Limits and Legacies of the Enlightenment; Essays in Honor of Robert Darnton
Edited by Charles Walton
Limits and Legacies of the Enlightenment; Essays in Honor of Robert Darnton
Edited by Charles Walton
“Into Print conveys the impressive scale and scope of Darnton’s enduring influence on research on the Enlightenment and its antecedents as well as historical scholarship itself.”
- Table of Contents
- Sample Chapters
These essays expand upon an approach to the study of the Enlightenment pioneered four decades ago: the social history of ideas. The contributors to Into Print examine how writers, printers, booksellers, regulators, police, readers, rumormongers, policy makers, diplomats, and sovereigns all struggled over that broad range of ideas and values that we now associate with the Enlightenment. They reveal the financial and fiscal stakes of the Enlightenment print industry and, in turn, how Enlightenment ideas shaped that industry during an age of expanding readership. They probe the limits of Enlightenment universalism, showing how demands for religious tolerance clashed with the demands of science and nationalism. They examine the transnational flow of Enlightenment ideas and opinions, exploring its domestic and diplomatic implications. Finally, they show how the culture of the Enlightenment figured in the outbreak and course of the French Revolution.
Aside from the editor, the contributors are David A. Bell, Roger Chartier, Tabetha Ewing, Jeffrey Freedman, Carla Hesse, Thomas M. Luckett, Sarah Maza, Renato Pasta, Thierry Rigogne, Leonard N. Rosenband, Shanti Singham, and Will Slauter.
“Into Print conveys the impressive scale and scope of Darnton’s enduring influence on research on the Enlightenment and its antecedents as well as historical scholarship itself.”
“This book is a treat. It is well produced and edited and comes with a very useful and comprehensive bibliography of Darnton’s publications.”
“Along with Daniel Roche, Robert Darnton has been the most influential historian of eighteenth-century France during the last four decades. From his early work on Mesmerism to his most recent study of communication networks in Enlightenment Paris, Darnton has written about an impressively broad array of topics, from peasant folk tales to the publishing business. . . . Charles Walton’s volume will be of great interest to a wide audience because the chapters are skillfully compressed, providing the advanced undergraduate and graduate student accessible entry points into the historical debates and trends that Darnton has shaped. Because this volume contains contributions from leading historians who, like their mentor, are opening new vistas of French and European history, this collection is both a celebration of a pathbreaking past and an adumbration of a promising future.”
Charles Walton is Associate Professor of History at Yale University.
Preface and Acknowledgments
“Un garçon plein d’esprit mais extrêmement dangereux: The Darnton Subversion”
Part 1: Making News
1 A Trojan Horse in Parliament: International Publicity in the Age of the American Revolution
2 “The Bastard Child of a Noble House”: Détective and Middle-Class Culture in Interwar France
Part 2: Print, Paper, Markets, and States
3 Who Were the Booksellers and Printers of Eighteenth-Century France?
4 Making the Fair Trader: Papermaking, the Excise, and the English State, 1700–1815
Leonard N. Rosenband
5 Commerce with Books: Reading Practices and Book Diffusion at the Habsburg Court in Florence (1765–1790)
Part 3: Police and Opinion
6 Invasion of Lorient: Rumor, Public Opinion, and Foreign Politics in 1740s Paris
7 Book Seizures and the Politics of Repression in Paris, 1787–1789
Thomas M. Luckett
Part 4: Enlightenment in Revolution
8 A Grub Street Hack Goes to War
David A. Bell
9 Reading in extremis: Revolutionaries Respond to Rousseau
10 Les graines de la discorde: Print, Public Spirit, and Free Market Politics in the French Revolution
Part 5: Enlightenment Universalism and Cultural Difference
11 The Limits of Tolerance: Jews, the Enlightenment, and the Fear of Premature Burial
12 From Cosmopolitan Anticolonialism to Liberal Imperialism: French Intellectuals and Muslim North Africa in the Late Eighteenth and Early Nineteenth Centuries
Appendix: Publications by Robert Darnton
List of Contributors
Preface and Acknowledgments
In a pathbreaking essay appearing in the Journal of Modern History in 1971, Robert Darnton sketched out a new approach to the historical study of the Enlightenment. For him, it was not enough to “scale the peaks” of eighteenth-century philosophy, as the followers of Ernst Cassirer and Arthur O. Lovejoy were doing in their pursuit of new patterns of intellectual coherence.1 Nor was it sufficient to inventory book collections according to social class, as the followers of Daniel Mornet were doing in France. Instead, Darnton called for examining how texts were produced, how they circulated, and how contemporaries responded to them. The “social history of ideas,” as he saw it, called for analyzing the dynamic interaction between texts and social contexts, without reducing one to the other.2 It sought to recover the “lived experience of literature,” he later explained, by “follow[ing] thought through the entire fabric of society.”3 This approach, he believed, would open up new perspectives on the Enlightenment, showing how ideas figured concretely in the great social and political transformations of eighteenth-century France.
