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The idea of autonomy has been constitutive of the development of modern literature. The central question occupying debates on literature’s social role is whether autonomy is inalienable. The debate between “autonomists” and “anti-autonomists” is however based on a distorted historical picture. It will be argued that the notion of “autonomy” emerged within an eighteenth-century “individual” paradigm that has according to the general history of ideas transformed into a “relational” paradigm. In the literary theory this shift has however not been conceptualized. The result is a theoretical impasse after the end of Romanticism in which autonomists and anti-autonomists are opposed.