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L’Économie politique et la sphère publique dans le débat des Lumières

 | 
Jesús Astigarraga Goenaga
, 
Javier Usoz Otal

Enlightenment, public sphere and political economy

John Robertson

Texte intégral

  • 1 With minor alterations, this contribution has also been separately published (in Greek and English) (...)

1The relation between the emergence of the public sphere and the rise of political economy lies at the heart of what I believe we should understand by «Enlightenment» in the eighteenth century. What the Enlightenment represented—how it should be defined, and what should be taken to have been its historical significance—are questions on which it has not been easy to reach agreement. The definition of Enlightenment has rarely been stable, and by the end of the twentieth century its nature and significance were as contested as ever. Over the last fifteen years, however, studies of the public sphere and of political economy have brought new substance to the idea of Enlightenment: by connecting them, we may reinforce that development, strengthening and renewing a sense of the Enlightenment’s existence and achievement. In this contribution, I shall suggest how this may be done. Against a tendency in current Enlightenment scholarship, I shall argue that the significance of the connection will not be grasped by focussing exclusively on social history and the reception of ideas: the intellectual history of political economy—how it was constituted as an intellectual discipline—is at least as important to the understanding of Enlightenment1.

  • 2 R. Mortier, «“Lumière” et “Lumières”». Revisiting this evidence, D. Edelstein, The Enlightenment, u (...)
  • 3 The notice with which the editor, Johann Karl Möhsen, posed the question, and the answers offered b (...)
  • 4 There was also a Spanish equivalent: R. Mortier, «“Lumière” et “Lumières”», p. 25, notes that the t (...)

2To introduce this argument, I should begin by indicating why of all the major intellectual movements occurring in European history, «the Enlightenment» is perhaps the one whose definition has been the least stable. There is certainly no consensus about definition of the Renaissance; but I do not think it has been as bitterly contested as that of Enlightenment. The lack of definition may be traced back to the eighteenth century itself, when two terms were coined (or adapted), lumière and Aufklärung. Both terms already carried religious connotations: «light» has a powerful resonance in Christianity. But they were turned in a new and different direction in the eighteenth century. In France Cartesian and Malebranchian variations were being played on the ideas of «natural light» and the «light of reason» in the later seventeenth century; one commentator aired the idea of a «siècle […] des lumières». Early in the eighteenth century the «esprit philosophique» was being aligned with lumière against darkness by participants on both sides of the Quarrel of the Ancients and Moderns. The same association was made in 1751 by D’Alembert in his «Discours préliminaire» to the Encyclopédie, when he hailed the «progress» of lumières and explicitly connected it with the «esprit philosophique». By the 1760s the term lumières was in general use among the philosophes, to Voltaire’s satisfaction and Rousseau’s mounting irritation2. But agreement as to what it connoted was at best superficial: those who directly opposed lumières to Christianity were a minority. The term Aufklärung came into focus two decades later, when German philosophers responded to the question posed by the Berlinische Monatsschrift in 1783: was ist Aufklärung? The most famous answer to the question was by Kant, who defined «Enlightenment» as the free, public use of reason in matters of religion as well as in the arts and sciences. But Kant’s was only one of the answers published, and unsurprisingly, other answers differed from his3. The contemporary use of the two terms lumières and Aufklärung is important, for it provides the justification for our own use of the terms (and their equivalents in other vernaculars) to reconstruct the Enlightenment as a historical phenomenon. When we debate the nature and significance of the Enlightenment, we are not speaking of something whose existence went unnoticed in the eighteenth century itself4. But the instability of the contemporary terms also compromises their later use: scholars who employ them cannot be sure that they have the same thing in mind.

  • 5 D. Mcmahon, Enemies of Enlightenment. For a valuable general valuable survey of the ways in which E (...)

3Even before the eighteenth century was over, the difficulty of defining Enlightenment had been compounded by the emergence of a powerful critique, which contested everything it stood for. The existence of this critique, mounted in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth-century by those styling themselves anti-philosophes, has long been known; but it is only recently that the force and persistence of their attacks on the philosophes have been properly appreciated. Although these anti-philosophes did not think of themselves as a «Counter-Enlightenment», their critique did much to define «Enlightenment». By attributing to the philosophes responsibility for the destructive violence of the French Revolution, the critique created a powerfully negative image of their ideas, and hence of les lumières—of Enlightenment5.

  • 6 J. Schmidt, «Inventing the Enlightenment».
  • 7 Id., «What the Enlightenment was».

4The real damage was done, however, a little later, in the nineteenth century, by the philosophers. For it was philosophers who first gave the term «Enlightenment» a systematic intellectual construction, by associating it with specific philosophical ideas. The philosophers also coined equivalents for Aufklärung and lumières in languages which had hitherto done without them: it was in the second half of the nineteenth century that the terms «Enlightenment» and «illuminismo» were first used in English and Italian6. But by multiplying the terms, the philosophers intended only to facilitate diffusion of their own critique, which identified Enlightenment with an era of philosophical thinking which had been superseded. Just how it was characterised depended on what was taken to have replaced it. To followers of Kant, Enlightenment was associated with a naïve Lockean empiricism and sentimentalist morals; to Hegelians and historicists, Enlightenment was identified with unhistorical rationalism, or naïve Kantianism7. But in either case the definition of Enlightenment was philosophical, rather than grounded in historical scholarship; and its significance was negative.

  • 8 E. Cassirer, Die Philosophie der Aufklärung. On which: J. K. Wright, «“A bright, clear mirror”».
  • 9 M. Horkheimer and T. W. Adorno, Dialektik der Aufklärung; R. Koselleck, Kritik und Krise.
  • 10 M. Foucault, «Qu’est-ce que les lumières?»; first published in English translation as «What is Enli (...)

5More sympathetic philosophical accounts of the Enlightenment began to appear at the end of the nineteenth century; these culminated in the synoptic account of Die Philosophie der Aufklärung published in 1932 by the Jewish, neo-Kantian philosopher Ernst Cassirer8. But while Cassirer’s work would be read by historians after its translation into English in 1951, it was never taken very seriously by philosophers. Instead, twentieth-century philosophers seeking to explain the terrible phenomenon of National Socialism turned again on «Enlightenment», finding in it the inspiration of the Nazis’ brutal, technocratic modernism. Such was the critique of Max Horkheimer and Theodor Adorno, whose Dialektik der Aufklärung virtually ignored the Enlightenment as a historical phenomenon. By contrast, Reinhart Koselleck’s Kritik und Krise was a brilliant historical interpretation of Enlightenment, but its broader critical purpose was evident in its subtitle: eine Studie zur Pathogenese der bürgerlichen Welt9. «Enlightenment» was inextricably associated with «Modernity», and could be blamed, not only for the Nazis, but for imperialism, racism and, in general, western economic, political and cultural arrogance towards the rest of the world. The critique was reinvigorated in the 1970s and 1980s by the Post-modernists, led by Michel Foucault in Europe, Alasdair Macintyre and Richard Rorty in North America10. At the end of the twentieth century it seemed that philosophers were dominating discussion of Enlightenment just as much as they had a century before, and were denouncing it as shrilly as the anti-philosophes had done two hundred years earlier.

  • 11 For this crucial phase in the reconstruction of the Enlightenment as a historical subject. see G. R(...)
  • 12 D. Mornet, Les origines intellectuelles de la Révolution française.
  • 13 P. Hazard, La crise de la conscience européenne; Id., La pensée européenne de Montesquieu à Lessing(...)
  • 14 F. Venturi, Jeunesse de Diderot; Id., Le origini dell’Enciclopedia (1946—its publication delayed un (...)
  • 15 Id., «La circolazione delle idee»; «L’illuminismo nel Settecento europeo», originally presented to (...)

6If the Enlightenment has been able to survive these attacks, it is because, over the course of the twentieth century, it was taken up by literary scholars and historians. First in the field were the literary scholars, headed by Gustav Lanson and his pupils Daniel Mornet and Paul Hazard11. Lanson’s inspiration was methodological: he directed attention away from individual authors to their sociological and historical milieus. In this vein Mornet offered a balanced, methodologically innovative assessment the extent to which the philosophes could be regarded as having provided «les origines intellectuelles de la Révolution Française»12. Reversing the line of analysis, Hazard’s thesis, dedicated to Lanson, was a study of the impact of the French Revolution on Italian literature. But in the 1930s Hazard moved decisively into intellectual history, publishing the classic La crise de la conscience européenne: 1680-1715 in 1935, followed by La pensée européenne de Montesquieu à Lessing in 194613. Hazard’s interest in Italy was reciprocated by the young Italian historian Franco Venturi, in exile with his father in Paris in the late 1930s, where Venturi wrote his first monographs, on Diderot and the Encyclopédie14. Returned to Italy and imprisonment during the War, Venturi resumed his scholarship once the War ended, and after a period as a diplomatic attaché in Russia re-engaged with the Enlightenment. In 1954 he set the agenda for subsequent study of Illuminismo in Italy; in 1960 he did the same for Enlightenment as a European phenomenon15. The post-War historians’ ambition to reconstruct the Enlightenment as a historical movement was not without political motive; there was clearly an element of celebrating an intellectual movement free of any association with fascism. But together historians and historically-minded students of literature had by the 1960s made the Enlightenment a subject of scholarship—of empirical research—to an extent it had not been before: in this way it acquired a substance which has resisted the renewed critique of the philosophers.

