The Scottish Enlightenment four stages theory: a (re-)introduction

There are few paradigms more tightly connected with the Scottish Enlightenment than the four stages theory. Yet it arguably remains one of the least understood.

John Millar

James Tassie, Medallion of John Millar (1767). Courtesy of the University of Glasgow Archive Services, University collection, GB 248 UP3/26/1.

In the second half of the eighteenth century, a whole host of famous Scottish thinkers – Adam Smith, Adam Ferguson, William Robertson, Henry Home (Lord Kames) and John Millar – attempted to explain a range of social phenomena according to a single, universal narrative of the history of progress. The spirit of the paradigm was that the fundamental distinguishing components of societies lay not in accidents of climate, religion or race, but rather in the social, psychological, legal and cultural effects of the history of property and sustenance relations. While French thinkers such as Anne Robert Jacques Turgot used three stages to achieve similar analyses, the Scots preferred four:

  1. Hunting, where property only extended to what one could carry on one person (savagery),
  2. Pastoralism, where shepherding witnessed the development of animal property (barbarism),
  3. Agriculture, where society became settled and landed property became pivotal in the production of sustenance (civilisation),
  4. Commercial society, defined by contemporary Europe.

The paradigm has, for good reason, been widely identified as a pioneering step in the development of various disciplines of the modern social sciences. At the same time, in taking the commercial society of eighteenth-century Britain as the pinnacle of the history of liberty, postcolonial scholars have, with validity, critiqued it as a blatant example of Eurocentric world historical narration.

John Millar, the protégé of Adam Smith and Regius professor of civil law at the University of Glasgow for nearly four decades at the end of the eighteenth century, is often cited as the most systematic articulator of the four stages theory. Attention has been paid particularly to his reflections on the history of family and gender, which constitute the great bulk of his stadial theory-infused magnus opus, the Origin of the Distinction of Ranks.

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I began research for my book John Millar and the Scottish Enlightenment: family life and world history with the intention of revealing how Millar managed his oft-celebrated cohesion. In fact, I was quickly confronted with lacunae, gaps and contradictions with Millar’s stadial analysis. Digging deeper, I realised that these arose from his difficulties in overcoming a complex intellectual web of competing analytical frameworks using evidence and existing scholarship that defied any easy organisation. Moreover, it became clear that his intention was much less to innovate any coherent science of stage-based analysis than to set out his convictions about politics, the family and the nature of authority.

Too often, Millar’s lack of full coherence in his use of stadial analysis has been attributed to intellectual underperformance. In my book, I take a different approach, viewing Millar as a guide to the history of knowledge underpinning the pursuit of stadial history, with a particular focus on gender and the family. Millar used the stadial model as only one of several intersecting paradigms. His deployment and innovation of classic natural law structures, such as the history of household authority relations and the tripartite division of marriage struggle, reveals the importance of his professional setting as a professor of law in Glasgow. Additionally, in his retention of religion as a critical means for explaining differences in marriage practices, we see that even Millar had doubts about stadial analysis as a fully convincing alternative to paradigms such as sacred history.

The deeper we probe into Miller’s complex work, the more we discover his Enlightenment spirit of speculative curiosity. His legacy to modern disciplines of sociology and anthropology [1] lies not so much in the rigidity of his conviction in any single analytical framework, but rather his thirst for cross-cultural comparison and analysis. His extended discussion of topics ranging from matriarchal familial forms and the Amazon legend to national character and polygamy was not intended to tie up loose threads in stadial analysis, but rather to be an ambitious attempt at historicising all dimensions of authority.

– Nicholas B. Miller, University of Lisbon

[1] William Lehmann, John Millar of Glasgow 1735-1801: his life and thought and his contributions to sociological analysis (Cambridge, 1960).

 

On translating the hasty writing of encyclopedia articles

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Translating French and Spanish encyclopedia articles from the Enlightenment into English is not easy. There are, of course, the typical problems that one encounters when doing any translation, such as negotiating between surface meanings and deep meanings, dealing with false cognates, contending with idiomatic expressions, and deciding whether to go with a literal or an idiomatic translation. However, when dealing with encyclopedia articles that were written at a furious pace for the gargantuan compilations that were the Encyclopédie méthodique and its Spanish translation, the Encyclopedia metódica, there emerges the problem of translating hurried and at times careless writing that was possibly never proof-read, and certainly never corrected. Knowing that eighteenth-century encyclopedists worked under stringent publication deadlines, the vexed but somewhat amused translator could hardly blame them for suffering the all-too-common professional flaw of careless writing.

