Dutch decline, liberalism, patriotism and the duties of the state around 1800
Koen Stapelbroek

The Enlightened discourse on poverty in each national context shared much with the general conversation taking place across Europe. National socio-economic circumstances could, however, frame the timing of when and reasons why poverty became a significant concern. A good example of these processes is that of the Dutch Republic, as discussed in Koen Stapelbroeck’s chapter. Born out of its comparative wealth, a common myth in early eighteenth-century Europe was that poverty did not exist in the Republic. The emergence of poverty as an issue of economic and political debate occurred in tandem with attempts, especially in the 1770s and 1780s, to understand and stall Dutch economic decline. Two opposing discourses crystallised at this time, one which understood poverty as a mismatch of factors of production needing to be dealt with to ensure the State’s prosperity, and another which positioned poverty as an issue of moral economy, viewing it as a duty of the State to provide labour and subsistence for its citizenry. These positions provide through-lines to the rival positions of liberalism and socialism in the nineteenth century republic.

in Ideas of poverty in the Age of Enlightenment
An introduction
R. J. W. Mills
Niall O’Flaherty

The issue of poverty is rarely held to be a key concern of the European Enlightenment. Instead, the emergence of our modern notion of poverty is held to take place in the revolutionary 1790s. This introduction sets out the argument that this ignores the emergence of what Mark Ravallion has termed the ‘First Poverty Enlightenment’ from the 1740s onwards. The transformation of how poverty was conceptualised should be viewed as one of the key humanitarian goals of an Enlightenment concerned with temporal well-being. To this end, the introduction explains how the chapters that follow examine changing conceptualisations of the causes, character and consequences of poverty, as well as proposals for its amelioration. The collection seeks to provide the perspective of the intellectual historian on an issue that has long been the preserve of social historians (though surprisingly not economic historians), and to suggest that poverty was more central to Enlightenment-era thought than the current literature suggests. Our contributors have sought to situate conceptualisations of poverty within their original social, political and philosophical contexts, and to view those conceptualisations as contributions to pan-European debates over the paths to prosperity and improvement. Through reconstructing the major themes of Enlightenment-era thought about poverty, the following chapters avoid viewing these debates in terms of early twenty-first century concepts and categories. Equally importantly, our contributors have been encouraged to explore how changing notions of poverty inform political and social action and thereby demonstrate the crucial interplay between Enlightened ideas and political practices.

in Ideas of poverty in the Age of Enlightenment

Although poverty in the eighteenth century has long been an object of focus for social historians, it has figured only marginally in the intellectual history of the period. This is because it has been assumed that the existence of poverty was rarely problematised before the transformative decade of the 1790s. Yet because the theme of poverty played important roles in many critical issues in European history, it was central to some of the key debates in Enlightenment political thought throughout the period, including the controversies about sovereignty and representation, public and private charity, as well as questions relating to crime and punishment. Indeed, leading thinkers like the Scottish political economist Adam Smith, the French Physiocrats and the Milanese jurist Cesare Beccaria had come to see the fate of the poor as an urgent political question in the middle decades of the century. This book examines some of the most important contributions to these debates, while also ranging beyond the canonical Enlightenment thinkers, to investigate how poverty was conceptualised in the wider intellectual culture, as politicians, administrators and pamphlet writers grappled with the issue. The volume also revisits the question of why and how many governments and men of letters began to address poverty as a social problem in the 1790s. It asks how far the drive to reduce or eliminate want was already underway before the French Revolution, as well as challenging the binary characterisation of debates in the period as a struggle between humanitarian radicals and cold-hearted reactionaries.

An eighteenth-century debate
Anna Plassart

This chapter raises questions about the widespread view that the 1790s were the radical turning point when our modern concept of poverty emerged. Anna Plassart places Edmund Burke’s famous mockery of the notion of the ‘labouring poor’ as ‘political canting language’ in the context not of the French Revolution, but of an ongoing eighteenth-century debate among enlightened social theorists about the character of poverty in modern commercial states. Burke’s indictment did not symbolise the end of paternalism and the beginning of free market liberalism. Certainly, it was a rhetorical move in response to radicalism in 1795. But he was also participating in an ongoing conversation about the concept of the ‘labouring poor’. To Burke, there were only the ‘idle’ poor: the purported ‘labouring poor’ were the expected productions of economic laws and their situation was unalterable. The framing of the labouring poor as an oxymoron was deployed by Burke, Frederick Eden, Patrick Colquohoun and Jeremy Bentham, but they were all, directly or indirectly, relying on the formulation found half a century earlier in Montesquieu’s Spirit of the Laws (1748). Through identifying the Montesquieuian origins of this critique, Plassart encourages us to think beyond the stark or binary analyses of the radical 1790s and to assess the changing status of long-established arguments.

in Ideas of poverty in the Age of Enlightenment
Open Access (free)
The early reception of Malthus
Niall O’Flaherty

Efforts of recent scholarship to discredit the widespread view of T. R. Malthus as helping to instigate a shift from a generous paternalistic view of poverty relief to an amoral cost–benefit credo have been undermined by the contention that the cure for poverty set out in the second edition of his Essay on the Principle of Population (1803) was invariably either misconstrued or ignored altogether, and that it failed, therefore, to dislodge the gloomier outlook of the first edition of 1798 in the public imagination. Niall O’Flaherty shows, however, that the optimistic message of the second edition was both well understood and celebrated in the decade after its publication, not only by its numerous reviewers but also by those at the forefront of the campaign to reform the English relief system in parliament. There was a foundation, in other words, for a new approach to poverty that was at once anti-paternalist and humanitarian.