  • 16 First in edited volumes of Id., Illuministi italiani, vol. III: Riformatori Lombardi, piemontesi e (...)
  • 17 H. Trevor-Roper, «The Spanish Enlightenment»; Id., «The Scottish Enlightenment».
  • 18 R. Porter and M. Teich (eds), The Enlightenment in National Context.
  • 19 J. Schmidt, «What Enlightenment project?»; an argument now qualified by Id., «Misunderstanding the (...)

7What the historians did do from the first, however, was de-centre Enlightenment. Venturi by his indefatigable exploration of Enlightenment in Italy16, Trevor-Roper in essays on the Spanish and the Scottish Enlightenments17 were two of the more influential who directed attention away from France in order to signal the importance of Enlightenment in relatively «backward» parts of eighteenth-century Europe. Following their lead, historians have gone on to identify a wide variety of «national» Enlightenments, from Scandinavia to Greece, and from North America to Russia18. At the same time, Enlightenment has been enlarged intellectually, as more currents of thought and types of enquiry were associated with it—some, it must be said, more plausibly than others. As a result of this expansion of its scope, both geographical and intellectual, many historians concluded that it is misleading to think that there was one Enlightenment, «the Enlightenment». The attraction of this conclusion was enhanced by its usefulness as a response to philosophers’ talk of an «Enlightenment project»; a plurality of Enlightenments is surely incompatible with a single, unifying intellectual «project»19. The philosophers’ critique of Enlightenment could be set aside: Enlightenments were too many and too varied to take responsibility for all the ills of «modernity».

  • 20 J. G. A. Pocock, Barbarism and Religion; in particular, vol. I: The Enlightenments of Edward Gibbon(...)
  • 21 J. Robertson, The Case for the Enlightenment.

8If the case for a plurality of Enlightenments has sometimes been urged with nationalistic crudity (as, for example, by some Scottish historians), it has also been argued with great sophistication. Its finest exponent has been John Pocock, whose Enlightenments are religious, intellectual and geo-political rather than simply national; it is this variety of Enlightenments, he is now arguing, which made possible the achievement of the great English historian Edward Gibbon20. In my own case, it was the identification of distinct, «national» Scottish and Neapolitan Enlightenments which made possible their comparison. But it seemed equally important to me to argue that their differences did not impede the emergence of important common commitments21. By the end of the twentieth century, the tendency to disaggregate the Enlightenment was, it seemed to me, reaching the point of self-contradiction. Fortunately, there have over the last ten to fifteen years been a number of new initiatives in Enlightenment scholarship, in which this tendency has been challenged.

  • 22 J. I. Isarel, Radical Enlightenment; Id., Enlightenment Contested and, in anticipation of a third, (...)
  • 23 P. Gay, The Enlightenment, vol. I: The Rise of Modern Paganism, followed by vol. II: The Science of (...)
  • 24 See in particular, A. Lilti, «Comment écrit-on l’histoire intellectuelle des Lumières?»; and A. J. (...)

9The most remarkable of these has been Jonathan Israel’s reconstruction of the Enlightenment as a conflict of two intellectual tendencies, radical and moderate. So far Israel’s Enlightenment consists of three large volumes, Radical Enlightenment (2001), Enlightenment Contested (2006), and Democratic Enlightenment (2012)22. For Isarel the radical Enlightenment was an intellectual revolution, which he associates with a specific, monist or «one substance» metaphysics derived from Spinoza. In other words, Israel’s ambition is no less than to combine historical scholarship with philosophy, and hence to identify the intellectual origins of «modernity». The philosophic critique of Enlightenment is challenged head-on; and «modernity» is celebrated in uncompromising terms. It is, for a historian with no previous interest in philosophy, a remarkable ambition. His only predecessor among historians was Peter Gay, whose account of Enlightenment philosophy was a modified version of Cassirer’s23. In order to realise his ambition, however, Israel has had to divide the Enlightenment, and argue that only the «radical Enlightenment», by adopting a Spinozist metaphysics and developing its anti-religious implications, truly led the way to «modern democracy». Failure to subscribe to the requisite metaphysics condemns a philosopher—even as articulate an unbeliever as David Hume—to the conservative or «moderate» Enlightenment, and eliminates him (or her) from the making of modernity. As Israel’s critics have emphasised, this is a very inflexible template: the argument can only be sustained if the evidence is shoehorned into one or other of the two forms of Enlightenment, at the expense of much inconvenient detail24.

  • 25 V. Ferrone, Lezioni illuministiche, is fiercely critical of the philosophers, but nonetheless confi (...)

10Much as I admire Israel’s extraordinary industry and, even more, his commitment to the Enlightenment, I fear that his ambition over-reaches itself. His thesis is as stimulating as it is provocative; but in its identification of Enlightenment with a specific metaphysics, and its concomitant association of Enlightenment with «modernity», it undermines the Enlightenment’s historical plausibility. Historians are on surer ground if they avoid defining Enlightenment in the terms of a specific «philosophy», and resist the temptation to identify it with «modernity»25. A different approach to the Enlightenment, I want to argue, is made possible by drawing together two other tendencies in recent scholarship: study of the emergence of a «public sphere» within society, and exploration of the ways in which political economy contributed to understanding human social development. Political economy was certainly not the only subject to interest those whom historians identify with Enlightenment; but across much of eighteenth-century Europe it can be seen to have been regarded as of central and even exemplary intellectual significance.

  • 26 J. Habermas, Strukturwandel der Öffentlichkeit.
  • 27 For Anglophone discussion of Habermas: A. J. LaVopa, «Conceiving a public»; D. Goodman, «Public sph (...)

11The concept of the «public sphere» was of course coined by Jürgen Habermas in 1962 to further a neo-Marxist critique of modern, «bourgeois» society. But by the time his book was translated into English, in 1989, its original purpose could safely be forgotten26. When taken up by Anglo-American historians in the 1990s, the appeal of the concept was two-fold. It was directly inspired by Kant’s account of Aufklärung, and in particular his call for the free exercise of critical reason by the educated individual in his «public» capacity, even if in his «private» capacity, as a clergyman or university professor, he might be required to remain within the limits of his office. Habermas’s concept, in other words, had behind it the contemporary authority of Kant’s celebrated definition of Enlightenment. Further, Habermas used evidence drawn from late seventeenth and early eighteenth-century England to point out the significance of a range of social institutions, most famously the coffee-house, but also voluntary associations of all kinds, in which an educated, lay middle class might meet to discuss issues of the day without interference from government. This was not participation in government; but it made possible the development of a body of informed opinion independent of government. And as those in government soon became aware, this was an opinion which they could ill afford to ignore. Informing the public sphere was an increasingly free press of reviews, journals and newspapers; if at first what these created was a purely «literary» public sphere, it had gradually become openly «political»27.

  • 28 F. Furet and D. Roche et alii, Livre et société; D. Roche, Le Siècle des lumières en province; R. D(...)
  • 29 D. Goodman, The Republic of Letters; S. Knott and B. Taylor (eds.), Women, Gender and Enlightenment(...)

12Habermas did not of course invent the social history of the Enlightenment: the credit for that belongs to Daniel Roche for his studies of books and academies in eighteenth-century France, and to Robert Darnton for his studies of literary «low life» and of the publishing industry28. But by formulating the idea of a «public sphere» Habermas seemed to many—especially in the Anglophone world—to have given conceptual focus to this approach to Enlightenment, making it possible to define Enlightenment in «social» terms, as a form of social practice. This in turn inspired fresh lines of enquiry, the most valuable of which has been into the place of women in the Enlightenment, not simply as occasional contributors to intellectual debate but as active participants in its social practice, in many of the institutions of the public sphere. Dena Goodman’s work on the part played by the salonnières was pioneering; since then there has been the large, subject-defining volume of Barbara Taylor and Sarah Knott, Women, Gender and Enlightenment (2005)29.

  • 30 F. Waquet, «Qu’est-ce que la République des Lettres?».
  • 31 A. Goldgar, Impolite Learning.
  • 32 C. Spector, «Les lumières avant les Lumières». Likewise D. Edelstein, The Enlightenment.

