Bandoch, “The Politics of Place”

9781580469029_1Here is an interesting-looking new book from the University of Rochester Press: The Politics of Place: Montesquieu, Particularism, and the Pursuit of Liberty, by scholar Joshua Bandoch. One typically thinks of the Enlightenment as a universalist project, meant to apply everywhere in the same way. That is one of the project’s main flaws. This book argues that Montesquieu, at least, saw things differently. Here is the description from the publisher’s website:

Many Enlightenment thinkers sought to discover the right political order for all times and all places, and scholars often view Montesquieu as working within this project. In this reassessment of Montesquieu’s political thought, Joshua Bandoch finds that Montesquieu broke from this ideal and, by taking into account the variation of societies, offered a more fruitful approach to the study of politics.

Through a careful reading of Montesquieu’s political writings, Bandoch shows that for Montesquieu the politics, economics, and morals of a society must fit a particular place and its people. As long as states commit to pursuing security, liberty, and prosperity, states can — indeed, should — define and advance these goals in their own particular ways. Montesquieu saw that the circumstances of a place — its religion, commerce, laws, institutions, physical environment, and mores — determine the best political order for that place. In this sense, Montesquieu is the great innovator of what Bandoch calls the “politics of place.” This new reading of Montesquieu also provides fresh insights into the American founding, which Montesquieu so heavily influenced. Instead of having discerned the “right” political order, Bandoch argues, the Founders instituted a good political order, of which there are numerous versions.

Reinert, “The Academy of Fisticuffs”

9780674976641-lgIn this space last month, I wrote about a reference I had seen to an 18th Century Italian school called “The Academy of Fists” and suggested Marc might know what this was. I never received a response, and so I’ve had to do the digging on my own. It turns out it was a group of Enlightenment thinkers, including Cesare Beccaria, who sought to establish a new, secular order based in commerce–the Italian version of the doux commerce school. Later this year, Harvard will publish a study of the group, The Academy of Fisticuffs: Political Economy and Commercial Society in Enlightenment Italy, by Harvard Business School professor Sophus Reinert. The doux commerce theory has drawn a lot of interest from scholars lately and this new book looks like it will be a good read. Here’s the description from the Harvard website:

The terms “capitalism” and “socialism” continue to haunt our political and economic imaginations, but we rarely consider their interconnected early history. Even the eighteenth century had its “socialists,” but unlike those of the nineteenth, they paradoxically sought to make the world safe for “capitalists.” The word “socialists” was first used in Northern Italy as a term of contempt for the political economists and legal reformers Pietro Verri and Cesare Beccaria, author of the epochal On Crimes and Punishments. Yet the views and concerns of these first socialists, developed inside a pugnacious intellectual coterie dubbed the Academy of Fisticuffs, differ dramatically from those of the socialists that followed.

Sophus Reinert turns to Milan in the late 1700s to recover the Academy’s ideas and the policies they informed. At the core of their preoccupations lay the often lethal tension among states, markets, and human welfare in an era when the three were becoming increasingly intertwined. What distinguished these thinkers was their articulation of a secular basis for social organization, rooted in commerce, and their insistence that political economy trumped theology as the underpinning for peace and prosperity within and among nations.

Reinert argues that the Italian Enlightenment, no less than the Scottish, was central to the emergence of political economy and the project of creating market societies. By reconstructing ideas in their historical contexts, he addresses motivations and contingencies at the very foundations of modernity.

Stuttard, “Nemesis”

9780674660441-lgWhen the Enlightenment looked for a model city, a place that epitomized the value of reason over superstition, it chose Athens–a counterweight to the city of revelation, Jerusalem, about which the Enlightenment was rather less enthusiastic. But Athens was not, in fact, a paragon of reason. There’s the trial and execution of Socrates, of course. And then there’s the treatment of Socrates’s somewhat lesser known, and entirely less sympathetic, contemporary, Alcibiades. Right before Alcibiades was to lead an expedition against Sicily in the Peloponnesian War, an anonymous group defaced statues of the god Hermes–a serious sacrilege. The suspicion fell on Alcibiades, no doubt because of his disreputable character, and the outrage eventually led to his downfall in Athens, as did the fact that he apparently mocked and revealed religious secrets–the Eleusinian Mysteries. All of which is to say that the Athenians were themselves plenty religious, even superstitious, by Enlightenment standards.

