The Case for The Enlightenment: Scotland and Naples 1680-1760 (Ideas in Context)

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Both books started as Carlyle Lectures. His most recent books include The Case for the Enlightenment. Scotland and Naples Cambridge: Cambridge U. Your email address will not be published. Save my name, email, and website in this browser for the next time I comment. Social Science Research Council. The SSRC is an independent, international, nonprofit organization. It fosters innovative research, nurtures new generations of social scientists, deepens how inquiry is practiced within and across disciplines, and mobilizes necessary knowledge on important public issues.

Support the SSRC. Items is a space for engagement with insights from the work of the Council and the social sciences. The Immanent Frame publishes interdisciplinary perspectives on religion, secularism, and the public sphere. Giving, time, and a wish. Kujenga Amani facilitates the exchange of ideas about diverse aspects of peacebuilding in Africa. This was evident in discussions of the grain trade, where Hume and Smith rejected the arguments of defenders of charity, whether Christian, Platonist or Roman, and of advocates of wealth redistribution, which they held to be destructive of the productivity of labour and ultimately supportive of jealousy of trade.

Arguments for the necessity of war finance commonly justified jealousy of trade, either in the form of ancient bullionism hoarding of silver or the modern mercantile emphasis on a favourable balance of trade, which was intended to ensure a net inflow of specie. Smith was more phlegmatic, envisaging voluntary bankruptcy only as a last resort, and relying upon the revenues created by rapid economic growth to reduce national debts, and thereby the dependence of contemporary politicians upon capitalists.

Smith preferred a system of paper money domestically and bills of exchange internationally, including measures to convert income streams from capital into revenues to fund war when the need arose. Refusing to revise natural jurisprudence in the light of reason of state, the physiocrats became advocates of deadly forms of reason of state themselves, potentially causing civil strife domestically, through free trade in grain, and war internationally because they viewed Britain as the source of modern corruption.

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Smith and the physiocrats agreed that legal and political equality could legitimately exist alongside economic inequality, against the conventional wisdom associating republics and democracies with equality in politics and in wealth. Smith also aligned himself with jurists like the physiocrats in accepting the need for a conjectural history that justified the movement from communal to private property and, through the natural progress of opulence, provided an account of general economic development in much of the world.

For Smith this was the counsel of war and revolution. He preferred to secure abundance by changing the terms of trade between manufactured and subsistence goods through a long-term and permanent rise in agricultural prices. The slow improvement he envisaged was part of a perspective on modern history that assumed the uniqueness of Europe and made it inappropriate to apply to her natural law reforms by legal despots.

Montesquieu described Britain as a Germanic polity without a noble class, whose decline had been an unintended consequence of the Henrican Reformation, and whose destruction was completed in the seventeenth-century civil wars. For Smith, by contrast, there was no active political agency that had established modern liberty, which was rather a product of the unintended consequences of commerce, after the Gothic tribes destroyed Roman agriculture but left both cities and international commerce intact.

The Enlightenment in Scotland (In Our Time)

It was neither ancient, nor egalitarian or military, but rather bourgeois in character, being a product of the collective self-rule of the merchants and artisans in the towns. This republicanism stimulated agriculture as the prosperity of the towns increased. The result was economic development at an unprecedented speed across Western Europe.

An intricate balance had to be maintained between cities and the agricultural system they traded with, a balance made immune to politicians and projectors. Jealousy of state or national jealousy came to be called nationalism in the late eighteenth century.


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Similarly, jealousy of trade or mercantile or commercial jealousy came to be known as economic nationalism. These trends derived impetus from the events of the s. Searching for the intellectual origins of the Revolution, Hont argues against the many commentators who have found the origins of modern democracy and nationalism in the decade from , though he accepts that popular sovereignty and aggressive patriotism created a new form of state. Such an outcome was peculiar because popular sovereignty in France was, according to Hont, first intended to form part of a state constructed on Hobbesian lines.

The patriotic nationalism that accompanied its establishment was equally first envisaged as wholly cosmopolitan. The questions are why the Hobbesian state did not materialise, and why patriotic pride turned into the most vicious reason of state to be seen since the Renaissance. National emulation was expected to foster peaceful forms of economic growth, contrary to the views of those who wanted to end jealousy of trade through the closed economy or universal monarchy. Emulation had to be generated without declining into envy.

