Archive for the 'c18' Category

“Expensive appendages to the science of robbery”

August 18th, 2014
So I spent part of the morning reading stuff by the eccentric eighteenth-century Welsh philosopher (and friend of Brissot) David Williams, as one does, in which he more or less calls for the Hanoverian political system to be replaced with something that looks quite a bit like what the Marxists later called democratic centralism. Anyway, I liked the rhetoric of this bit, towards the end of the sixth of his 1782 Letters on Political Liberty:
It will probably be said, that the revival of this mode of establishing political liberty would have all the effect of innovation; and that innovations, even on the most perfect principles, are hurtful, because they press on the prejudices of the people. This is always the shallow pretence of political Jesuitism. The throne is daily innovating; while every step presses out the blood of the most industrious and excellent among the people. A standing army is an innovation against the prepossessions, habits, and judgement, of every independent man in the nation; and yet it has been established. Is it to be imagined, the people will object to the very little trouble attending to such an arrangement, as will afford them an intire security against the encroachments of the Crown, and the depredations of fluctuating parties in their legislature, who plunder them in succession? If they were to arm themselves slightly, they would also have a police on the best footing; and be perfectly secured against the collusions of thieves and thief-takers, watchmen, constables, church-wardens, overseers, trading justices, and the whole train of expensive appendages to the science of robbery.

Podcasts, vel sim.

August 4th, 2014
Since I seem to have fallen back into a habit--goodness knows how long it will last--of posting here in a low-key way, here are three links to pages through which you can get to the audio files of talks I've given over the last few months and years that have found their way on-line, in case anyone is interested. 17 February 2011: 'Why secular liberals need Roman Catholics (and Marxists)', a talk at 'Republicanism and Religion: a colloquium in memory of Emile Perreau-Saussine', Fitzwilliam College, Cambridge. 19 February 2014: 'Towards a new, gendered history of property-owning democracy', a lunchtime Sussex University Lecture in Intellectual History. 15 May 2014: 'Bees, Ants and Beavers in European Political Thought', an informal talk given to the King's College Apicultural Society in Cambridge.

Winch on conversation

August 3rd, 2014
Last week I mostly sat at home, watched books by Donald Winch that I'd ordered online pop through the letterbox, and then started to read them. And today I've discovered that his 1995 Carlyle Lectures, ‘Secret Concatenations: Mandeville to Malthus’, are available on the web, thanks to the St Andrews Institute of Intellectual History. So that’s my Sunday afternoon sorted out. This is from the opening discussion of the first lecture [pdf] as, following John Burrow, he presents a view of intellectual history as ‘eavesdropping on the conversations of the past’.
An attractive feature of conversations is that we can continue them at the point where our predecessors left them. The only restriction I would place on such freedom, speaking as an intellectual historian, is that the conversations should be between interlocutors who were genuinely aware of each other’s existence and arguments. This rules out those encounters in which the historian acts as ominiscient host at a kind of celestial cocktail party at which those invited only speak to one another through the intermediation of the host -- indeed, can only speak through the host because they had no common language in life. I shall appear to break this rule in one respect only, namely by posing some counter-factual questions of my cast in some crucial instances. In other words, having established that a genuine conversation was taking place, I shall sometimes seek to reconstruct what their responses might have been when more direct evidence is unavailable. Interesting conversations are usually free from the coercive dualisms that tend to be an occupational hazard of much intellectual history devoted to political thinking. Whigs and Tories have long since been replaced by debating teams bearing more sophisticated labels such as contractarians and anti-contractarians, liberals versus classical republicans, civic humanists versus natural jurisprudentialists, and so on -- to mention only those dualisms that are current among students of the period and authors I shall be considering. Narratives that purport to be dealing with past social scientific conversations often attempt to enforce another powerful dichotomy -- between positive and normative propositions, between statements of fact and statements of value or rights. As already hinted, one of the negative conclusions I would like to emerge from these lectures is that none of my cast was foolish enough to allow their conversations to be constricted by these dualisms. That is something we have done to them in retrospect and for our own purposes, taxonomic or ideological.

Malthus on the Possibility that Men might become Ostriches

July 27th, 2014
A writer may tell me that he thinks man will ultimately become an ostrich. I cannot properly contradict him. But before he can expect to bring any reasonable person over to his opinion, he ought to shew, that the necks of mankind have been gradually elongating; that the lips have grown harder and more prominent; that the legs and feet are daily altering their shape; and that the hair is beginning to change into stubs of feathers. And till the probability of so wonderful a conversion can be shewn, it is surely lost time and lost eloquence to expatiate on the happiness of man in such a state; to describe his powers, both of running and flying; to paint him in a condition where all narrow luxuries would be contemned; where he would be employed only in collecting the necessaries of life; and where, consequently, each man's share of labour would be light, and his portion of leisure ample.

