Enlightenment against Empire

Enlightenment against Empire

Sankar Muthu
Copyright Date: 2003
Pages: 376
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    Enlightenment against Empire
    Book Description:

    In the late eighteenth century, an array of European political thinkers attacked the very foundations of imperialism, arguing passionately that empire-building was not only unworkable, costly, and dangerous, but manifestly unjust.Enlightenment against Empireis the first book devoted to the anti-imperialist political philosophies of an age often regarded as affirming imperial ambitions. Sankar Muthu argues that thinkers such as Denis Diderot, Immanuel Kant, and Johann Gottfried Herder developed an understanding of humans as inherently cultural agents and therefore necessarily diverse. These thinkers rejected the conception of a culture-free "natural man." They held that moral judgments of superiority or inferiority could be made neither about entire peoples nor about many distinctive cultural institutions and practices.

    Muthu shows how such arguments enabled the era's anti-imperialists to defend the freedom of non-European peoples to order their own societies. In contrast to those who praise "the Enlightenment" as the triumph of a universal morality and critics who view it as an imperializing ideology that denigrated cultural pluralism, Muthu argues instead that eighteenth-century political thought included multiple Enlightenments. He reveals a distinctive and underappreciated strand of Enlightenment thinking that interweaves commitments to universal moral principles and incommensurable ways of life, and that links the concept of a shared human nature with the idea that humans are fundamentally diverse. Such an intellectual temperament, Muthu contends, can broaden our own perspectives about international justice and the relationship between human unity and diversity.

    eISBN: 978-1-4008-2588-2
    Subjects: Philosophy

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-viii)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. ix-x)
    (pp. xi-xvi)
  4. One Introduction: Enlightenment Political Thought and the Age of Empire
    (pp. 1-10)

    In the late eighteenth century, a number of prominent European political thinkers attacked imperialism, not only defending non-European peoples against the injustices of European imperial rule, as some earlier modern thinkers had done, but also challenging the idea that Europeans had any right to subjugate, colonize, and ‘civilize’ the rest of the world. This book is a study of this historically anomalous and understudied episode of political thinking. It is an era unique in the history of modern political thought: strikingly, virtually every prominent and influential European thinker in the three hundred years before the eighteenth century and nearly the...

  5. Two Toward a Subversion of Noble Savagery: From Natural Humans to Cultural Humans
    (pp. 11-71)

    The development of anti-imperialist political thought in the late eighteenth century is attributable only partly to the development of the natural rights doctrine or, indeed, to any other version of the idea that humans as such deserve moral respect. It is a much noted feature of modern political theory that proponents of egalitarian doctrines of equal rights and liberty regularly flouted such norms when reflecting upon the social and political status of women, nonpropertied males, and those who were deemed foreign or exotic, among others. At times, this reflected a gross inconsistency between prima facie humanistic norms and self-serving or...

  6. Three Diderot and the Evils of Empire: The Histoire des deux Indes
    (pp. 72-121)

    Abbé Guillaume-Thomas Raynal, the man celebrated throughout Europe as the author ofHistoire philosophique et politique des établissements et du commerce des Européens dans les deux Indes[Philosophical and political history of European settlements and commerce in the two Indies], was an iconoclastic Jesuit who edited and wrote parts of this extraordinary ten-volume work, a broad survey of global political and economic ties from the earliest Spanish conquests in the Americas to the colonial and commercial activities of, among others, the Danes, Portuguese, Dutch, French, and English.¹ In addition to providing a synthetic history, theHistoirealso offered commentaries on...

  7. Four Humanity and Culture in Kant’s Politics
    (pp. 122-171)

    The eighteenth century marks a crucial moment in the development of humanitarian intellectual thought, by which institutions and practices such as slavery and imperialism, along with their underlying ideologies and various justifications, begin finally to undergo critical scrutiny from a legion of European political thinkers. In the preceding chapters, I have argued that the philosophically most robust, and historically most innovative, forms of early humanitarianism theorize the category of the human being as fundamentally social, cultural, and plural. In contrast, we have seen that other Enlightenment-era thinkers like Baron Lahontan and Rousseau, who present stripped-down accounts of a coherent, underlying...

  8. Five Kant’s Anti-imperialism: Cultural Agency and Cosmopolitan Right
    (pp. 172-209)

    Kant’s hatred of paternalism plays an important role in his political understanding of civil societies, as we saw in the last chapter. I begin this chapter with a section that investigates the relationship between human flourishing and freedom in theDoctrine of Virtue(the second part ofThe Metaphysics of Morals), in particular the latitude that Kant prescribes toindividualsin determining their cultural activities, and thus the anti-paternalistic arguments that he makes about self-development. This will show how Kant’s understanding of humanity as cultural agency helps to produce a moral philosophy that is both universal and pluralistic, and it...

  9. Six Pluralism, Humanity, and Empire in Herder’s Political Thought
    (pp. 210-258)

    In the most stereotypical, but still widely articulated, contentions about eighteenth-century political thought, Johann Gottfried Herder’s writings are said to be a counterpoint to Enlightenment thinking. In these accounts, Herder is a nationalist in contrast to the Enlightenment’s cosmopolitanism, a romantic to the Enlightenment’s faith in reason, and a cultural pluralist to the Enlightenment’s monistic penchant for universal, cross-cultural truths.¹ The problems with such characterizations lie partly in their assumptions about Enlightenment thinking, as I will discuss further in the following chapter: first, that there is such a thing as ‘the’ Enlightenment; second, that its core features are easily categorized;...

  10. Seven Conclusion: The Philosophical Sources and Legacies of Enlightenment Anti-imperialism
    (pp. 259-284)

    The latter half of the eighteenth century is an anomalous period in modern European political thought, for it is only then that a group of significant thinkers attacked the very foundations of imperialism. In contrast, throughout the nineteenth century, virtually all prominent European political philosophers were either agnostic on the issue of imperialism or, like John Stuart Mill, Tocqueville, Hegel, and Marx, explicitly defended European rule over non-European peoples. What explains, then, this curiously short-lived antagonism toward empire during the Enlightenment era? What constellation of philosophical assumptions, concepts, arguments, and temperaments enabled anti-imperialist political theories in the late eighteenth century?...

  11. Notes
    (pp. 285-324)
  12. Works Cited
    (pp. 325-340)
  13. Index
    (pp. 341-348)