Enlightenment Ethics as Critique of Progress

My latest post at New APPS group blog

I don’t think I’ve got anything surprising to say for anyone whose read Enlightenment texts concerned with ethics texts at all attentively, at least in terms of pointing out what is obviously there, but what I’m discussing as far as I can see is underplayed in most discussion, and certainly in the ‘average understanding’ that circulates prior to any close reading of texts.

The obvious exception is Rousseau who gets understood as the back to ‘natural man’ nostalgic. Some recent work on Smith and Rousseau (e.g. Dennis Rasmussen) maybe gets to some degree at Smith’s concerns about the ‘progress’ of commercial society, and there is a discussion in Foucault of the relation between the subject of eighteenth century political economy and the ‘savage’, though that is not so much about endorsement of ‘savage’ ethics as bringing out a supposed persistent ‘natural’ person. Given that Vico was already criticising any tendency to read legally defined rights back into ‘natural’ humanity in the early eighteenth century, we should be careful about simply attributing a brute identification of individual rights in commercial society with ‘natural or ‘savage’ humanity on the part of all Enlightenment advocates of commerce and legalism.

Now read on here

The Enlightenment and Barbaric Republics

My latest post at the group blog New APPS

I’ve recently encountered a suggestion (in personal communication) that it might be difficult for an Enlightenment thinker to envisage republicanism in barbarian or even more savage peoples. While that makes sense with regard to the civility and legal institutions that Enlightenment thinkers are looking for in a desirable state, and saw in the ancient republics of Greece and Rome, there are some other sides to this. I cannot look into properly right now, but it is sometimes held that the founders of the American republic took some inspiration from the Native Americans with regard to the institutional arrangements they were designing, particularly the federal nature of the republic (preceded by a  period of confederation), which may have had some reference to the groupings and alliances of small native communities into nations. In any case, the dressing up in native garb during the Boston Tea Party certainly made some reference to the idea of a natural freedom.

Read on here.