in Ideas of poverty in the Age of Enlightenment
Patrick Colquhoun’s Treatise on Indigence (1806)
Joanna Innes

Joanna Innes investigates the polymath and reformer Patrick Colquhoun’s views on poverty, as expounded in his Treatise on Indigence (1806). She reminds us that the reconceptualisation of poverty in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries was not always primarily in the realm of abstract political economy. Treating Colquhoun as one of a generation of British metropolitan reformers and thinkers reconceptualising poverty and crime, Innes outlines what was distinctive about his thought while acknowledging that he was not necessarily the most sophisticated or innovative of commentators. What is interesting about Colquhoun is how we can chart his professional engagement with poverty and his use of new empirical data to inform his arguments about how indigence might be ameliorated. Colquhoun was no armchair political economist but someone with sustained first-hand experience of dealing with both the labouring and indigent poor. But he was one of a clique of connected philanthropists who informed the attitudes of a subsequent even larger generation of reformers and commentators who broke with the vision of the Old Poor Laws.

in Ideas of poverty in the Age of Enlightenment
Alexandra Ortolja-Baird

This survey of the ‘Enlightened’ discourse on poverty in Austrian-Habsburg Lombardy from the 1760s to the 1780s details the secularisation of concepts of poverty and the interplaying between reformers and governments. The political economists of Milan were fellow travellers with the Physiocrats in establishing political economy as the foremost enlightened ‘science of man’. But Ortolja-Baird also indicates the benefits of drawing upon a wider geographical range of studies of changing ‘Enlightened’ conceptions of poverty. Exemplified by Cesare Beccaria’s discussion in On Crimes and Punishments (1764), the Milanese Enlightenment viewed poverty as one factor in a larger political critique of existing social privilege and the moral corruptions of the nobility and the inadequacies of Church benevolence. This discussion had some influence on the decision-making of the Habsburg-Lombard court. In Beccaria’s work especially, the Illuministi developed solutions not only of undoing the society of ranks and ensuring equal access to economic opportunity, but also schemes for free health care. The solutions proposed did not involve social insurance schemes or the redistribution of wealth, but ensuring equal access to opportunity, based on a rights doctrine emerging from a social contractarian outlook. The radical reformist outlook of the Illuminsti discussed in this chapter bears resemblance to the ‘social economy’ of the radical philosophes in Paris but was developed within its own Milanese as much as wider European context.

in Ideas of poverty in the Age of Enlightenment
T. J. Hochstrasser

This chapter assesses whether the absolutist states of eighteenth-century Europe were genuinely concerned with alleviating poverty and in the process introduces several of the themes of the collection. The Marxian perspective which views enlightened absolutism as unable to modernise without endangering itself ignores the tentative signs of reform, underpinned by a new secular and scientific sense of poverty. Epitomising our need to view the topic of poverty in terms of reformers as much as thinkers, this development was led less by the intellectual luminaries of the age than by powerful civil servants. Turgot led the way in 1770s France, Johann Heinrich Gottlob von Justi (1717–1771) in 1760s Prussia and Wenzel Anton, Prince Kaunitz (1711–1794) and Joseph von Sonnenfels (1732–1817) in the Habsburg Monarchy. Across absolutist Europe in the mid-eighteenth century, perceptions of the poor were shifting towards the promotion of welfare, with Frederick II, Catherine II and Joseph II all seeking to alter policy towards the poor. Local circumstances, however, determined the rate of change: Frederick achieved little, while Catherine and Joseph achieved much, though on a smaller scale than their grandiose projects had intended. But the fact that it was Joseph II who undertook some of the most radical policies of the age indicates our hitherto narrow focus on either England or France might be wide of the mark.

in Ideas of poverty in the Age of Enlightenment
Heonik Kwon

The Hill Fight of the Korean War constitutes an important chapter of the formative military conflict of the mid-twentieth century where the South Korean and other UN forces confronted the Chinese and North Korean forces. Currently, it has become a vital site of contested memory, especially in relation to the growing contest of power between the United States and the People’s Republic of China. Describing South Korea’s recent initiative of missing in action (MIA)/killed in action (KIA) accounting activities on these old battlegrounds since 2000, this article looks at how public actions concerning the remains of war are intertwined with changing geopolitical conditions. This will be followed by a reflection on the limits of the prevailing art and technology of war-remains accounting.

Human Remains and Violence: An Interdisciplinary Journal
Sarah Wagner

A half-century since its conclusion, the Vietnam War’s ‘work of remembrance’ in the United States continues to generate, even innovate, forms of homecoming and claims of belonging among the state, its military and veterans, surviving families and the wider public. Such commemoration often centres on objects that materialise, physically or symbolically, absence and longed-for recovery or reunion – from wartime artefacts-turned-mementos to the identified remains of missing war dead. In exploring the war’s proliferating memory work, this article examines the small-scale but persistent practice of leaving or scattering cremains at the Vietnam Veterans Memorial on the National Mall in Washington DC, against the backdrop of the US military’s efforts to account for service members missing in action (MIA). Seen together, the illicit and sanctioned efforts to return remains (or artefacts closely associated with them) to places of social recognition and fellowship shed light on the powerful role the dead have in mediating war’s meaning and the debts it incurs.

Human Remains and Violence: An Interdisciplinary Journal