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  • Penser l’Europe au XVIII esiècle: commerce, civilisation, empireéd. par Antoine Lilti et Céline Spector
  • Michael Sonenscher
Penser l’Europe au XVIII esiècle: commerce, civilisation, empire. Édité par A ntoineL iltiet C élineS pector( Oxford University Studies in the Enlightenment, 2014:10.) Oxford: Voltaire Foundation, 2014. ix + 265 pp.

This is a fine collection of essays centred on the problematic concept of Europe both in the eighteenth century and, indirectly, now. Taking its starting point from one of Michel Foucault’s posthumously published lecture courses, but also picking up something of the content of the essay on Christianity or Europeby the early-nineteenth-century German poet and philosopher Novalis, its aim is to reconstruct the various conceptions of Europe that began to emerge after the Peace of Westphalia and the gradual disintegration of an earlier array of associations between Europe and empire on the one hand and Europe and Christianity on the other. As Bruno Bernardi shows in the essay that gives the collection much of its analytical framework, a considerable part of the space left by the demise of these earlier conceptions of Europe came to be filled by the notion of the balance of power. At first sight the claim might seem surprising because many of those [End Page 249]who, like David Hume, wrote about the concept in the eighteenth century tended to emphasize its age. But, as Bernardi shows, the phrase itself was more recent in origin than is usually assumed. As Céline Spector and Antoine Lilti go on to emphasize in their respective contributions, the concept of the balance of power came to be associated with a range of commercial, financial, and cultural developments that appeared to rule out the older associations between Europe and empire or between Europe and Christianity and, at the same time, appeared to corroborate Rousseau’s claim that modern Europe was something like a civil society in a sense that is more usually associated with the thought of Hegel. Yet, as the contributions by Stella Ghervas, Jennifer Pitts, Kenta Ohji, Larry Wolff, and Dominic Eggel help to underscore, it is less clear what these developments ruled in and what, substantively, Europe could be taken to be, both in the eighteenth and twenty-first centuries. The contemporary resonances of the problem form the subject matter of the final chapter by Sophia Rosenfeld, which provides a helpful conclusion to this wide-ranging and thought-provoking collection.

Michael Sonenscher
King’s College,Cambridge


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pp. 249-250
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