A Scholar in His Study (‘Faust’) Artist: Rembrandt

A Scholar in His Study (‘Faust’) (Rembrandt, ca. 1652; Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York)

This is what my co-translator, Clorinda Donato, and I encountered when preparing our volume, Enlightenment Spain and the ‘Encyclopédie méthodique’, for which we translated and annotated the articles ‘Espagne’ (from the Méthodique) and ‘España’ (from the Metódica). Although the articles are generally well written, there are nevertheless moments when authors Nicolas Masson de Morvilliers and Julián de Velasco felt the urgency of their task and careened their way through long, convoluted sentences without ever looking back. That a pronoun lost track of its referent, or that a verb strayed so far from its subject that it forgot whether it should be singular or plural mattered little when the encyclopedia mill had to keep grinding. Reading these articles I also find passages where the zeal to badmouth Spain’s backwardness or defend its misunderstood Enlightenment overrode any respect for the conventions of grammar. The passions aroused by Enlightenment debate were just too strong to obey the strictures of the Académie Française and the Real Academia. Indeed, these are the moments when Masson and Velasco are most fun to read.

Annotating these translations also revealed an interesting consequence of such hasty writing. While citing, copying, and paraphrasing was a regular practice among eighteenth-century scholars, the verification of information was not. If a scholar cites a source that is based on a citation that is based on another citation that is based on another citation and so on, that scholar will likely have in his hands a cumulative error, a product of distortions and embellishments. This is what we find in Masson’s negative portrayal of Spain and the Inquisition. Where he cites sources that have been embellished, he enters the fray by adding yet another layer of gleeful embellishment. Indeed, it would not be entirely wrong to say that the polemic emerging out of Masson’s infamous question ‘What does Europe owe Spain?’ is in large measure the result of an Enlightenment version of the game of telephone (or Chinese whispers).

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A Scene in a Library (photograph by William Henry Fox Talbot, ca.1844; Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York)

But if haphazard writing and cumulative error are endemic to encyclopedia culture, then how can Enlightenment discourse ever safeguard itself from the vagaries and flighty opinions of scholars such as Masson? This is precisely the question that our volume seeks to answer. By translating and juxtaposing Masson’s and Velasco’s articles on Spain, we see how the Spaniards object to being the butt of the joke running down the telephone chain of French philosophie, and how they insist that the discourse of Enlightenment return to its more noble purpose of advancing civility and rational exchange.

– Ricardo López

Enlightenment Spain and the ‘Encyclopédie méthodique’, edited by Clorinda Donato and Ricardo López. Oxford University Studies in the Enlightenment, November 2015, ISBN 978-0-7294-1170-7, 336 pages, 2 ills

 

East meets West: Crossing boundaries in the Enlightenment

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Sometime in the 1730s, the Russian administrator and historian Vasilii Nikitich Tatishchev fixed the dividing line between Europe and Asia along an axis connecting the Urals to the Caspian, rather than Ptolemy’s more westerly north-south axis that terminated in the Sea of Azov. European Russia was, well, quite clearly ‘European’ along with the mighty empires of Germany, France and Britain. Indeed, much of the history of southern and eastern Europe seems to be about boundaries. Where should we draw the line? Who in the eighteenth century embodies an Enlightenment world view, and who doesn’t make the cut?

If, however, we frequently discuss dividing lines between worlds, we shouldn’t overlook those people who crossed them. Merchants, migrants, technicians and artists. Peripatetic scholars and clerics such as the polymaths Dosithei Obradovich and Eugenios Voulgaris who travelled west before wandering between one educational or ecclesiastical institution and another in search of patronage for their work. And others like Paisy Velichkovsky, born in Polatava in Ukraine, who spent so much of his life in monastic communities located between Mount Athos and Moldova. Indeed, Velichkovsky is an interesting case: instrumental in translating the Philokalia, a collection of texts on the contemplative life, into Slavonic, he is a prime example of many unsung advocates of Orthodox culture. His translation, the Dobrotoliubie as it was called, contributed to a revival of hesychast monasticism, its many monks being dispersed between Orthodox ecclesiastical centres of the time.

Japanese Philocalia, published 2012.

Japanese Philocalia, published 2012.