(T. R. "Bob" Malthus, An Essay on the Principle of Population, 1st ed. [1798], pp. 11-12)

Adam Smith on Strivers and Shirkers

May 8th, 2013
The poor man's son, whom heaven in its anger has visited with ambition, when he begins to look around him, admires the condition of the rich. He finds the cottage of his father too small for his accommodation, and fancies he should be lodged more at his ease in a palace. He is displeased with being obliged to walk a-foot, or to endure the fatigue of riding on horseback. He sees his superiors carried about in machines, and imagines that in one of these he could travel with less inconveniency. He feels himself naturally indolent, and willing to serve himself with his own hands as little as possible; and judges, that a numerous retinue of servants would save him from a great deal of trouble. He thinks if he had attained all these, he would sit still contentedly, and be quiet, enjoying himself in the thought of the happiness and tranquillity of his situation. He is enchanted with the distant idea of this felicity. It appears in his fancy like the life of some superior rank of beings, and, in order to arrive at it, he devotes himself for ever to the pursuit of wealth and greatness. To obtain the conveniencies which these afford, he submits in the first year, nay in the first month of his application, to more fatigue of body and more uneasiness of mind than he could have suffered through the whole of his life from the want of them. He studies to distinguish himself in some laborious profession. With the most unrelenting industry he labours night and day to acquire talents superior to all his competitors. He endeavours next to bring those talents into public view, and with equal assiduity solicits every opportunity of employment. For this purpose he makes his court to all mankind; he serves those whom he hates, and is obsequious to those whom he despises. Through the whole of his life he pursues the idea of a certain artificial and elegant repose which he may never arrive at, for which he sacrifices a real tranquillity that is at all times in his power, and which, if in the extremity of old age he should at last attain to it, he will find to be in no respect preferable to that humble security and contentment which he had abandoned for it. It is then, in the last dregs of life, his body wasted with toil and diseases, his mind galled and ruffled by the memory of a thousand injuries and disappointments which he imagines he has met with from the injustice of his enemies, or from the perfidy and ingratitude of his friends, that he begins at last to find that wealth and greatness are mere trinkets of frivolous utility, no more adapted for procuring ease of body or tranquillity of mind than the tweezer-cases of the lover of toys; and like them too, more troublesome to the person who carries them about with him than all the advantages they can afford him are commodious. There is no other real difference between them, except that the conveniencies of the one are somewhat more observable than those of the other. The palaces, the gardens, the equipage, the retinue of the great, are objects of which the obvious conveniency strikes every body. They do not require that their masters should point out to us wherein consists their utility. Of our own accord we readily enter into it, and by sympathy enjoy and thereby applaud the satisfaction which they are fitted to afford him. But the curiosity of a tooth-pick, of an ear-picker, of a machine for cutting the nails, or of any other trinket of the same kind, is not so obvious. Their conveniency may perhaps be equally great, but it is not so striking, and we do not so readily enter into the satisfaction of the man who possesses them. They are therefore less reasonable subjects of vanity than the magnificence of wealth and greatness; and in this consists the sole advantage of these last. They more effectually gratify that love of distinction so natural to man. To one who was to live alone in a desolate island it might be a matter of doubt, perhaps, whether a palace, or a collection of such small conveniencies as are commonly contained in a tweezer-case, would contribute most to his happiness and enjoyment. If he is to live in society, indeed, there can be no comparison, because in this, as in all other cases, we constantly pay more regard to the sentiments of the spectator, than to those of the person principally concerned, and consider rather how his situation will appear to other people, than how it will appear to himself. If we examine, however, why the spectator distinguishes with such admiration the condition of the rich and the great, we shall find that it is not so much upon account of the superior ease or pleasure which they are supposed to enjoy, as of the numberless artificial and elegant contrivances for promoting this ease or pleasure. He does not even imagine that they are really happier than other people: but he imagines that they possess more means of happiness. And it is the ingenious and artful adjustment of those means to the end for which they were intended, that is the principal source of his admiration. But in the languor of disease and the weariness of old age, the pleasures of the vain and empty distinctions of greatness disappear. To one, in this situation, they are no longer capable of recommending those toilsome pursuits in which they had formerly engaged him. In his heart he curses ambition, and vainly regrets the ease and the indolence of youth, pleasures which are fled for ever, and which he has foolishly sacrificed for what, when he has got it, can afford him no real satisfaction. In this miserable aspect does greatness