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The Cambridge History of Eighteenth-Century Political Thought
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    Bibby, Andrew Scott 2017. Montesquieu’s Political Economy.

    Packham, Catherine 2017. “The common grievance of the revolution”: Bread, the Grain Trade, and Political Economy in Wollstonecraft'sView of the French Revolution. European Romantic Review, Vol. 25, Issue. 6, p. 705.

    Serrano, Elena 2017. Makingoeconomicpeople: The SpanishMagazine of Agriculture and Arts for Parish Rectors(1797–1808). History and Technology, Vol. 30, Issue. 3, p. 149.

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Book description

This major work of academic reference provides a comprehensive overview of the development of western political thought during the European Enlightenment. Written by a distinguished team of international contributors, this Cambridge History is the latest in a sequence of volumes that is now firmly established as the principal reference source for the history of political thought. Every major theme in eighteenth-century political thought is covered in a series of essays at once scholarly and accessible, and the essays are complemented by extensive guides for further reading, and brief biographical notes of the major characters in the text, including Rousseau, Montesquieu and David Hume. Of interest and relevance to students and scholars of politics and history at all levels from beginning undergraduate upwards, this volume chronicles one of the most exciting and rewarding of all periods in the development of western thinking about politics, man (and increasingly woman), and society.


'The six volume Cambridge History of Eighteenth-Century Political Thought is the triumphant embodiment of a collective effort spanning three generations. The scholarly standard is high; the array of volumes gives an impression of careful, massive and reassuring permanence.'

Source: The Times Literary Supplement

'… a definitive resource to anyone wishing to achieve a closer familiarity with these episodes in Enlightenment thought, or who wants to reconnect present philosophical outlooks with their historical beginnings.'

