vilnius instead of at the Vatican. The Bishops were outraged that Liszinski was even allowed to defend himself, arguing that their evidence alone should have been enough to condemn him.

The trial resulted in one ironic outcome. Liszinski had only one copy of his book, and that copy was burned as part of the verdict. But because his accusers read key parts of his arguments into the record of the trial, we know the outline of his reasons for concluding that there is no God and that religion was invented to oppress people.

If found guilty, Liszinski faced a terrible execution by having his tongue cut out with hot irons, his hands slowly burned, then himself burned to death. He tried to defend himself by claiming that his work was only half-written. He said that the full version was going to be a debate between an atheist and a Catholic, in which the Catholic would eventually win. But he was found guilty.

King John Sobieski protested, saying that the Inquisition would not have undertaken a more severe decision. After John’s appeal, the execution was limited to beheading only, then Liszinski’s body was burned. Even Pope Innocent said that the Polish bishops had abused their power and that the sentence was too severe. Despite these understated criticisms, Liszinski was executed on 30 March 1689 in the Old Town Market Place of Warsaw.

9. The Ideals of the Enlightenment in Poland

Most mainstream historians say that the ideals of the Enlightenment reached Poland later than they reached Western Europe. Adam Zamoyski in his History of Poland says that Stanislaw Konarski, a Piarist priest, began in 1723 to publish all of the laws passed in Poland in recent centuries, to encourage debate on constitutional change. Konarski then founded the Collegium Nobilium in 1740, a public school which taught young noblemen the ideals of the Enlightenment.

In 1764, Stanislaw II Augustus became King. He established a Commission for National Education, which codified curricula, textbooks and standards for all schools. As a patron of the arts, he oversaw a resurgence of new Polish literary activity, inspired by international Enlightenment thinkers such as Voltaire and Rousseau. This faced jingoistic opposition by supporters of traditional Polish culture.

In 1791, Poland adopted a new Constitution. King Stanislaw had ambitious plans for a new University in Warsaw, a Museum, an Academy of Sciences, and an Academy of Arts. But by 1795 a military pact with Prussia and an invasion by Russia left Poland partitioned into territories ruled by Prussia, Russia, and Austria. Stanislaw abdicated. He was the final King of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth.

Why did the Enlightenment ideals reach Poland so late? Some writers have speculated that this was because the Western Enlightenment challenged oppressive kings, while Poland’s kings were elected and did not have as much power. Also, some argue that most Western reformers were from the bourgeoisie, while most of Poland’s reformers were from the nobility.

But there is another partial answer, and that is that Casimir Liszinski had already introduced Enlightenment ideals to Poland in the late 1600s, and he had been executed for doing so. He was executed by an oppressive Church rather than an oppressive King. But his thinking fitted in with Enlightenment ideals, and it was ruthlessly shut down instead of being encouraged.

10. Conclusion: Casimir Liszinski and the Enlightenment

The ideals of the Enlightenment were mostly curated by later historians, then retrospectively described as being the Enlightenment. But Liszinski used language explicitly reflecting those ideals. He argued that theologians extinguish the light of reason when they attribute impossible and contradictory characteristics and attributes to God.

With regard to his use of reason, Liszinski was free of the religious shackles that had caused Rene Descartes to move from the unsupported premise ‘I think therefore I am,’ to the unsupported conclusion that God exists. He was also free of the superstitious distractions that caused Isaac Newton to spend much of his time studying alchemy and Bible codes.

Enlightenment thinkers promoted religious tolerance, but they did not always extend that tolerance to atheists. By contrast, Liszinski overtly argued for an atheistic worldview. Indeed, Professor Andrzej Nowicki noted that Liszinski was the first philosopher to refer to atheists as ‘we’ rather than ‘they’.

In promoting atheism, Liszinski went further than Galileo Galilei and Francis Bacon, both of whom challenged the authority of religion over science, by merely separating them into two different spheres of study. He also escaped the linguistic compromises of Baruch Spinoza, who defined God as nature, by arguing instead that God is an invention of the human mind.

With regard to science, Nowicki argued that Liszinski’s ontology restored to nature the attributes that theologians had attributed to God. He saw no place for any miracles or supernatural phenomena. He used the philosophy of language to argue that some names refer to ‘chimerical’ beings that exist only in our minds, and he used anthropology to argue that man created God, not the other way around.

With regard to promoting individual liberty and progress, Nowicki said that Liszinski was challenging the class function not only of religion, but also of law and royal power. He said that Liszinski contrasted three groups of people. Cunning theologians invented ideas about God, then used religion to frighten and subjugate simple folk. The simple folk, in turn, resisted attempts by ‘we atheists’ to free them from their oppression using reason and truth.

John Locke was more optimistic than Thomas Hobbes about human nature, and Liszinski was even more optimistic than John Locke. Nowicki said that Liszinski wanted a society not only without concepts of God, but also without the social order supposedly established by a God. Instead, he wanted a social and political utopia based on truth and reason, without rulers, masters, judges, or clergy.

Also, Liszinski had written his treatise before the Enlightenment went on to dominate the next century, and therefore before the impact of such thinkers as Voltaire, Denis Diderot, and Baron d’Holbach from France; David Hume and Adam Smith from Scotland; Jean-Jaques Rousseau from Switzerland; Immanuel Kant from Germany; and Thomas Jefferson from America.

To conclude, I am not arguing that Liszinski was the greatest thinker of the Enlightenment. I do not think that anybody merits that distinction. Nor do we know a lot about the nuance of his thinking, because so few of his writing has survived. But he was an important thinker of the early Enlightenment, and most historians have denied him that recognition.

Notes: As this article is written in English, I have used the English version of his name, Casimir Liszinski. His Polish name is Kazimierz Łyszczyński, which is pronounced (approximately) Kaj-ee-meerj Wij-injky. I have also used English versions of other names, such as King John for King Jan. Most of the personal details of Casimir Liszinski in this article were researched by the Polish historian of philosophy, the late Professor Andrzej Nowicki. You can read his biography of Liszinski in Polish here.

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