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Hont claims that Smith knew such a solution to be inadequate. The Revolution was a classic case of an attempt to create a social system based on emulation, which in practice required stronger forms of sociability to sustain it, and through which national emulation was transmuted into an envy-based system geared to war. This was mainly an unintended consequence of Jacobinism. Hont describes the Jacobins as arch-opponents of reason of state who sought ultimately to replace states and politics with fraternal communities characterized by profound peace and sociability.

This was a standard response to the world of jealousy of trade. It was an explosive mix because popular nationalism, fuelled by a restive mob, became part of national politics. Such states, Hobbes would have been unsurprised to learn, became fervent advocates of reason of state both domestically and internationally when exponents of popular concord achieved power.

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Patriotism became nationalism, and nationalism further exacerbated envy-based politics via war and economic competition. Similar problems plagued regimes based on direct popular sovereignty or some division of sovereign powers. By nation he did not mean an anti-political association or a group derived from shared cultural norms. The political structure would be supported by a free market of individual labourers, purged of aristocrats and monopolists, which generated forms of sociability compatible with the minimal union of indirect representative sovereignty that modern populations were capable of sustaining.

This happened because the lesson of the Revolution was deemed to be that a more powerful state could be created by a homogeneous citizen body acting as a political agent, with homogeneity best expressed in ethnic terms. In practice, ethnicity became a reason of state, strengthening the aggressive nationalism of the previous century. Jacobin-style perspectives on the means to eradicate jealousy of trade became more forceful still, despite the fact that they had had the opposite effect in the s.

The argument became commonplace that war against monopolistic commercial rivals would increase wealth, or at least create a level playing field for its future acquisition. Hont concludes that the message of Hume and Smith deserves renewed scrutiny; the fact that modern liberty was created by commerce means that liberty cannot be understood by reference to politics and morals alone. While the modern constitutional republic appears to have an elective affinity with markets that has enabled it to see off competitor forms of state, persisting jealousy of trade makes the exact relationship uncertain now and still more so in the future.

Students of modern politics are advised to do likewise, to avoid the mistakes of trying to abolish the state or of placing false barriers between academic disciplines, both of which have amounted historically to inadequate attempts to remove national jealousy. Hont provides a new perspective on republicanism, in arguing that the distinction between forms of government was largely irrelevant by the eighteenth century, and that in any case self-professed republicans changed their stripes by engagement with jealousy of trade.

Hont does not claim that his revised taxonomy of modern political thought founded on attitudes to sociability is exhaustive. He has little to say about the consequences of confessional differences, constitutional disputation, or the philosophical foundations of political argumentation. On occasion there is a tension between the reconstruction of the intellectual world of Hume and Smith and the historical genealogy of ideas about jealousy of trade. It is unclear, for example, why Smith would have been so interested in neo-Augustinian justifications of commercial sociability, given that Pufendorf had come to similar conclusions without reference to the Fall.

These are minor quibbles. Hont has re-written the history of the transition from early modern to modern times. The full complexity of eighteenth-century controversy is brought to the fore, and the sense of crisis pervading the era explained. In redefining eighteenth-century thought, Hont demands the redefinition of the practice of intellectual history when directed to political life. The Case for the Enlightenment 1. It puts forward a substantial and controversial thesis which it sustains with scholarship that is as imaginative as immaculate; it positions itself with great certainty in relationship to existing scholarship which it appreciates courteously and often critically; and it is well structured despite its complicated case and written in a clear and pleasant tone.

It is a book with which it is in equal measure pleasant to agree and to disagree, and I shall indulge in both. Robertson firmly rejects all the currently popular ideas of a plurality of Enlightenments, arguing that it is possible to delineate a unitary historical phenomenon which can be located in various places within a fairly narrow span of time. What is it that he has found there and then? The Enlightenment, according to Robertson, was a serious intellectual engagement with a dramatically new social and political situation, namely that created with the emergence of modern commerce to a prominence that challenged the pre-eminence of politics in thinking about civic life.

More particularly, Enlightenment thinkers were concerned with the impact of political economy on the republican legacy of Machiavelli. The result is a strikingly original use of a wide European context for his central story. More or less all the tools of sophisticated contextual history are in operation — political, social, economic, institutional, cultural and biographical factors are all brought to bear on the explanation of how and why The Enlightenment manifested itself in Naples and Scotland.

At one level the energy behind the presentation of all this material is of course the drama of making the apparently incomparable eminently comparable. For what did a southern Italian Catholic dependency of the Spanish Hapsburgs have in common with a northern British Presbyterian dependency of England around the turn of the seventeenth century?

