Historicizing the Enlightenment, Volume 1: Politics, Religion, Economy, and Society in Britain (Paperback)
The Enlightenment has been blamed for some of the most deadly developments of modern life: racism and white supremacy, imperialist oppression, capitalist exploitation, neoliberal economics, scientific positivism, totalitarian rule. These developments are thought to have grown from principles that are rooted in the soil of the Enlightenment: abstraction, reduction, objectification, quantification, division, universalization. Michael McKeon’s new book corrects this defective view by historicizing the Enlightenment--by showing that the Enlightenment has been abstracted from its history. From its past: critics have ignored that Enlightenment thought is a reaction against deadly traditions that precede it. From its present: the Enlightenment extended its reactive analysis of the past to its own present through self-analysis and self-criticism. From its future: much of what’s been blamed amounts to the failure of its posterity to sustain Enlightenment principles. To historicize the Enlightenment requires that we conjure what it was like to live through the emergence of concepts and practices that are now commonplace—society, privacy, the public, the market, experiment, secularity, representative democracy, human rights, social class, sex and gender, fiction, the aesthetic attitude. McKeon’s book argues the continuity of Enlightenment thought, its consistency and integrity across this broad range of conceptual domains. It also shows how the Enlightenment has shaped our views of both tradition and modernity, and the revisionary work that needs to be done in order to understand our place in the future. In the process, Historicizing the Enlightenment exemplifies a distinctive historiography and historical method.
Published by Bucknell University Press. Distributed worldwide by Rutgers University Press.
About the Author
MICHAEL MCKEON is Board of Governors Distinguished Professor Emeritus at Rutgers University–New Brunswick in New Jersey. He is the author of Politics and Poetry in Restoration England, The Origins of the English Novel, 1600-1740, The Secret History of Domesticity: Public, Private, and the Division of Knowledge, and many articles, as well as the editor of Theory of the Novel: A Historical Approach.
"Unparalleled in its range and erudition, McKeon’s far-reaching and boldly synthetic intellectual history challenges critical accounts that abstract the conceptual and methodological innovations of Enlightenment from the moment of their emergence. Essential reading for anyone interested in ongoing debates over the role of the Enlightenment in global modernity."
— Lynn Festa
“Michael McKeon has written a deeply learned history of the English Enlightenment which draws on both literary sources and philosophical and political texts. He finds a series of repeated patterns of thought as he takes us through considerations of tradition, civil and religious liberty, secularization, the economy, and modern systems of gender and sexuality. It is an exhilarating and challenging book.”
— Randolph Trumbach