13In adapting Habermas’s category of the public sphere, historians of Enlightenment needed to make space for the contribution of the philosophes or men of letters. How were these to be related to the public sphere? The obvious answer was to combine the idea of a public sphere with the much older idea of the «Republic of Letters». Of fifteenth-century origin, the term «republic of letters» described a network of men (and the occasional woman)—philosophers, scholars, natural historians, and antiquaries—who maintained contact with each other across political and confessional boundaries by the exchange of letters, books, curiosities and personal visits30. Once defined in relatively idealistic terms, as an institution for the defence of intellectual and religious freedom, the republic of letters has increasingly been studied at a more prosaic level, as a system for the exchange of favours. For this purpose its members were by the end of the seventeenth century utilising the same or similar institutions to those which constituted the «public sphere»: membership of academies and societies as well as readership of the review journals had become indispensable supplements to correspondence in connecting the republic of letters31. Given this overlap, some historians have been inclined to absorb the republic of letters within the public sphere, an early example of this identification being Goodman’s analysis of the membership and role of the Parisian Salons. More recently, the self-identification of philosophers with lumières and with the «tribunal of the public» has been traced to the debate which engaged the republic of letters at the turn of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, the «Quarrel of the Ancients and Moderns»32. For the historian of Enlightenment, however, the wholesale collapse of the republic of letters into the «public sphere» carries the risk that philosophers and men (and women) of letters lose their distinct identity as thinkers. If we are to explain both how eighteenth-century thinkers communicated with each other across Europe and how they engaged with their very different national and local contexts, the concepts of the republic of letters and the public sphere had better remain separate.

  • 33 On this, and much else, R. B. Sher, The Enlightenment and the Book.
  • 34 R. Darnton, «The Encyclopédie wars of pre-revolutionary France».
  • 35 A recent conspectus of censorship in the eighteenth century is E. Tortarolo, L’invenzione della lib (...)

14Two other scholarly developments have complicated the original Habermasian understanding of the Enlightened public sphere. One is the history of the book, which has drawn attention to the independent contribution of publishers to determining what books should be made available to which readers. Format, and hence price, were crucial: a telling example is that it was only when David Hume’s Essays and Treatises were published together in four duodecimo volumes in 1753 at the price of 14 shillings that his philosophical, political and economic essays began to sell widely in Britain33. Likewise important was energetic distribution, exemplified by the efforts of the Société typographique de Neuchâtel to smuggle its books across the French border34. Within the borders of a country which enforced censorship, publishers were in a constant tacit dialogue with the authorities over the actual limits to their initiative: the apparent paradox of openly clandestine publication was increasingly common35.

  • 36 Italian examples: V. Ferrone, «The Accademia Reale delle Scienze»; E. Chiosi, «Intellectuals and ac (...)
  • 37 On the Real Sociedad Bascongada, J. Astigarraga, Los ilustrados vascos. For an example from the Hab (...)
  • 38 J. Livesy, Civil Society and Empire.

15As this interaction implies, and as historians now recognise, a strict separation of the public sphere from the activities of government (such as Kant had envisaged) could not in practice be sustained. For nowhere, except perhaps in the tiniest dynastic statelets of Germany or Italy, was government confined to the strictly «private» sphere of the court. In Turin and Naples as in Paris and the major French provincial cities, «academies» of noblemen, gentlemen and men of letters were constituted by royal patronage and their officials were royal appointees36. Even the less formal patriotic, economic and agricultural societies which attracted the energies of provincial and even high nobility in France, Spain, Italy and the Central European kingdoms of the Habsburg Monarchy were obliged (and in most cases sought) to work with the government’s local officials. A remarkable, pioneering example was the Real Sociedad Bascongada de los Amigos del País, inaugurated in 1765, and soon imitated by the Sociedad Económica Aragonesa de Amigos del País37. There are examples of independent initiative—the Dublin Society, founded in 1731, the Select Society of Edinburgh, founded 1754, and its imitators in Scotland, and the Literary and Philosophical Societies of provincial England; but these were exceptions from the continental European norm, allowed their freedom by the centralisation of British politics in London38. Meanwhile the universities, so important to the diffusion of Enlightenment in Italy, Spain, Germany and Scotland, were nowhere free of central or local government influence.

  • 39 J. Shovlin, «Rethinking Enlightened reform in a French context».

16It was not simply that it was impossible to keep government out of the public sphere; increasingly government officials believed it was in their interest to promote and extend that sphere, to facilitate policy initiatives. As several historians have now pointed out, this is particularly evident in France, where an early example of such promotion of the public sphere is provided by Vincent de Gournay, an Intendant de Commerce who early in the 1750s formed a circle of economists for the express purpose of carrying out a programme of publication of economic writings, thus to influence government policy towards the grain trade and overseas commerce39. If we are to understand the commitment to «reform» demonstrated by almost all the absolute monarchies by the 1780s, within their European kingdoms and overseas, we need to understand that the public sphere offered philosophers and economists within government a forum just as much as it did those who were independent of it.

  • 40 J. Robertson, The Case for the Enlightenment, ch. 1, pp. 28-33.

17But what were the philosophers and economists bringing to the public sphere? So far I have discussed the ways in which historians have used the concept of the public sphere to reconstruct the Enlightenment as a social and to an extent a political phenomenon. What have been missing, or at least taken for granted, are the ideas for whose discussion the public sphere had come into existence. For many recent historians of the Enlightenment public sphere, it is true, ideas have been of secondary interest. But if historians discount the importance of ideas, reducing Enlightenment to a primarily social and political phenomenon, they risk depriving it of most of its historical significance. Still worse, they will cede discussion of the Enlightenment’s ideas to the philosophers, and leave their critique unchallenged. In fact, as the literary scholars have long pointed out, Enlightenment thinkers engaged with a whole range of intellectual enquiries: the difficulty is to pin down which of these were especially characteristic of the Enlightenment. I have argued elsewhere that one can identify three linked enquiries at the heart of Enlightenment thought: the «science of man», alternatively known as the study of human sociability or, from the mid-eighteenth century, as «anthropology»; history, which now extended from political narrative to cover «the progress of society»; and political economy40. It is on the last of these that I shall concentrate on this occasion. The volume of scholarship on eighteenth-century political economy is now growing rapidly; its contributors include French, Italian, Spanish and Anglo-American scholars. Unlike the histories of economic thought of an earlier generation, written to establish the «origins of modern economics», the new scholarship is genuinely historical. Even so, I would suggest that study of political economy in the eighteenth century is still under-developed in two crucial respects. We do not yet fully understand how political economy established itself as a central field of enquiry by the second half of the eighteenth century, nor have we sufficiently explained why it should be regarded as so important to the Enlightenment.

  • 41 J. Appleby, Economic Thought and Ideology; L. Rothkrug, Opposition to Louis XIV. An interesting, if (...)
  • 42 I. Hont, Jealousy of Trade, especially pp. 1-156: «Introduction», and pp. 185-266: «Free trade and (...)

18Political economy did not, of course, emerge new-formed in the eighteenth century. If it is a matter for debate whether we can find economic analysis in ancient and medieval political thought, there is no denying the existence of a large and growing body of economic writing in the seventeenth century. The largest volume of such writing was to be found in England and France; but sophisticated economic analysis was also to be found in Spanish and Italian writers41. The principal concerns of these economic writers were with money and trade, but the needs and prospects of agriculture and manufactures were also discussed, while reflection on all aspects of economic activity was informed by the material collected by the practitioners of political arithmetic. In Germany, meanwhile, the science of Cameralism already combined economic analysis with a version of political arithmetic. This rapid growth of interest in economics was of course a reflection of circumstances, and in particular of the growing awareness of those in government of the resources they needed to maintain their armed forces and fight ever more far-flung wars. More than this, however, it reflected the realisation that there were, as Istvan Hont has put it, economic limits to modern politics. What governments could expect to do was limited by the resources they could command from their subjects; and there were limits to the extent to which governments could expect to control their subjects’ economic activities. It was to keep up with and take advantage of the activities of their merchants that governments now found themselves extending their reach overseas; «jealousy of trade» now joined dynastic glory and territorial independence as motives of international rivalry42.

19We should, however, understand the rise of political economy to intellectual prominence in the mid-eighteenth century in a wider context than the growth of purely economic writing over the previous hundred and fifty years. Such a wider context is to be found, I suggest, in the transformation of several existing, traditional forms of analysis of moral and political behaviour, and in particular in the emergence of a new way of thinking about sociability, or the development of society, in which economic activities assumed a much more important place. At least three long-established ways of thinking about politics and the social order underwent radical adjustment in the later seventeenth and early eighteenth centuries: reason of state, the classification of forms of government, and natural law.

  • 43 R. Tuck, Philosophy and Government, pp. 65-69.
  • 44 J. G. A. Pocock, The Machiavellian Moment, ch. 8: «Neo-Machiavellian political economy»; see also H (...)

