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Barbarism Revisited

New Perspectives on an Old Concept


Edited by Maria Boletsi and Christian Moser

The figure of the barbarian has captivated the Western imagination from Greek antiquity to the present. Since the 1990s, the rhetoric of civilization versus barbarism has taken center stage in Western political rhetoric and the media. But how can the longevity and popularity of this opposition be accounted for? Why has it become such a deeply ingrained habit of thought that is still being so effectively mobilized in Western discourses?
The twenty essays in this volume revisit well-known and obscure chapters in barbarism's genealogy from new perspectives and through contemporary theoretical idioms. With studies spanning from Greek antiquity to the present, they show how barbarism has functioned as the negative outside separating a civilized interior from a barbarian exterior; as the middle term in-between savagery and civilization in evolutionary models; as a repressed aspect of the civilized psyche; as concomitant with civilization; as a term that confuses fixed notions of space and time; or as an affirmative notion in philosophy and art, signifying radical change and regeneration.
Proposing an original interdisciplinary approach to barbarism, this volume includes both overviews of the concept's travels as well as specific case studies of its workings in art, literature, philosophy, film, ethnography, design, and popular culture in various periods, geopolitical contexts, and intellectual traditions. Through this kaleidoscopic view of the concept, it recasts the history of ideas not only as a task for historians, but also literary scholars, art historians, and cultural analysts.

Alison M. Downham Moore

exaggerated, beginning with the work of Michel Foucault. Longue durée is defined here as work traversing the temporal divisions typically observed in modern scholarly norms which refer to ancient, medieval, early modern, late modern, or variations of such epochal definition. 2 Histories of sexual medicine

Siobhán McElduff

on a range of later early modern seminal theorists and makers of forms of political representation. As Remer points out, Roman orators constantly relied on audience approval to push through their policies and wishes, unlike a modern representative who only goes to the electorate at periodic, and

Jane Mansbridge

liberalism or any other theory of moral value’. 3 Again, ‘My claim is that a secure and prosperous constitutional framework can be stably established without recourse to the ethical assumptions of contemporary liberal theory, and indeed without the central assumptions of early-modern liberalism or

David Bronstein and Whitney Schwab

). 6 For useful discussions of the different varieties of innatism in ancient, early modern and contemporary philosophy, see Barnes 1972, Cowie 1999, 3-26, Fine 2014, 21-3 and 141-6, and Scott 1995, 91-5, 188-90, and 213-16. These authors discuss a third type of innatism—especially in connection with

Torbjörn Gustafsson Chorell


According to the displacement model of secularization, religious-theological concepts, themes, and values have been reinterpreted in non-religious contexts without fully dispensing with the religious content. Secularization is thus incomplete. The incomplete secularization argument can be used as a lens through which to read Ethan Kleinberg’s deconstructive approach to the past. In his narrative, as reconstructed here, deconstruction promises to bring us closer to a secular relationship to the past than the ontological realism Kleinberg says still dominates contemporary historical theory. By contrasting Kleinberg’s analysis with Hayden White’s, whose oeuvre can be read as structured by the idea of incomplete secularization and a wish to liberate history from religious themes in order to enable a direct confrontation with meaninglessness, I argue that Kleinberg’s deconstructive approach does not fulfill its promise. Rather, it opens up a post-secular historiography in which religious themes might find a place at the very heart of historical reasoning.

Benjamin Straumann


In this paper the centrality of concepts for intellectual history is stressed. Naturally, this focus on concepts requires an account of what concepts are. More contentiously, an account of how concepts are best approached by intellectual historians also requires taking a stand vis-à-vis some prevailing notions of concepts. In particular, I will direct attention to the weaknesses of the historicist theory of concepts derived from the later Wittgenstein. By contrast, I will put forward an account of conceptual innovation and change in intellectual history based on a notion of concept loosely inspired by Frege. The first three parts of the paper lay out a framework for what I call “analytic contextualism,” which is then briefly illustrated with an example from the history of political thought in the fourth part. I argue that this framework should be attractive to intellectual historians for two reasons: First, Fregean concepts, due to their relative independence from context, explain long-term conceptual stability and change better than competing notions of concepts. Second, a Fregean notion of concept is better suited than its competitors to explain how concepts and conceptual innovation sometimes manage to have causal effect on institutions and social reality. To demonstrate the latter point, it will be shown that my account of concepts is consistent with, and well placed to exploit, recent philosophical advances in social ontology.

James Alexander


Reaction is a subject usually avoided by political theorists, since it raises awkward historical, philosophical and political questions. Perhaps philosophers of history might make better sense of it. In this article I claim that reaction has to be understood in relation to the concepts of revolution, tradition, progress and conservatism. I argue that the specific meaning of reaction is a response to the specific action that establishes the principle that order should be established only on enlightened principles. The few theorists who have dealt with reaction have disagreed about whether it is the same as conservatism or not. I show that reaction is not an element in what I call a status quo conservatism, though it is an element in any conservatism conceived more broadly. I characterise reaction in full as the attempt to reverse the establishment of the principle that only enlightened principles shall be the basis of political order, the attempt to resist the further establishment of those enlightened principles, and also the attempt to criticise contemporary enlightened politics in terms of the unenlightened standards which existed before the revolution.

Robert Doran