Peter Gay  

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"In its treatment of the passions, as in its treatment of metaphysics, the Enlightenment was not an age of reason but a revolt against rationalism." --The Enlightenment: An Interpretation (1969) by Peter Gay

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Peter Gay (born Peter Joachim Fröhlich; June 20, 1923 – May 12, 2015) was a German born American academic, author of more than twenty-five books, including The Enlightenment: An Interpretation, a multi-volume award winner; Weimar Culture: The Outsider as Insider (1968), a bestseller; and the widely translated Freud: A Life for Our Time (1988).

He was active in the fields of psychohistory, intellectual history and the history of ideas.



Born in 1923 as Peter Joachim Fröhlich in Berlin, Gay and his family fled from Nazi Germany in 1939 and arrived in America in 1941. In Berlin he was educated at the Goethe-Gymnasium. His family initially booked passage on the MS St. Louis (whose passengers were eventually denied visas) but fortuitously changed their booking to an earlier voyage to Cuba. He came to the United States in 1941, took American citizenship in 1946, and changed his name from Fröhlich (German for "happy") to Gay. Gay received his education at the University of Denver, where he was awarded a BA in 1946 and at Columbia University where he was awarded an MA in 1947 and PhD in 1951. Gay worked as political science professor at Columbia between 1948–1955 and as history professor from 1955-1969. He taught at Yale from 1969 until his retirement in 1993. He was married to Ruth Slotkin (died 2006) in 1959 and has three stepchildren.


According to the American Historical Association's Award Citation, Gay's range of "scholarly achievements is truly remarkable". His 1959 book, Voltaire's Politics examined Voltaire as a politician and how his politics influenced the ideas that Voltaire championed in his writings. Gay followed the success of Voltaire's Politics with a wider history of the Enlightenment, The Enlightenment: An Interpretation (1966, 1969, 1973), whose first volume won the 1967 U.S. National Book Award in History and Biography.

Gay's 1968 book, Weimar Culture was a ground-breaking cultural history of the Weimar Republic. Starting in 1978 with Freud, Jews and Other Germans, an examination of the impact of Freudian ideas on German culture, Gay has become increasingly interested in psychology. Many of his works focus on the social impact of psychoanalysis. For example, he wrote A Godless Jew: Freud, Atheism, and the Making of Psychoanalysis where he wrote about Freud's atheism and how in his view Freud's ability to develop psychoanalysis was due to his atheism. Gay is a leading champion of Psychohistory and an admirer of Sigmund Freud. He has written history books which apply Freud's theories to history, for example The Bourgeois Experience: from Victoria to Freud. He also edited a collection of Freud's writings called The Freud Reader.

Annelien de Dijn argues that Gay, in The Enlightenment: An Interpretation (1966), first formulated the interpretation that the Enlightenment brought political modernization to the West, in terms of introducing democratic values and institutions and the creation of modern, liberal democracies. While the thesis has many critics it has been widely accepted by Anglophone scholars and has been reinforced by the large-scale studies by Robert Darnton, Roy Porter and most recently by Jonathan Israel.


Peter Gay has received numerous awards for his scholarship, including the National Book Award in History and Biography for The Rise of Modern Paganism (1966), the first volume of The Enlightenment; the first Amsterdam Prize for Historical Science from The Hague, 1990; and the Gold Medal of the American Academy of Arts and Letters, 1992. In addition, he was a Guggenheim Fellow in 1967–68 and in 1978–79, a Visiting Fellow at the Institute for Advanced Study in Berlin, Germany, and an Overseas Fellow of Churchill College University from 1970 to 1971. In 1988, he was honored by The New York Public Library as a Library Lion. The following year, he was elected to the American Academy and Institute of Arts and Letters. Professor Gay held an ACLS Fellowship in 1959–60. He has also been recognized with several honorary doctorates.


  • The Dilemma of Democratic Socialism: Eduard Bernstein's Challenge to Marx, 1952.
  • Voltaire's Politics: The Poet as Realist, 1959.
  • "Rhetoric and Politics in the French Revolution," The American Historical Review Vol. 66, No. 3, April 1961
  • "An Age of Crisis: A Critical View," The Journal of Modern History Vol. 33, No. 2, June 1961
  • The Party of Humanity: Essays in the French Enlightenment, 1964.
  • The Enlightenment: An Interpretation: The Rise of Modern Paganism, 1966 — winner of the National Book Award.
  • The Loss of Mastery: Puritan Historians in Colonial America, 1966.
  • Weimar Culture: The Outsider as Insider, 1968.
  • Deism: An Anthology, 1968.
  • The Enlightenment: An Interpretation: The Science of Freedom, 1969.
  • The Bridge of Criticism: Dialogues on the Enlightenment, 1970.
  • Historians at Work, 1972.
  • co-written with R.K. Webb, Modern Europe, 1973.
  • The Enlightenment; A Comprehensive Anthology, 1973.
  • Style in History, 1974.
  • Art and Act: On Causes in History— Manet, Gropius, Mondrian, 1976.
  • Freud, Jews, and Other Germans: Masters and Victims in Modernist Culture, 1978.
  • Education of the Senses, 1984.
  • The Bourgeois Experience: Victoria to Freud - 5 vols, 1984-1998 (includes The Education of the Senses and The Cultivation of Hatred)
  • Freud for Historians, 1985.
  • The Tender Passion, 1986.
  • A Godless Jew: Freud, Atheism, and the Making of Psychoanalysis, 1987.
  • Freud: A Life for Our Time, 1988 — finalist for the National Book Award for Nonfiction.
  • Editor The Freud Reader, 1989.
  • Reading Freud: Explorations & Entertainments, 1990.
  • Sigmund Freud and Art: His Personal Collection of Antiquities, 1993.
  • The Cultivation of Hatred, 1993.
  • The Naked Heart, 1995.
  • The Enlightenment and the Rise of Modern Paganism revised edition, 1995.
  • Pleasure Wars, 1998.
  • My German Question: Growing Up in Nazi Berlin, 1998 (autobiography).
  • Mozart, 1999.
  • Schnitzler's Century, 2002.
  • Modernism: The Lure of Heresy, 2007.

See also

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