appear to every man when reduced either by spleen or disease to observe with attention his own situation, and to consider what it is that is really wanting to his happiness. Power and riches appear then to be, what they are, enormous and operose machines contrived to produce a few trifling conveniencies to the body, consisting of springs the most nice and delicate, which must be kept in order with the most anxious attention, and which in spite of all our care are ready every moment to burst into pieces, and to crush in their ruins their unfortunate possessor. They are immense fabrics, which it requires the labour of a life to raise, which threaten every moment to overwhelm the person that dwells in them, and which while they stand, though they may save him from some smaller inconveniencies, can protect him from none of the severer inclemencies of the season. They keep off the summer shower, not the winter storm, but leave him always as much, and sometimes more exposed than before, to anxiety, to fear, and to sorrow; to diseases, to danger, and to death. But though this splenetic philosophy, which in time of sickness or low spirits is familiar to every man, thus entirely depreciates those great objects of human desire, when in better health and in better humour, we never fail to regard them under a more agreeable aspect. Our imagination, which in pain and sorrow seems to be confined and cooped up within our own persons, in times of ease and prosperity expands itself to every thing around us. We are then charmed with the beauty of that accommodation which reigns in the palaces and oeconomy of the great; and admire how every thing is adapted to promote their ease, to prevent their wants, to gratify their wishes, and to amuse and entertain their most frivolous desires. If we consider the real satisfaction which all these things are capable of affording, by itself and separated from the beauty of that arrangement which is fitted to promote it, it will always appear in the highest degree contemptible and trifling. But we rarely view it in this abstract and philosophical light. We naturally confound it in our imagination with the order, the regular and harmonious movement of the system, the machine or oeconomy by means of which it is produced. The pleasures of wealth and greatness, when considered in this complex view, strike the imagination as something grand and beautiful and noble, of which the attainment is well worth all the toil and anxiety which we are so apt to bestow upon it. And it is well that nature imposes upon us in this manner. It is this deception which rouses and keeps in continual motion the industry of mankind. It is this which first prompted them to cultivate the ground, to build houses, to found cities and commonwealths, and to invent and improve all the sciences and arts, which ennoble and embellish human life; which have entirely changed the whole face of the globe, have turned the rude forests of nature into agreeable and fertile plains, and made the trackless and barren ocean a new fund of subsistence, and the great high road of communication to the different nations of the earth. The earth by these labours of mankind has been obliged to redouble her natural fertility, and to maintain a greater multitude of inhabitants. It is to no purpose, that the proud and unfeeling landlord views his extensive fields, and without a thought for the wants of his brethren, in imagination consumes himself the whole harvest that grows upon them. The homely and vulgar proverb, that the eye is larger than the belly, never was more fully verified than with regard to him. The capacity of his stomach bears no proportion to the immensity of his desires, and will receive no more than that of the meanest peasant. The rest he is obliged to distribute among those, who prepare, in the nicest manner, that little which he himself makes use of, among those who fit up the palace in which this little is to be consumed, among those who provide and keep in order all the different baubles and trinkets, which are employed in the oeconomy of greatness; all of whom thus derive from his luxury and caprice, that share of the necessaries of life, which they would in vain have expected from his humanity or his justice. The produce of the soil maintains at all times nearly that number of inhabitants which it is capable of maintaining. The rich only select from the heap what is most precious and agreeable. They consume little more than the poor, and in spite of their natural selfishness and rapacity, though they mean only their own conveniency, though the sole end which they propose from the labours of all the thousands whom they employ, be the gratification of their own vain and insatiable desires, they divide with the poor the produce of all their improvements. They are led by an invisible hand to make nearly the same distribution of the necessaries of life, which would have been made, had the earth been divided into equal portions among all its inhabitants, and thus without intending it, without knowing it, advance the interest of the society, and afford means to the multiplication of the species. When Providence divided the earth among a few lordly masters, it neither forgot nor abandoned those who seemed to have been left out in the partition. These last too enjoy their share of all that it produces. In what constitutes the real happiness of human life, they are in no respect inferior to those who would seem so much above them. In ease of body and peace of mind, all the different ranks of life are nearly upon a level, and the beggar, who suns himself by the side of the highway, possesses that security which kings are fighting for.