20Reason of state might have developed as Machiavellianism by another name; but from the first its proponents recognised the importance of a factor which Machiavelli had notoriously neglected: the material resources which would pay for the arms essential to the preservation of a principality or republic. They also made assumptions about human nature—that man is driven by the passions, that interest is the most reliable of motives—which were equally applicable to the world of commerce43. Not surprisingly, therefore, reason of state doctrine proved accommodating of governments’ growing preoccupation with economic affairs. The Machiavellian vocabulary of virtù and necessità was incorporated into what John Pocock identified as a «neo-Machiavellian political economy» whose central concerns were «jealousy of trade» and the dangers of public credit44. Reason of state was not a substitute for political economy. It could not explain why merchants behaved as they did, nor did it help to understand which forms of social organisation were conducive to economic activity. But it proved itself adaptable to a paradoxical world in which the growth of commerce was simultaneously enhancing and limiting the scope for political initiative.

21Less obviously open to considering economic activity was a second, much older tradition of political analysis, that which classified states by their form of government. In its classical, Aristotelian form the typology was three-fold, distinguishing the monarchic, aristocratic or oligarchic and the democratic forms of government; simpler was the distinction between monarchies, which were characteristically territorial, and republics, usually city-states. In this tradition the form of government determined the political character of a nation: the distribution of power, subordinate institutions, and the values of the subjects or citizens were all dependent on the constitution. The economic sphere, however, was treated as independent, and of no political value: its role was simply to ensure that the state was self-sufficient in necessities. It might therefore be expected that a world in which governments were obliged to concern themselves with the economic activities of citizens in order to maximise their own resources would stretch the capabilities of this form of analysis, and even leave it redundant. But here too the concepts proved to be adaptable. The question became which form of government was more favourable to commerce—and the answer was found in history.

  • 45 One author of both kinds of history of commerce was P.-D. Huet, otherwise priest, Biblical scholar (...)

22In the late seventeenth and early eighteenth centuries there developed a new sub-genre of «histories of commerce». Some of these were antiquarian in form, concerned exclusively with the commerce of the ancient world; others, more contemporary, sought to explain the remarkable success of the Italian cities and, even more, the United Provinces45. The key role played by Mediterranean cities in the development of commerce in the ancient world gave republics a head start over the monarchies; the case of the Dutch demonstrated that a form of government which had seemed set to disappear in the face of the military power of modern territorial monarchies could preserve its territory as well as accrue unprecedented wealth by commerce. By the end of the seventeenth century, however, it was clear that republics, even if they were as flexible as the Dutch confederation, would not always retain their economic predominance. Despite their violent flirtation with a republic, the English had not only restored their monarchy in 1660, but stuck by the form even when the reigning dynasty had conclusively proved its incompetence in 1688—and still they bid fair to succeed the Dutch as Europe’s leading commercial power.

  • 46 Montesquieu, Esprit des Lois, bks. XX, XXI, esp. bk. XX, chs. i-ii, vol. II.
  • 47 Ibid., bks. IV-XIX.

23One thinker would work harder than any other to show how the two traditions of reason of state and the analysis of forms of government might be adapted to a world preoccupied with commerce. This was of course Montesquieu. Confident that maritime commerce could never be as aggressive and destructive as territorial aggrandisement, Montesquieu floated the ideal of doux commerce as the antidote to reason of state and universal monarchy, and thus as the basis for a more peaceful international order46. Even more central to Montesquieu’s Esprit des Lois (1748), however, was the analysis of the range of possible relations between a state’s form of government, its geographical location and territorial extent, the composition of its social order, and its codes of honour and traditions of moral behaviour. At once historical and comparative, and supported by a wealth of exemplifying detail, the analysis had as one of its principal objectives the assessment of a state’s prospects of success in commerce on the basis of any given combination of these factors47. Montesquieu rarely reached a single, unambiguous conclusion; the value of his analysis lay precisely in its open-endedness. No one form of government, he suggested, had a decisive advantage when it came to commerce. England had demonstrated that a monarchy with certain republican features might succeed; but the monarchy of France might yet do as well, as long as it did not slavishly follow the English example, and instead encouraged commerce in ways which were compatible with the existing, hierarchical social order and respected the values of its nobility.

24By these arguments, Montesquieu enabled his contemporaries not merely to adjust to the new importance of commerce, but to recognise and appreciate the extent to which it now held the key to understanding the modern world. No other work did as much to place commerce at the centre of enquiry, or to establish its importance in understanding human society and its betterment. It is no coincidence that so many of those who took up the study of political economy in the 1750s—Vincent de Gournay and his circle, the editors of the Encyclopédie and their contributors (including Rousseau), David Hume, and Antonio Genovesi—did so at the same time as they read and engaged with the work of Montesquieu.

  • 48 H. Grotius, The Rights of War and Peace, Prolegomena § 11, p. 89: «though we should even grant, wha (...)
  • 49 A. Brett, Changes of State.

25For all his importance, however, Montesquieu appears to have discounted a third traditional way of thinking about politics, whose transformation made perhaps the greatest difference in creating intellectual space for political economy. This was the tradition of natural law as the idea of a universal moral order, which was ordained by God, apprehended by human reason, and governed the behaviour of men and women towards each other. Far from being displaced by the Protestant Reformers’ ostentatious concern with otherworldly salvation, natural law had emerged strengthened by the contest of Reformation and Counter-Reformation. The independence and institutional resilience of the universities of Spain and of Paris, reinforced by the success of the new Jesuit colleges as they spread across Catholic Europe, ensured that natural law remained the expression of Catholic moral philosophy. For their part, Protestant philosophers and theologians had quickly overcome their initial scepticism towards the law of nature. By the beginning of the seventeenth century they had caught up with their Catholic counterparts, and much of the most innovative natural jurisprudence would henceforth be Protestant. Like their Catholic, scholastic counterparts, Protestant natural lawyers took it that the realm of «nature» might be treated apart from that of «grace», without prejudice to the latter: Grotius’s notorious «etiamsi daremus» clause was not a denial of God’s existence or the importance of Christ’s message, but a declaration of confidence in the capacity of natural law to provide a morally sufficient account of human relations, within and between individual societies48. Even so, natural law up to Grotius rested on an assumption which inhibited its capacity to embrace and explain economic activity—the assumption of natural sociability. Deriving from Aristotle’s most famous single proposition, that man is a zōon politicon, and subsequently endorsed by Aquinas, the assumption was tested at the margin: exponents of natural law were well aware that there were categories of men—beggars, migrants, even travellers—who put themselves outside of society, and might be excluded from it49. But the assumption of natural sociability made it difficult for natural law to account for an activity as inherently competitive as commerce.

  • 50 Th. Hobbes, On the Citizen, pp. 21-25; Id., Leviathan, pp. 86-90.

26That assumption was overthrown by Thomas Hobbes. In the opening chapter of De Cive (1647), and again in chapter 13 of Leviathan, Hobbes denied outright the Aristotelian proposition of man’s natural sociability. On the contrary, Hobbes affirmed, man is naturally unsociable50. Hobbes had very little interest in commerce, but his assertion posed a question which would exercise moral and political philosophers for the next 150 years: if we suppose men naturally unsociable, how do we explain their ability nevertheless to form and live in societies?

  • 51 S. Pufendorf, Of the Law of Nature and Nations, lib. II, cap. i, § XV, also §§ XVI-XVII. See I. Hon (...)
  • 52 J. Robertson, «Sacred history».
  • 53 On Vico, Mandeville and Hume, see my Case for the Enlightenment, chs. 5-6.

27Almost immediately, Samuel Pufendorf had begun to develop an answer to the problem from within natural jurisprudence, modifying the idea of a contractual foundation of society in favour of its emergence over time, as men established artificial conventions to check their unsociable inclinations. Besides the rules of justice required to secure property, these conventions included the division of labour and the terms on which men and women would exchange their labour and the goods they produced51. Pufendorf’s successors within the natural jurisprudence tradition took the argument further; but the search for an answer to the problem of unnatural sociability was not to be confined to natural jurisprudence. In the Catholic world, where engagement with Protestant natural jurisprudence was inhibited, the problem of sociability was tackled through the study of history, and in particular, sacred history, which for this purpose was the history recorded in the Old Testament. Among notable exponents of sacred history as the setting of man’s acquisition of sociability were the Neapolitans Giambattista Vico and Pietro Giannone52. (By no means was the history of human sociability an exclusively secular discourse, in either Protestant or Catholic Europe.) Very different again, however, was the approach adopted by Bernard Mandeville, whose Fable of the Bees (1723) was as much an answer to the Hobbesian question as Vico’s New Science two years later (1725). For Mandeville men and women became sociable in spite of themselves, as their passions drove them to acquire goods for the selfish purpose of appearing better in the eyes of others; nowhere was this process better demonstrated than in a great commercial metropolis such as contemporary London. Mandeville sought to write philosophy in the form of satire; David Hume, though he enjoyed satire, thought it made bad philosophy, and set out in the Treatise of Human Nature (1739-1740) to put the historical explanation of sociability on a properly philosophical footing. For Hume, as for Hobbes, society was the fruit of the artifice of justice, but justice was an artifice developed over time, a convention established as men learned to secure their possessions with rules governing the acquisition and exchange of property. Commerce and property, Hume argued, had brought sociability53.