Over the past four decades, the social history of ideas has exploded into a veritable subdiscipline. Its influence, which now extends beyond the field of eighteenth-century France, owes much to its theoretical and methodological openness. The “ad hoc combinations of Cassirer and Mornet” that Darnton initially envisaged in 1971 have been expanded on and refined.4 Much interdisciplinary cross-fertilization has taken place. He himself has incorporated the critical perspectives of several pioneering scholars in other fields, such as D. F. McKenzie (the sociology of texts), Pierre Bourdieu (sociological fields of cultural production), Erving Goffman (frame analysis), and Clifford Geertz (ethnographic “thick description”). Yet, in drawing on theory, Darnton has always remained attentive to disciplinary boundaries, to what the historian’s craft specifically entails. While theory can point historians toward new sets of sources and help them formulate new questions, it can also, when applied heavy-handedly, run roughshod over historical specificities. In the final analysis, Darnton draws on cultural theories much like eighteenth-century peasants drew on the tropes, jokes, and symbols available to them in folktales, which he so memorably studied: they are “good to think with.”5
Darnton has developed a distinctive approach to the study of cultural history. Like other “revisionist” historians of eighteenth-century France in the 1960s and 1970s, he rejected the Marxist tendency to view culture as determined by socioeconomic structures. For him, culture itself was constitutive of social and political life. But he parted ways with historians who limited culture to thought and language (i.e., “discourse”). Grasping the historical significance of cultural meanings, he believed, requires analyzing linguistic forces (epistemologies, ideas, opinions, attitudes, symbols, narrative frames) and extralinguistic ones (interests, social conditions, institutions, materiality, circumstances). It involves uncovering the relationships among all these factors without imposing an all-embracing scheme of interpretation. As Roger Chartier remarks below, Darnton’s approach has been artisanal rather than systematic.
The treatment of texts and social contexts as distinct but dynamically interrelated phenomena runs through nearly all of Darnton’s work. When historians began taking linguistic and semiotic turns in the 1980s—turns he contributed to—he nevertheless continued incorporating social factors into his analysis. In The Great Cat Massacre, arguably his boldest foray into semiotics, he treated eighteenth-century culture not as a coherent semiotic whole, but rather as clusters of meaning inflected by nonlinguistic forces, especially social conditions. In teasing out cosmologies from the symbols and tropes of peasant tales, he related those “worldviews” to the facts of rural life in France and Germany: hunger, violence, and social hierarchy. (Still, it is important to note that he did not reduce those cosmologies to socioeconomic conditions; indeed, the different ways that French and German peasants recounted the same tales suggest that cultural frames have a certain degree of autonomy.) Similarly, when Parisian journeymen in the rue Saint-Séverin laughed themselves silly executing the cat of their master’s wife in the 1730s, they gave vent to rising social resentments permeating eighteenth-century print shops, expressing them in a carnival-like idiom of inversion that was becoming increasingly repulsive to bourgeois masters such as theirs. Even at his most semiotic, then, Darnton never lost sight of the social.