The Theory of Moral Sentiments, IV.i.8-10.

From the Correspondence of Thomas Jefferson

October 14th, 2012
You promise, in your letter of Octob 23. 1787. to give me in your next, at large, the conjectures of your Philosopher on the descent of the Creek Indians from the Carthaginians, supposed to have been separated from Hanno’s fleet during his periplus. I shall be very glad to receive them, & see nothing impossible in his conjecture. I am glad he means to appeal to the similarity of language, which I consider as the strongest kind of proof it is possible to adduce. I have somewhere read that the language of the ancient Carthaginians is still spoken by their descendants inhabiting the mountainous interior parts of Barbary to which they were obliged to retire by the conquering Arabs. If so, a vocabulary of their tongue can still be got, and if your friend will get one of the Creek languages, the comparison will decide. He probably may have made progress in this business: but if he wishes any enquiries to be made on this side the Atlantic, I offer him my services cheerfully, my wish being, like his, to ascertain the history of the American aborigines. [Letter of 18 July 1788 to Edward Rutledge, full text over here]

Perpetual Peace and European Union

October 12th, 2012
On the occasion of the awarding of this year's Nobel Peace Prize, I'm reproducing over the fold a chunk of an old lecture I gave in January 2010 on the eighteenth-century debate about perpetual peace and European Union... [it's quite long, for which, apologies, but I have made it a bit more bearable with some hyperlinks and a picture of a cat] Let me begin with what still seems to me to be a surprising and entertaining anecdote about the Russian philosopher Alexandre Kojève. Kojève was born in 1902 and grew up at the heart of the Russian intelligentsia – the painter Kandinsky was his uncle – and, in 1917, he was sentenced to death for selling soap on the black market. Like Dostoyevsky, he was reprieved from the firing squad at the last minute. He left Russia in 1920 – a firm supporter (perhaps oddly, in the circumstances) of the Bolshevik Revolution – and headed West, where he studied with Karl Jaspers at Heidelberg, and then wound up teaching philosophy in Paris in the 1930s. Indeed, Kojève’s significance to the development of European thought lies here, for his seminars on the Phenomenology of Spirit are generally regarded as the occasion on which the French intelligentsia was finally persuaded to take Hegel’s philosophy seriously. The seminar was attended, for example, by, among others, André Breton, Georges Bataille, Maurice Merleau-Ponty, Raymond Aron, Jacques Lacan and Raymond Queneau, and people continue to argue about the significance of Kojève’s reading of Hegel for shaping the thought of Michel Foucault, in a younger generation. And Kojève took Hegel terribly seriously as a philosopher of history. Indeed, he thought that Hegel had been right to embrace the notion of the ‘end of history’ – Kojève is in every way the middle term between Hegel and Francis Fukuyama. Kojève took the idea of the end of history so seriously that at the end of the war he chucked in his academic career and became a French civil servant, working on central questions of economic planning, including what became the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade – which has now metamorphosed into the World Trade Organisation – and the architecture of what we now call the European Union. Kojève thought that it was the creation of the European Union that marked the end of history, being the concrete instantiation of the Napoleonic vision of rational French administration being adopted by the free peoples of Europe in order to bring an end to international violence. Bureaucracy, Kojève said, in an interview at the end of his life, was a ‘superior game’ to philosophy. He may or may not have spied for the Soviet Union for thirty yearsLe Monde has charged that he did, but has not published its evidence. Kojève died in 1968, entirely fittingly, of a heart attack, in Brussels, on a business trip to address the Common Market on behalf of the French government. Well, the peculiar career of Alexandre Kojève reminds us of the ways in which the grand themes of European philosophy could intersect with the world of establishing agricultural quotas and customs unions, and it builds a bridge from which we might cross directly from the world of the battle of Jena in 1806 to the conference at Messina in 1955. And Napoleon’s Europe is an important one for thinking about European Union – it was the Napoleonic Wars that persuaded Saint-Simon, for example, that an Anglo-French political union was essential in order to prevent future conflict. But to get at what seem to me to be the most interesting intellectual fore-runners of the twentieth century’s debates about European Union, we need to push back, past Napoleon, past the French Revolution, and back into the world of the eighteenth century. These days, we’re used to considering peace on the European continent the norm, armed conflict the exception. In the eighteenth century, things were more or less the other way around. What historians sometimes call the long eighteenth century – say, from the Revocation of the Edict of Nantes in 1685 down to the final defeat of Napoleon in 1815 – was a rather violent period. Just to mention some of the more protracted conflicts that followed on from the events that we continue in this country, rather curiously, to call the Glorious Revolution, there was the Nine Years’ War of 1688-97, the War of the Spanish Succession, 1701-14; the War of the Austrian Succession, 1740-48; the Seven Years’ War, 1756-63; the American War of Independence, 1775-83; and then there were the French Revolutionary Wars that would get going in 1792 and continue in one form or another through the years of Napoleon’s conquests and down to the battle of Waterloo. These wars generally pitted alliances of European powers against one another, and involved fighting around the world – on European battlefields, to be sure, but also in the colonies in North America, the Caribbean, the Indian subcontinent, and elsewhere. Clearly, there were structural reasons driving the frequency of interstate warfare. This was a Europe, for example, in which the balance of power, such as it was, could be destabilised every time a monarch died and the question of who would replace him or her was raised. It’s not an accident that we have wars of the Spanish and Austrian Successions (and there might easily have been wars of the French Succession, had things only turned out a little differently). These wars fuelled massive national indebtedness, as the rulers of Europe were borrowing enormous sums in order to finance them, and it wasn’t always clear how these debts might be reduced, or what the social, political and economic consequences of such indebtedness would be. The proximate cause of the French Revolution lay in the crisis in the French monarchy’s finances in the later part of the 1780s. And what students of political thought are increasingly appreciating today is that the problem of how social and economic and political structures might be rearranged in order to provide the basis for a durable European peace can be seen to be driving much of the most interesting political and economic thought of the period; that we can read books like