What was the Enlightenment? Though many scholars have attempted to solve this riddle, none has made as much use of contemporary answers as Dan Edelstein does here. In seeking to recover where, when, and how the concept of “the Enlightenment” first emerged, Edelstein departs from genealogies that trace it back to political and philosophical developments in England and the Dutch Republic. According to Edelstein, by the 1720s scholars and authors in France were already employing a constellation of terms—such as l’esprit philosophique—to describe what we would today call the Enlightenment. But Edelstein argues that it was within the French Academies, and in the context of the Quarrel of the Ancients and the Moderns, that the key definition, concepts, and historical narratives of the Enlightenment were crafted.
A necessary corrective to many of our contemporary ideas about the Enlightenment, Edelstein’s book turns conventional thinking about the period on its head. Concise, clear, and contrarian, The Enlightenment will be welcomed by all teachers and students of the period.
On the Spirit of Rights
Dan Edelstein University of Chicago Press, 2018 Library of Congress JC571.E357 2018 | Dewey Decimal 323.09
By the end of the eighteenth century, politicians in America and France were invoking the natural rights of man to wrest sovereignty away from kings and lay down universal basic entitlements. Exactly how and when did “rights” come to justify such measures?
In On the Spirit of Rights, Dan Edelstein answers this question by examining the complex genealogy of the rights that regimes enshrined in the American and French Revolutions. With a lively attention to detail, he surveys a sprawling series of debates among rulers, jurists, philosophers, political reformers, writers, and others who were all engaged in laying the groundwork for our contemporary systems of constitutional governance. Every seemingly new claim about rights turns out to be a variation on a theme, as late medieval notions were subtly repeated and refined to yield the talk of “rights” we recognize today. From the Wars of Religion to the French Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen to the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights, On the Spirit of Rights is a sweeping tour through centuries of European intellectual history and an essential guide to our ways of thinking about human rights today.
Time is the backdrop of historical inquiry, yet it is much more than a featureless setting for events. Different temporalities interact dynamically; sometimes they coexist tensely, sometimes they clash violently. In this innovative volume, editors Dan Edelstein, Stefanos Geroulanos, and Natasha Wheatley challenge how we interpret history by focusing on the nexus of two concepts—“power” and “time”—as they manifest in a wide variety of case studies. Analyzing history, culture, politics, technology, law, art, and science, this engaging book shows how power is constituted through the shaping of temporal regimes in historically specific ways. Power and Time includes seventeen essays on human rights; sovereignty; Islamic, European, Chinese, and Indian history; slavery; capitalism; revolution; the Supreme Court; the Anthropocene; and even the Manson Family. Power and Time will be an agenda-setting volume, highlighting the work of some of the world’s most respected and original contemporary historians and posing fundamental questions for the craft of history.
Natural right—the idea that there is a collection of laws and rights based not on custom or belief but that are “natural” in origin—is typically associated with liberal politics and freedom. In The Terror of Natural Right, Dan Edelstein argues that the revolutionaries used the natural right concept of the “enemy of the human race”—an individual who has transgressed the laws of nature and must be executed without judicial formalities—to authorize three-quarters of the deaths during the Terror. Edelstein further contends that the Jacobins shared a political philosophy that he calls “natural republicanism,” which assumed that the natural state of society was a republic and that natural right provided its only acceptable laws. Ultimately, he proves that what we call the Terror was in fact only one facet of the republican theory that prevailed from Louis’s trial until the fall of Robespierre.
A highly original work of historical analysis, political theory, literary criticism, and intellectual history, The Terror of Natural Right challenges prevailing assumptions of the Terror to offer a new perspective on the Revolutionary period.