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Response to Review no. 958

As editor of the volume reviewed by Professor Livesey, I thank him for his thorough, thoughtful, fair, and (generally) positive appraisal of the efforts of the seventeen contributors to it. It is my hope that those who read Enlightened Reform in Southern Europe and its Atlantic Colonies, c. 1750-1830 will also take the time to consult Professor Livesey’s review as they formulate their opinion of its contents for he makes many points worthy of careful consideration. Reviews in History is performing a notable service to the profession by making these reviews accessible on-line.

Although I am the editor of the volume, I feel that it is beyond my remit to attempt to respond on behalf of the contributors whose views are not easily summarized and who have not yet had the opportunity to read and respond to Professor Livesey’s review. It is my hunch that all of the contributors would express their gratitude for the constructive criticism offered by Professor Livesey, though each would likely respond differently to the ideas he advances in his review.

As the author of the volume’s introduction, which is available on-line as a downloadable pdf file via Ashgate’s website (1), I am somewhat disinclined to respond to Professor Livesey in the manner suggested by Reviews in History. I am uncertain whether authors should respond directly to reviewers in print unless their work has been unfairly maligned or misinterpreted. Professor Livesey has not, of course, done either of those things. Rather, he has engaged with Enlightened Reform honestly and astutely, even if I do not agree with everything contained in his review. No author or editor can ask for more.

In the spirit of friendly exchange and in pursuit of constructive scholarly conversation, which I understand to be the purpose of the format devised by Reviews in History, I will make what I hope is a useful clarification. Toward the end of his review, Professor Livesey states that ‘… aligning all of this [reform] activity with the Enlightenment waters down the concept of Enlightenment to a very weak phenomenon. Enlightenment becomes any form of intensified intellectual sociability’. I fully accept Professor Livesey’s analysis here. Diluting the Enlightenment creates the danger that the concept will lose its analytical usefulness. The line has to be drawn or else scholarship will suffer.

Still, we must remain cognizant of the history of the concept of the Enlightenment, particularly as it has been used to analyze Southern Europe and Ibero-America . The Enlightenment there, generally speaking, has been held to have been weak, incomplete, small, and constricted. In large part, I would argue, this is because the limits of what constitutes the Enlightenment, and what does not, have been drawn so as to exclude many of the more exciting cultural-intellectual developments in those states and their ultramarine provinces. I am not suggesting that we throw open the floodgates and erroneously portray the Enlightenment as ‘any form of intensified intellectual sociability’. I am arguing that historians may need to adjust and enlarge their understanding of the Enlightenment slightly to account for phenomena which would appear anomalous in France, Britain or the states of northern Europe. This point is discussed more robustly in my editor’s introduction to the volume. Furthermore, historians would benefit from doing away with the notion that the ‘lagging’ modernity of Southern European states is indicative of the uneven and superficial penetration of the Enlightenment there. The fickle fortunes of those states in the 19th and 20th centuries may have had more to do with historical contingency (eg the timing of the loss of their colonies, devastating civil wars and the absence of national cohesion, natural resource endowments) than with an intellectual deficit in the 18th. I believe that historians should continue to seek ways to define the Enlightenment so that it remains flexible enough to account for variation across Europe and to permit comparison across national, linguistic and confessional borders.

I thank Professor Livesey once again for his thoughtful review.

Notes

  1. http://www.ashgate.com/pdf/SamplePages/Enlightened_Reform_in_Southern_Europe_and_its_Atlantic_Colonies_c_1750_1830_Intro.pdf> [accessed 14 July 2010].Back to (1)