It is commonly believed that the importance of the Philokalia in Orthodox thought in the eighteenth century was, for a long time, underappreciated. That is when the work was compiled and translated, of course, but it was assumed not to have been widely distributed at the time. Such views now seem misplaced, an underestimation of the capacities of wondering monks to disseminate a world-view even without a printing press. Furthermore, any attempt to fit the Philokalia into other developments in the history of thought requires caution: should this return to patristic texts be interpreted as a component part of an Orthodox, religious Enlightenment? A reaction to it, a kind of anti-Enlightenment? Or perhaps as both?

This question and many others are explored in our book Enlightenment and religion in the Orthodox world. But to a considerable extent this is in essence a book about people like Paisy Velichkovsky, who cannot easily be categorised or even fitted into any one side. These individuals synthesised and syncretised a range of outside influences as they probed the encounter of Orthodox tradition with the European Enlightenment – and hence with modernisation. Undoubtedly this was, often, a tortured process, but at times it also proved extremely enriching.

– Iannis Carras

Une réflexion d’Helvétius, à propos des récents événements qui ont ensanglanté la France et le monde

Dans son livre De l’esprit paru en 1758, Helvétius s’efforce de montrer, au chapitre 25 du discours III, que la force des passions est proportionnelle à la grandeur des récompenses qu’on leur propose pour objet. Pour prouver la vérité de ce rapport, il cite d’abord l’exemple des conquistadors espagnols et des flibustiers, «échauffés de la soif de l’or», puis passe aux anciens Germains, «animés de l’espoir d’une récompense imaginaire, mais la plus grande de toutes, lorsque la crédulité la réalise», et enfin aux Sarrasins qui, persuadés par Mahomet «que le Très-Haut leur a livré la terre, qu’il fera marcher devant eux la terreur et la désolation», se lancent avec ferveur dans le jihad:

«Frappés de ces récits, les Sarrasins prêtent aux discours de Mahomet une oreille d’autant plus crédule, qu’il leur fait des descriptions plus voluptueuses du séjour céleste destiné aux hommes vaillants. Intéressés par les plaisirs des sens à l’existence de ces beaux lieux, je les vois, échauffés de la plus vive croyance et soupirant sans cesse après les houris, fondre avec fureur sur leurs ennemis. Guerriers, s’écrie dans le combat un de leurs généraux, nommé Ikrimah, je les vois ces belles filles aux yeux noirs; elles sont quatre-vingt. Si l’une d’elles apparaissait sur la terre, tous les rois descendraient de leur trône pour la suivre. Mais, que vois-je? C’en est une qui s’avance; elle a un cothurne d’or pour chaussure; d’une main elle tient un mouchoir de soie verte, et de l’autre une coupe de topaze; elle me fait signe de la tête, en me disant: Venez ici, mon bien-aimé… Attendez-moi, divine houri; je me précipite dans les bataillons infidèles, je donne, je reçois la mort et vous rejoins.

Tant que les yeux crédules des Sarrasins virent aussi distinctement les houris, la passion des conquêtes, proportionnée en eux à la grandeur des récompenses qu’ils attendaient, les anima d’un courage supérieur à celui qu’inspire l’amour de la patrie: aussi produisit-il de plus grands effets, et les vit-on, en moins d’un siècle, soumettre plus de nations que les Romains n’en avaient subjugué en six cents ans.

Aussi les Grecs, supérieurs aux Arabes, en nombre, en discipline, en armures et en machines de guerre, fuyaient-ils devant eux, comme des colombes à la vue de l’épervier. Toutes les nations liguées ne leur auraient alors opposé que d’impuissantes barrières.

Bataille de Poitiers

Bataille de Poitiers en octobre 732, par Charles de Steuben (1830s).

Pour leur résister, il eût fallu armer les chrétiens du même esprit dont la loi de Mahomet animait les musulmans; promettre le Ciel et la palme du martyre, comme saint Bernard la promit du temps des croisades, à tout guerrier qui mourrait en combattant les infidèles: proposition que l’empereur Nicéphore fit aux évêques assemblés, qui, moins habiles que saint Bernard, la rejetèrent d’une commune voix. Ils ne s’aperçurent point que ce refus décourageait les Grecs, favorisait l’extinction du christianisme et les progrès des Sarrasins, auxquels on ne pouvait opposer que la digue d’un zèle égal à leur fanatisme. Ces évêques continuèrent donc d’attribuer aux crimes de la nation les calamités qui désolaient l’Empire, et dont un œil éclairé eût cherché et découvert la cause dans l’aveuglement de ces mêmes prélats, qui, dans de pareilles conjonctures, pouvaient être regardés comme les verges dont le Ciel se servait pour frapper l’Empire, et comme la plaie dont il l’affligeait.