But social conditions are not the only nonlinguistic factors Darnton has considered in analyzing the historical significance of texts and meanings. He has also paid attention to the material, commercial, and political forces. These forces were analyzed extensively in The Business of the Enlightenment. Tracing the Encyclopédie méthodique from its initial success as a subscription-based multivolume project in the 1770s to its financial collapse in the Revolution, Darnton aimed to show how the Enlightenment had penetrated late eighteenth-century French society, affecting a wide range of institutions: the book trade, the stock market, the guilds, and the royal administration. He discovered historical ironies that a straightforward history of ideas would have missed, such as the fact that the Encyclopédie méthodique’s publisher, Charles Joseph Panckoucke, had become attached to the very regime his publication was throwing into question: that of absolutism, privileges, and the guilds. Darnton remained prudent in advancing an overarching thesis. He argued neither that “encyclopedism” was the Revolution’s foremost cause, nor that it spawned Jacobinism. He made the more measured claim that it was an “ism,” one symptomatic of a “widespread disposition to question the ideological basis of the Old Regime.”6 Although the Encyclopédie méthodique reinforced this critical disposition among the many lawyers, officeholders, and local notables who subscribed to it—that is, the very people who would lead the Revolution—Darnton left room in his interpretation for other explanatory factors. “If other forces had not destroyed the Old Regime,” he speculated, “encyclopedism might have been assimilated in France, and the kingdom might have ridden out the Enlightenment.”7 To be sure, Darnton is not principally a narrative historian, for whom events and circumstances are key to interpreting history. Culture, not contingency, has been his central concern. Still, the place he has accorded to circumstances in much of his work is significant. It bespeaks the judicious way he limits the explanatory reach of his cultural analysis, leaving room for other explanations. Artisanal and unsystematic, Darnton’s approach has the great merit of being open and non-reductionist.
The Forbidden Best-Sellers of Pre-Revolutionary France arguably represents Darnton’s most wide-ranging and sophisticated treatment of the linguistic and nonlinguistic factors producing historical change. It goes further than The Business of the Enlightenment in advancing a causal argument for the Old Regime’s collapse. In it, Darnton weaves together analyses of epistemology, slander, pornography, history, public opinion, and ideology with analyses of markets, books (as physical objects), communication networks, institutions, and circumstances, presenting a highly textured tapestry of the forces undermining the regime’s legitimacy. He sketches the evolution of the early modern genre of libelles from seventeenth-century frondeur tracts to eighteenth-century best-selling books. Combining Enlightenment epistemology with anecdotes about sex scandals at the court and in the church, these illegal books repeatedly told the story of how the regime had degenerated into corruption and despotism. But according to Darnton, it was the commercial value and material heft of these books, not only their content, that made them so politically potent. For unlike the ephemeral frondeur pamphlets of the seventeenth century, with their fitful bursts of irreverence, eighteenth-century libelles became collector’s items. Their widespread diffusion and long shelf life amplified and prolonged their messages. Often written as histories of the regime, they provided contemporaries with a master narrative that helped them make sense of the complex crises of the late 1780s. Once again, Darnton was careful in how far he pushed his thesis. He did not claim that bad books were the foremost cause of Revolution. Despite the title of the third section of Forbidden Best-Sellers (“Do Books Cause Revolutions?”), his thesis is more nuanced than a simple “yes.” He argued that these illegal best-selling books had weakened the monarchy’s ability to command respect, thereby impairing its ability to control the political situation once crisis struck. The crisis itself, he clearly stated, had a multitude of causes: economic, fiscal, and circumstantial.8 Although he did not elaborate on those other causes, he left room for them, and he took issue with historians who, in attributing the Revolution’s subsequent slide into the Terror to the discourse of 1789, left no room for circumstances at all: “I think there is a great deal to be said for the ‘thesis of circumstances,’ unfashionable as it is.”9 His criticism of reductive, discourse-based explanations and his attention to extralinguistic historical factors do not amount to a blanket rejection of the value of analyzing historical texts. “The social history of ideas,” he clarified in responding to his critics, “leaves plenty of room for philosophical exegesis based on close reading of texts.”10 Indeed, he has analyzed canonical texts in several of his essays. But such exegesis can take us only so far in understanding the period: “The Enlightenment was more than a set of propositions. It was a movement, an attempt to change minds and reform institutions.”11
