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National Character and Public Spirit in Britain and France, 1750–1914


  • Date Published: February 2006
  • availability: Available
  • format: Paperback
  • isbn: 9780521024266

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About the Authors
  • In a work of unusual ambition and rigorous comparison, Roberto Romani considers the concept of 'national character' in the intellectual histories of Britain and France. Perceptions of collective mentalities influenced a variety of political and economic debates, ranging from anti-absolutist polemic in eighteenth-century France to appraisals of socialism in Edwardian Britain. Romani argues that the eighteenth-century notion of 'national character', with its stress on climate and government, evolved into a concern with the virtues of 'public spirit' irrespective of national traits, in parallel with the establishment of representative institutions on the Continent. His discussion of contemporary thinkers includes Montesquieu, Voltaire, Hume, Millar, Burke, Constant, de Staël and Tocqueville. After the mid-nineteenth century, the advent of social scientific approaches, including those of Spencer, Hobson and Durkheim, shifted the focus from the qualities required by political liberty to those needed to operate complex social systems, and to bear its psychological pressures.

    • The topic of 'national character' is new and of wide interest
    • This comparative approach considers France, Britain and, to a lesser extent, Italy
    • The long historical span (1750–1914) allows for discussion of many major thinkers
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    Reviews & endorsements

    'Romani has written a first-class study of a fascinating and enduring problem … this book asks fundamental questions regarding the relationship between morality and political freedom. By placing these debates in a context that is both historical and comparative Romani has laid bare the obstinate complexity of the problems posed by the notion of national character.' The European Legacy

    'The content of the book is dense and detailed … a significant contribution …' The American Historical Review

    'The ambitiousness of its sweep through more than 150 years of Anglo-French intellectual history is easily apparent … [it is] based on an impressively broad array of primary materials.' Stephen Heathorn, H-Albion

    'Romani opens up new vistas on terrain that has become over familiar in some cases and remained obscure in others.' European Journal of Political Theory

    '… stirring and critical account … Romani's wide-ranging, sufficiently argued, comprehensive study would be of respective interest to every historian of economic thought aspiring to a different reading of economic ideas against their intellectual and cultural context.' History of Economic Ideas

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    Product details

    • Date Published: February 2006
    • format: Paperback
    • isbn: 9780521024266
    • length: 360 pages
    • dimensions: 229 x 154 x 21 mm
    • weight: 0.535kg
    • availability: Available
  • Table of Contents

    Part I. 1750–1850: France:
    1. All Montesquieu's sons: the place of esprit général, caractère national, and mœurs in French political philosophy, 1748–89
    2. After the Revolution: Staël on political morality
    3. From republicanism to industrialism and national character: Melchiorre Gioja, Charles Dupin and Continental political economy, 1800–48
    4. The French Restoration dispute over mores and Tocqueville
    Great Britain:
    5. Between Whiggism and the science of manners: Britain, 1750–1800
    6. British views on Irish national character, 1800–46
    Part II. 1850–1914:
    7. The demise of John Bull: social sciences in Britain, 1850–1914
    8. Durkheim's collective representation and their background
    9. Socializing public spirit, 1870–1914

  • Author

    Roberto Romani
    Roberto Romani is Research Associate at the Centre for History and Economics, King's College, Cambridge.

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