Source: British Journal for the History of Philosophy

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Page 1 of 2

  • 1 - The spirit of nations
    pp 7-39
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    In linking history and law and making both central to political theory Montesquieu, together with the Scottish school of political economy, which he profoundly influenced, set the tone and form of modern social and political thought. The political reality of the regime was such that it had nearly always been in a state of contestation, scrutiny, and self-criticism. Voltaire, whose views may be profitably juxtaposed to those of Montesquieu, opened his first letter on the subject of England's political institutions, Sur le Parlement, by noting how very fond the English Members of Parliament were of comparing themselves to the ancient Romans. Montesquieu's intricate map presented an overview of the various levels of law from divine to human, although he warned that he would not treat political and civil laws separately as his purpose was to not to examine laws themselves but their spirit, that is the various relations which laws can have with various things.
  • 2 - The English system of liberty
    pp 40-78
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    The English system of liberty was given cosmic significance when it was discovered to be implied in the very structure of God's government of the whole of creation, a theme explored in John Desaguliers's The Newtonian System of the World the Best Model of Government. This chapter examines the gamut of protests that arose against the post-Revolution state. The language of the Allegiance Controversy belonged firmly to the political theory of resistance bred in the European Reformation and its wars of religion. The Jacobites sustained a powerful ideological tradition until their decisive military defeat on the battlefield of Culloden in Scotland in 1746. The Lutheran view that the government of the church belonged to the civil magistrate had long been challenged within the Church of England by a quasi-Catholic claim that the church possessed an authority independent of the secular state. The Court Whigs were impatient with Ancient Constitutionalist notions of Saxon liberties.
  • 3 - Scepticism, priestcraft, and toleration
    pp 79-109
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    The sceptical developments concentrated on questions of evidence and reasoning, and on the dubiousness of human judgements in the sciences, philosophy, and theology. The Renaissance rediscovery of ancient Greek sceptical thought, the writings of Sextus Empiricus, had an impact upon the religious controversies of the Reformation and Counter-Reformation. In the latter part of the seventeenth century, sceptical arguments were turned against the special status of the Bible, and against the knowledge claims of the Judaeo-Christian religious tradition. In France, where Catholicism was the official religion and rigid control was exercised to prevent the spread of heretical or unorthodox ideas, one finds a covert spread of sceptical irreligious ideas from the Netherlands and England. Much eighteenth-century debate on the political and social implications of religion turned on the pressing and contingent problem of religious toleration. The eirenic case for tolerance merged into a general indictment of priestly dogmatism, or priestcraft.
  • 4 - Piety and politics in the century of lights
    pp 110-144
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    This chapter explores the political ramifications of the divisions between 'orthodox' and 'heterodox' within eighteenth-century Europe's believing communities. It asks to what extent the religious and theological differences separating Jesuits from Jansenists, orthodox Lutherans or Calvinists from Pietists, and High Church Anglicans from English Dissenters took the form of differing political visions, not only about the church but also about state and society. The history of religious controversy in Catholic France during the eighteenth century is in part the history of the undoing of the Declaration of the Liberties of the Gallican Church of 1682. The chapter also explores to what extent the French case instructive in eighteenth-century Catholic Europe, in particular for Spain, Austria, and the Italian states. The synod's offensive against the excesses of baroque and popular piety maintained a certain contact with the Catholic Enlightenment of Lami and Muratori.
  • 5 - The comparative study of regimes and societies
    pp 145-171
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    This chapter addresses some of the numerous and complex ways in which European writers used comparative discourse. It examines the extent to which key concepts in this discourse were shaped by theorists' preferences and their positions on domestic controversies within their respective nations, as well as on issues during conflicts among European states within their own continent and in overseas competition for colonies. It asks whether there was any consensus about the superiority of Europeans over the rest of world, or about the legitimacy of European conquests, colonisation, and commerce, including the slave trade. In the second half of the eighteenth century, political, social, and legal theory from Russia to America centred on the categories devised by Montesquieu for comparative study. Later Montesquieu, Voltaire, Diderot, Herder, and Hume all made use of this integrating concept. Historical truth, philosophical enlightenment, as distinguished from Christian orthodoxy could be attained only by comparing the history of Europe with those of n.
  • 6 - Encyclopedias and the diffusion of knowledge
    pp 172-194