Robertson gives helpful surveys of the deep differences between the two countries and thus puts into relief his case for comparing them. Yet both Naples and Scotland were also old kingdoms with pronounced identities, including a keen sense of such identity. Both were in severe social and economic difficulties in the new world of overseas trade and balance of power politics. And both harboured outstanding intellects capable of bringing European perspectives and modern ideas to bear on the particular problems and possibilities of their native lands.

The case for the coherent trans-European Enlightenment is that it could be instantiated in countries and cultures so far apart. In the pursuit of that Enlightenment, Naples had gotten off to a much earlier start than Scotland. In particular, the Italian thinkers broadened the horizon from the path-breaking natural philosophy to moral philosophy at a comparatively early stage, namely in the s. However, this meant that they had to come to terms with even deeper philosophical divisions than those in natural philosophy between Cartesianism, especially Nicholas Malebranche, Epicureanism, especially Pierre Gassendi, and various forms of scepticism, for in moral thought Augustinianism was rife.

Here Robertson strikes up one of the leading themes in his work, namely that a variety of thinkers, first in Naples, later in Scotland, had to deal with the seemingly paradoxical combination of Epicurean and Augustinian ideas that was central to the emergence of The Enlightenment. He outlines how the two apparently contradictory lines of thought converged as a result of well-known debates in France in the latter part of the seventeenth century.

The necessary first step was a clear realisation of the extent to which commerce in fact was a fundamental challenge to existing ways of thinking about civil society. While Naples was far ahead of Scotland in reception of the new developments in philosophy and associated social ideas, the analysis of the problems raised by commerce occurred more or less simultaneously in the two countries in the early years of the eighteenth century, namely in the works of Andrew Fletcher and Paolo Mattia Doria.

Both of them had a remarkably clear realisation of the momentous importance of commerce for politics, but both of them fell back upon purely political solutions to the problems they saw, in both cases revisions of broadly Machiavellian ideas. For Doria the solution was to instil public virtue through the governance of magistrates trained in jurisprudence and philosophy; for Fletcher the key to the restoration and maintenance of virtue was agrarian reform as the basis for sustainable small federated communities across Europe.

However, there was also a considerable gulf between the two thinkers which Robertson sees as symbolic of the differences at this time - the early years of the eighteenth century - between their respective countries. In contrast, Fletcher shied away from all philosophising, sticking to political and economic analysis and prescription. Other Scots were soon to remedy that situation. Further, he argues that this phenomenon was due, first of all, to Pierre Bayle, and that the leading figure in both the Neapolitan and the Scottish Enlightenment can best be understood through their relationship to Bayle and his provocative deployment of neo-Epicurean arguments.

Robertson supports his case for the prominence of a neo-Epicurean Enlightenment by outlining its background in Thomas Hobbes, as perceived by Vico who also, it is argued, responded to a Stoic version of Baruch Spinoza. However, it is Bayle who gets pride of place through a particularly lucid interpretation of him as a deft employer of the sceptical mode of presenting arguments pro et con that leaves Bayle without firm commitments and the reader the freedom or challenge to draw own conclusions.

First, there is the idea that sociability is based upon the passions and not upon religion or morals, epitomised in the possibility that a society of atheists is not just possible but desirable. Bayle himself would not go along with this rejection of providence, but he largely emptied the notion of significance by restricting it to that of a general providence acting in accordance with the laws of nature.

Vico was centrally concerned to reinstate a meaningful theory of providence as the framework for his philosophy. Robertson makes a persuasive case for seeing Vico as significantly indebted to the neo- Epicurean moral psychology in his explanation of human behaviour. In this way he reinforced the centrality of Epicureanism to the ongoing debate despite his own anti-modern agenda. For, as Robertson stresses, Vico himself never took up the most modern topic of all, political economy, but he helped stir the Epicurean pot that would be used to great effect by several of his economics-minded compatriots of the following generation, especially Giuseppe and Celestino Galiani and Antonio Genovesi.

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In Scotland, by contrast, the connection between Epicureanism and economics was made much more directly, namely in the work of David Hume, and it was this development that brought the northern kingdom up to speed with Naples in the shaping of The Enlightenment. However, Mandeville was seriously indebted to elements of contemporary Augustinian moral theory in a way that Bayle was not. True virtue was unobtainable by people in general; virtue and sociability were not provided by nature but had to be invented and enforced politically.

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The Case for The Enlightenment : Scotland and Naples 1680-1760

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