Helvetius

Charles Adrien Helvétius, par Louis Michel van Loo, 1755.

Les succès étonnants des Sarrasins dépendaient tellement de la force de leurs passions, et la force de leurs passions des moyens dont on se servait pour les allumer en eux; que ces mêmes Arabes, ces guerriers si redoutables, devant lesquels la terre tremblait et les armées grecques fuyaient dispersées comme la poussière devant les aquilons, frémissaient eux-mêmes à l’aspect d’une secte de musulmans nommés les Safriens [Sufrites]. Échauffés, comme tous réformateurs, d’un orgueil plus féroce et d’une croyance plus ferme, ces sectaires voyaient, d’une vue plus distincte, les plaisirs célestes que l’espérance ne présentait aux autres musulmans que dans un lointain plus confus. Aussi ces furieux Safriens voulaient-ils purger la terre de ses erreurs, éclairer ou exterminer les nations, qui, disaient-ils, à leur aspect, devaient, frappées de terreur ou de lumière, se détacher de leurs préjugés ou de leurs opinions aussi promptement que la flèche se détache de l’arc dont elle est décochée.

Ce que je dis des Arabes et des Safriens peut s’appliquer à toutes les nations mues par le ressort des religions; c’est en ce genre l’égal degré de crédulité, qui, chez tous les peuples, produit l’équilibre de leur passion et de leur courage.»

– Gerhardt Stenger

Enlightenment Scotland still burning brightly

View of Edinburgh and the Castle (Wikimedia Commons).

View of Edinburgh and the Castle.

Scotland has been making headlines. In the past year, it held a referendum on independence and the Scottish Nationalist Party made unprecedented gains in this year’s general election, claiming almost every constituency north of the border and becoming a vocal force in the Commons. However, Scotland has been shaking things up and radically challenging assumptions long before our century, and not only on the backbenches.

As the contributors to The Enlightenment in Scotland: national and international perspectives illustrate, Edinburgh’s affectionate nickname ‘Auld Reekie’ may mean ‘Old Smoky’, but the stars of Scotland’s intellectual firmament have always burned bright through any perceived haze.

In the eighteenth century, independent thinking, rather than independence, was the battle cry. In fields as diverse as politics, philosophy, economics, history, social theory, agriculture, science and technology, Scots forged new paths, forming dense and fruitful networks of friendships, collaborations, and institutions (including the Scottish universities which are still academic heavyweights today). Thinkers and scientists challenged the status quo, paving the way for revolts of all kinds through their theories and practical inventions, from the agrarian and industrial revolutions which shaped modern society, to the American Revolution which established one of today’s dominant global powers, the United States.

King's College, University of Aberdeen. Taken by Nick in exilio and published on Flickr.

King’s College, University of Aberdeen. (Taken by Nick in exilio and published on Flickr.)

In this constellation of exceptional minds, two names tend to epitomize the achievements of the Scottish Enlightenment: Adam Smith and David Hume, thinkers whose writings on politics, economics, and philosophy continue to influence policymakers today. However, ‘the Enlightenment’ is a nebulous concept, an umbrella term which can sometimes mask the complexities and heterogeneity of this momentous period of global transformation, and the Scottish Enlightenment was more than two individual thinkers. Indeed, the Scottish Enlightenment is a fascinating historiographical conundrum, which raises the question of the delicate symbiotic exchange of influences between Enlightenment thinkers in other countries and thinkers in Scotland.

Adam Smith, 1790, engraving attributed to John Kay (Wikimedia Commons).

Adam Smith, 1790, engraving attributed to John Kay.

This collective volume focuses on the specificity of the Enlightenment in Scotland, while also integrating it into a wider global narrative. The diversity of approaches, origins, and influences reflected in the studies included – from microcosmic case studies of opposition to the Enlightenment in the Scottish counties of Ayrshire and Renfrewshire to examinations of reception of Scottish ideas and theories in France, Germany, and America – has a scope commensurate with the ambition and vision of the Scots.

In Scottish politics, 2014-2015 has been a year about borders and boundaries, those of nations and of parliamentary constituencies – but the stars of Scottish Enlightenment defied borders and limitations to shed their light far beyond this island’s shores, onto the international stage.