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    By way of its conception, production, and distribution, the Enyclopédie illustrates, more forcefully than any other publishing venture of the eighteenth century, how innovative philosophies of the period came to be disseminated, and how the market of ideas in the age of Enlightenment was organised. In announcing the publication of the Enyclopédie, Diderot proceeded to acknowledge his debt to the vast intellectual effort made before him, since the Renaissance and the age of humanism, which had, through the multiplication of general and scientific dictionaries, established the pedagogy of Western civilisation by way of defining words and explaining the meaning of concepts. While requiring legal recognition by way of a royal copyright system of privil'eges, the book trade in France comprised a growing, and ever more popular. If the article Enyclopédie forms a part of his philosophy of history, Diderot's specifically political contributions concentrate instead on principles such as justice, authority, and natural right, illustrated with examples drawn most often from antiquity.
  • 7 - Optimism, progress, and philosophical history
    pp 195-217
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    From the early seventeenth century, a new age of rationalism sprang up, with Descartes as its main progenitor, and Spinoza and Leibniz as epigones. The term optimism seems to have made its first appearance in French in 1737, in a review of Leibniz's Theodicy by the Jesuit periodical, the Memoires de Trevoux, where the author defined it as a theory according to which the world is an optimum. Voltaire had seen clearly the ultimate paradox about optimism: it was inherently pessimistic, because it contained the seeds of fatalism. During the age of Enlightenment a philosophy of history began to emerge. Like Bayle, Voltaire treated with reserve oral traditions and harangues, and made clear his wariness of historians motivated by party spirit. In a broad sense, Edward Gibbon was at one with Voltaire. For Gibbon, history was evidence of a passionate concern with promoting human development through the 'knowledge of man, morality, and politics'.
  • 8 - Naturalism, anthropology, and culture
    pp 218-248
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    In opposing the idea of progress some proponents of what in the late nineteenth century came to be termed the Counter-Enlightenment are alleged to have subscribed to diverse notions of primitivism, preferring ancient mythology over modern science, popular intuitions over abstract ideas, and uncouth human nature over the refinements of culture. The erroneous identification of Vico, Rousseau, and Herder as Counter-Enlightenment thinkers has been largely based upon decontextualised interpretations of their meaning proffered by commentators inattentive to their sources or with only isolated interests in particular themes they addressed. Vico's and Herder's 'new sciences' of history challenged Christian chronocentrism as much as Copernicus and Galileo had shaken Christian geocentrism, albeit with different results. Herder's interest in the physiology of sense-impressions and its implications for an anthropology that embraced the history of the human mind informed his projects on the human senses.
  • 9 - German natural law
    pp 249-290
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    The concern of modern natural law was to find a basis for moral life that, without conflicting with the tenets of Christianity, was neutral with respect to confessional religion. At a political and juridical level, natural law was an important instrument in the transformation of German politics after the Peace of Westphalia which ended the catastrophic Thirty Years War in 1648, a war fought along religious fronts and which was both civil and international. Christian Thomasius's work, Institutions of Divine Jurisprudence, was designed, as the title page proclaims, to prove and elaborate the principles of Pufendorf's natural law and to defend them against criticism. When Christian Wolff appeared in Halle at the turn of the eighteenth century, his philosophy immediately became the exemplary metaphysical opposition to Thomasius's eclectic and empirical programme. Histories of moral and political thought have commonly left the impression that natural law was killed off by Hume, Bentham, and Kant, and buried by historicism, idealism, and positivism.
  • 10 - Natural rights in the Scottish Enlightenment
    pp 291-316
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    The moral philosopher who contributed most significantly to the establishment of the natural rights tradition in the universities of Scotland at the turn of the eighteenth century was Gershom Carmichael, a Reformed or Presbyterian scholastic. The dogmas of Presbyterian theology, popular and scholastic, came under fire in various parts of Reformed Europe in the early eighteenth century. Francis Hutcheson proposed that the idea of an obligation may be derived immediately from the moral sense and its idea of virtue as benevolence without the sanction of a law of nature. In A Treatise of Human Nature, David Hume addressed the sequence of questions posed by Pufendorf, Locke, Carmichael, and Hutcheson. Henry Home, Lord Kames, must be considered a figure of pivotal importance in the history of natural rights in eighteenth-century Scotland. Adam Smith, Thomas Reid, and John Millar made extensive use of the natural rights agenda in their lectures on moral philosophy and civil law at Glasgow.
  • 11 - The mixed constitution and the common law
    pp 317-346
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    This chapter concerns the relationship between English law and English liberty. Theorists of the English constitution differed over which of the institutions contributed most critically to the maintenance of political freedom, and disagreed sharply over which political forces and developments posed the most toxic threats to liberty's well-being. The Glorious Revolution of 1688 was routinely credited with the definitive clarification and vindication of the political order. The classification of the English government as a mixed constitution and the debate over parliamentary sovereignty tended to focus on somewhat narrow questions concerning the structure and extent of public power. The appropriation and adjustment of Montesquieu's 'power of judging' for domestic purposes was paralleled in the more general reception of his interpretation of the English constitution. For the theory of the constitution of greatest concern were features of common law that most directly implicated issues of state power.
