Clarke, James (1982) Calhoun and the concept of the "reactionary enlightenment": an examination of the disquisition on government. Doctoral thesis, Keele University.

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In the 1950s, Louis Hartz drew attention to the curiously paradoxical nature of antebellum Southern political thought by coining the descriptive phrase the "Reactionary Enlightenment". The essence of the paradox lay in the apparent impossibility of combining a coherent defence of human slavery with the prevailing ethos of liberal political theoryp represented most succinctly by the political values of John Locke, which Americans had been importing throughout the course of the eighteenth century, and to which they had become ideologically attached during the Revolutionary period. The Southp arguably the most liberal region of the nation in the 1780s and 1790s, became increasingly intolerant and authoritarian in response to repeated abolitionist attacks from the 1830s onwards though the pervasiveness of their former liberal convictions proved to be a straitjacket on their mental processes, preventing Southern thinkers, like Calhoun, from transcending the liberal thought patterns they had inherited and from fabricating a convincing and meaningful defence of slavery.
The following study is an attempt to evaluate the usefulness of the "Reactionary Enlightenment" concept as a categorical paradigm of Calhoun's Disquisition on Government. In Part One, we shall be concerned with preliminary methodological questions (chapter one), and external details concerning the composition of the text, including Calhoun's intended audience (Chapter Two). Part Two is entirely devoted to the task of clarifying the possible senses in which the Disquisition may be said to belong to the "Reactionary Enlightenment". The procedure followed is to identify the basic features of the Enlightenment style, and to distinguish those components of the Disquisition which conform most nearly to them. Thus, we shall be examining Calhoun's philosophical method, his religious attitudes his concept of human nature and his idea of progress. In the penultimate chapter we shall examine the most original of Calhoun's contributions to political theoryt the idea of the concurrent majority. The central argument of the study is that while Calhoun attempts to defend values which may be termed reactionary, he does so by utilising the apparatus of liberal discourse, and this acccounts for much of the appearance of inconsistency in his political theory.

Item Type: Thesis (Doctoral)
Subjects: E History America > E11 America (General)
Divisions: Faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences > School of Humanities
Depositing User: Lisa Bailey
Date Deposited: 15 Oct 2019 10:43
Last Modified: 15 Oct 2019 10:43

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