– Madeleine Chalmers

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The Enlightenment in Scotland: national and international perspectives

Edited by Jean-François Dunyach and Ann Thomson

Oxford University Studies in the Enlightenment, August 2015

ISBN-13: 978-0-7294-1166-0, 260 pages

Pierre Bayle: a pre-Enlightenment luminary

Pierre Bayle

Pierre Bayle at approximately 27 years of age. Portrait by Louis Elle-Ferdinand le jeune.

Hyperconnected, multidisciplinary, transnational – the buzzwords of twenty-first century digital communication could just as easily apply to the pan-European Republic of Letters in the late seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. An empire of paper rather than Facebook posts or tweets, the Republic of Letters transcended national boundaries as writers and thinkers criticized, complemented, and commented on the controversies of the moment in a dense nexus of correspondence. These erudite intellectual exchanges between friends and foes fostered the heated debates which shaped modern thought.

The Republic’s major architect was the prolific Pierre Bayle (1647-1706) – best-selling author, journalist, and audacious thinker.

As editor of the journal Nouvelles de la République des Lettres, which published its first issue in 1684, Bayle was arguably the first to coin the term ‘Republic of Letters’. The very title of the journal testifies to Bayle’s ambition. Bringing together articles and reviews of new publications from contributors across Europe, and with a Europe-wide distribution, Pierre Bayle was a man in dialogue with his peers and his times, constantly challenging the consensus and engaging with the opinions of others in his own analysis of the quest for philosophical and historical certainty. Marked by his early experiences of religious intolerance (a recurrent theme in his work) as a Protestant living in predominantly Catholic seventeenth century France, Bayle settled in tolerant Rotterdam where he dedicated himself to a life of creative ferment and intellectual rigour.

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Dissatisfied with the conclusions of Descartes in his Discours de la méthode (1637), and closer to Gassendi in his critique of Descartes’ Méditations métaphysiques (1641), Bayle proposed a radical scepticism towards the ability of human reason to reach true knowledge about the universe, and firmly pinpointed the antagonism of reason and religious faith and the dangers of religious fanaticism. He is perhaps best-known for his monumental Dictionnaire historique et critique (1697) – a hybrid and polymathic bestseller. With articles on every conceivable topic, it appears as a forerunner of Diderot and d’Alembert’s Encyclopédie and Voltaire’s Dictionnaire philosophique, and had a considerable influence outside France, reaching Leibniz, Hume and Kant.

As seen in the recently published volume XII of the Correspondance de Pierre Bayle, edited by Antony McKenna et al, the complexity, ambiguity, and plurality of Bayle’s work still make him a fascinating subject of study today.

Volume XII of the Correspondance de Pierre Bayle dates from the period January 1699-December 1702: a time of effervescence for Bayle, who was preparing the second edition of his extremely successful Dictionnaire at a feverish pace, while fielding commentaries and criticisms from readers of the first edition. His circle of correspondents was expanding apace. At a time when numerous projects – Early Modern Letters Online, Mapping the Republic of Letters, and Electronic Enlightenment – are using modern technology and graphics to find new ways of recreating the Republic of Letters, this volume of correspondence has a vital place in our understanding of the period.

Pierre Bayle is a model for our age of networking. From the dense web of articles in his Dictionnaire to his border-transcending Nouvelles and correspondence, his networks illuminate the intellectual exchanges firing the bold new thought which sparked the Enlightenment. Perhaps, as indicated in the very first Voltaire Foundation blogpost, The Online Republic of Letters, Bayle’s legacy lives on in this blog!

Rotterdam.

Rotterdam, where Bayle spent the last 25 years of his life.

– Madeleine Chalmers

Bibliography

Correspondance de Pierre Bayle, Volume XII, edited by †Elisabeth Labrousse, Antony McKenna, Wiep van Bunge, Edward James, Bruno Roche, Fabienne Vial-Bonacci, ISBN 978-0-7294-1028-1, March 2015

Le Rayonnement de Bayle, ed. Philippe de Robert, Claudine Pailhès and Hubert Bost, SVEC 2010:06, ISBN 978-0-7294-0995-7

Click here for a list of books and articles published by the Voltaire Foundation on Pierre Bayle or his work.