  • 12 - Social contract theory and its critics
    pp 347-376
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    At the heart of social contract theory is the idea that political legitimacy, political authority, and political obligation are derived from the consent of the governed, and are the artificial product of the voluntary agreement of free and equal moral agents. Political philosophy since the seventeenth century was characterised by voluntarism, by an emphasis on the will of individuals. It was natural enough that the 'Protestant' view of individual moral autonomy would pass from theology and moral philosophy into politics, forming the intellectual basis of social contract theory. It is true that excluding from Locke's system, the obligations and rights to which consent and contract give rise leaves a tolerably complete ethical doctrine based on natural law and rights. Voluntarism and contractarianism were present in French thought. This chapter discusses the Rousseau's radical transformation of contractarianism. Kant's political writings of the 1790s are rightly viewed as completing and crowning the social contract tradition.
  • 13 - The early Enlightenment debate on commerce and luxury
    pp 377-418
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    This chapter presents the work of eight important contributors to the early Enlightenment debates on commerce and luxury in France and Britain before 1748. As Saint Lambert presented, luxury was not merely an economic phenomenon, but the central moral and political issue of modernity. Archbishop Fénelon and Bernard Mandeville represented the two poles of the early eighteenth-century luxury controversy, the purest and ablest formulations of the fundamental alternatives on offer. The chapter discusses earl of Shaftesbury's critique of the psychology of luxury, and the restatement of the idea of economic growth without luxury by two of Mandeville's Protestant Irish critics, Francis Hutcheson and Bishop Berkeley. The chapter shows how Montesquieu, Voltaire, and Jean Francois Melon forged a neo-Colbertist idiom of the politics of luxury, in opposition to Fénelon's project and to attempts to resuscitate Louis XIV's project of universal monarchy. The chapter shows how luxury became a key issue in the European thought of the period not only for domestic, but also for internation.
  • 14 - Physiocracy and the politics of laissez-faire
    pp 419-442
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    Physiocracy, or 'rule of nature', was a French movement in political economy that prioritised agricultural productivity over manufacturing as the source of economic growth. Physiocracy exercised intermittent influence on French administrations between the 1760s and 1780s and furthermore attracted vehement supporters and opponents outside France, especially in Italy and Spain, but also as far a field as the United States and Bengal. While the physiocrats often presented themselves as a self-contained sect, owing little to contemporary work in political economy, in fact their contribution was deeply indebted both to discussions within France in the decades since the collapse of John Law's Mississippi Company, and to the example of England, seen as both an economic phenomenon and as a source of original work in political economy. Indeed, at the most obvious level, it needs to be noted that the key watchword 'laissez-faire, laissez-passer' originated not with any of the physiocrats, but with Vincent de Gournay, appointed intendant de commerce in 1751.
  • 15 - Scottish political economy
    pp 443-464
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    When David Buchanan produced the first critical edition of the Wealth of Nations and two other Scottish economists, John Ramsay McCulloch and James Mill, emerged in the 1820s as popularisers of the new science, the early nineteenth-century association of political economy with Scotland was complete. In earlier social histories of the Scottish Enlightenment political economy and the associated stadial versions of the history of civil society were viewed as responses to an emergent or hoped-for capitalism, and as anticipations of Marx's materialist version of historical development. A great deal that is essential to an understanding of Adam Smith's originality in the eighteenth century context is obscured when the Wealth of Nations is treated as a self-standing work of economic analysis. The purpose of book the Wealth of Nations was to show that in the fields of justice, defence, education, and public works, the legislator had positive duties to perform that could not be undertaken by any other agency.
  • 16 - Property, community, and citizenship
    pp 465-494
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    François Noël Babeuf, called Gracchus, committed himself to a conception of the relationship between property, community, and citizenship that was to lead execution for conspiring to overthrow the government of the first French republic. This chapter identifies who Gracchus took to be his ideological allies and examines what he took to be significant in Robespierre's revisions to the foundational principles of the new regime against a wider array of normative claims about the place of property in human affairs. Morelly's view was a simplified version of a long-established tradition of humanist argument about the relationship between human liberty and the arts and sciences and, about the decorative and ceremonial origins of morally acceptable regimes of communal and individual property. The question of what Rousseau really meant became a matter of intense political conflict during the French Revolution.
  • 17 - Philosophical kingship and enlightened despotism
    pp 495-524