  • 54 Montesquieu, Esprit des Lois, bk. I, chs. i-ii.

28Since Hume, like Mandeville, had virtually dispensed with natural law, it is perhaps unsurprising that Montesquieu, whose treatment of natural law was perfunctory, did not associate it with the question of sociability. Instead, he simply declared Hobbes’s proposition unreasonable, and set it aside. But his prior observation that the passions of men required restraint by political and civil laws was a tacit admission that the problem stood54. And the answers which Pufendorf, Vico, Mandeville, Hume and others had offered to the problem could only reinforce the impact of the Esprit des Lois. For the upshot of their enquiry into the formation of sociability was that the institutions of economic life—the family, the division of labour, exchange, property in animals, land and goods—needed to move to the very centre of historical and political analysis. These institutions had accompanied (perhaps even preceded) the formation of government, and they determined its purposes, which were clearly recognised to include protection and furtherance of the economic interests of its subjects. By the time the Esprit des Lois was published, an understanding of economic relations and institutions had become essential to an understanding of the development of society and the functions of government.

  • 55 J.-F. Melon, Essai politique sur le commerce. On Melon, C. Larrère, L’invention de l’économie au xv (...)
  • 56 A. Genovesi, Delle lezioni di commercio, ed. M. L. Perna; É. B. de Condillac, Le commerce et le gou (...)

29Recognition of the centrality of economic relations to social life was crucial, but it is not a sufficient explanation for the intellectual credibility which political economy would acquire in the eighteenth century. Such credibility also depended on the framing and presentation of political economy as a coherent set of principles in its own right. In other words, political economy needed to be understood as an independent science, the «science of commerce». Several developments converged to facilitate this. One of the most obvious was the appearance of texts presenting political economy as a body of systematic principles. The first and arguably the most important of these was Jean-François Melon’s Essai politique sur le commerce (1734, 1736)—a work whose significance in the history of economic thought has only recently come into focus55. Melon’s Essai was followed by Antonio Genovesi’s Lezioni di commercio (1765- 1767), Étienne Bonnot de Condillac’s Le commerce et le gouvernement, explicitly subtitled an ouvrage élémentaire (1776) and Adam Smith’s Wealth of Nations (1776)56. None of these limited itself to abstract principles alone: comparative and historical examples were integral to their presentation of economic argument. Genovesi interspersed his treatment of specific topics with accounts of their historical origins; Adam Smith famously prefaced his account of «Systems of Political Oeconomy» in book IV with his own history of commerce, «Of the different progress of opulence in different nations» (book III). But the premise of all these treatises was that political economy was potentially as universal a science as ethics: other than in very specific and unusual circumstances, all humans could be expected to follow certain patterns of economic behaviour, and would need certain institutions to regulate that behaviour. Political economy was presented as a distinct and to a considerable extent self-sufficient mode of explaining a major dimension of human existence.

30Even more important than such original works of political economy, however, were translations. This may seem paradoxical: translations are surely of second-order importance, a reflection of a work’s intrinsic importance. In fact, it was not by their intrinsic authority alone that individual works, even the Wealth of Nations, secured the credibility of political economy in the eighteenth century; it was by translation. Political economy was not in the position once enjoyed by natural jurisprudence, whose exponents took for granted a common, Latin conceptual vocabulary, for which vernacular equivalents would be found, or coined, as necessary. From the seventeenth century, economic matters were being discussed in all the major European vernaculars. By the eighteenth century, it was clear that French was the new language of learning: to contribute to the wider development of the discipline, a work of political economy would have to be translated into French.

  • 57 Information derived from L. Charles, «French “New Politics”»; and A. Alimento, «Introduzione» pp. i (...)

31This put France at the fulcrum of the diffusion of the subject across Europe. Just as we have come to appreciate the significance of Melon’s Essai, we now also appreciate the even more important contribution made by the Intendant de Commerce Vincent de Gournay and his circle in publishing in French a whole range of economic writings. Prominent among those translated were earlier English economic writers: John Cary, Joshua Gee, Josiah Child, and Charles King; after these, Gournay was most interested in Spanish economic writing, and encouraged translations of works by Uztariz and Ulloa. Among contemporary economists translated were Josiah Tucker and David Hume, whose Political Discourses (1752) were available in French within two years. The translators included Georges-Marie Butel-Dumont, responsible for translations of Cary and Child, Jean-Baptiste de Secondat, Montesquieu’s son, for Gee; Véron de Forbonnais, for King and Uztariz, Louis-Joseph Plumard de Dangeul, for Ulloa, Anne-Jacques-Robert Turgot, for Tucker, and Jean-Bernard le Blanc, for Hume. Hume’s Political Discourses were in fact the subject of two distinct translations, the other being by Elézéar Mauvillon, a resident of Dresden, and published in Holland; it may have preceded Le Blanc’s translation57.

  • 58 L. Charles, «French “New Politics”», esp. pp. 184-191, for discussion of these issues.
  • 59 A. Alimento, «Entre animosité nationale et rivalité d’émulation». Also Id., «Introduzione», pp. xiv (...)

32These translations served several purposes besides—sometimes instead of—making available renderings of the original into another vernacular. They advertised the importance attached to commerce in rival nations—most obviously in the case of English economic writing translated into French. By contrast, Spanish works offered to explain how an established but weakened maritime power might protect itself against a stronger. They also provided the translator with the opportunity to «interpret» the work for his (rather than the original author’s) readership. Some did so by adding an apparatus of notes and commentary—a «peritext»: by such means Le Blanc presented Hume’s Political Discourses squarely within the context of contemporary French economic thinking, emphasising his debt to Melon and his support for many of the aims of the Gournay circle. Others, more radical, altered the text being translated, dropping passages of no interest to them or their readers, and adding what seemed to the translator to be missing: in rendering Cary’s Essay on the State of England in relation to its Trade (1695) as Essai sur l’état du commerce d’Angleterre (1755), Butel-Dumont acknowledged that the former had supplied only the outline of the latter. Others, including Le Blanc and Plumard de Dangeul, published entirely fictitious «translations» under pseudonyms; in these cases a possible motive was to make prohibition or subsequent prosecution less likely, since the work appeared to be only a translation of another’s work58. The translations co-ordinated by Gournay were clearly intended to serve a general purpose, both to «publicise» a subject which government ministers had hitherto tried to keep from the public by preserving it as a «reason of state», and to urge ministers to adopt a particular line of policy. (Unsurprisingly, these objectives proved incompletely consistent: Antonella Alimento suggests that a difference opened up between Gournay, who favoured a trade strategy of «liberty and protection» from rivals, and Forbonnais, who argued for a more open strategy of «liberty and competition» with England)59. But translations also served individual goals—making one’s name, establishing one’s credentials for an academic post, simply making money. Some combination of these appear to have motivated Mauvillon and his publisher to translate Hume; while Le Blanc’s translation had a better reputation, and eventually displaced Mauvillon’s, readers are likely to have made do with whichever came to hand.

33Translation into French ensured that a work could become known (even if in altered form) across Europe. But if a work was also to contribute to debate and the formulation of policy in a specific national context, it would in addition have to be translated into the local language. Which works were chosen depended on the individual making or sponsoring the translation, and the purpose for which he needed it. Three such cases of vernacular translation have been the subject of recent studies: what these studies reveal is a richly complex process, in which the «text» subject to translation, the «peritext» of commentary and annotation, and the inter-textual and inter-authorial connections all require attention.

  • 60 S. A. Reinert, «Emulazione e traduzione»; the story will be told at greater length in the same auth (...)

34The first is the translation of John Cary’s Essay on the State of England (1695). Butel-Dumont’s transformation of Cary’s text into the Essai sur l’état du commerce d’Angleterre (1755) has already been mentioned. To update the original Butel-Dumont had enlarged an essay of 150 pages into two volumes of over 1,000 pages: he added detailed accounts of English agriculture and manufactures, and he reversed the perspective, so that the work became an explanation of how France might rival England. In the event, however, the product of Butel-Dumont’s labours proved most significant as an intermediary, by providing the basis for the almost immediate further translation of the work into Italian, under the direction of Antonio Genovesi. Genovesi’s version, the Storia del commercio della Gran Bretagna, published in three volumes in 1757-1758, was a straightforward, if careless, translation of the Essai; but title and «peritext» reorientated it in some respects even more radically than Butel-Dumont had done to the original. It was now explicitly a «History» of British commerce, but one whose design was to show how a once advanced but now backward country (Italy) might catch up on the maritime powers (England and France) which had taken advantage of Italy’s weakness. It was this Italian version which attracted further attention to the work, in Spain and in Germany, where a third translation, concentrating on Genovesi’s notes, was published in 178860.

