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(cover by Susan Erony)
The Right to Heresy: Castellio Against Calvin by Stefan Zweig (translated from the German by Eden and Cedar Paul; 65,000 words and 8 illustrations) This Plunkett Lake Press eBook is produced by arrangement with Viking, an imprint of Penguin Publishing Group, a division of Penguin Random House LLC.
Castellio is a book against zealots of every kind: against anything engendering “the destruction of this world’s divine manifoldness” and injuring the humane spirit. [...]
Why could Castellio not maintain himself against Calvin? Stefan Zweig’s answers to these questions have permanent and tragic validity: it was because the masses pay tribute not only to the power of love, but also to that of hatred. Followers could always be found for political slogans that established “enmity and divisions, casting sinister flames of hatred against another religion, race or class.” [...]
Those who sacrificed themselves for a future reconciliation of men, wrote Stefan Zweig in 1933, could not escape the fact that a torrent of fanaticism, “rising from the shoals of human instinct,” would burst all dams and inundate all. [...]
Castellio, “a fly against an elephant,” rose in opposition to Calvin who had condemned Miguel Servet — better known as Servetus — a true fighter for spiritual freedom, to die at the stake. “To burn a man alive does not defend a doctrine, but kills a man,” said Castellio.
It was an ever-recurring curse that ideologies degenerated into tyranny and brute force. Fanaticism, indifferent to the material from which it was ignited, wanted only to let the accumulated forces of hatred flame forth. And Zweig utters these words, six years before the outbreak of the Second World War: “At such apocalyptic turning points, when mass delusions determine universal destinies, the demon of war, bursting the chains of reason, hurls itself greedily and joyfully into the world.” [...]
In describing a tragic contest — here that of conscience against force — Zweig is in his element. He illuminates the interesting figure of Servetus who had fought in his own fanatical-hysterical manner already as a youth. It is characteristic that Servetus was dubbed by his enemies “Jew,” “Turk,” and wicked “Spaniard.” [...]
Zweig stressed the self-sacrificing way in which [Castellio] defended freedom of thought against Calvin, becoming the symbol of “Conscience against Force.” And he describes most touchingly the sorrow this genuine hero had to suffer. He shows, too, how free spirits may be endangered by the carelessness with which they choose their fellow-wanderers; whereas the one-sided totalitarians, protected by their rigidity, always hold a stone ready to fling at their enemies. (from Married to Stefan Zweig by Friderike Zweig)
“One cannot but admire the ardent spirit with which Stefan Zweig has set out to annihilate the doctrines of exclusiveness and restriction in religion and in politics... the most spirited [book] and, in certain scholarly respects, the most important that Stefan Zweig has yet produced... From Stefan Zweig’s new book there emerges a new hero for a modern reading public: a true historic character rescued from near oblivion, and the first modern man who fought the good fight for humanity’s right to think its own thoughts and to say them. The battle has not yet been decided.” — Lloyd Eshleman, The New York Times, November 16, 1936