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    The notion of the philosopher king comes from Plato's Republic. What distinguished Plato's philosopher more than anything else was his supposed ability to see behind the evidence of the senses and the superficial realities of life and politics to a deeper reality of ideal 'forms'. Leibniz profoundly admired Plato's Republic, his metaphysics, and even his mathematics. None of the notions of a philosopher king, Plato's, Hobbes's, or Leibniz's, was prominent in eighteenth-century political thought, although other aspects of Plato's thought did have considerable influence, especially on Rousseau. By far the most important and influential eighteenth-century claimant to the title of philosophe king was Frederick II of Prussia. Among this group Catherine II was pre-eminent. Not only Catherine II but also, Joseph II admired aspects of Montesquieu's work. It was during the years when the concept of despotism was being widened, varied, and rehabilitated that the phrases 'enlightened despot' and 'enlightened despotism' were coined.
  • 18 - Cameralism and the sciences of the state
    pp 525-546
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    Cameralism was a form of academic pedagogy aimed at the future administrators of the eighteenth-century German territorial states. Traditionally, it has been the French Enlightenment, the French and American Revolutions, and more recently also the Scottish Enlightenment that have been identified as the leading sources of modern political theory. It is possible to trace the transmission of this conception of the 'household' as a unity of authority, ethics, and economy from classical Greece and Rome through to the scholastics. Otto Brunner identifies the work of Johannes Coler as the inception of this new Hausväterliteratur, in which Oeconomia is treated as synonymous with householding. The emergence of a new conjunction of law, economics, and political science at the end of the nineteenth century completed this process of occlusion, displacing the sciences of the state with the new science of the social.
  • 19 - Utilitarianism and the reform of the criminal law
    pp 547-572
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    This chapter charts the development of philosophical thought about crime and punishment in the latter half of the eighteenth century, with special emphasis on the writings of Montesquieu, Beccaria, and Bentham. Montesquieu was the first major writer to place the reform of the criminal law on the agenda of the Enlightenment. Due to their philosophical character, Bentham's writings on punishment stood apart from the numerous discussions of various aspects of crime and punishment which continued into the early decades of the nineteenth century. In the debate over the death penalty in Britain, there was a general acceptance by all the main parties of 'rational principles' regarding punishment. The idea of a scale of punishments was one major attempt to bring liberty to bear on this aspect of state power. In the hands of Beccaria and especially Bentham the doctrine was clearly utilitarian, but both placed the idea of liberty at the heart of their utilitarianism.
  • 20 - Republicanism and popular sovereignty
    pp 573-598
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    In Rousseau's Social Contract, he depicts not so much the social origins of vice as the political characteristics of ancient virtue, deemed appropriate to all legitimate republics wherein the people as sovereign do not run headlong into their chains but rather achieve a kind of equality in which every man remains 'as free as before'. The freedom a man gains under republican rule is different from the 'natural independence' which he gives up when entering into a contractual relation with his fellow citizens. Rousseau draws a sharp distinction between a republic's sovereign and its government. By contrast with Rousseau, Kant did not assume that mankind is by nature good or perfectible, supposed that human nature was at bottom largely formless and elastic. Fichte has sometimes been described as a Jacobin like Saint-Just, although if Siey'es may be portrayed as a French revolutionary similar to Kant, Fichte does indeed appear to resemble French revolutionary democrats.
  • 21 - The American Revolution
    pp 599-625
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    The American Revolution transformed thinking about politics. To appreciate properly the originality and creativity of the American revolutionaries' contribution to political theory between the end of the Seven Years War in 1763 and the making of the constitution in 1787 people have to understand the character of their thinking about government at the outset, before the revolutionary crisis began. The English constitution was the source of England's liberty, and Englishmen of every social rank and on both sides of the Atlantic revelled in their worldwide reputation for liberty. The enlightened everywhere recognised that something new in politics was being created. By the end of the revolutionary era the Americans' idea of a constitution had become very different from that of the English. The doctrine of sovereignty was the most important conception of politics in the eighteenth-century Anglo-American world, and it dominated the polemics of the entire revolutionary generation.
  • 22 - Political languages of the French Revolution
    pp 626-659
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    A discourse of justice drew on the conceptual resources of a French constitutional tradition dramatically revived and reworked by defenders of the parlements in opposition to the royal despotism which was increasingly their target after 1750. The language of individual rights appeared in its most distinctively French form before the Revolution in a discourse of reason associated with the physiocrats. Both had to give way to the enlightened rule of reason in a social order reconstituted according to natural law and the principles of political economy. The political thinking of the French Revolution remained profoundly shaped by the tension between arguments framed within a discourse of will derived from classical republicanism and those framed within a discourse of reason offering a theory of modern commercial society. The law organising revolutionary government proposed by Billaud-Varenne was adopted in December 1793. Romme presented the calendar as the vehicle for recording and celebrating the regeneration of France.

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