  • 61 J. Astigarraga, «La dérangeante découverte de l’autre», esp. pp. 97-106.
  • 62 J. Robertson, Case for the Enlightenment, pp. 340-342; on Celestino and Ferdinando Galiani, K. Stap (...)
  • 63 F. Longano, «Discorso del notatore». Melon’s name was not on the title page, but was on that of the (...)
  • 64 J. Astigarraga, «La dérangeante découverte de l’autre», pp. 106-115.

35Another, even more translated work was Melon’s Essai politique sur le commerce, versions of which were published in English, German, Danish, Swedish, Russian, Italian and Spanish. Among the earliest was the first Spanish version, published in 1743 under the title Erudición política by Teodoro Ventura de Argumosa. Argumosa hoped to advance his career in administration, but also to shape government policy. To this end he omitted Melon’s entire discussion of money, and softened his anti-clericalism; he also passed over Melon’s defence of luxury. What interested him were Melon’s analysis of the position of an agricultural country, and the opportunity which the work offered to generate «public» discussion of political economy61. Exactly the same interests inspired Bartolomeo Intieri in contemporary Naples, where his enthusiasm was picked up by Celestino Galiani and his nephew Ferdinando, along with Genovesi62. But although an Italian translation of the Essai politique was published in Venice in 1754, it was not until 1778 that one was published in Naples, by Francesco Longano. A pupil of Genovesi, Longano gave lectures while the chair of commerce remained unfilled after Genovesi’s death in 1769, and probably hoped that the translation would advance his claims to the chair. His opening «Discorso del notatore» represented a radicalisation and at times a critique of the work he had translated: while continuing to value Melon’s emphasis on the prospects of an agricultural economy, Longano was considerably sharper than Genovesi in his critiques of noble and clerical privilege and of the imperial ambitions of the maritime powers. But his approach was not typical. Interest in Melon’s work in Naples remained sufficient to permit its republication (in the 1754 translation) in 179563. Meanwhile a second Spanish translation appeared in 1786, Espíritu del Señor Melon, by Lorenzo Normante. Normante held the chair of «Civil Economy and Commerce» founded by the Sociedad Económica Aragonesa at Zaragoza in 1784, after the example of Genovesi’s chair in Naples. Adapting the Essai politique to his position, Normante presented it as a manual, eliminating many passages. But the Espíritu was also designed to support the reform policies of Carlos III, in particular internal free trade and moderate luxury64.

  • 65 A. Genovesi, Lecciones de comercio; J. Astigarraga and J. Usoz, «From the Neapolitan A. Genovesi of (...)
  • 66 J. Astigarraga, «Pensiero giusnaturalista»; and now the same author’s monograph, Luces y republican (...)

36Closely connected to Normante’s work was a third set of translations, of Genovesi’s own manual, the Lezioni del commercio, into Spanish. One, in three volumes by Victorián de Villava in 1785-1786, was supported by the same Sociedad Económica Aragonesa which had created Normante’s chair, and was expressly intended for use in teaching. Villava’s translation, from the first edition of the Lezioni, was often imprecise; it was also cautious, moderating Genovesi’s views on a range of topics, in particular his anti-clericalism. What Villava endorsed was Genovesi’s programme for agricultural development alongside that of domestic manufactures; like Normante’s, his translation was designed to support the reformism of Carlos III’s ministers65. Very different were the almost contemporary «Apuntaciones» composed by Ramón de Salas as a commentary on Genovesi’s text between 1787 and 1790. Salas taught at Salamanca, and also wrote with teaching in mind; but in his case what interested him in Genovesi were the underlying philosophical principles, and his natural-jurisprudential account of the history of sociability and of government. Salas’ radicalism was too much for the Church: he was tried by the Inquisition in 1793, and the «Apuntaciones» remained unpublished. But his work is testimony that a radical «late Enlightenment» existed even in Spain66.

  • 67 As will be evident, I have not considered translations into German, Scandinavian or other languages (...)
  • 68 G. L. Schmidd’Avenstein, Principj della legislazione universale, with a dedication to Giuseppe Palm (...)

37The web of economic ideas which these translations spun across Europe was nothing if not intricate. Works composed in French could circulate across Europe in the original; works translated into French might also circulate, but with no guarantee (and little likelihood) that their sense would still reflect their author’s intentions. In neither case, moreover, was the work likely to be «read» elsewhere as it appeared in French. As the translations discussed above indicate, reception of an English or French work in Italy, or of an Italian work in Spain, was likely to involve considerable adaptation of both the economic ideas and their political application67. Nor did translations follow a simple progression. Melon’s Essai politique was still being published in Italian translation in the 1790s, although it might be thought to have been rendered obsolete by more recent French economic thinking, which had been made available to Italian readers by translations of Georg-Ludwig Schmid D’Avenstein’s Principes de la legislation universelle (1776) in 1777-1778 and again in Naples in 1791. By then the Wealth of Nations had also been translated into Italian, in Naples in 1790-179168. This therefore was not a world in which any one set of arguments could claim to have established themselves as the science of political economy; already it was clear that economic concepts would be «essentially contestable». Yet the effort of translation would have made no sense without the conviction that economic arguments were adaptable to different circumstances. Beneath the differences, the multiplication of translations also testified to a profound sense of common discourse: as never before, argument over economic issues united before it divided eighteenth-century Europe.

  • 69 Understanding of both debates has been transformed by the seminal studies of I. Hont: «The early En (...)
  • 70 I. Hont, «The “rich country-poor country” debate revisited», p. 304.

38The same inference can be drawn from the proliferation of debate over specific economic issues over the course of the century. Among the issues explored in recent scholarship, two have stood out, the «Luxury Debate», and the equally long-running debate over the relative prospects of «rich» and «poor» countries, and whether the latter could expect ever to overhaul the former. The luxury debate lasted from the publication of Archbishop Fénelon’s Les aventures de Télémaque (1699) until the French Revolution, the «rich country - poor country» debate from the debates among English, Irish and Scottish pamphleteers at the end of the seventeenth century until Adam Smith’s Wealth of Nations and the Anglo-Irish Union debate of 1780-1801. In mid-century, however, both debates were re-shaped by the interventions of Jean-François Melon and David Hume, and again by successive French economists, the Gournay circle and the Physiocrats, as well as individuals such as Turgot and Rousseau69. Across these debates cut others, such as that which pitted «agricultural» against «commercial» economies; as we have seen, this was a distinction which Italian and Spanish economists took from French writers, Melon, the Gournay circle and the Physiocrats—and which they then insisted upon even more than had their French sources. The number and depth of the disagreements between economists, within as well as between nationalities, makes it impossible to speak of a single «Enlightenment political economy», or even of a Scottish or Italian or Spanish Enlightenment political economy70. Yet the disagreements were no less an indication of a more fundamental accord over the importance of the subject over which they argued. There was no point in disagreement unless the participants in debate had a reasonable expectation that they could be understood by their opponents, and by a wider readership which they called upon to adjudicate their disputes. By the end of the eighteenth century political economy was seen to matter in a way and to an extent it did not at its beginning.

39In outline and now also in some detail, therefore, it is possible to see how political economy became established as a major new field of intellectual enquiry in the eighteenth century. Not only were existing, traditional frameworks of political thought adapted to reflect on the economic conditions of sociability and successful government. But economic arguments were formally set out, variously translated, and deliberately adapted to meet different «national» circumstances—and then subjected to the test of explicit disagreement. By these means, political economy acquired credibility as an intellectual discipline; by these means too, it presented itself in forms suitable to be placed in the «public sphere», there to be discussed, in all the major vernaculars, by educated readers. So doing, it may also be argued, political economy made itself important, indeed fundamental, to «Enlightenment». For it offered not only a new instrument for the understanding of human behaviour, but one which explicitly addressed the conditions of human betterment in this world, in terms which engaged the «public».

40As a subject for study and public discussion, political economy enjoyed two further advantages. It could be studied and discussed the more readily in most parts of Europe because it was not inherently irreligious. In focussing on bettering the human condition in this world, it set aside the next; but it did not require its adherents and exponents to repudiate a belief in the world to come. In explaining human behaviour in rational, self-interested terms, it would dispel superstition and deprive the clergy of one of its holds over the people; but it did not challenge theology as such. The religious might well be suspicious of political economy, and, where the economic interests of the Church were under attack, openly obstructive of its teaching and even publication. The example of Spain, and the fate of Ramón de Salas in particular, is an example of the lengths to which ecclesiastical authorities might go. But this was unusual, perhaps even the exception which proves the rule. Political economy was not a frontal attack on religion, and while it might not excite the radical, it also did not, of itself, deter adherents by imposing unbelief.