These episodes are no doubt discussed in a new biography of Alcibiades from Harvard University Press, Nemesis: Alcibiades and the Fall of Athens, by scholar David Stuttard. Here is the description from the Harvard website:

Alcibiades was one of the most dazzling figures of the Golden Age of Athens. A ward of Pericles and a friend of Socrates, he was spectacularly rich, bewitchingly handsome and charismatic, a skilled general, and a ruthless politician. He was also a serial traitor, infamous for his dizzying changes of loyalty in the Peloponnesian War. Nemesis tells the story of this extraordinary life and the turbulent world that Alcibiades set out to conquer.

David Stuttard recreates ancient Athens at the height of its glory as he follows Alcibiades from childhood to political power. Outraged by Alcibiades’ celebrity lifestyle, his enemies sought every chance to undermine him. Eventually, facing a capital charge of impiety, Alcibiades escaped to the enemy, Sparta. There he traded military intelligence for safety until, suspected of seducing a Spartan queen, he was forced to flee again—this time to Greece’s long-term foes, the Persians. Miraculously, though, he engineered a recall to Athens as Supreme Commander, but—suffering a reversal—he took flight to Thrace, where he lived as a warlord. At last in Anatolia, tracked by his enemies, he died naked and alone in a hail of arrows.

As he follows Alcibiades’ journeys crisscrossing the Mediterranean from mainland Greece to Syracuse, Sardis, and Byzantium, Stuttard weaves together the threads of Alcibiades’ adventures against a backdrop of cultural splendor and international chaos. Navigating often contradictory evidence, Nemesis provides a coherent and spellbinding account of a life that has gripped historians, storytellers, and artists for more than two thousand years.

Bessler, “The Celebrated Marquis”

9781611637861Did you know that Cesare Beccaria’s monumental work, Of Crimes and Punishments, landed on the Catholic Church’s list of forbidden books? I didn’t. And that he once was a member of a group called the “Academy of Fists?” (Maybe resident Italophone Marc can explain). I did know that Beccaria’s early-utilitarian views on the purposes of criminal law greatly influenced the American Framers. All these subjects are covered in this new book by University of Baltimore law professor John Bessler, The Celebrated Marquis: An Italian Noble and the Making of the Modern World. The publisher is Carolina Academic Press. Here’s the description from the publisher’s website:

During the Enlightenment, a now little-known Italian marquis, while in his mid-twenties as a member of a small Milanese salon, the Academy of Fists, wrote a book that was destined to change the world. Published anonymously in 1764 as Dei delitti e delle pene, and quickly translated into French and then into English as On Crimes and Punishments, the runaway bestseller argued against torture, capital punishment, and religious intolerance. Written by Cesare Beccaria (1738-1794), an economist and recent law graduate of the University of Pavia, On Crimes and Punishments sought clear and egalitarian laws, better public education, and milder punishments. Translated into all of the major European languages, Beccaria’s book led to the end of the Ancien Régime.

Praised by Voltaire and the French philosophes, Beccaria was toasted in Paris in 1766 for his literary achievement, and his book—though banned by the Inquisition and placed on the Catholic Church’s Index of Forbidden Books—was lauded by monarchs and revolutionaries alike. Among its admirers were the French Encyclopédistes; Prussia’s Frederick the Great; Russia’s enlightened czarina, Catherine II; members of the Habsburg dynasty; the English jurist Sir William Blackstone; the utilitarian penal reformer Jeremy Bentham; and American revolutionaries John Adams, Thomas Jefferson, and James Madison. On Crimes and Punishments, decrying tyranny and arbitrariness and advocating for equality of treatment under the law, helped to catalyze the American and French Revolutions. In 1774, on the cusp of the Revolutionary War, the Continental Congress explicitly hailed Beccaria as “the celebrated marquis.”