Darnton has both broadened and narrowed our understanding of the Enlightenment. He began by broadening it. Drawing attention to noncanonical texts, book-purchasing patterns, communication networks, and reader reception, he opened up new domains of historical inquiry, inspiring at least two generations of scholarship. More recently, though, he has insisted on narrowing what we refer to as “the Enlightenment.” Troubled by the late and post–Cold War tendency to conflate the Enlightenment with all Western civilization (and, hence, to blame it for all of modernity’s ills and horrors), he has called for restoring it to its proper proportions as an eighteenth-century “movement, cause, and campaign.”12 “Shrinking the Enlightenment down to its true size,” as he put it, and separating it from nineteenth-century imperialism and twentieth-century totalitarianisms, might seem to run the risk of making it too remote and therefore irrelevant for us today. Darnton does not think so. To the contrary, he believes that separating the eighteenth-century Enlightenment from what came later forces us to be rigorous in distinguishing its philosophical legacy from other historical processes. And far from making the Enlightenment irrelevant, a narrower, more historical approach to its study allows us to unburden it of modern accretions and anachronistic freight; further, it allows us to appreciate the movement not only for its philosophical content (reason, toleration, happiness, skepticism, individualism, civil liberty, cosmopolitanism), but also for the great courage of those who championed its cause. If history shows us that the Enlightenment in practice was not the “heavenly city” that historians once thought—and Darnton himself has exposed its seamier side—this does not mean we must repudiate it, root and branch.13
Darnton, in any case, has felt no need to do so. He acknowledges the inspiration he draws from the Enlightenment’s philosophical legacy, which has fueled a number of his engagements. His public interventions over the years have demonstrated his deep commitment to civil liberties and human rights, particularly the freedom of information and expression. Like the philosophes of the eighteenth century, he believes in the beneficial effects of freely circulated knowledge, and je has taken up the cudgels to defend it from forces threatening its production and diffusion.14 Recently, he has enlightened the public about the potential dangers of Google’s quasi-monopolistic control over digitized books. While recognizing the great advantages to having centuries of books available online, he worries that commercial interests may complicate access to them: “Yes, we must digitize. But more important, we must democratize.”15 His concern for realizing the democratic potential of print spurred his efforts, as president of the American Historical Association in 1999, to advance the cause of online publishing. He later helped found the Gutenberg e-Prize and coordinated with Columbia University Press to publish winning manuscripts as peer-reviewed online monographs. In addition to expanding the possibilities for presenting scholarly knowledge by exploiting new technologies, Darnton’s purpose was to promote its diffusion at a time of contraction in academic publishing. He expressed his commitment to improving the production and spread of knowledge in his 2007 decision to accept the directorship of Harvard University Library. He explained, “Having, as a historian, studied the world of books in the distant past, I now have an opportunity to do something for the cause of books and book learning in the present, and I want to help find a way in which the new and the old media can reinforce each other, strengthening and transforming the world of learning.”16 He has thus gone from writing the history of the book to making the history of the book.
Darnton’s professional and public actions reflect his desire to perpetuate one of the Enlightenment’s most noble aims, namely, to inspire critical discussion and mobilize knowledge for the sake of progress, democratic empowerment, and human fulfillment. His historical writing has also contributed to these ends, for it has succeeded in making history meaningful and accessible to nonspecialists. I recall the fascination with which I read The Great Cat Massacre in my first undergraduate history course at the University of California, Berkeley. Years later, I assigned the book in my first undergraduate lecture course and witnessed the same fascination in my students. “I have never thought of folktales in this way before,” one of them beamed, lights flashing in his eyes. Indeed, sparking readers’ interest in the past is Darnton’s specialty. Without sacrificing subtleties or succumbing to anachronism, he renders history meaningful and relevant. He makes it, in other words, “good to think with,” whether we are trying to understand the violent humor of other cultures or trying to think through the risks and benefits of creating the world’s largest online library.