41A second advantage was that political economy sought to educate governments as much in what they should not do as in what they should do. Its arguments were of course used by interest groups everywhere to put pressure on governments; but since its premise was that individuals were driven by their passions to pursue personal advantage, from which it followed that governments could expect to direct economic activity only to a limited extent, political economy did not normally present an open, political challenge to individual governments. Across Europe, the political economists conceived of influencing governments in two ways, by «public opinion», and «legislation».

  • 71 Discorso sopra il vero fine delle lettere e delle scienze. See J. Robertson, The Case for the Enlig (...)
  • 72 G. Filangieri, Delle leggi che riguardano l’educazione, i costumi e l’istruzione pubblica, ed. P. B(...)

42By addressing public opinion, they would make the public sphere much more than a site for social encounter and consumption, treating it instead as a forum for serious intellectual debate in front of an educated, lay audience. Among the first to see the potential of political economy as an education of public opinion were Gournay, Genovesi, and Hume. As we have seen, Gournay worked from within government, seeking to enlist public opinion to support a change of direction in policy. His example was followed by many, including the Physiocrats and reformers in the Italian states. By contrast, Genovesi deliberately chose to address his public from outside of government service. Before taking up his privately-endowed chair of commerce at the University of Naples, Genovesi formulated an explicit appeal to the «studiosa gioventù» of the kingdom to devote themselves to the improvement of its agriculture and commerce71. In Scotland, Hume had the same ambition for his Political Discourses; and in the Select Society, of which he was a founding member, he had an ideal forum in which to promote discussion of his arguments among the rising generation of landowners and lawyers. A similarly important role in stimulating economic discussion among a wider public was played by the Real Sociedad Bascongada and the Sociedad Económica Aragonesa in Spain. In the 1780s the idea of «public opinion» was clarified and radicalised by a number of thinkers, notably the Neapolitan Gaetano Filangieri, who equated it with the sovereignty of the people, under the guidance of philosophers72. Even in this more radical expression, however, the appeal to public opinion was not a call to active political opposition.

  • 73 A. M. Rao, «The feudal question»; J. Robertson, «Political economy and the “feudal system”».

43Rather, public opinion should persuade governments to legislate to remove the obstacles to their subjects’ economic activity. The idea that legislation (rather than arbitrary decree) was the appropriate instrument of reform was of course Montesquieu’s; his cautious approach to its application, with its emphasis upon context, was what gave the Esprit des lois its widespread appeal among rulers. But the idea was subsequently popularised by the Bernese writer Schmid d’Avenstein, in his Principes de la législation universelle, and again radicalised by the Neapolitans, Giacinto Dragonetti and Filangieri. Filangieri’s particular target was the feudal regime which, he believed, blocked all prospect of economic development in the south of Italy. But even here the removal of obstacles to economic activity was the priority, and philosophers, as Filangieri put it, should «come to the aid» of those in government, not challenge them directly73. A similar conception of the role of legislation was at least implicit in Adam Smith’s Wealth of Nations (1776), and would be taken up by Jeremy Bentham and his allies from among the Genevan diaspora.

44In sum, it is the argument of this paper that if we connect the social historians’ concept of the public sphere with the eighteenth-century «science» of political economy, we can reconstruct an Enlightenment which was both grounded in contemporary society and intellectually innovative. This was an Enlightenment with a real historical existence, which can be found in various guises, some well-established, others more superficial, across the European world. It was one Enlightenment, in several manifestations. So reconstructed, the Enlightenment should not be hostage to a particular philosophical critique; but we can claim that it made a major contribution to understanding a vital dimension of human sociability, and to thinking about how governments should be brought to understand and exercise their economic responsibilities. It was not an Enlightenment which could solve all the problems of its own time, let alone establish the enduring principles of «modernity». But what it did achieve was historically significant, and is still worth celebrating.

Notes

1 With minor alterations, this contribution has also been separately published (in Greek and English) as the C. Th. Dimaras Lecture for 2010: «The Enlightenment, the public sphere and political economy» (Athens, Institute for Neo-Hellenic Research, National Hellenic Research Foundation, 2011). I am grateful to the participants at the Azcoitia conference for their comments on my original paper, and in particular to Jesús Astigarraga, Antonella Alimento and Loïc Charles for pertinent suggestions for its improvement.

2 R. Mortier, «“Lumière” et “Lumières”». Revisiting this evidence, D. Edelstein, The Enlightenment, uses it to argue that it was the Quarrel of the Ancients and the Moderns which defined the subsequent movement of «Enlightenment».

3 The notice with which the editor, Johann Karl Möhsen, posed the question, and the answers offered by Moses Mendelssohn, Karl Leonhard Reinhold and Christoph Martin Wieland as well as by Kant are conveniently collected and translated in to English by James Schmidt, in his edited volume What is Enlightenment? For an account of the range of German usages in the later eighteenth century, see H. Stuke, «Aufklärung».

4 There was also a Spanish equivalent: R. Mortier, «“Lumière” et “Lumières”», p. 25, notes that the term ilustración was employed by Jovellanos, although ilustrar and ilustrado were more common.

5 D. Mcmahon, Enemies of Enlightenment. For a valuable general valuable survey of the ways in which Enlightenment was understood from the Revolution onwards, see V. Ferrone and D. Roche (eds.), Le monde des Lumières, Part 5, «L’historiographie des lumières», esp. pp. 497-522: «Le xixe siècle: l’identité refusée».

6 J. Schmidt, «Inventing the Enlightenment».

7 Id., «What the Enlightenment was».

8 E. Cassirer, Die Philosophie der Aufklärung. On which: J. K. Wright, «“A bright, clear mirror”».

9 M. Horkheimer and T. W. Adorno, Dialektik der Aufklärung; R. Koselleck, Kritik und Krise.

10 M. Foucault, «Qu’est-ce que les lumières?»; first published in English translation as «What is Enlightenment?». A. Macintyre, After Virtue. R. Rorty, «The continuity between Enlightenment and Postmodernism». But the opposition between Postmodernism and Enlightenment may be exaggerated. Rorty believed that the Enlightenment’s political project might yet be salvaged from the wreck of its philosophical heritage, while J. Schmidt has recently suggested that Foucault’s reading of Kant may lead to an Enlightenment philosophical politics: «Misunderstanding the question “What is Enlightenment?”».

11 For this crucial phase in the reconstruction of the Enlightenment as a historical subject. see G. Ricuperati, Frontiere e limiti della ragione, pp. 56-126: «L’uomo che inventò la crisi della coscienza europea», in particular pp. 61-3, on Lanson.

12 D. Mornet, Les origines intellectuelles de la Révolution française.

13 P. Hazard, La crise de la conscience européenne; Id., La pensée européenne de Montesquieu à Lessing.

14 F. Venturi, Jeunesse de Diderot; Id., Le origini dell’Enciclopedia (1946—its publication delayed until after the War).

15 Id., «La circolazione delle idee»; «L’illuminismo nel Settecento europeo», originally presented to the XIth International Congress of Historical Sciences in Stockholm, 1960, translated and reprinted as «The European Enlightenment».

16 First in edited volumes of Id., Illuministi italiani, vol. III: Riformatori Lombardi, piemontesi e toscani, vol. V: Riformatori napoletani and vol. VII: Riformatori delle antiche repubbliche; then in the five volumes of Settecento riformatori, beginning with vol. I: Da Muratori a Beccaria 1730-1764 (1969), and ending (albeit leaving the project uncompleted) with vol. V, part. II: La Repubblica di Venezia 1761-1797 (1990). Articles which give an indication of the contents were translated into English and collected in Italy and the Enlightenment (see n. 15).

17 H. Trevor-Roper, «The Spanish Enlightenment»; Id., «The Scottish Enlightenment».

18 R. Porter and M. Teich (eds), The Enlightenment in National Context.

19 J. Schmidt, «What Enlightenment project?»; an argument now qualified by Id., «Misunderstanding the question “What is Enlightenment?”» (above, n. 10).

20 J. G. A. Pocock, Barbarism and Religion; in particular, vol. I: The Enlightenments of Edward Gibbon, and vol. II: Narratives of Civil Government (both 1999), and now vol. V: The First Triumph of Religion (2010). See also Id., «Historiography and Enlightenment».

21 J. Robertson, The Case for the Enlightenment.

22 J. I. Isarel, Radical Enlightenment; Id., Enlightenment Contested and, in anticipation of a third, comparably large volume covering the period 1750-1790, the slimmer volume of lectures: Id., A Revolution of the Mind.

