środa, 7 grudnia 2011

Piotr Napierała - my book about British and French concept of freedom in 17th and 18th Centuries

Przedstawiam moją nową książkę powstałą jako praca doktorska i zachęcam do lektury


Piotr Napierała, "Kraj wolności" i "kraj niewoli" - brytyjska i francuska wizja wolności w XVII i XVIII wieku, Wydawnictwo Libron-Filip Lohner, Kraków 2011. ISBN 978-83-62196-11-1



In my doctoral thesis: „Kraj wolności” i „kraj niewoli” - brytyjska i francuska wizja wolności – XVII i XVIII wieku (A ‘country of liberty’ and a ‘country of slavery’ – The British and French Concept of political Liberty in 17th and 18th Century) I attempted to compare the British and the French concepts of political freedom which were being developed in course of the 17th and 18th centuries. My idea was to examine if the popular vision of the early modern France as the ‘county of political slavery’ and – in the same time – of Britain as a mecca for every freedom-lover is really justified. In this case both political thought and ideas of various thinkers and informations about the reality of that era were of great interest of mine.

To achieve this goal I had to define which of the two main existing ideas of political liberty I myself support. Authors of the majority of already existing monographs about it are inclined to the so-called: ‘positive liberty’ which consists mainly in giving to the huge number of people the possibilyty to somehow control the government by participating in it (voting). For those who believe in ‘positive liberty’ (a concept developer first and foremoste by Thomas Paine and John Stuart Mill) the best way to secure it - is to transform every autocratic rule into a more democratic one. I am far more inclined to akcept the idea of ‘negative liverty’ prefered among other by Isaiah Berlin who was the first to distinguish between the two main concepts. ‘Negative liberty’ is refering to the necessity to secure as Little interference from the governments side into the people’s everyday life as possibile. Because of this two ways of under standing political Liberty we can divide all thinkers who have liberal inclinations in two groups: democratic liberals and aristocratic (or conservative) liberals (as Henry Spencer or Frideric Bastiat), who normally treat the demoratic administration as the same potential threat for individual freedom as any other administration – everything depends on the steps taken by minister, kings or parliaments. From the democratic perspective the concept of this thesis would be pointless but it is not from the point of view which I prefer as a more real perspective.

My PhD Thesis is divided into six chapters. In the first chapter I attempted to present an abstract of the general history of possibile Liberty concepts. In the next chapter my aim was to discover why so many British (not only political) political authors of the 17th and 18th centuries are so much concerned about the problem of individual and public liberty. I have analysed the so-called „whiggish historical myth”, according to which the whole English (after 1707 – British) political history is perceived as a great struggle for freedom against various ‘oppressors’ such as: Roman Empire, the Papacy, Spain of Charles V and Philip II, France of Louis XIV, Louis XV, Robespierre and Napoleon Bonaparte. I dealt with the koncept of the so much praised English „monarchia mixta’ in which the aristocratic, the democratic and the monarchical elements of the government co-exist in a splendid harmony, whithout which, as it was believed, England would have fallen into a state of horrid tyranny and its people – into slavery. I tried to understand why the Britons living in the early modern era called the French: pope-ridden, wooden-shoed slaves. On the other hand I analised the first absolutist treatises written in England (Robert Filmer, Thomas Hobbes etc.) to observe the arguments used in them especially those concerning political liberty. The same I did in the third chapter with French treatises written by local adherents of ‘king’s divine rights’ (Domat, Bossuet, Le Bret etc.) and its relation to individual liberty. The ‘voice of nobility’ of both nations was also of great interest to me because diffrent historical experiences defined different koncept of liberty of the rich and powerful. In the post-norman Britain the nobility was accustomed to co-operate in the king’s government whereas in France they used to fight against him especially when he attempted to extend his political influence. The aristocratic version of political freedom is best represented by Sunderland’s and Boulainvilliers’ concepts developed independently on both sides of the Channel in the first half of the 18th century.

In the fourth chapter I analysed the new ideas concerning freedom and political Liberty created by the Anglo-Scottish enlighenment. The koncept of the freedom of the press (Defoe, Hume), the individualisation of a subject, new vision of the just law and new thoughts on mutiny (Johnson, Burke) and slavery. The following chapter is devoted to the various concepts of French political thought in the 18th century, such as: the monarchical idea of Voltaire, the thèse nobiliaire of Montesquieu and Boulainvilliers, the plan of administrative decentralisation of d’Argenson, the ‘american’ vision of Diderot, Mercier and Condorcet, as well as the first clearly democratic and pre-ocialist ideology represented by Meslier, Rousseau an Morelly. The diversity of al. those thinkers used to thundestand by ‘liberty’ convinces me that there was no national ideas of liberty but merely a number of various ideas created by a number of political philosophers and this fact makes even today very hard to define what we perceive as ‘liberal thinking’.

All the aforementioned ideas are confronted with facto stated by historians specialising in the 17th and 18th centuries. In sixth and the last chapter I have presented the evolution in French vision of the ‘English liberty’ and the other way round and how they looked like prom perspective of several 19th and 20th century thinkers of various ideological background.


Piotr Napierała

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