The contributors of the main essays in this volume, all former doctoral students of Darnton, offer them as a tribute to him and as an expression of thanks for the inspiration and guidance, the measure and wisdom, he has offered us. Our overarching concern, print culture, has been at the heart of our adviser’s research throughout his career, from his University of Oxford dissertation “Trends in Radical Propaganda on the Eve of the French Revolution, 1782–1788” (1964) through to his most recent study, Poetry and the Police: Communication Networks in Eighteenth-Century Paris.17 Our essays touch on many of his concerns: writers, books, news, communication networks, reading practices, markets, states, politics, revolution, textual hybridity, social consciousness, Enlightenment universalism, and cultural difference. Our collection’s subtitle, “Limits and Legacies of the Enlightenment,” ties these themes together, capturing, we believe, what the social history of ideas is capable of revealing: By investigating the production, circulation, and reception of ideas, we can ascertain how the Enlightenment was delimited, or took shape, through practice and how it was reshaped over time.
Our collection begins with a transcription of Roger Chartier’s keynote address, delivered at the conference in honor of Darnton at Princeton University in 2006. It reflects the lively, collegial spirit with which these two pioneers of cultural history have engaged each other for decades. Chartier highlights Darnton’s chief contributions to the historical study of print culture, and those contributions inform the approach adopted throughout this volume. The essays are grouped according to themes that have been prominent in Darnton’s work.18 Our first section, “Making News,” explores the social, cultural, and political forces affecting the diffusion and reception of news in the eighteenth and twentieth centuries. Will Slauter opens this section with “A Trojan Horse in Parliament: International Publicity in the Age of the American Revolution.” He examines the Courier de l’Europe, a French-language, London-based newspaper covering parliamentary speeches in the 1770s and 1780s. He shows “what happened when words pronounced in a specific moment of national debate, recorded and printed according to local conventions, were republished for readers speaking different languages and obeying different rulers.” The newspaper’s poor, decontextualized translations of passages lifted from British newspapers led to misunderstandings that had significant political and diplomatic ramifications. Slauter exposes the historical limits to transnational communication; for despite the Courier’s attempt to generate a cosmopolitan, or at least European, public opinion, its “cut and paste” methods distorted the context of original speeches and failed to overcome the particular cultural frames within which reading publics made sense of the Courier’s articles. In her essay “‘The Bastard Child of a Noble House’: Détective and Middle-Class Culture in Interwar France,” Sarah Maza takes us into the French publishing world of the 1920s and 1930s. She examines the sensational weekly newsmagazine Détective, France’s first modern periodical devoted to crime, issued by the distinguished publishing house Gallimard. She shows how Gallimard, in seeking a greater readership market, created a hybrid genre of literature that spoke to a new, upwardly mobile middle class in search its identity. The newspaper reassured readers of whom they were not, namely, the characters depicted in the magazine’s leading stories: “cruel foreigners, urban riffraff, violent and greedy rurals.” At the same time, the magazine provided this class with respectability. It carried contributions by distinguished writers, filled its pages with advertisements for highbrow books, and could boast the readership of some leading minds of the day, such as Jean-Paul Sartre, Simone de Beauvoir, and the Surrealists. Although Maza does not deal with the eighteenth-century Enlightenment, her focus on cultural hybridity in print—the fusion of high- and lowbrow texts—is reminiscent of Darnton’s work on eighteenth-century print culture. Unlike eighteenth-century folktales, libels, and pornography, however, Détective, Maza suggests, helped forge a middle-class consciousness.