Montesquieu’s Spirit of the Laws, Rousseau’s Social Contract or even Adam Smith’s Wealth of Nations, for example, through this lens with considerable profit. One might have thought that if the problem was a world of independent states with an inbuilt tendency towards war, then the obvious solution to pursue might be some form of world-government or world state. And some people are sometimes puzzled that in the history of political thought, we find so many thinkers who are very clear-headed about the problems of the international state system, but who are also so reluctant to recommend its abolition through some kind of world-state. The hostility is often very marked: Immanuel Kant famously said, for example, that a world-state would have to be a ‘soulless despotism’. But one of the reasons why the world-state wasn’t high on many of the more serious thinkers’ agendas was that this, too, was considered part of the problem. In particular, eighteenth-century attention returned, again and again, to the lessons of one particular recent episode in the economic and military history of Europe. Before Napoleon, the previous French attempt to dominate Europe had been Louis XIV’s bid to establish what was then called ‘Universal Monarchy’, or, as we might say, to become the regional hegemon, in particular in the years during which Jean-Baptiste Colbert was finance minister in France. If the English were regularly accused of using foreign policy to pursue commercial interests – indeed, both major political parties today are quite open that this is a central aim of British foreign policy – Colbert’s France used commerce to pursue political objectives. ‘Commerce’, he wrote in a memorandum of 1669, ‘is a perpetual and peaceable war of wit and energy among all nations’, and his project as finance minister was to harness the economic life of France and put it in the service of the monarch’s aggressive foreign policy. What did that mean in practice? Protectionist tariffs, cultivation of France’s export industries (especially those of luxury goods), import-substitution, maintenance of the mediaeval restrictions on internal commerce, a sharply regressive system of taxation, developing the towns at the expense of the countryside, and so on. To his critics, such as the Archbishop and royal tutor Fénelon, such policies were insane. They threatened to depopulate the countryside and ruin agriculture, and the political economy of luxury would enmesh France ever deeper in wars with foreign powers that it would be increasingly less likely to win. But if a writer like Fénelon, at the turn of the eighteenth century, or a later writer like Montesquieu, who was also critical of the French monarchy, but with a very different assessment of commerce and luxury, looked for ways of reorganising domestic French politics in order to steer policy away from the pursuit of the project of universal monarchy, in order to maintain prosperity and liberty at home, other writers investigated the structures of international politics. The most celebrated example of this was the life’s work of the Abbé de Saint-Pierre, who was born in 1658 and died in 1742, and who wrote at great length, in a turgid and often repetitive style, to promote what he called his project for perpetual peace in Europe. The Abbé de Saint-Pierre’s analysis of international politics was basically a Hobbesian one. Just as there is no security in a Hobbesian state of nature, because nobody can be trusted to keep the promises they have made, so too in the international arena the rulers of Europe would prefer to regulate their dealings with one another through treaties and the like, but these cannot provide security, for exactly the same reason. ‘The present Constitution of Europe’, the Abbé wrote, ‘can never produce any thing else but almost continual Wars, because it can never procure any sufficient Security for the Execution of Treaties.’ And, as in Hobbes’s theory, he reached for a solution that would provide an authoritative body which would not only adjudicate disputes between hitherto-independent agents, but would also – crucially – be able to enforce its rulings. His idea was that there would be what he called ‘a permanent Society of all the Christian Sovereignties of Europe’, a European confederation, based in Utrecht, to which the eighteen leading European powers would send delegates – which he thought were France, Spain, England, Holland, Portugal, Switzerland, Florence, Genoa, the Papal State, Venice, Savoy, Lorraine, Denmark, Danzig, the German Empire, Poland, Sweden and Muscovy. International disputes would be considered by these delegates and voted on, and the various powers would agree both to abide by the majority decisions and to contribute to an international army, which would both enforce the decisions of the confederation, if necessary, but also could be used to force any European countries which preferred to stay outside the confederation to join in. Even if they weren’t forced to join in, the Abbé de Saint-Pierre thought that European rulers would have good incentives to participate in his confederation. Rulers sought to maintain their rule and their frontiers, and the confederation would guarantee the continuation of the status quo in this regard; they would be able to make treaties and other international arrangements in the confidence that the deals would stick; and the various countries would be able to trade with one another and grow rich, without commerce experiencing the repeated interruptions of war, or government the enormous expense. It was thus in the interests of princes to join in the European Union, the Abbé de Saint-Pierre argued, especially insofar as the greatest glory would redound to those who took steps to secure such enlightened goals as international and perpetual peace. (There may or may not have been a crusading agenda here. It’s frequently been the case that those who call for peace inside Europe do so in order to encourage war against the Islamic world, and the Abbé de Saint-Pierre was no exception. Or, at least, he seems to have gone back and forth on this question, or to have said different things to different people on different occasions. In some presentations of his ideas, he argued that the international confederation could eventually be extended to cover the whole world, but that for reasons of practicality it should start with Europe, and build out from there. In other versions, he argued that the European priority ought to be to expel the Ottomans from South-Eastern Europe, and that a guarantee of security inside Europe would enable Europe’s princes to concentrate on this all-important goal.) In the middle of the eighteenth century, the Abbé de Saint-Pierre’s ideas were kept alive in large part owing to Jean-Jacques Rousseau’s entanglement with his argument. Rousseau probably met the very, very old Abbé at a Parisian salon just before his death in 1742, and in the mid-1750s he was asked to edit the Abbé’s works. As he wrote in his Confessions, he was ‘reading, considering and selecting from twenty-three diffuse and muddled volumes full of boring passages, repetitions, and false or short-sighted views, out of which I had to fish some few that were fine and great and would give courage to endure this painful labour.’ Rousseau never produced an extensive edition of the Abbé de Saint-Pierre, but he did compose two texts, an Abridgement or Abstract of the plan for perpetual peace, and a Critique or Judgment of it. rousseau_cat On the face of it, approaching and interpreting these texts should be a fairly straightforward business: the one work descriptive, the other critical. But in fact things are quite confusing. Rousseau only published the first text during his own lifetime, and so many eighteenth-century readers – including Immanuel Kant – took him to be a defender of the Abbé’s system. And the Abstract to some extent recasts the Abbé de Saint-Pierre’s thought and Rousseau-ises it – it can’t be straightforwardly read as an impartial or accurate summary. Rousseau himself acknowledged this when he observed that ‘it is true that I have seen the object under a different point of view than the Abbé de Saint-Pierre did, and that I have sometimes given different reasons than his’. And although we have the Judgment of the Abbé de Saint-Pierre, this is a short and fairly compressed text, and we don’t have a full statement of Rousseau’s ideas about international politics to help contextualise our interpretation of it. The final chapter of the Social Contract, for example, reads, in full, that,
After setting down the true principles of political right and trying to found the state on its basis, it would remain to buttress the state by its external relations; which would include the right of nations, commerce, the right of war and conquest, public right, leagues, negotiations, treaties, etc. But all this forms a new object too vast for my short sight; I should always have fixed it nearer to myself.
So we have to reconstruct Rousseau’s understanding of international politics from occasional remarks and inferences from other sources – and it remains the case that scholars down to this day continue to disagree over just how to understand Rousseau’s vision of international politics, both with respect to how he thought international relations actually worked, and with respect to whether they were reformable for the better. I think Rousseau’s most interesting departure from the Abbé de Saint-Pierre’s argument in the Abstract is his account of the basis of a genuinely European civil society. The Abbé focused on sovereigns and states, Rousseau on peoples. (The same substitution takes place in John Rawls’s contribution to the global justice debate.) Rousseau might have argued against there being a robust natural sociability, against the view that there was what he called a ‘general society of the human race’, but he thought that even without any formal international political institutions the countries of Europe did form ‘a sort of system among themselves which unites them by one single religion, the same international law, morals, literature, commerce, and a sort of equilibrium that is the necessary effect of all this, and which, without anyone in fact thinking about preserving it, would not be as simple to break up as many people think.’ But this European civil society isn’t robust enough to forestall war, in a world of multiple sovereignties. Rousseau canvassed three possible alternatives to war: empire (what I earlier called universal monarchy); the balance of power; and commerce. And he rejected all three. The conditions in modern Europe didn’t exist for one power to dominate the entire continent, as had happened in Roman times. A balance of power or ‘equilibrium’ couldn’t be reliably maintained among artificial institutions such as modern sovereign states. And commerce was a source of war, not an alternative to it, for
ideas about commerce and money have produced a sort of political fanaticism, they cause the apparent interests of all Princes to change so suddenly that one cannot establish any stable maxim based on their true interests, because now everything depends on economic systems, most of them extremely bizarre, which run through the heads of ministers.
Having rejected these alternatives to war, then, the Abstract set out a simplified version of the Abbé de Saint-Pierre’s peace plan, reducing the scheme to five main principles (in place of Saint-Pierre’s original twenty eight). Did the plan for perpetual peace jeopardise national sovereignty? Rousseau argued in the Abstract that it did not. Princes would be forced by the plan to be ‘equitable and peaceful’, it was true, but then equity and peace were central objectives of any legitimate political institution, the content of any plausible general will. ‘By submitting their quarrels to the judgment of the [international] assembly and by depriving themselves of the dangerous power of seizing the property of others’, Rousseau continued, the princes of Europe ‘would only assure themselves of their real rights and renounce those that they do not have’. Liberty might be ‘alienated in the hands of a master, but it is strengthened in the hands of one's peers’. And the Abstract ended with a characteristic rhetorical flourish:
If we have reasoned well in the exposition of this project, it is demonstrated firstly that the establishment of perpetual peace depends solely on the consent of sovereigns and presents no difficulty other than their resistance... If, despite all of this, the project remains unfulfilled, it is not therefore because it is too idealistic; rather, it is because men are insane, and because it is a sort of folly to remain wise in the midst of those who are mad.
What, then, did Rousseau go on to argue in the Judgment? In the Judgment, Rousseau rejected the plan for perpetual peace as unworkable. The problem lay in the way in which the Abbé de Saint-Pierre thought about political action. He thought rulers were rational agents who made sensible decisions in light of reasonable views about the interests of themselves and their populations. Saint-Pierre, that is to say, thought about politics the way that modern political scientists tend to. That was the problem. The typical European ruler wasn’t like that at all, but, rather, was ‘like a mad sailor who, in order to show off his knowledge and intimidate his crew, would prefer to drift dangerously among reefs during a storm than to secure his ship with an anchor’. Kings were gripped by the passion to dominate, at home and abroad, and war and tyranny were mutually reinforcing: in order to fight wars, kings would impose high taxes so that they could maintain large armies, and both the armies and the taxes would work to oppress the people further. And it just wasn’t the case, as Saint-Pierre had thought, that the power of rulers was a function of the well-being of the subordinate population. Rulers would, he thought, far rather rule over a large, miserable population than over a small and happy one, and they were prepared to take great risks with the lives and well-being of their subjects in order to try to extend the boundaries of their dominion. The Abbé de Saint-Pierre’s plan, therefore, just could not get off the ground. Scholars have argued among themselves as to whether Rousseau was entirely committed to this verdict. If the problem was that Saint-Pierre’s alliance of kings could not work, because they were kings, why couldn’t sovereign republican peoples confederate together in something like the manner in which Saint-Pierre described? If Europe became a Europe of republics, could the peace plan be made to work? Some think that this was Rousseau’s view. His Social Contract suggests that the only legitimate sovereignty is republican sovereignty; and some