Called the “Italian Adam Smith” for his pioneering work as an economist in Milan, Cesare Beccaria—like his Italian mentor, Pietro Verri—wrote about pleasure and pain, economic theory, and maximizing people’s happiness. Once a household name throughout Europe and the Americas, Beccaria taught economics before the appearance of Smith’s The Wealth of Nations but died in obscurity after working for decades as a civil servant in Austria’s Habsburg Empire. As a public councilor, Beccaria pushed for social and economic justice, monetary and legal reform, conservation of natural resources, and even inspired France’s adoption of the metric system. In The Celebrated Marquis, award-winning author John Bessler tells the story of the history of economics and of how Beccaria’s ideas shaped the American Declaration of Independence, constitutions and laws around the globe, and the modern world in which we live.

Strobel and Crisp, “Jonathan Edwards”

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American religious culture is a somewhat odd combination of Evangelical Christianity and the Enlightenment. Somehow, we have convinced ourselves that a transcendent order and personal liberty are wholly compatible. This was one of the things that most perplexed Tocqueville, when he visited America in the 1820s. “Americans so completely confuse Christianity and freedom in their minds that it is almost impossible to have them conceive of the one without the other.”

Here, from Eerdman’s, is a new book on someone who definitely combined Evangelicalism and the Enlightenment, the 18th Century theologian and preacher, Jonathan Edwards: Jonathan Edwards: An Introduction to His Thought, by scholars Kyle C. Strobel (Biola University) and Oliver D. Crisp (Fuller Theological Seminary). Most Americans probably think of Edwards as a fire-and-brimstone, Puritan revivalist of the First Great Awakening. His sermon, “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God,” is a staple of American literature classes, or was, anyway. But he was also a polymath who became, at the end of his life, the president of the College of New Jersey, now called Princeton University. The book looks very interesting. Here’s the description from the publisher’s website:

Jonathan Edwards (1703–1758) has long been recognized as one of the preeminent thinkers in the early Enlightenment and a major figure in the history of American Christianity.

In this accessible one-volume text, leading Edwards experts Oliver Crisp and Kyle Strobel introduce readers to the formi­dable mind of Jonathan Edwards as they survey key theological and philosophical themes in his thought, including his doctrine of the Trinity, his philosophical theology of God and creation, and his understanding of the atonement and salvation.

More than two centuries after his death, theologians and historians alike are finding the larger-than-life Edwards more interesting than ever. Crisp and Strobel’s concise yet comprehensive guide will help students of this influential eighteenth-century revivalist preacher to understand why.

“Markets, Morals, Politics” (Kapossy et al., eds.)

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Last year, while working on a review essay, Markets and Morals: The Limits of Doux Commerce, I was introduced to the work of the late intellectual historian, Istvan Hont. Hont’s work focused, among other things, on the role of commerce in Enlightement thought. For Enlightenment figures like Adam Smith, commerce promised to promote a culture of religious tolerance and political pluralism. The doux commerce thesis they advocated has been important in liberal thought ever since.

Hont’s work was helpful in explaining Enlightenment thought to me, as I’m sure this new collection of essays on his scholarship would have been, had it been out in time! The book, from Harvard University Press, is Markets, Morals, Politics: Jealousy of Trade and the History of Political Thought. The editors are Béla Kapossy (University of Lausanne) and others. Here’s the description from the Harvard website:

When Istvan Hont died in 2013, the world lost a giant of intellectual history. A leader of the Cambridge School of Political Thought, Hont argued passionately for a global-historical approach to political ideas. To better understand the development of liberalism, he looked not only to the works of great thinkers but also to their reception and use amid revolution and interstate competition. His innovative program of study culminated in the landmark 2005 book Jealousy of Trade, which explores the birth of economic nationalism and other social effects of expanding eighteenth-century markets. Markets, Morals, Politics brings together a celebrated cast of Hont’s contemporaries to assess his influence, ideas, and methods.