Our second section, “Print, Paper, Markets, and States,” examines the various ways print and the papermaking industry figured in the expansion of markets and state power in eighteenth-century Europe. In his “Who Were the Booksellers and Printers of Eighteenth-Century France?,” Thierry Rigogne discusses the rise of a new commercial institution, the retail bookseller. Unlike traditional printer-booksellers (the functions overlapped)—whose numbers declined over the course of the eighteenth century due to increased guild regulations and government consolidation of the print industry—retail booksellers, who operated with little guild or government interference, proliferated. Whether they sold books written by philosophes or their adversaries, these retail booksellers, Rigogne argues, ultimately fulfilled “the Enlightenment’s most exalted mission: to promote the broadest possible diffusion of all ideas.” In his “Making the Fair Trader: Papermaking, the Excise, and the English State, 1700–1815,” Leonard Rosenband investigates struggles in late eighteenth-century England over defining “legitimate” interests in the paper trade, not only between workers and manufacturers but also between those two groups and the state. Debates over what “fair trade” meant, Rosenband argues, became mired in conflicts over workers’ pay, company profits, and state revenues. He shows that, ironically, it was the British state, and not the paper manufactures, that advanced a Smithian conception of “fair trade” in its efforts to extract tax revenues. Rosenband underscores the interplay and tensions between interests and ideas in debates over regulating the papermaking industry. Renato Pasta concludes this section with his “Commerce with Books: Reading Practices and Book Diffusion at the Habsburg Court in Florence (1765–1790).” Examining the book-collecting strategies of the Grand Duke of Tuscany in Florence, Pasta shows how international networks of courtiers and freemasons influenced the grand duke’s library holdings, which exhibited a great deal of eclecticism and cosmopolitanism, not to mention a predilection for “bad books.” But if some of the collection bespoke an interest in progressive and radical Enlightenment thought, most of it reflected concerns about maintaining social and political hierarchies. The Enlightenment may have penetrated the court in Florence, but it was, overall, reformist rather than radical or revolutionary.
Our third thematic section, “Police and Opinion” begins with Tabetha Ewing’s “Invasion of Lorient: Rumor, Public Opinion, and Foreign Politics in 1740s Paris.” Ewing examines communication networks and police surveillance of public opinion in France in the wake of the failed British invasion of the French city of Lorient during the War of the Austrian Succession. She analyzes the political and social forces that shaped how news about the event was framed and diffused, from the court in Versailles to cafés in Paris. She argues that foreign affairs constituted a prime topic of discussion through which a self-aware public opinion came into being. Ewing also shows that the police worried about the influence of this critical force, which they referred to specifically as “public opinion.” Her analysis of police reports reveals that the public often couched its opinions in official rhetoric, assuming the voice of legitimate political authority. And rather than expressing the views of rational individuals, the public opinion being worked out in Paris was often arrived at through vocal, collective consensus building. Thomas Luckett takes us to the eve of the Revolution with “Book Seizures and the Politics of Repression in Paris, 1787–1789.” Whereas other historians have claimed that the policing of the press was relaxed in this period (the print boom has been taken as evidence of expanded press freedom), Luckett shows that police seizures of pamphlets increased. Rather than suppressing sedition, however, heightened repression, he argues, “may actually have contributed to the forces driving France toward revolt.” Luckett debunks the myth of 1789 opening up a liberal phase of press freedom. To the contrary, despite a brief moment of relative freedom in summer and early fall, police raids on print shops resumed by the end of that year.
Our fourth section, “Enlightenment in Revolution,” examines how Enlightenment ideas, writers, and reading practices figured in the political maelstrom after 1789. In “A Grub Street Hack Goes to War,” David Bell traces the career of Charles-Philippe Ronsin from a struggling prerevolutionary writer to a mass-murdering répresentant en mission during the Terror. Bell discusses the changing nature of ambition in this period and shows how military and literary aspirations before 1789 mixed with political ones as the Revolution offered new opportunities for ambitious young men. In her “Reading in extremis: Revolutionaries Respond to Rousseau,” Carla Hesse carries the question of Darnton’s famous essay in The Great Cat Massacre—how readers responded to Rousseau—into the Revolution. She shows how revolutionaries transformed the style of private, intimate reading, which Rousseau had promoted, into public ritual. Whereas numerous scholars have explored the impact of Rousseau’s political thought on revolutionary politics, Hesse demonstrates that Jacobin invocations of Rousseau were less about working out the fine points of his “social contract” theory than they were about spreading his spirit and sensibility. In my “Les graines de la discorde: Print, Public Spirit, and Free Market Politics in the French Revolution,” I examine how revolutionaries struggled over determining what kinds of propaganda would best bolster the legitimacy of the fledgling republic in 1792 and 1793. Analyzing surveillance reports by itinerant government agents responsible for spreading state propaganda, I identify three positions on how to stabilize the new regime: first, free markets accompanied by civic instruction; second, government regulation of staple markets and wealth redistribution; and third, demonization, or scapegoating, through libels. I show that sharp disagreements among revolutionaries over the first two options—moral discipline and free grain markets on the one hand, and market regulations and wealth redistribution on the other—led to increasing reliance on the third option, scapegoating through libels. These libels, I suggest, injected punitive, exclusionary dynamics into revolutionary politics, thereby contributing to the Terror.
