- Strangers Nowhere in the World: The Rise of Cosmopolitanism in Early Modern Europe
This study by Margaret C. Jacob, Distinguished Professor of History at the University of California at Los Angeles and well known for her work on the Enlightenment, the history of science, and freemasonry, offers an appealing opportunity to delve into a fascinating subject: cosmopolitanism, understood both then and now as "the ability to experience people of different nations, creeds and colors with pleasure, curiosity and interest, and not with suspicion" (1). The title's first part, "strangers nowhere in the world," comes from Denis Diderot's definition of cosmopolitans in his encyclopedia of 1751. The book spans the period from 1650 until 1800, and the five chapters are built around case studies based on manifold archival sources mainly from France, England, the Netherlands, and Ireland. They [End Page 181] deal with the Inquisition in Avignon, alchemists, stock exchanges in prosperous cities such as London, Paris, and Antwerp, Freemasonry, liberals, and radicals.
Jacob regards the scientific, literary, and philosophical societies in Protestant Europe, particularly in England and the Dutch Republic, as some of the earliest instances of "cosmopolitan fraternizing" (18). For instance, a secret club in The Hague disseminating Newton's science and whose Protestant members came from all over Europe and from various social and professional backgrounds is seen as typically cosmopolitan. However, Jacob rightly draws attention to the different potential meanings of cosmopolitanism: it "could also mean transgressing within a traditional society of orders, titles, exclusionary kith and kin, religious barriers and prohibitions, gender norms and affectations, and as always, it meant thinking past national identities, being accepting of foreigners at home and abroad" (5). Yet Jacob does not close her eyes to the ambivalences of the early modern world, a world that was often highly intolerant of and brutal toward the other, abroad as well as at home (one cannot forget the exploitation of the colonies, the slave trade, religious wars, anti-Semitism, homophobia, censorship). Throughout the book it is evident that cosmopolitan cultures or attitudes could often only be lived "underground" and in secret, and that they posed, then as now, a threat to repressive governments. In Avignon, a bustling town controlled by the Papacy until 1791, authorities with diligent censors, spies, and inquisitors who had the power to torture and banish, tried to prevent any kind of social and cultural interaction between Christians and Jews. There was increasing contact between them, nevertheless; and the Inquisition also could not prevent the spread of Masonic lodges, which Jacob uses as an index for measuring cosmopolitanism. The book makes clear that throughout early modern Europe religion divided, rather than united, societies. During the godly Reformation (cosmopolitan) openness was limited by stern Protestant belief: on the one hand, there was interest in the foreign and international; on the other, there was the exclusion of Jews and Catholics and religious intolerance.
In the early modern world, science, politics, religion, and magic were deeply interrelated. Science drew different, educated and semi-educated, people together. Among early modern philosophies Jacob considers alchemy to be crucial for the understanding of cosmopolitanism, as it "offered the most universalist and idealist message emphasizing reform and salvation" (45). Interest in alchemical practice and ideas crossed social and national boundaries, and adepts in their quest for natural secrets were eager to find an international language. But this movement had limited success too. In England the educated elite, among them Robert Boyle and members of the Royal Society, considered the widespread interest in alchemy a threat and feared losing their intellectual authority.
Europe in this period featured an increasingly complex and international economy, and although trade had always brought together different people, Jacob illustrates how stock exchanges in cities such as London, Paris, Lyon, Marseille, Amsterdam, Bruges, Hamburg, or Berlin fostered a distinct cosmopolitan culture. However, this culture did not develop without a struggle. Political crises had a grave impact, and violence, aggression, and xenophobia were common too. Eventually only political stability and often the assistance...