Richard Tuck, John Pocock, John Dunn, Raymond Geuss, Gareth Stedman Jones, Michael Sonenscher, John Robertson, Keith Tribe, Pasquale Pasquino, and Peter N. Miller contribute original essays on themes Hont treated with penetrating insight: the politics of commerce, debt, and luxury; the morality of markets; and economic limits on state power. The authors delve into questions about the relationship between states and markets, politics and economics, through examinations of key Enlightenment and pre-Enlightenment figures in context—Hobbes, Rousseau, Spinoza, and many others. The contributors also add depth to Hont’s lifelong, if sometimes veiled, engagement with Marx.

The result is a work of interpretation that does justice to Hont’s influence while developing its own provocative and illuminating arguments. Markets, Morals, Politics will be a valuable companion to readers of Hont and anyone concerned with political economy and the history of ideas.

Rasmussen, “The Infidel and the Professor”

k11092Earlier this year, while doing research for a forthcoming essay on the doux commerce thesis, I came upon Dennis Rasmussen’s excellent introduction to Smith and Rousseau, The Problems and Promise of Commercial Society (2008). Rasmussen, an associate professor of political science at Tufts, does a wonderful job showing the often overlooked similarities between those two Enlightenment figures, and he writes in a clear, unaffected style that many academics fail to achieve. So I’m looking forward to his new book from Princeton, The Infidel and the Professor: David Hume, Adam Smith, and the Friendship That Shaped Modern Thought. The tensions in classical liberalism are becoming more apparent every day; its purported neutrality with respect to Christianity and other revealed religion, especially, seems more and more problematic. It is therefore worthwhile to go back to the beginning, to see whether liberalism has gone off the track in our era or is simply fulfilling its destiny.

Here’s a description of the new book from the Princeton website:

The story of the greatest of all philosophical friendships—and how it influenced modern thought

David Hume is widely regarded as the most important philosopher ever to write in English, but during his lifetime he was attacked as “the Great Infidel” for his skeptical religious views and deemed unfit to teach the young. In contrast, Adam Smith was a revered professor of moral philosophy, and is now often hailed as the founding father of capitalism. Remarkably, the two were best friends for most of their adult lives, sharing what Dennis Rasmussen calls the greatest of all philosophical friendships. The Infidel and the Professor is the first book to tell the fascinating story of the friendship of these towering Enlightenment thinkers—and how it influenced their world-changing ideas.

The book follows Hume and Smith’s relationship from their first meeting in 1749 until Hume’s death in 1776. It describes how they commented on each other’s writings, supported each other’s careers and literary ambitions, and advised each other on personal matters, most notably after Hume’s quarrel with Jean-Jacques Rousseau. Members of a vibrant intellectual scene in Enlightenment Scotland, Hume and Smith made many of the same friends (and enemies), joined the same clubs, and were interested in many of the same subjects well beyond philosophy and economics—from psychology and history to politics and Britain’s conflict with the American colonies. The book reveals that Smith’s private religious views were considerably closer to Hume’s public ones than is usually believed. It also shows that Hume contributed more to economics—and Smith contributed more to philosophy—than is generally recognized.

Jacoby, “Strange Gods”

Conversion is perhaps the most controversial subject in international religious freedom. Although the idea that people should be able freely to convert from one religion to another is widely accepted in the West, even among religious believers, it is not widely accepted elsewhere, especially in Muslim-majority countries, where conversion from Islam is often still illegal. In fact, although human rights advocates insist that the right to convert is part of international law, the status of the right is somewhat ambiguous.

In February, Penguin Random House will release a new history of conversion, Strange Gods: A Secular History of Conversion, by writer Susan Jacoby. Looks interesting, though grouping George W. Bush and Muhammad Ali together in the same category seems a little odd. Jacoby argues, among other things, that the idea of individual religious choice is a product of the secular Enlightenment–which may explain why the non-Western world is still deeply suspicious.