of his writings on the smaller or weaker states of Europe (Corsica, the Swiss cantons, Poland) suggest that their security might be preserved through confederal arrangements or defensive alliances with powers that were similarly situated in international geopolitics. But an important point (one pressed by the French scholar Céline Spector) is that we don’t have any reason to think that Rousseau thought that the monarchies of Europe like France or Britain could become republics. Rousseau basically inherited Montesquieu’s distinction between monarchies and republics, in which the former were large countries with unequal populations and the latter were small countries with much more substantial social and economic equality among the citizens. The Social Contract presented the fundamentals of republican political theory; the Considerations on the Government of Poland described how a weak monarchy might be reformed in order better to be able to preserve itself in the face of its neighbours’ imperial ambitions. But there was no recipe for turning monarchies into republics; and when Rousseau wrote in the Judgment of the plan for perpetual peace that, ‘We will not see federative leagues establishing themselves except by revolution’, it’s important to realise that Rousseau wasn’t actually calling for such a revolution. Contrary to his subsequent reputation as the godfather of the French Revolution, Rousseau was no kind of advocate of political revolution. He thought, quite rightly, that Europe was heading into an age of revolutions, but he didn’t think that any good would come of them—just the loss of an awful lot of innocent life. It wouldn’t be quite right to say that the disagreement between the Abbé de Saint-Pierre and Jean-Jacques Rousseau exactly mapped out the intellectual foundations of today’s European Union. The Abbé de Saint-Pierre’s plan for perpetual peace was, at its heart, a security community, a way of co-ordinating military force (whether or not its point was to kick the Turks out of Europe). And in postwar Western Europe, of course, it was NATO rather than the EEC which addressed organised security for most member-states, and the EU still struggles to develop robust institutions concerning foreign policy and security matters. But I think that it’s not wrong to say that Saint-Pierre and Rousseau were debating the question of European Union in a way that ought to make a great deal of sense to us today. Earlier debates about political unification in Europe belong to a completely different world – whether we look to the Roman ideologists of universal monarchy or to the mediaeval arguments about whether general jurisdiction belonged to the Pope or the Emperor. What Saint-Pierre and Rousseau were arguing about was whether there could be a powerful international body that was not quite a sovereign state of its own, which joined together the leading states of Europe, and which would promote internal commerce in a way that would foster peaceful relations rather than contributing to the causes of war—indeed, that would make war among Europe’s peoples unthinkable. And that is straightforwardly a description of the project that the founders of today’s European Union – Alexandre Kojève and the others – took themselves to be engaged in; indeed, that the elites in Brussels still take themselves to be engaged in. Who, then, of the Abbé de Saint-Pierre and Rousseau had the better of the argument? The Abbé de Saint-Pierre was famous in eighteenth-century Europe as one who peddled crazy, unworkable, cloud-cuckoo-land schemes. Two hundred years later, his dream has become as much of a reality as political dreams can ever plausibly hope to become. We might think that Rousseau was doubly wrong, then: wrong to think that the scheme was unachievable, and wrong to think that Europe’s monarchies could not, in the end, be republicanised – for the European Union took shape in the wake of the military defeat of the despotisms of Hitler and Mussolini, and its member states have always been parliamentary or presidential democracies of one kind or another. But this might be to move too fast. Rousseau argued that there could never be a stable confederation of kings, and we don’t have any reason to think him wrong on that score. And if we use the categories of Montesquieu’s political thought, as Rousseau did, then it’s not at all clear that what we have in Europe today are republics, as he could have understood them. Rather, they are reformed monarchies: large territorial regimes, with commercial economies, containing great levels of social and economic inequality, organised along constitutional lines, i.e., with bodies of fundamental law; but they’ve been reformed in such a way that we don’t really have the eighteenth-century-style monarchs anymore, with all the various problems that they bring with them. The British prime minister or the French president are somewhat monarch-like, given the extent of their legislative and executive powers; but they are not free to mess around with the security of Europe, in the way that kings once were; and their foreign-policy adventurism these days tends to take place well beyond the confines of the continent. And what would a theoretical sketch of a European monarchy without a traditional monarch look like? One might say, in fact, that one of the earliest sketches of such a regime is to be found in Rousseau’s Considerations on the Government of Poland. So I’m inclined to split the honours on this occasion between the Abbé de Saint-Pierre and Rousseau on the question of European Union, and to call it a score draw. Bibliography Primary Texts The Abbé de Saint-Pierre wrote a lot. The easiest place to find his ideas is in Charles Irénée Castel de Saint-Pierre, A project for settling an everlasting peace in Europe… (London: Ferdinand Burleigh, 1714). There are two places to find Jean-Jacques Rousseau’s main texts on the Abbé de Saint-Pierre in English. One is in the Appendix to Grace G. Roosevelt’s book, Reading Rousseau in the Nuclear Age (Philadelphia, PA: Temple University Press, 1991). The other is in volume 11 of the University Presses of New England edition of Rousseau’s Collected Works, which is The plan for perpetual peace, On the government of Poland, and other writings on history and politics, translated by Christopher Kelly and Judith Bush; edited by Christopher Kelly (Hanover, NH: University Press of New England, 2005). The French texts are collected in the third volume of the Pléiade Oeuvres complètes de Jean-Jacques Rousseau. Secondary Literature Istvan Hont, Jealousy of Trade (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2005), Introduction. Michael Sonenscher, Before the Deluge (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2007), pp. 108-20. Grace G. Roosevelt, Reading Rousseau in the Nuclear Age (as above) Grace G. Roosevelt, ‘Rousseau versus Rawls on International Relations’, European Journal of Political Theory, vol. 5, no. 3 (2006), pp. 301-320. Stanley Hoffmann, ‘Rousseau on War and Peace’, American Political Science Review, vol. 57, no. 2 (June 1963), pp. 317-333. And, especially, Céline Spector, ‘Le Projet de paix perpétuelle: de Saint-Pierre à Rousseau’, in Principes du droit de la guerre, Ecrits sur le Projet de Paix Perpétuelle de l’abbé de Saint-Pierre, Blaise Bachofen and Céline Spector, eds. (Paris: Vrin, 2008), pp. 229-294. [English pdf available here.]