Besterman lecture 2014: The German Enlightenment and its interpretation

The Besterman Centre for the Enlightenment and the TORCH Enlightenment Programme invite you to the 2014 Besterman Lecture: ‘ “True Enlightenment can be both achieved and beneficial” – The German Enlightenment and its interpretation’ by Joachim Whaley, Professor of German History and Thought, Cambridge, on Thursday 20 November 2014, at 5:15 pm, in Room 2, Taylor Institution, Oxford. All welcome.

A podcast of the lecture is now available.

There is a long-standing scholarly tradition that affirms the existence of a distinctive German Enlightenment or Aufklärung but which denies that it had any long-term impact on German history.

In the nineteenth and first half of the twentieth centuries deep-rooted narratives of German history emphasised the special destiny of a country which turned away from the sterile rationalism of western (essentially French) Enlightenment. Romanticism and Idealism were said to have transcended the Enlightenment and to have represented a uniquely German way of understanding the world.

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Theodor Adorno and Max Horkheimer went so far as to suggest that the Enlightenment was effectively responsible for the Third Reich and the Holocaust. Photograph taken in April 1964 by Jeremy J. Shapiro at the Max Weber-Soziologentag. Horkheimer is front left, Adorno front right, and Habermas is in the background, right, running his hand through his hair. Jjshapiro at en.wikipedia

After 1945 the same narrative gained negative connotations in the context of the view that German history followed a ‘special path’ (Sonderweg), which sought to explain the long-term origins of the Third Reich and the Holocaust. Indeed, Theodor Adorno and Max Horkheimer went so far as to suggest that the Enlightenment was effectively responsible for those later developments. That was an extreme view which many rejected. Yet the scholarly consensus in Germany nonetheless consistently underplayed the role of the Aufklärung. Germany, it was held, turned away from the Enlightenment in the 1790s; the movement was too weak to prevail over the critical assault of its enemies, who set Germany on a course that led inexorably to the disasters of the 1930s and 1940s.

Jonathan Israel’s more recent narrative of the Enlightenment in many ways complements this view. His focus on the Radical Enlightenment as the true Enlightenment (which, however, developed moderate and critical or antagonistic variants throughout Europe) leads him to dismiss most Aufklärung thinking as moderate and therefore incapable of effecting true modernisation in the form of the core values that he defines for Western society. He underlines again the force of antagonistic and critical views in the last years of the eighteenth century.

These approaches do not do justice to the distinctive character of the Aufklärung, or to its impact and legacy. The main reason for this is that they do not pay attention to the framework within which it developed. Ever since the early nineteenth century historians have by and large held negative views of the Holy Roman Empire: an allegedly sclerotic and doomed system that could not possibly have been associated with progressive Enlightenment ideas. Yet in fact the Holy Roman Empire not only formed the institutional and state framework within which the Aufklärung developed; its institutions were themselves transformed by the new way of thinking.

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Johann Joachim Spalding (1714-1804) by Anton Graff. Alte Nationalgalerie Berlin.

The German Enlightenment mainstream was not defined by radicalism, by the followers of Spinoza, whom Israel puts at the heart of his narrative, but by reformism. The central text of the movement there was Johann Joachim Spalding’s Über die Bestimmung des Menschen (Reflections on the destiny of man). First published in 1748 as a twenty-six page pamphlet, it went through over forty editions before Spalding’s death in 1804, ending up as a book of 244 pages. It was perhaps the title as much as the content which accounted for the work’s impact. For the idea that man might have a vocation, a destiny or a ‘determination’ chimed perfectly with the mood of the mature German Aufklärung. Indeed the phrase ‘die Bestimmung des Menschen’ itself rapidly became one of the fundamental ideas of the Aufklärung, both a declaration and a programme in its own right.

It is only if one explores the implications of this programme that one can fully understand the German Enlightenment in its distinctive context of the eighteenth-century Holy Roman Empire: a quasi-federal polity with central and regional institutions, a polity in which the actual business of government was devolved to the territories and cities. Furthermore, the reform movements associated with the Aufklärung at all levels – empire, regional structures, and territories and cities – had effects that shaped German history into the twentieth century and arguably even into the twenty-first century. Exploring these ramifications of Enlightenment in Germany is to uncover a hidden history. ‘Enlightenment can be both achieved and beneficial’, proclaimed the Brockhaus encyclopaedia in 1864. Despite everything that later happened in Germany, the conviction that Aufklärung might still be possible continued to inspire significant numbers of Germans, as it still does today.

– Joachim Whaley

Find out more about 6000 years of German history in the series ‘Germany: memories of a nation’, presented by Neil MacGregor, Director of the British Museum.