Here’s the publisher’s description:

9780375423758In a groundbreaking historical work that addresses religious conversion in the West from an uncompromisingly secular perspective, Susan Jacoby challenges the conventional narrative of conversion as a purely spiritual journey. From the transformation on the road to Damascus of the Jew Saul into the Christian evangelist Paul to a twenty-first-century “religious marketplace” in which half of Americans have changed faiths at least once, nothing has been more important in the struggle for reason than the right to believe in the God of one’s choice or to reject belief in God altogether.

Focusing on the long, tense convergence of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam—each claiming possession of absolute truth—Jacoby examines conversions within a social and economic framework that includes theocratic coercion (unto torture and death) and the more friendly persuasion of political advantage, economic opportunism, and interreligious marriage. Moving through time, continents, and cultures—the triumph of Christianity over paganism in late antiquity, the Spanish Inquisition, John Calvin’s dour theocracy, Southern plantations where African slaves had to accept their masters’ religion—the narrative is punctuated by portraits of individual converts embodying the sacred and profane. The cast includes Augustine of Hippo; John Donne; the German Jew Edith Stein, whose conversion to Catholicism did not save her from Auschwitz; boxing champion Muhammad Ali; and former President George W. Bush. The story also encompasses conversions to rigid secular ideologies, notably Stalinist Communism, with their own truth claims.

Finally, Jacoby offers a powerful case for religious choice as a product of the secular Enlightenment. In a forthright and unsettling conclusion linking the present with the most violent parts of the West’s religious past, she reminds us that in the absence of Enlightenment values, radical Islamists are persecuting Christians, many other Muslims, and atheists in ways that recall the worst of the Middle Ages.

Winterer, “American Enlightenments”

From Yale University Press, a new intellectual history of America after the Revolution, American Enlightenments: Pursuing Happiness in the Age of Reason, by Caroline Winterer (Stanford). The publisher’s description follows:

d55b12cf44c33ef5c1c02428f6c1dd26A provocative reassessment of the concept of an American golden age of European-born reason and intellectual curiosity in the years following the Revolutionary War:

The accepted myth of the “American Enlightenment” suggests that the rejection of monarchy and establishment of a new republic in the United States in the eighteenth century was the realization of utopian philosophies born in the intellectual salons of Europe and radiating outward to the New World. In this revelatory work, Stanford historian Caroline Winterer argues that a national mythology of a unitary, patriotic era of enlightenment in America was created during the Cold War to act as a shield against the threat of totalitarianism, and that Americans followed many paths toward political, religious, scientific, and artistic enlightenment in the 1700s that were influenced by European models in more complex ways than commonly thought. Winterer’s book strips away our modern inventions of the American national past, exploring which of our ideas and ideals are truly rooted in the eighteenth century and which are inventions and mystifications of more recent times.

Smitten, “The Life of William Robertson”

This month, Edinburgh University Press released The Life of William Robertson: Minister, Historian, and Principal by Jeffrey R. Smitten (Utah State University). The publisher’s description follows:

life-of-william-robertsonA prominent figure in the Scottish Enlightenment, William Robertson differed from his contemporaries, such as Voltaire, Hume and Gibbon, because he used the critical tools of the Enlightenment to strengthen religion, not to attack it. As an historian, he helped shape 18th-century historiography. As a minister of the Church of Scotland, he sought to make the church fit for a polite age. And, as principal of the University of Edinburgh, he presided over a flourishing of intellectual inquiry in the midst of the Enlightenment. But despite his European fame, he was a controversial figure. Drawing extensively on his unpublished correspondence, Jeffrey Smitten captures both the man and his work in his own words. By foregrounding Robertson’s religious outlook, Smitten gives us a more contextualised and nuanced interpretation of Robertson’s motives, intentions and beliefs than we have had before.

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