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Between the ancients and the moderns

This book offers a full account of the role played by seventeenth- and eighteenth-century English Republican ideas in eighteenth-century France. Challenging some of the dominant accounts of the Republican tradition, it revises conventional understandings of what Republicanism meant in both Britain and France during the eighteenth century, offering a distinctive trajectory as regards ancient and modern constructions and highlighting variety rather than homogeneity within the tradition. The book thus offers a new perspective on both the legacy of the English Republican tradition and the origins and thought of the French Revolution. It centres around a series of case studies that focus on a number of colourful and influential characters including John Toland, Viscount Bolingbroke, John Wilkes, and the Comte de Mirabeau.

Abstract only
Rachel Hammersley

On 3 September 1751, the French statesman René-Louis Voyer de Paulmy, marquis d'Argenson wrote in his journal that there blows from England a philosophical wind of free and anti-monarchical government. D'Argenson's assessment of the political situation in France in the mid-eighteenth century is significant not only on account of his prescient warnings about where events were heading, but also for his suggestion that the French were importing ideas of liberty and republicanism from across the Channel. Despite the wealth of research that has been undertaken on the emergence and development of republican ideas during the early modern period, relatively little attention has been paid to the traffic in ideas reported by d'Argenson. The English influences on French republicanism have not been fully investigated, or sufficiently acknowledged. In part, this may be due to the particular perspectives of those who have studied early modern republicanism—especially in its anglophone and francophone manifestations.

in The English republican tradition and eighteenth-century France
Rachel Hammersley

In order to understand the commonwealth position, this chapter puts on one side the issue of constitutional forms and focuses instead on the principles, values and practical measures that the commonwealthmen saw as uniting them with the republicans of the mid-seventeenth century. It is clear that the commonwealthmen were much more closely in line with the seventeenth-century republican tradition than their rejection of kingless government would initially suggest. In their emphasis on the concept of liberty and their concern with both civil and religious freedoms, they were following directly in the earlier tradition. The real achievement of the commonwealthmen was to bring the works and ideas of the mid-seventeenth-century republicans to the attention of a new generation and to render their ideas applicable in the very different circumstances of eighteenth-century Britain.

in The English republican tradition and eighteenth-century France
Rachel Hammersley

This chapter focuses on the small group of Huguenot exiles who, in alliance with the Real Whigs, played a crucial role in bringing English republican and commonwealth works to the attention of the French-speaking world. The Huguenot connection was one means by which commonwealth ideas came to play an important role in continental European political thought. The Real Whigs, who were themselves deeply concerned about European affairs, were closely associated with a network of Huguenot writers, translators and booksellers. It was via the translations and reviews produced by these French Protestant exiles that the key works of the English republican tradition entered France and became known to a francophone audience.

in The English republican tradition and eighteenth-century France
An atypical commonwealth man
Rachel Hammersley

Given his French connections and influence, Henry St John, Viscount Bolingbroke played an important role as a conduit for the transfer of English republican ideas across the Channel. It seemed that despite his Tory credentials, Bolingbroke's political thought had much in common with that of the Real Whigs. In addition to expressing views very similar to theirs, Bolingbroke also appears to have shared their cosmopolitan outlook. His works included numerous examples drawn from the history of other European countries, which revealed the depth of his knowledge in this area. His expertise on French history and politics was particularly strong and he engaged directly in the controversial contemporary debates concerning French history. Bolingbroke's works also became well known in France.

in The English republican tradition and eighteenth-century France
Rachel Hammersley

Bolingbroke's role in disseminating republicanism and the commonwealth tradition ideas in France has never been fully explored. This chapter focuses on this neglected aspect of Bolingbroke's influence in France. In particular, it pays attention to Bolingbroke's associates at the Club de l'Entresol, many of whom were struggling with similar questions and coming up with similar solutions to his, and to two of his French acquaintances, Henri de Boulainvilliers and Montesquieu, both of whose ideas are such that they could even be described as proponents of a French version of the commonwealth tradition.

in The English republican tradition and eighteenth-century France
The abbé Mably
Rachel Hammersley

Gabriel Bonnot de Mably is one of the central figures in the accounts of eighteenth-century French classical republicanism offered by Keith Baker and Kent Wright. Their groundbreaking studies transformed our understanding of Mably and placed him at the centre of accounts of eighteenth-century French republicanism and the intellectual origins of the French Revolution. Yet, the classical republican label does not quite do justice to the complexity of Mably's ideas. Though his ideal form of government was in line with the ancient republican tradition, his proposals for the reform of contemporary states were those of a commonwealthman. He not only analysed the strengths and weaknesses of the British constitution in commonwealth terms, but also self-consciously went on to propose a commonwealth reform package for France. He also engaged in a radicalisation of the early modern republican tradition.

in The English republican tradition and eighteenth-century France
Rachel Hammersley

It was not just in America that the ideas of the commonwealth tradition proved influential during the 1760s and 1770s. The escalation of the American situation coincided with domestic controversies associated with the colourful journalist and politician John Wilkes. Like the American conflict, the Wilkes controversies raised issues that were central to the British commonwealth tradition, not least the relationship between liberty and authority, the tendency for power to become corrupt, and the importance of representative government and free speech in countering that corruption. Moreover, these themes resonated in France too, against the background of the conflict between the Crown and the parlements, and especially the Maupeou Coup. The events of the 1760s and 1770s in America, Britain and France thus breathed new life into the old commonwealth texts and rendered them of relevance once more on both sides of the Atlantic.

in The English republican tradition and eighteenth-century France
Rachel Hammersley

In England, chevalier d'Eon Beaumont became acquainted with commonwealth works and ideas, which he then applied to the contemporary situation in France. This chapter examines the British origins of d'Eon's patriotism, revealing something about the means by which commonwealth ideas were disseminated in France in the 1760s and 1770s, and the uses to which they were put. D'Eon owed his awareness of Nedham's work, and of the ideas of the English republican tradition more generally, to his long period of exile in Britain. It was during that stay that he began to acknowledge the importance of liberty and virtue and the threat posed to them by despotism and corruption. In this respect, d'Eon's friendship with Wilkes, and the parallels drawn between the experiences of the two men, appear to have been crucial.

in The English republican tradition and eighteenth-century France
Rachel Hammersley

Paul Henri Thierry, baron d'Holbach personified the philosophers aimed at ‘the utter extirpation of religion’. Not only was he the host of one of the most notorious salons of the period, but he was also the author of some of the earliest explicitly atheistic works ever to have been published. D'Holbach was indeed an opponent of the ancient republican tradition but he was far more sympathetic to the more moderate republicanism of the commonwealthmen. Indeed, d'Holbach not only made use of their religious arguments, but also shared some of their moral and political ideas.

in The English republican tradition and eighteenth-century France