Our last section, “Enlightenment Universalism and Cultural Difference,” explores the vexed issue of the Enlightenment’s relationship to Muslims and Jews, specifically, how the Enlightenment depicted Muslims and impinged on Jewish traditions. Jeffrey Freedman’s “The Limits of Tolerance: Jews, the Enlightenment, and the Fear of Premature Burial” discusses the widespread anxiety in eighteenth-century Europe about premature burial, and describes the dilemmas that scientists and enlightened policy makers faced in trying (and failing) to persuade Jewish communities to delay burial beyond the twenty-four-hour limit imposed by Jewish tradition. According to Freedman, the protagonists of Enlightenment science came to the somber conclusion that reason alone would not suffice to persuade Jewish communities to change their customs and state coercion would therefore be necessary. In her “From Cosmopolitan Anticolonialism to Liberal Imperialism: French Intellectuals and Muslim North Africa in the Late Eighteenth and Early Nineteenth Centuries,” Shanti Singham traces changes in the textual treatment of Muslims, from the Abbé Raynal’s eighteenth-century Histoire des deux indes to Alexis de Tocqueville’s nineteenth-century writings on Algeria. Contrary to Edward Said and his followers, who accuse the Enlightenment of Eurocentrism and racism, Singham finds cultural tolerance and sensitivity for Muslims expressed in underground and revolutionary texts. It was with the rise of liberalism and nationalism in the nineteenth century that such discourses gave way to those of intolerance and racism.
Taken together, these essays offer contrasting perspectives on the Enlightenment and its legacy. In taking print culture as a focal point for exploring how ideas and practice have intersected over time, they highlight the practical limits and ambivalent legacies of the vast body of ideas and values that we have come to associate with the Enlightenment. There has been much debate in recent decades about the Enlightenment’s legacy. While some scholars have seen it as generative of imperialism, racism, sexism, and myriad forms of totalitarianism, others have stressed its positive heritage: democracy, human rights, and a critical epistemology capable of expanding domains of freedom and empowerment. The contributors to this collection seek to neither condemn nor defend the Enlightenment. Rather, we seek to understand its history. In the pages that follow, readers will encounter how print culture figured in the Enlightenment’s achievements but also its excesses and dilemmas. The social history of ideas—the analysis of the textual and the non-textual—is precisely the kind of critical engagement with the Enlightenment that can help us avoid the twin dangers of either accepting its legacy uncritically (with the all the risks associated with blind faith) or rejecting it out of hand (with the risk of lapsing into ethical paralysis). The social history of ideas can provide perspectives that can help us make decisions about the moral and intellectual legacy we want to bequeath, not to mention the kinds of actions and institutions necessary to protect that legacy from distortions, manipulation, and unintended consequences. A well-contextualized history of the Enlightenment can help us choose how we draw from its legacy to get through tough times, or as Darnton puts it, to establish “an intellectual stance that will serve when lines are drawn and one’s back is to the wall.”19
These essays grew out of a conference in honor of Robert Darnton held at Princeton University on April 28 and 29, 2006. The contributors to this volume would like to thank the university’s Department of History and the Shelby Cullom Davis Center for Historical Studies for hosting and supporting this event. We also extend our gratitude to the special guests of this conference, who provided useful comments that have helped us transform these papers into this collection of essays: Roger Chartier, Natalie Zemon Davis, Michael Fried, Anthony Grafton, Colin Jones, Daniel Roche, Jerrold Seigel, and Isser Woloch. Although they were not present at this conference, I would like to thank John Merriman and Francesca Trivellato for their helpful comments on parts of this volume, as well as Tatiana Grigorenko for her assistance in preparing the manuscript for production. The Florence Gould Foundation generously provided funding for both the conference and this publication. We also thank Penn State University Press for their enthusiastic support for this project and expertise in seeing it through to completion. Above all, we thank Robert Darnton for his guidance and inspiration over the years. We hope that our essays do justice to his career’s devotion to the social history of ideas.
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