Luxury, mystification, and oppressive power in d'Holbach's philosophical writings

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Luxury is one of the main polemic targets of Baron d’Holbach. It brings one to run after imaginary needs they cannot fulfill, dooming them to live an unhappy, grim life. This critical view of luxury is no news and was shared by many others philosophes. In this paper, however, I argue that in d’Holbach’s account, luxury is more than an economically and morally disruptive force. It is also a tool to reinforce oppressive power. First, I reconstruct d’Holbach’s well-known account of luxury contained in his Politique Naturelle (1773). Secondly, I show that a closer reading of his later work Morale Universelle (1776) discloses a new element: according to d’Holbach’s social philosophy, luxury is a mystification strategy used by tyrants to be seen as gods and consequently dominate their subjects. Finally, pivoting on the continuity between human nature and modern society in the Système de la Nature (1770), I show that luxury is inscribed into a natural process. It is nothing mysterious nor supernatural. This naturalization of luxury allows people to unmask the god-like tyrant as a common human being, showing that understanding how nature works can set man free not only from religion, but also from oppressive political power.
Original languageEnglish
Article number7
Number of pages11
JournalJournal of Modern Philosophy
Publication statusPublished - 17 Jun 2020


  • Enlightenment
  • d'Holbach
  • Luxury
  • Nature
  • Oppressive power


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