Workshop: Meet the Author: Christopher Brooke’s Philosophic Pride

October 4th, 2012
On Friday and Saturday, 30 November and 1 December 2012, the Philosophy Department of the University of Fribourg (Switzerland) will host a workshop entitled "Meet the Author: Christopher Brooke's Philosophic Pride". This interdisciplinary workshop is of interest for philosophers and historians working on the 17th and 18th centuries. It is coorganised by the Universities of Berne (Department of General and Historical Educational Science), Lausanne (Department of Philosophy), and Fribourg (Department of Philosophy). The workshop centers on themes from Christopher Brooke's Philosophic Pride: Stoicism and Political Thought from Lipsius to Rousseau (Princeton 2012), with quite some interest in Rousseau. Organising Committee: lic.-phil. Lukas Boser (Berne), Dr. Christian Maurer (Fribourg), Prof. Dr. Fritz Osterwalder (Berne), Prof. Dr. Simone Zurbuchen (Lausanne). The workshop language is English. Participation is free, but please register by 23 November. For registration, further information and a detailed program please contact the coordinator in Fribourg: christian.maurer(at)unifr.ch; or visit the conference website.

More Brooke, I’m Afraid

September 28th, 2012
Two new small things just published. One is a review of Jan-Werner Müller's recent book, Contesting Democracy for Renewal (which has a splendid new editor, Ben Jackson) and which you can get as a pdf here. The other is a few pages of Self-Evident Truths?, edited by (the equally splendid) Kate E. Tunstall, which presents the published versions of the 2010 Amnesty Lectures. (I wasn't an Amnesty Lecturer, obvs, but they asked me to write a short response to James Tully.)

Noel Malcolm on “Philosophic Pride”

September 27th, 2012
From this week's TLS:
It is one of the many strengths of Christopher Brooke’s fascinating new study, Philosophic Pride, that he is aware of the multifarious nature of his subject; he knows that he is dealing with a fluid cluster of ideas and themes, not as a unitary philosophical movement. Not that he has set out, in any case, to write a history of (Neo-)Stoicism; his task is both narrower and harder than that. The subject of this book is the relationship between Stoicism and early modern political thought; since there was scarcely such a thing as a worked-out body of Stoic political theory (unless we count Seneca’s fanciful portrayal of the monarchical ruler – Nero, of all people – extending the empire of reason), this means that an already elusive subject is considered here from a variety of oblique angles...
It's a long review, too, filling all of p. 5.

1790s political thought

July 25th, 2012
It's pretty obvious why it was a rich period, but there really hasn't been another decade like it, has there? Sieyès: What Is The Third Estate? (1789) Burke: Reflections on the Revolution in France (1790) Wollstonecraft: A Vindication of the Rights of Men (1790) Paine: Rights of Man, part one (1791) Burke: A Letter to a Member of the National Assembly (1791) Paine: Rights of Man, part two (1792) Wollstonecraft: A Vindication of the Rights of Woman (1792) Kant: Essay on ‘Theory and Practice’ (1793) Godwin: Political Justice (1793) Condorcet: The Sketch (written 1793, published 1795) Kant: ‘Towards Perpetual Peace’ (1795) Fichte: Foundations of Natural Right (1796) Burke: Letters on a Regicide Peace  (1796) Bentham’s writings on the Poor Law (1795-7) Paine: Agrarian Justice (1797) Kant: The Doctrine of Right (1797) Babeuf's defence speech (1797) Malthus: An Essay on the Principle of Population (1798) Fichte: The Closed Commercial State (1800) And in addition to texts like this, Bentham's Introduction to the Principles of Morals and Legislation was published in 1789 (though written much earlier) and Smith's Theory of Moral Sentiments was republished with important new additions for the 6th posthumous edition in 1790.

Jeremy Bentham, music critic

July 25th, 2012
The War whoop of anarchy, the Marseillais Hymn, is to my ear, I must confess, independently of all moral association, a most dismal, flat, and unpleasing ditty: and to any ear it is at any rate a long winded and complicated one. In the instance of a melody so mischievous in its application, it is a fortunate incident, if, in itself, it should be doomed neither in point of universality, nor permanence, to gain equal hold on the affections of the people.
Bentham, Essays on the Subject of the Poor Laws, Essay III, in Michael Quinn, ed., Writings on the Poor Laws (Oxford, 2001), vol. 1, p. 136.
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