23 P. Gay, The Enlightenment, vol. I: The Rise of Modern Paganism, followed by vol. II: The Science of Freedom.

24 See in particular, A. Lilti, «Comment écrit-on l’histoire intellectuelle des Lumières?»; and A. J. La Vopa, «A new intellectual history?».

25 V. Ferrone, Lezioni illuministiche, is fiercely critical of the philosophers, but nonetheless confident that when the Enlightenment is understood historically as «the cultural revolution of the Ancien Regime», it can be seen as «the true laboratory of modernity».

26 J. Habermas, Strukturwandel der Öffentlichkeit.

27 For Anglophone discussion of Habermas: A. J. LaVopa, «Conceiving a public»; D. Goodman, «Public sphere and private life»; M. C. Jacob, «The mental landscape of the public sphere». For an excellent conspectus of the relevant scholarship: J. van H. Melton, The Rise of the Public.

28 F. Furet and D. Roche et alii, Livre et société; D. Roche, Le Siècle des lumières en province; R. Darnton, «The high Enlightenment», reprinted in his The Literary Underground; Id., «The Encyclopédie wars of pre-revolutionary France»; Id., The Forbidden Best-Sellers; and the essays collected in George Washington’s False Teeth. In both cases, these are but a small selection from their output.

29 D. Goodman, The Republic of Letters; S. Knott and B. Taylor (eds.), Women, Gender and Enlightenment. More recently: K. O’Brien, Women and Enlightenment; D. Goodman, Becoming a Woman in the Age of Letters.

30 F. Waquet, «Qu’est-ce que la République des Lettres?».

31 A. Goldgar, Impolite Learning.

32 C. Spector, «Les lumières avant les Lumières». Likewise D. Edelstein, The Enlightenment.

33 On this, and much else, R. B. Sher, The Enlightenment and the Book.

34 R. Darnton, «The Encyclopédie wars of pre-revolutionary France».

35 A recent conspectus of censorship in the eighteenth century is E. Tortarolo, L’invenzione della libertà di stampa.

36 Italian examples: V. Ferrone, «The Accademia Reale delle Scienze»; E. Chiosi, «Intellectuals and academies».

37 On the Real Sociedad Bascongada, J. Astigarraga, Los ilustrados vascos. For an example from the Habsburg Monarchy, R. Krueger, Czech, German, and Noble.

38 J. Livesy, Civil Society and Empire.

39 J. Shovlin, «Rethinking Enlightened reform in a French context».

40 J. Robertson, The Case for the Enlightenment, ch. 1, pp. 28-33.

41 J. Appleby, Economic Thought and Ideology; L. Rothkrug, Opposition to Louis XIV. An interesting, if isolated, Italian example is discussed by S. A. Reinert and E. S. Reinert, «An early national innovation system».

42 I. Hont, Jealousy of Trade, especially pp. 1-156: «Introduction», and pp. 185-266: «Free trade and the economic limits to national politics: neo-Machiavellian political economy reconsidered».

43 R. Tuck, Philosophy and Government, pp. 65-69.

44 J. G. A. Pocock, The Machiavellian Moment, ch. 8: «Neo-Machiavellian political economy»; see also Hont, as in n. 42.

45 One author of both kinds of history of commerce was P.-D. Huet, otherwise priest, Biblical scholar and champion of «ancient» literature: Histoire du commerce; and Id., Mémoires sur le commerce des Hollandois. On the potential significance of this literature: P. Cheney, Revolutionary Commerce, pp. 26-31.

46 Montesquieu, Esprit des Lois, bks. XX, XXI, esp. bk. XX, chs. i-ii, vol. II.

47 Ibid., bks. IV-XIX.

48 H. Grotius, The Rights of War and Peace, Prolegomena § 11, p. 89: «though we should even grant, what without the greatest wickedness cannot be granted, that there is no God, or that he takes no care of human affairs». The remainder of § 11 qualifies the concession still further.

49 A. Brett, Changes of State.

50 Th. Hobbes, On the Citizen, pp. 21-25; Id., Leviathan, pp. 86-90.

51 S. Pufendorf, Of the Law of Nature and Nations, lib. II, cap. i, § XV, also §§ XVI-XVII. See I. Hont, «The language of sociability and commerce» (originally published 1986), now in Id., Jealousy of Trade, pp. 159-184.

52 J. Robertson, «Sacred history».

53 On Vico, Mandeville and Hume, see my Case for the Enlightenment, chs. 5-6.

54 Montesquieu, Esprit des Lois, bk. I, chs. i-ii.

55 J.-F. Melon, Essai politique sur le commerce. On Melon, C. Larrère, L’invention de l’économie au xviiie siècle, pp. 95-134; I. Hont, Jealousy of Trade, pp. 30-33.

56 A. Genovesi, Delle lezioni di commercio, ed. M. L. Perna; É. B. de Condillac, Le commerce et le gouvernement; engl. transl. by W. and S. Eltis, Commerce and Government; A. Smith, An Inquiry into the Nature and Causes of the Wealth of Nations, ed. R. H. Campbell and A. S. Skinner.

57 Information derived from L. Charles, «French “New Politics”»; and A. Alimento, «Introduzione» pp. ix-xxiii. Along with Christine Théré and John Shovlin (above, n. 39), Charles and Alimento have led recent investigation of the Gournay circle. See also R. J. Ives, «Political Publicity and Political Economy».

58 L. Charles, «French “New Politics”», esp. pp. 184-191, for discussion of these issues.

59 A. Alimento, «Entre animosité nationale et rivalité d’émulation». Also Id., «Introduzione», pp. xiv-xxiii.

60 S. A. Reinert, «Emulazione e traduzione»; the story will be told at greater length in the same author’s monograph, Id., Translating Empire. A full, critical edition of the Storia del commercio della Gran Bretagna is included in M. L. Perna (ed.), Antonio Genovesi.

61 J. Astigarraga, «La dérangeante découverte de l’autre», esp. pp. 97-106.

62 J. Robertson, Case for the Enlightenment, pp. 340-342; on Celestino and Ferdinando Galiani, K. Stapelbroek, Love, Self-Deceit, and Money.

63 F. Longano, «Discorso del notatore». Melon’s name was not on the title page, but was on that of the later Neapolitan edition, Saggio politico sul commercio del signor Melon (1795). On Longano’s translation: P. Matarazzo, «“Senza ineguaglianza e senza lusso”».

64 J. Astigarraga, «La dérangeante découverte de l’autre», pp. 106-115.

65 A. Genovesi, Lecciones de comercio; J. Astigarraga and J. Usoz, «From the Neapolitan A. Genovesi of Carlo di Borbone».

66 J. Astigarraga, «Pensiero giusnaturalista»; and now the same author’s monograph, Luces y republicanismo. Astigarraga’s studies of translations of political economy have taken the subject to a new level of importance in Enlightenment scholarship.

67 As will be evident, I have not considered translations into German, Scandinavian or other languages. The tradition of Cameralism gave German economic thinking an independent context, likely to have shaped translations in distinctive ways. On German economic thinking, K. Tribe, Governing Economy.

68 G. L. Schmidd’Avenstein, Principj della legislazione universale, with a dedication to Giuseppe Palmieri by the publisher, Michele Stasi; A. Smith, Ricerche sulla natura, e le cagioni della ricchezza delle nazioni del Signor Smith. On the latter, see G. Gioli, «The knowledge of Adam Smith’s Wealth of Nations in Italy», pp. 153-154. In Spain Ramón de Salas also translated Schmid D’Avenstein around 1790; but this too remained unpublished: J. Astigarraga, «La Fisiocracia en España».

69 Understanding of both debates has been transformed by the seminal studies of I. Hont: «The early Enlightenment debate on commerce and luxury»; «The “rich country-poor country” debate»; reprinted in I. Hont, Jealousy of Trade; and «The “rich country- poor country” debate revisited». On the luxury debate, see also M. Berg and E. Eger (eds.), Luxury in the Eighteenth Century, T. Wahnbaeck, Luxury and Public Happiness, and several contributions to Alimento (ed.), Modelli d’oltre confine.

70 I. Hont, «The “rich country-poor country” debate revisited», p. 304.

71 Discorso sopra il vero fine delle lettere e delle scienze. See J. Robertson, The Case for the Enlightenment, pp. 351-359; E. Chiosi, «L’identità socio-economica Napoletana», and A. M. Rao, «Economia e morale».

72 G. Filangieri, Delle leggi che riguardano l’educazione, i costumi e l’istruzione pubblica, ed. P. Bianchini, t. IV of Id., La Scienza della Legislazione, ed. V. Ferrone, pp. 359-365.

73 A. M. Rao, «The feudal question»; J. Robertson, «Political economy and the “feudal system”».

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